Researching the Process
Being a municipal planner in my professional life, I am compelled to plan out in some detail everything I do. The first part of that process is, of course, to do some research about the project I want to work on. I looked around the internet, and found a lot of information out there about the rapidly growing home brewing hobby. One example is Brew Your Own magazine’s website. There are many more, but most don’t go into the amount of detail I was looking for. I turned to print media. The best book I’ve found so far on the subject of home brewing is How to Brew by John J. Palmer. This book actually originated as a 12 page electronic-document back in 1993, before the web even existed, and it’s latest incarnation can still be found online. It has everything the new home brewer needs to know to get started, but also goes into enough detail about advanced brewing techniques to keep the reader interested. Another great resource I’ve found is the Home Brewer’s Answer Book by Ashton Lewis. Lewis is the answer guy, the Mister Wizard of Brew Your Own magazine mentioned above. It’s organized in a question and answer format, and goes into about the same amount of detail as How to Brew. There is a lot of overlap between the two books as far as subject matter and depth, but there are enough differences in their opinions and procedures to make owning both of them worthwhile.
Formulating the Plan
Every plan is composed of three essential elements: A starting point, and end point, and a path that leads from the start to the end. My desired end point is to become an excellent home brewer. I want to be able to brew many different styles of beer, and to have them come out the way I intended. I want my friends to talk about my beer making abilities behind my back — in a good way :-) My starting point is as a complete novice. I know how to drink beer. I know how to make it. What I lack is any experience at all in the making part. So, the path I intend to take starts with as simple a setup as possible. I’ll add equipment and more sophisticated techniques as I gain experience.
The beer making process follows this basic flowchart:
Grain > Malt > Wort+Hops > Ferment > Bottle > Condition > Drink
There’s a lot going on inside most of these steps, but the process itself is really very simple. In fact, the most complicated steps, turning the grain into malt, and then malt into wort, can be simplified even further by using malt extract. That’s where most home brewers start, and I intend to do the same. What I’ve gathered from the aforementioned texts is, the two most important aspects of making quality beer are cleanliness and fresh ingredients. The cleanliness part requires more than just properly cleaning and sanitizing the equipment. It requires strict adherence to procedures and proper handling of the ingredients throughout the brewing process. That’s why I plan on starting simple, gaining experience in the basic procedures, and to only try new techniques after I’ve got the basics down pat.
Assembling the Materials
I’m starting out with a hand-me-down beer kit given to me by my brother in-law. He used it only once, about 10 years ago. It was missing a few parts, and I wanted to upgrade a couple of items, so they’re on order from an online home brew supplier. Here’s a picture of the kit and a list of what I need for my first batch:
- Stainless steel brew pot
- Fermenter with lid
- Stirring spoon – large stainless steel
- Measuring cup – Pyrex
- Yeast starter jar – 12 oz glass
- Can opener
- Ordinary table spoon
- Plastic wrap or foil
The hydrometer was missing from the kit and I bought a better thermometer. My wife does some canning, so I’ll be borrowing her big stainless steel pot for the brew pot. Same goes for the spoons and measuring cups. I also ordered some special cleanser and sanitizer because I know cleanliness is so important.
For Bottling Day
- Bottling Bucket with spigot
- Racking tube
- Bottle filler
- Siphoning tube
- Bottle brush
- Priming sugar
The only thing I had to add here were the bottles. It takes about two cases of bottles (48) for a 5 gallon batch. I’ve “collected” about 60. I also ordered extra caps and priming sugar, even though they come with the ingredients kit I ordered. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have extra, and they’re both cheap.
There are a few things I intend to add once I get a batch or two under my belt. A glass carboy for the fermentation vessel, and a wort chiller to cool the wort quickly before pitching (adding) the yeast.
For my first batch, I’m going with a pre-assembled extract kit. Buying separate extract, hops, and yeast gives a home brewer more flexibility, but I wanted to keep things simple the first time. I ordered a Malty Mississippi Red Ale kit from Rebel Brewer. I considered buying from a more local source, but with my kids getting ready to go back to college and high school, things are a little hectic at home. Online just seemed to make things a little simpler this time. I made sure the kit I ordered had decent reviews, so I’m hoping it won’t be something that’s been sitting on the shelf for a long time. If anything in the kit looks old, the local supplier is just a half hour drive away.
So, that’s it. Ingredients are on their way. Expected delivery day is Saturday. I am ready to cook me some beer!