So, You Want to Try Homebrewing?

October 5, 2017

Homebrewing is a fascinating hobby. In addition to the science behind making beer and brewing  different beer styles, you get to learn about recipe creation, dry hopping, consistent fermentation, and forced carbonation. There are also many ways to homebrew:  extract brewing to all grain, brew in a bag (BIAB), and electric brewing. Basically, there’s something for everybody.

As we come up on the Great American Beer Festival here in Denver, it’s worth noting that most professional brewers start out at home—not at all surprising given all that you learn by just making (or trying to make) a batch of beer. If you’re interested in taking on homebrewing as a hobby, consider building out a brew space where you can both create, and host friends (a.k.a. do a little testing on some unsuspecting guinea pigs…).

Interested in trying it out for yourself? Read on for some tricks of the trade from one of our very own Colorado PERA employees.

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When I started brewing, my set-up consisted of a 20-quart aluminum stock pot with a plastic fermenter relegated to my garage. I’ve since moved inside and upgraded to an electric system, which has enabled me to tweak my process to a point where brew days now entail very little lifting of hot liquids.

This is my current set-up:

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Fermentation temperature control system:

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A four-tap keezer:

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The positive result of these process improvements is that I get to spend most of my brew days talking with friends, watching football, and just generally enjoying the homebrew process for what it is. Also, having a tap room/man cave definitely beats brewing out in the garage—especially in the winter. These improvements have also allowed brew days to become social events among friends, where, at the end of the day, we’ve created a product that we can enjoy together at our next gathering. I’ve found that one of the best parts of brewing is the social aspect of it; aside from getting to hang with friends, the collaboration has inspired some really great beers.

If you’re interested in dipping your feet into homebrewing, you do not need as much equipment as I have above—you can still make great beer using a minimalist set-up that might be as simple as:

  • Brew kettle (at least 20 quarts, and either aluminum or steel)   
  • Fermenter with lid or airlock (usually a plastic bucket or glass carboy) 
  • Bottling bucket
  • Thermometer
  • Hydrometer
  • Stainer
  • Auto siphon
  • Bottle caps
  • Bottle capper
  • Sanitizer

Most local homebrew shops and online retailers (Austin Homebrew Supply is a good one) make kits that have all the ingredients you’ll need to make a batch of beer. In terms of resources, one of my favorite brewing blogs is HomeBrewTalk.com. If you run into an issue during your brew day, don’t panic; someone else has probably definitely had the same issue, and I can pretty much guarantee that it’ll have been covered on there. Over time, you’ll come to find that some things work for you, while other things just don’t. Always feel free to modify your process to what works best for you.

The creativity in brewing is endless. If you decide to move on to a more advanced brewing process (like all grain, for example), there’s a wealth of information online and in print. I’d recommend checking out John Palmer’s How to Brew, as well as Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing (Papazian is a pioneer in the craft, so he’s a must-read). Some homebrew shops also hold classes from time to time. If you live in the Denver area, consider stopping in to Tom’s Brew Shop, Barley Haven, CO-Brew, and The Brew Hut.

There’s a saying among homebrewers: “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” Regardless of your interest in the hobby, the most important thing is to make sure you take the time to have fun with friends and family!