Before purchasing a kit or creating a recipe, the home brewer needs to acquire the necessary extract equipment to brew. The sky is really the limit when it comes to equipment and spending in the home brewing hobby. This list will focus on a new brewer who has a budget in mind. We will stick to just the necessities and omit more extravagant equipment that is not necessary to have a great first brew day.
Equipment needs can be broken down into three categories: Brewing Equipment, Fermenting Equipment, and Bottling Equipment. Many online retailers offer their own all in one kit that contains many if not all of the needed items. These kits usually also contain a few pieces that most home brewers will never need or use. Be sure to compare the cost of a kit with all of the necessities versus the cost of purchasing pieces individually. As with any hobby you can often times find used equipment locally on Craigslist or Facebook at a significant price savings.
Extract Equipment for Brewing
The act of actually brewing beer requires a surprisingly small amount of equipment to get started. Since we are focusing on extract brewing, we can dramatically cut back on the cost of extract equipment. In this stage you will need a brew kettle and a stir spoon or paddle. One optional piece of equipment is a thermometer. I prefer the digital type. This will only be necessary if you have steeping grains in your recipe. Steep at under 170 degrees to avoid off flavors. Brewing spoons or paddles can be metal or plastic. Any type will work so cheap is ok here.
Brewing kettles are an area where brewers can spend a few bucks or a small fortune. Most home brewers have a batch size of five gallons. You can do a partial boil of less than five gallons and make up the difference with water in the fermenter. I prefer to do full volume boils for many different reasons. Hop isomerization is the main reason and is complex topic. In short, the full volume boil is able to accept more of the bitterness from the hops than a more concentrated partial volume boil. For this reason, I suggest a seven to eight gallon boil kettle. Stainless steel is great, but you can save money with aluminum without the quality of your brew suffering.
(The Bayou 40 Qt. Stainless Steel Kettle is a great starting place for many home brewers. A great value and quality stainless steel that will last over time. We make a small percentage of the sale if you follow the link. Helps pay the bills!)
Turkey Fryers with an included burner can be a great way save money versus specifically marketed brewing kettles. Using this options means giving up some bells and whistles but it is a great way to save money when learning to brew. Currently you can get a 7.5 gallon pot and burner kit on Amazon for under $80. I actually borrow my turkey fryer from a friend who only uses it once a year. The necessary equipment for this stage cost less than $100 if frugal methods are used. Since I borrow my extract equipment, I actually spent less than $15 by only purchasing a digital thermometer and a plastic brew paddle.
Keep in mind that if you purchase a burner you will also need a propane tank. I have a tank on my grill but I also have a dedicated tank for brewing. I use these tanks to back up each other so that I always have a backup for either grilling or brewing. Nothing ruins a brew day like running out of propane mid boil. One alternative is using your stovetop. I do boil inside on my stovetop during the winter or when I don’t want to pull out my burner and tank.
The fermentation process, much like the brewing process requires specific equipment. Fermentation is the act of allowing the yeast to eat the sugars we created in the brewing process. During this stage there are two byproducts created, alcohol and carbon dioxide. Beer is stored in a fermenter while this process takes place.
The most inexpensive fermenter is a 6.5 gallon food grade bucket. This will suffice for the entry level brewer. Glass carboys are also an option as well as stainless steel fermenters. Unless you’ve got hundreds or thousands of dollars burning a hole in your pocket, stick with the buckets in the beginning. You will need a second bucket called a bottling bucket. The bottling bucket differs from a fermenter because it should have a spigot installed on the bottom to allow for easy bottling. Finally, brewers need an auto siphon with a length of tubing to transfer the beer from the primary fermenter into the bottling bucket. I also use mine to transfer from the brew kettle into the primary fermenter after brewing. This allows me to leave much of boiled hops behind and out of my fermenter.
(Looking to buy the Mercedes of fermenters? Check out this SS BrewTech Stainless Steel Fermenter and buy one for me while you’re at it! I make a percentage of the proceeds so hopefully someday I can buy one! )
Why is the bottling bucket and auto siphon considered fermenting equipment? Even after transferring to your bottling bucket, you’ll want to let the beer sit for 24 hours to allow more particulate to settle down to the bottom of the bucket before bottling.
Your fermentation buckets also need to restrict air from coming into the bucket while off gassing carbon dioxide. To do this you need an airlock. Any design will work but I prefer the three piece airlock design. Your bucket lid will come with a hole drilled to fit a rubber stopper and the airlock.
Total cost for individual purchasing this equipment comes out to around $70.
The majority of home brewers begin with bottling. You’ll hear countless seasoned brewers complaining about what a pain bottling can be. Bottling is a pain but as a new brewer, it’ll be a pain that you love. Believe me; you will eventually want to switch to kegging. However, at first you’ll love bottling day because it’s basically the last step before consumption!
I suggest letting your beer settle out in the bottling bucket. I usually wait 24 hours before bottling after moving my beer. This allows for proteins and yeast to settle out of suspension, which will result in a beer with greater clarity. It is an optional step however that has little to no impact on the taste of the beer. After this, you will need to clean and sanitize about 48 bottles for a five gallon batch. The aid of a bottling brush will ensure you get them clean to avoid infecting your new beer.
Now that you’re ready to bottle, you’ll greatly appreciate using a bottling wand. This is a spring loaded device that dispenses your beer from the bottling bucket into your bottles. Fill them up to the brim and then when you remove the wand there will be the perfect amount of head space left behind.
The final step in this process is to place sanitized caps on top of your beer and them set them in place with a capper. Now you’re naturally carbonating your beer and can enjoy them in one to two weeks. Equipment for the bottling equipment will cost about $27.
There are also other cost to keep in mind other than equipment. I call these consumables because once you use them, they’re gone. For instance, your beer ingredients are consumables. You all have cleaning supplies, sanitizer, bottle caps, and bottles (although these can be reused).
By trying to save costs by purchasing pieces individually, you can spend around $112. Keep in mind though that I’m using a borrowed brew kettle and burner. With that purchase of $70, my equipment total would be $182 without considering the cost of consumables that you’ll need to purchase to begin brewing.
One popular option to cut back on the cost is to purchase a beginner’s kit. Many online stores sell them and you can save money by getting one. Today I’m using the Homebrew Starter Kit from Northern Brewer as an example. For $109 you get all of the equipment I have listed plus a five gallon brew kettle and an extract beer kit. Purchasing a beginner’s kit can be quite a deal if you need all of the extract equipment. The only drawback to the kit is the 5 gallon brew kettle won’t allow you to do full volume brewing.
(Skip the hassle and get the Deluxe Kit from Northern Brewer and start off with great equipment. From this link we make a small percent to keep the blog going.)
I pieced my extract equipment together over time and purchased all of the equipment individually. You’ll need all of this equipment to be successful so the NB kit is a great option that makes financial sense for most home brewers.