What Do I Need to Brew Beer? A Homebrewing Equipment List for Beginners

what do I need to brew beer

When you declared to the world you were diving into homebrewing, the first question that likely came to your mind was, “What do I need to brew beer?”

The answer was probably overwhelming at first, wasn’t it?

At first glance, the idea of brewing your own beer seems simple. Once you start reading about it though, the tune tends to change pretty rapidly.

Yeah – it almost makes you second guess yourself (at least it did for me).

If you’re not careful, it’s easy to get sucked into the “vortex of details” as I call it.

It Doesn’t Take Much to Make Good Beer

It really doesn’t.

All you need is a small collection of equipment and your ingredients. After that, your only worry is to follow a process from start to finish.

You don’t need a bunch of money or the best equipment around. Brewing beer is a hobby that can be done on a budget that is affordable for anyone.

Are you ready to filter out the noise and finally learn what you need to brew beer? If so, here is a complete breakdown of the minimal equipment necessary to get up and running:

The Beginner’s Homebrewing Equipment List

Brew Kettle

A brewing kettle is one of the cornerstone pieces of equipment in nearly every homebrewing setup.

Your kettle will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting on your brew days, so it is essential that you get something durable. As a beginner, you won’t need the best or most expensive kettle on the block, but you will want one that won’t break down after brewing a few batches.

One thing to consider: Kettle sizes. The more experienced you become, the bigger your batches may start to get.

I always recommend getting a kettle that will allow you to boil 5 gallon batches with ease at the very least. 5 gallon batches tend to be the norm, especially at a beginner’s level.

While smaller kettles will definitely work, it’s worth noting that there is a solid chance you WILL upgrade in the future. Upgrade equipment = more money. How you decide to roll with it is ultimately what you feel the most comfortable with.

Our recommend brew kettle: With 5 gallon batches being the norm, getting a kettle that can handle 5 gallons at full-boil is a smart move. This 10 gallon brew kettle is large and tough enough to handle 5 gallons batches with ease. It’s also affordable, which makes it the perfect weapon.

Thermometer

In brewing, temperature plays a crucial to your final product. You need to monitor your temps during mash (for all-grain brewers), before pitching yeast, and during fermentation. For now, we are going to focus on temperature control for mashing and pitching yeast.

In order to take temperature readings, you’ll need a good thermometer. For measuring temps in the brew process, a regular meat thermometer is suitable. Of course, you can invest a few more bucks to pick up a decent digital thermometer for more accurate readings (which is essential during the mash process).

What we recommend: Any decent digital thermometer will fit the bill here.

Fermentation Bucket

In order to make actual beer, yeast and sugar need a space of their own to start doing their thing (or what I call “the beginning of the end”). That’s where the next essential item in your arsenal will come into play – the elusive fermentation bucket.

You might be wondering why I’m only talking about buckets specifically. The truth is that you don’t need to use a bucket for fermentation. PET or glass carboys are fine. I choose NOT to brew with glass carboys because trying to haul around 5 gallons of beer in a glass vessel isn’t my thing (just Google “glass carboy explosion” – I’ll leave it at that).

What to consider: If you’re buying a bucket separately, you will need to ensure that it is food grade. Those buckets at places like Home Depot or Lowes are not suitable for your beer. Buckets that come with any homebrewing kit will meet this criteria.

Our recommended fermentation bucket: This 6.5 gallon fermenter bucket from Home Brew Ohio is inexpensive and comes with a lid and hole for your airlock. With exceptional cleaning and care, it will allow you to brew hundreds of batches without any issues.

Airlock

During fermentation, a significant amount of CO2 is expended as the yeast starts to convert sugars into alcohol. All of that CO2 needs somewhere to go, which is why many brew buckets are outfitted with a lit that contains a small hole surrounded by a rubber o-ring.

That’s where your airlock will come into play.

Airlocks allow CO2 gases to escape your fermentation vessel easily. Simply fill one up with sanitized water and place it through the hole of your fermenter’s lid.

Before you know it, you’ll start to hear the sweet sounds of your airlock. That “gulp, gulp, gulp” noise echoing in the distance lets you know that fermentation is underway. And what a sound it is (trust me – you will learn to love it)!

What we recommend: A set of two airlocks. It’s always a smart thing to keep an extra inexpensive piece like this laying around. You’ll need it when you least expect it!

Bottling Bucket

Once your beer is completely fermented, it’s ready to move onto the final step in the brewing process: bottling. After a week or two of conditioning, you will finally be able to enjoy the product you worked so hard to make.

It’s a rewarding experience that many homebrewers can relate to.

Here’s the thing though – you don’t want to bottle your brew straight from a fermentation vessel. Instead, you need something that will allow you to do two things:

  • Easy dispense your beer into bottles without creating a mess and introducing more debris (trub) as necessary.
  • Allow you to easily mix your priming sugar with your beer for bottle-conditioning.

Good news – bottling buckets allow you to do exactly that!

All you have to do is siphon your beer from your fermentation bucket to your bottling bucket and gently mix in your priming sugar. The attached spigot allows control over the flow for the perfect fill each time.

Similar to a fermentation bucket, a bottling bucket usually comes standard with most homebrewing kits or can be purchased separately.

Our recommended bottling bucket: Complete your set with a 6.5 gallon bottling bucket from Home Brew Ohio. It isn’t fancy, but when cleaned and taken care of properly, it will last you plenty of days ahead!

Auto-siphon

If there is anything that will save your life on bottling day (or racking to secondary if you ever travel down that road), it’s the auto-siphon (essentially a racking cane enclosed in a tube).

This nifty little tool makes it easy to transfer your beer from one vessel to the next without much disturbance.

Using it is simple:

  • Attach food grade tubing to end of racking cane (usually 5/16-inch tubing in most cases).
  • Sanitize the auto-siphon and tubing (both inside and out).
  • Insert auto-siphon into your fermentation vessel.
  • Lift up on the racking cane and pull it as high as you can and push down with a bit of force, creating the siphon.
  • Your beer will begin to flow from one vessel to the other.

Like many homebrewers, I use my auto-siphon religiously. I don’t know what I would do without it!

The best part – it is very inexpensive (under $15 in most cases) and worth every penny.

Find it here: Standard 5/16″ auto-siphon with 8 feet of tubing.

Sanitizer

Imagine your first brew day moving along smoothly and without issue. Everything is flowing together effortlessly from beginning to end. You feel victorious and ecstatic knowing that your first beer is going to be something worth celebrating.

Before you know it, it’s bottling day. As you pry off the cap to your fermentation bucket, your beer looks “off” and doesn’t smell quite right.

Only then do your realize you forgot to do something crucial – you didn’t sanitize all of your equipment. As a result, you picked up an infection. You’re beat up, disappointed, and disgruntled.

Let me be clear: Sanitizing your equipment is crucial to preventing an infection in your beer!

Don’t skimp on this process. You don’t have to be a germophobic maniac, but you DO need to be aware and make sure that anything that touches your beer after boil is clean and properly sanitized.

What works best: A no-rinse food grade sanitizer like StarSan is the best (and fairly standard) in homebrewing. Depending on the size you choose to get, it generally runs between $10-$25. The stuff will last you a very long time though, so it’s worth the cost.

Hydrometer

One of the fun (and more “sciencey”) parts of homebrewing is measuring your total alcohol-by-volume (ABV) percentage. By doing so, you’ll have a fairly accurate representation of how much alcohol is loaded in your beer.

A hydrometer can help get you there.

Hydrometers work by measuring the gravity of your beer. You can determine the amount of alcohol by taking measurements at two points in the process:

  • Before pitching your yeast
  • After fermentation is complete

Before pitching your yeast, you begin with what is called your original gravity (or OG). Once fermentation is complete, you will end up with a final gravity (or FG). The difference between the two will help you determine your final ABV percentage.

We’re not going to dig too far into how to read and calibrate your hydrometer. Just know that it’s essential IF you want to know how much alcohol is in the beer your brewing.

Don’t worry though – there are plenty of instructions and ABV calculators for that online.

Important: NEVER let your hydrometer touch your wort if it isn’t sanitized beforehand. Forgetting a simple thing like this can result in an infection, wasting quite a bit of effort.

It’s a common mistake, and one that will leave you with a palm to the face and beer down the drain.

How to get one: Finding a cheap and reliable hydrometer is easy (we like this one here). Make sure the one you buy is designed for beer, as there are some hydrometers out there specifically for distilled alcohol.

Glass Bottles

It might be obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people forget to pick up some bottles before bottling day. If you’re bottle conditioning your beer (which most of you will be), either 12-ounce or 22-ounce glass bottles will do the trick.

How you get your bottles is up to you, but you have a few choices:

  • You can save any bottles you have from previously consumed beer (as long as they are NOT the twist-tops).
  • Ask a friend to save their bottles for you and send them your way (again, no twist-tops).
  • Purchase a case or two of new glass bottles directly.

I always recommend cleaning your bottles thoroughly, regardless of whether or not they are new. Don’t forget to sanitize your bottles before placing any beer into your bottles.

A couple things to note: You may see “swing top” glass bottles available online. While you can use these, I typically prefer to avoid them as the seal isn’t as good as a standard bottle cap. You don’t want any CO2 to escape during the conditioning process and end up with a flat, unflattering beer.

Also, some folks favor plastic bottles. This is fine if you’re using bottles that came with your kit (such as Mr. Beer). As you progress, however, I would avoid plastic bottles as they can degrade over time.

If you plan to buy new bottles, these 12-ounce glass amber colored bottles are the most affordable.

Bottle Caps

If you’re using glass bottles (without swing tops), bottle caps are necessary to create a tight seal for proper conditioning. They are often inexpensive, too (100 caps for roughly $7-$8 total, which should last a few batches).

One thing to consider: Most bottle caps come equipped with a plastic seal on the interior of the cap. It serves as an oxygen barrier, helping to absorb any oxygen contained inside of the bottle. Again, these are pretty standard, but make sure that you pick up these as opposed to regular bottle caps.

Here’s what to get: Oxygen absorbing bottle caps.

Bottle Capper

Your bottle caps won’t do a lick of good without a good seal on your bottle. The only way to achieve that is via a bottle capper.

There are two different types of capper devices you can use:

  • Hand capper
  • Bench capper

When you’re starting out, a hand capper will be all you really need. They do require a bit of effort to get the seal nice and even (at least in my experience).

Something to consider: After you’ve brewed and bottled a few batches, you might find a bench capper to be more worthy of your time. Bench cappers are more straight-forward, easier to use, and sturdier than a hand capper (which requires more muscle and hand control).

The cost between a hand and bench capper is also pretty minimal at best.

One more important thing: Don’t forget to sanitize your bottle caps before they touch a bottle! It’s as easy as soaking them in a bowl of water mixed with StarSan.

The choice is yours: We prefer the bench capper over a hand capper, but what you ultimately decide to use is up to you. Just based on experience, the bench capper is the better long-term buy.

Nice to Have (but Not Necessary)

Strainer

A strainer is great for filtering out hop particles and other unwanted sediment when transferring your cooled wort into your fermentation vessel. Personally, I have used a large strainer (roughly 10 inches in diameter, which you can find here) that sets perfectly on top of my 6.5 gallon fermentation bucket. It has worked out well for the numerous batches I have cranked out.

Again, it’s not necessary for you to have, but I have found that it does filter out a lot of unwanted sediment and hop particles that aren’t necessary to have in your primary fermenter. Just one less thing to worry about on bottling day!

Wort Chiller

If there is one brewing gadget that I love, it’s my wort chiller. These suckers will drastically cut down the time it takes to bring your wort to your targeted pitching temperature.

Seriously – I used to do the typical ice bath in the sink. Most of the time, it took close to an hour to reach my pitching temp, not to mention the constant addition of ice and removal of water. Talk about grunt work, right?

Once I got a wort chiller, my brew days became more efficient than ever before. I was able to cut my cooling time down to 10 minutes, sometimes less!

Wort chillers are nothing more than copper and silicone tubing. Using it is easy:

  • Soak wort chiller in sanitizer. I usually toss mine in my fermenting bucket since that needs sanitized too.
  • Attach one end to your sink or garden hose. If using your sink, make sure the other tube end is in your sink so that it can drain properly.
  • Turn on the water (cold water if using your sink). Water will begin moving through the copper tubing, causing the temperature of your wort to drop.
  • Using a sanitized spoon, carefully stir your wort to provide circulation to help cool wort.
  • Sanitize your thermometer and place it into your wort to monitor your temp.
  • Once you reach your pitching temp, shut off your water supply and remove your wort chiller.
  • You’re ready to aerate your wort and pitch your yeast!

If you want to cut down your brew days and improve efficiency, a wort chiller is the best time-saving addition you can make to your setup.

What we recommend: This copper immersion wort chiller is fairly standard and inexpensive. For less than $50, the time you gain back will be well worth the investment many times over!

Digital Scale

If you’re scaling recipes up or down, there is a good chance that your additives won’t come out to be a clean number. You’ll be dealing with a lot of partial weights, which is why a digital scale is a good tool to have in your arsenal.

A scale is also helpful for weight out dextrose or sugar for the purpose of bottle conditioning.

What we recommend: You don’t need anything expensive – this scale will work just fine and last you many batches over. At less than $15, you can’t go wrong.

Brew bag

For those of you who plan to start all-grain brewing right out of the gate, the BIAB (brew in a bag) option might be up your alley. It’s an easy way to do your mash and boil in one kettle – no need for a separate mash tun.

If you’re low on space, it’s a great way to break into all-grain brewing without the need for extra equipment.

Get this: Extra large brew bag (26″ x 22″).

One thing to note: If you plan to stick to extract brewing (even if your kit contains specialty grains), the equipment above is all you need.

Start Building Your Brewery Today

There you have it – a full list of all the necessary essentials to start building your own brewery right at home! While this isn’t a full and complete list of ALL brewing accessories and tools available, it gives you the basic layout of what you need to get the job done from start to finish.

As you become more seasoned and refined, you may start to add more accessories to your collection. It’s just part of the game. How big and deep you want to go is ultimately up to you.

Remember – brewing is all about learning and having fun! Don’t take yourself too seriously and you’ll have a great hobby that will last a lifetime.

Custom Beer Labels: 2 Awesome (and Free) Sites to Create Your Own

custom beer labels

When people outside of the homebrewing hobby think of homebrewed beer, they often assume your beer is crap.

It’s not that they mean to think this way, but plant a brown bottle without a label in front of anyone’s face and you’ll have to admit, the presentation isn’t so intriguing.

It doesn’t mean your beer tastes bad, but in today’s world, perception is everything.

And that, my fellow homebrewer is where custom beer labels tend to set things apart.

Custom Beer Labels Are Easy to Make

It’s not rocket science. Creating your own beer labels doesn’t take a lot of time or energy, and they are actually quite simple to make.

If that’s the case, why don’t more homebrewers do it?

Perhaps some people just don’t want to be bothered with making their own labels. And that’s ok. To each his own, I say.

For those who want to add a little extra “zing” to their beer and give it the total package treatment, it’s worth going the distance.

You Don’t Need to Be a Top-Notch Designer

In most cases, lacking design skills when you’re designing something wouldn’t fly.

Except what I’m about to explain makes you the exception, not the rule!

And thanks to the internet (where you can find literally anything), I was able to dig up two AWESOME resources you can use to make beer labels that you and your friends will be proud of.

If that weren’t exciting enough, you’ll be happy to know it doesn’t cost more than some paper, ink from your printer, and a little bit of your time.

How can you go wrong with that?

The Best Custom Beer Label Sites

Free site #1 – Canva (www.canva.com)

Canva

One of the coolest websites that I happened to stumble upon roughly a year ago was Canva – a multi-purpose graphic design tool built for people who aren’t so “graphically inclined”.

Usually, tools like this tend to be garbage. Options are limited and you end up with the same crappy graphics, spit out in only so many ways.

In other words, it gets boring after awhile.

With Canva, you can create your own custom labels with unique, eye-catching and professional-looking designs. Your beer will finally get the shine it deserves, but is it the right fit for you? Here is a quick breakdown of what we think will help you decide:

The Good Parts

  • Plenty of snazzy fonts, shapes, colors, and templates to choose from.
  • Custom dimensions give you the opportunity to make labels for both the bottle and bottleneck.
  • Easy to save off finished design in multiple formats for printing.
  • Designs can be saved to your account, making them accessible to edit anywhere at any time.
  • Drag-and-drop editing makes it easy to put things together.
  • Can import photos with ease.
  • It’s FREE!

The Not-So-Good Parts

  • Can take some time to get used to if you haven’t used a similar drag-and-drop tool.
  • Isn’t as “quick and dirty” as other label making programs.

Should You Use It?

If you think that you will be able to make stunning beer labels within seconds of using it, Canva probably isn’t going to be up your alley. There is a slight learning curve (and I mean very slight), but it’s nothing that will take you ages to figure out.

If you’re willing to stick with it though, the stuff you can crank out will really take the presentation of your beer up a few notches!

*On a serious note – Canva is, hands down, one of the BEST options for free graphics that will give you great looking designs with zero experience. I can’t say enough good things about it. And I speak from experience, since we utilize it frequently for most of the graphics on this site.

Free site #2 – Beer Labelizer (www.beerlabelizer.com)

Beer Labelizer

Now, let’s say you checked out Canva and it’s not something that interests you. You want something quick and dirty – something that will spit out a decent label and won’t take you forever and a month to get it looking perfect.

My friend, I think I found you the perfect match: Beer Labelizer.

With Beer Labelizer, what you see is what you get. It’s a simple, quick, and easy graphic design tool with one goal: help you make custom beer labels and nothing else!

All you have to do is choose a label that you prefer, pick a color scheme, and input your custom text. The Beer Labelizer tool will do all of the placement of the text for you. No messing with fonts, images, and the like. Instead, you get a perfect label every single time.

Yeah – it really is that easy to spruce up your typical plain brown bottle. You’ll finally be able to show off your latest creations with a bit of style and flare, impressing both yourself and your friends.

Before you start getting too excited, let’s jump into the details below to help you figure out whether or not this is the right tool for you:

The Good Parts

  • Can start making labels right away with zero experience.
  • Input text and the tool does the rest – no messing with text or image placement.
  • Ability to save or print off your finished labels.
  • Allows image uploads to enhance labels that use custom images.

The Not-So-Good Parts

  • Only a limited amount of templates to choose from.
  • Not much room for customization, as uploaded images have to fit within specific areas of a template.
  • Restricted by a VERY small option of color schemes.
  • Due to the use of templates with minimal customization available, designs will not be unique.

Should You Use It?

Let’s be real here – if you’re looking for something convenient that will jazz up your homebrew, this is a pretty useful tool. It serves it’s purpose and allows you to spend more time brewing beer and less time worrying about what your final product will look like.

However, if you want to make your homebrew look more “shelf worthy”, using a tool like Canva and taking the time to learn it might work out better in the long run.

Make Your Beer Fun Again

Okay, so I said it. We all too often get caught up in the semantics of homebrewing that we often forget why we got into it in the first place – to have fun! 

Creating your own custom beer labels is a great way to put the final touches on the brew that you work so hard to create. Take advantage of the two sites above and see what kind of cool designs you can come up with!

Of course, if you know of any other cool or unique ways to make your own beer labels, don’t be afraid to comment and let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

4 Reasons Why Keeping a Brew Journal Will Help You Make Award-Winning Beer

brew journal

It has been said that the only way to make progress in life is by tracking what you’re doing. When it comes to homebrewing, the best way to make any real advancements is through a handy little book known as a brew journal.

Yeah, that means you need to write things down when you brew. And we mean everything!

For brewers who are new to the game, however, the idea of taking notes is usually an afterthought. Most are too busy trying to follow each step from start to finish, hoping their first batch to turns out as impressive as they imagine it to be.

Good Beer != Great Beer

There is a difference between making good beer and making great beer. Those who make good beer follow instructions and are able to see the process from beginning to end, but unfortunately for them, that’s where it all ends.

Some might get lucky and make a fantastic brew, but then run into trouble replicating their success. Even worse, they often find themselves unable to pinpoint off-flavors and other issues with their beer.

It’s like having the check engine light go off in your car. Rather than use a code reader to help determine what could be wrong, you start troubleshooting things blindly. In most cases, you could end up causing more problems than if you had utilized the code reader from the beginning.

Here’s the truth: Brewing without taking good notes will prevent you from becoming the best you can be. How can you continue to improve if you barely remember what you did on your last brew day?

That, my friend, where the beauty of a brew journal comes into play.

Why a Brew Journal is Necessary

I know you haven’t been reading for long, but if I haven’t pounded the importance of a brew journal (or beer brewing log book, whatever you wish to call it) into your head, I’m about to offer some more reinforcement.

Seriously – taking copious amounts of notes is something that you have to get used to if you want to make beer that your friends will rave about. Many of the advanced homebrewers I know will agree.

With that said, here are some more valid reasons why you should record everything you do on brew day:

#1 – Helps you identify what you did right and wrong

During brew day, there are a lot of things can that happen. Some things go fantastically well, while plenty of other mishaps are some we wish we could forget.

Except that’s the problem – many of the minor details often get lost in the mix.

Those “minor” details could turn out to be major pain points if you aren’t keeping track of your process every step of the way.

For example, forgetting to time your hop additions correctly could result in a beer that’s too bitter or unbalanced in hop flavor/aroma. Or how about not remembering the amount of yeast you pitched, thus putting it through more stress and causing off-flavors in your final product?

If you’re keeping notes from the day you brew until your beer is bottled, you’ll have a better idea of where to start troubleshooting any problems. It will also be easier to know what you did correctly and what you should work on, thus helping you refine your process and improve your skills.

#2 – Enables you to track minor tweaks and changes in your process

Now that you understand how a brew journal can help you track the good and bad things in your brewing process, it’s time to actually act on it.

This is what I like to call the “research and reflect” part of brewing.

As you know, making great beer takes a lot of patience and constant refinement. Rarely do you knock every single batch right out of the park, especially if you’re new to the game.

If you want to get your process down to an exact science, you need to log every minor tweak your make!

Imagine tasting an IPA you recently brewed, only to realize it didn’t have the hop flavor and intensity you expected. Obviously something went wrong along the way. Looking back at your notes, you find the issue and decide to change up your hop bill on your next batch. Easy, right?

That’s why taking solid notes is worth your time. You wouldn’t have a clue about your hop additions and amounts if you didn’t properly log them. It leads to a poor game of “guess and hope it turns out okay,” which isn’t the path that leads to great beer.

#3 – Gives you an idea how far you’ve come from your first batch

Take a seat and think for a moment about a hobby or activity you do on a regular basis.

Do you remember how things went the first time compared to the most recent? In most cases, that first attempt probably doesn’t compare to how things are now. Whether it’s a hobby, sport, or other activity, the more you practice or train, the better you become.

Homebrewing is no exception. With every batch you crank out, you’ll become wiser, more knowledgeable, and efficient.

Except therein lies the kicker – the only way to grow from batch to batch is to track your progress.

Yeah, that means keeping your notes in that handy little notebook I’ve been talking about.

I know the broken record is sounding off again, but there really isn’t any better way to look back on what you’ve done to see how far you’ve come. There is something humbling about looking back a year or two and reflecting on the good times (and the bad).

#4 – Makes it easier to discuss your process with other brewers who may offer feedback/suggestions

One of the things I love about brewing beer is that out of the many different hobbies out there, the community in homebrewing is strong! Everyone I’ve met is passionate and has a true love and appreciation for what they do.

However, the biggest benefit isn’t just the comradery – it’s the MASSIVE wealth of knowledge that is ready to tap into.

If you do some searching for a local homebrew club in your area (or maybe you’re already part of one, which puts you ahead of the curve), you’ll find many other people just like yourself, and they are ALL looking to share their creations, ideas, and the most valuable thing of all – feedback.

Of course, the only way to get valuable feedback is to know what went into making your beer. Seasoned brewers will be able to identify flaws in your beer from a quick tasting and evaluation.

If your brew journal is nearby, you can jot down some quick notes based on the feedback you receive. It’s also handy to have around for others to review your recipe and offer suggestions on improvements.

Remember – you’re asking others to take their time to give YOU pointers. Don’t be that guy (or gal) that shows up unprepared.

Make Your Brew Journal a Priority

If you are serious about making amazing beer, a brew journal is a must to have in your arsenal. Get into the habit of recording everything that you do. It might be tough at first, but stick with it. Before you know it, the process will become second nature and your beer will reach heights you never thought possible!