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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nice to Have (but Not Necessary)
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!
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!
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.
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.