What equipment set should I buy to brew a keg of beer?
January 10, 2004 3:14 PM   Subscribe

What equipment set should I buy to brew a keg of beer? I want to buy it as a set, but if I can save money buy buying seperate parts I can do that. I am buying the New Complete Joy Of Home Brewing.
posted by Keyser Soze to Shopping (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you go to any sort of home brewing store, they'll often have an easy-to-use starter kit for about $40-50. It's basically a few 5 gallon buckets, some thermometers, hoses, and instructions on how to sterilize it all. Often they'll throw in the hops and barley too.

I've helped a friend make it using a kit like this, and it was pretty easy to do. The hardest part was the bleaching to kill all bacteria before brewing. It came out alright and was a fun way to reinforce everything I learned in microbiology and organic chemistry classes during that time.

Also, didn't you mention you were 20 before? There might be laws against selling the equipment directly to you.
posted by mathowie at 4:30 PM on January 10, 2004

I have a friend who brews a lot of beer (and makes wine) using the supplies above.

It's probably best to buy a book and buy everything separate. The kits are usually more than $50 (~80 for the cheapest ones), because they include bottle cappers, bottles and such. I haven't seen a kit that doesn't include a bottling accessory to boost the price, if you can find one good luck.

I haven't ever tried to purchase brewing supplies myself, my friend (22) has no problem obviously and they never "card him", but I had a friend who was under 21 and looked well under 21, get kicked out of the store in a hurry as soon as he started asking questions. There's no laws to my knowledge to prevent you from buying everything, especially separately. I mean all you're buying is yeast and hops which by themselves aren't illegal obviously. Most home brew places, however, don't want a bad reputation. If you're really worried about it, I've had success going at it with a "father's birthday" angle.

The advice I've been given is don't buy the expensive yeasts/hops till you get everything down. The first couple tries will most likely result in really crappy beer too, so be wary. Also, I don't know if you're aware of this or not, most likely you'll be brewing very high alcohol % beer -- on par with German beer or greater, if you try. Since there's no easy way to test the alcohol levels (to my knowledge), I wouldn't play drinking games on your first batch.

I'll post more information if I can get in contact with my brewer friend, good luck as it's a really rewarding (but hard) experience. It's really cheap too, especially if you keep everything in kegs and don't bottle.
posted by geoff. at 4:58 PM on January 10, 2004

Build your own homebrew equipment.
posted by stbalbach at 5:34 PM on January 10, 2004

What most of the kits don't include are something to boil the wort in. You can do it in a pot on the kitchen stove, but when you boil over (not if, but when), the sticky mess is a real pain to clean up.

Get a decent sized propane burner like a crab cooker, then find an old keg and have the top cut off. You'll have a ~14 gallon stainless steel boiler that will never fall apart, plus you can do 10 gallon batches.

Testing alcohol levels is easily done using a hydrometer, but that's all in Papazians excellent book.
posted by lasm at 6:51 PM on January 10, 2004

If you can make tea, you can make beer.

What you'll need at a minimum is an 18qt stainless or enameled stock pot, a 5 gallon bucket with an air-tight lid, an airlock, some hose, a spoon, and maybe a thermometer (depending on how anal you want to be making your beer), and sanitizer (you can use bleach in water, but I find that industrial sanitizer, which also has TSP works better).

From here, you have to decide: bottle or keg. If it's going to be bottle, buy 2 cases and a six pack of beer without twist-tops and start drinking, or buy slightly more than half as many 22 ounce bottles, or 5 growlers. A good brew store will help you on this route by setting you up with all this gear and a bottle capper and caps and usually ingredients for an easy recipe for about $75-100.

Here's how an easy recipe works:
1. Boil water.
2. Dump in malt extract.
3. Boil.
4. At certain times, add hops.
5. Cool.
6. Put in fermenter with yeast and more water.
7. Seal and install airlock.
8. Wait.
9. Mix up a corn sugar solution, dump it in the ferementer and fill your cleaned bottles, cap, and wait. Before they explode, put them in the fridge.

You can do all of this with what's listed above.

The next step up, means working with grain, and you will need an Igloo beverage cooler with the spigot removed. In its place, I have a length of copper tube, crimped at one end with a lot of little slits cut in its length. The tube goes through a rubber stopper and it acts as a filter. To work with grain, insert step 0:
0. Put grain in cooler, dump in 165 degree water and let it sit for a hour or so, let the soaking water out into a pot and rinse with more hot water, collecting the rinse water, processed to step 1.

I also hate cleaning bottles, so I bought kegs. They're old soda kegs and cost $25. The regulator and CO2 tank cost way more. The old fridge in the basement was free.

The next step up means using all grain, no extract. I'm not there yet, nor do I care to be.

As I type, I have grain soaking. Maybe I'll take pictures.
posted by plinth at 8:47 AM on January 11, 2004

Portland has some superb homebrew stores and is also home to the Oregon Brew Crew. (Widmer Brothers brew at least one of their beers every year, and they have the most liberal pouring policies at the Brew Fest in July.) Cragislist also has some good used equipment from time to time as well.
The best known homebrew supply store is F H Steinbart (234 SE 12th), and they also have beginner classes every few months.
Do any other cabin-fever affected PDX area MeFi folks brew their own?
posted by TomSophieIvy at 9:16 AM on January 11, 2004

plinth - I may go the keg route. I stopped making beer from annoyance with cleaning the bottles and also my time became, for a while, too valuable to justify the labor. Now, for the moment, my time is cheap again.

Keyser - lasm is right. A hydrometer will give you exact alcohol levels.

Also - some recipes will tell you to use both malt and sugar in the brew. You don't need to add any sugar at all though. An all malt brew is much tastier, I find, and you can also use malt, just before bottling, to kick off the carbonation process. All malt beer is more expensive.

I prefer heavily hopped beer. This is purely a matter of taste, although hops are good to counterbalance sweetness and prevent heavier beers from tasing cloyingly sweet. My next door neighbor has wild hops growing in his yard. Local hops are cool. But my favorite hops are Cascadia hops, used in Sierra Nevada and the amazing Poleeka Gold ale.

stbalbach is right. You can brew beer in a bathtub if you want to, as long as you sterilize it first!
posted by troutfishing at 9:31 AM on January 11, 2004

The Brewery: Technical articles on brewing-related topics. Extensive information for beginners and also on equipment.
posted by anastasiav at 12:52 PM on January 11, 2004

My boyfriend started out with a kit over a year ago and has since graduated to full all-grain brewing. His brew pot (40+ liters, I believe) was special-ordered from a catering shop. He bought a triple-ring propane burner and a gas tank and now does all of the boiling outside. He differs from a lot of you guys in that he uses plastic bottles. They're cheaper and easier to cap. (In fact, he even did me a batch of cider and bottled it in my recycled Diet Coke bottles.) He's wanted to move up to kegs for a long time but unfortunately they're prohibitively expensive in Australia. Now he's toying with the idea of importing a container load from the US. (Any Aussie brewers interested?)

Another useful thing he has is a cooling apparatus that he built. It's basically a big coil of copper pipe with hose attached to either end. One end goes on the tap and the other drains the water out the other end. He uses it after the boil to bring the beer temperature down quickly. It's a fairly common design I think and you'd probably be able to find instructions on a brewing site.

He uses a cooler for the grain similar to what plinth described. I'm not sure on the specifics but I believe he built his own filter out of some windowscreen-type material. I'll send him this link and see if he has anything else to add...
posted by web-goddess at 3:12 PM on January 11, 2004

He just e-mailed me his comments:

"I think I'd just put in a plug for http://www.listermann.com. The guy who runs it is really cool, very helpful and knows his stuff. He's in Cincinatti, and ships orders over $35 free to states east of the Mississippi.

Also news://rec.crafts.brewing and http://www.howtobrew.com.

http://www.rcbequip.com in California have great prices, and seem to come well recommended on the newsgroup."
posted by web-goddess at 3:36 PM on January 11, 2004

Here's an easy keg system whose tanks are small enough to put in a regular fridge. The 3-keg kit costs between $50-$60, and comes with 10 CO2 cartridges to use. They say the whole thing is reusable up to ten times. I've brewed and served with it, and give it a thumbs up. It really takes the pain out of bottling, which was always the worst part for me.
posted by scarabic at 5:03 PM on January 11, 2004

I've been ordering beer-making supplies from these guys for 20 years. I'm also on my second batch of wine. It's fun, in a craftsy sort of way, relatively cheap, especially if you'd drink all that beer or wine anyway, and rewarding -- you get beer or wine out of it. Way cool.

In 20 years of brewing, starting in my college dorm room, under less-than-ideal conditions, I've never -- not once -- had a bottle explode. What do you guys do to make that happen?
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:51 AM on January 12, 2004

Lots of good info up above, so I'll just add a few comments...

Try to avoid kits with plastic buckets they get scratched and will get contaminated sooner or later. Glass carboys aren't much more, you'll probably need a 6 gallon and a 5 gallon.

Remember that the hardest part of brewing is making sure everything is sanitary.

Once you do a batch or two of plain extract definitely go for a batch with some grain. It's not much harder, and infinitely more rewarding.

Since you're in PDX, head to the main branch of the library downtown. They've got quite a few brewing books and subscriptions to at least 3-4 decent magazines.

I second rec.crafts.brewing... tons of guys from PDX on there.

I've heard nothing but good things about the guys from the Oregon Brew Crew. I've never made a meeting, but that's due to laziness more than anything else.

Here's a decent free online book about brewing. You'll often hear people talk crap about the Charlie Papazian books. They've never steered me wrong, but YMMV.

I've not yet gone the kegging route as the cost is a bit prohibitive right now (I don't have a spare fridge, etc.). I make up for my semi-dislike of bottling by using mostly 22oz bottles.
posted by togdon at 9:37 PM on January 12, 2004

Mr. Beer!

I haven't tried it but it looks pretty good. I saw them at a real live target for half price last week.
posted by rschroed at 6:57 PM on January 13, 2004

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