Loading up with equipment for a new hobby can seem daunting. But, most people can get started making their own beer for under $200. Even less if you have a few things on hand in your kitchen. Here’s that basic, cheap & easy starter kit for the home brewer to be – all the equipment you’ll need with some tips help you make sure you’re picking the best tools for the job.
This may seem obvious but it’s a pretty big decision. Are you brewing inside or outside? If you’re inside, you’ll be making wort (aka the sugary water ready for fermenting into beer) on your stovetop. In that case, all equipment must fit on your stovetop. If you’ve been relegated to the outdoors, your best bet starting out is to go for a turkey fryer or other propane burner.
Whether you’re going all-grain or starting with malt extract, you’ll need a large vessel that can withstand a lot of heat. For extract, you’ll need something at least four gallons. This pot should be durable and capable of holding consistent heat. If you’re buying a new pot, get the biggest pot you can easily store. As you get deeper into the hobby, you’ll want to experiment with grains and ingredients that will take up more room. Plus, a bigger pot means more beer!
The Basic: 5 Gallon Basic Pot
For the gearhead: 10 Gallon Brew Kettle With Ball Lock
When you’re starting out, a mash paddle will take the form of a large, sturdy, metal spoon. Something long enough that you can reach the bottom of your pot without risking burns from the boiling water. The spoon should be metal to avoid chemicals leached from treated plastic or wooden spoons into your beer.
The Basic: Stainless Steel Spoon
For the gearhead: Mash Paddle
Filter & Siphon
After the boil, you’ll need to separate your wort from solids like hop matter and grain hulls. A siphon, also called a racking cane, is perfect for the job. You might want to get a slightly more expensive “auto-siphon” that will start the siphoning for you and be more sanitary for your beer. It is also a good idea to have a filter to keep any particulate from being sucked into the siphon. A mesh strainer or screen works best for this job, but a colander with small holes can also work; especially if you already own one.
The Basic: ½” Auto Siphon
Brewing, similar to baking, is about precision. To measure ingredients and steps in the process you’ll need some basic tools: a measuring cup, a digital scale, and a digital timer (your iphone will work just fine.). There are also two more specialized tools you need for brewing, a waterproof thermometer that has a range reaching 190F, and a hydrometer.
The hydrometer measures the amount of sugar in a liquid and will allow you to calculate how much alcohol is in your final beer. Make sure you have both the hydrometer and hydrometer jar for taking these measurements.
For the gearhead: Gravity Testing Kit
StarSan is the food-grade sanitizer and every brewer's best friend. From surfaces and spoons to bottle caps and hands, StarSan is a powerful and completely safe sanitizer. As many a tour guide has said on a brewery visit, “Ninety percent of brewing is cleaning,” and StarSan is the perfect tool for the job.
The Basic: StarSan
For a homebrewer getting started, a plastic bucket with a tight lid will work just fine as a place to ferment your beer. The bucket should hold over six gallons and should have a hole that fits an airlock. Other inexpensive options include a carboy or a plastic fermenter.
The Basic: Fermentation Bucket
For the gearhead: Plastic Conical Fermenter
This will be attached to your fermentation vessel. An airlock allows CO2 produced by yeast to be released without letting contaminants in the air into your fermenting beer. It’s a good idea to get a couple of these so you always have a back up.
The Basic: Three Piece Airlock
To bottle your homebrewed creation you’ll need bottles, bottle caps, and a capper. You can save a little cash by keeping bottles of beers you’ve consumed and thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing them. You’ll also need a nice big container to sanitize everything. A stopped sink works well as do large storage containers, but anything that can hold water and some bottles will suffice. Make sure to buy bottles made for holding pressurized liquids, that means you’ll have to skip the cute swing-tops you see at Anthropologie or other stores.
The Basic: Handheld Capper
For The Gear Head: Bench Capper
Bottling Wand & ⅜” Beverage Line
You’ll need 5-8 feet of easy-to-sanitize food grade beverage line and an attachable wand for transferring beer into bottles.
The Basic: Bottling Wand
Now for the fun part. What kind of beer are you going to make? For your first brew, a pre-packaged ingredient kit is a great idea. This helps to control ingredients and measurement so you can focus on getting the process of brewing down.
Good kits will also have target measurements for original gravity and final gravity (measured with your hydrometer) so you can track your progress. When deciding what kit to buy, first be sure that you are shopping from a reliable source. Skip the convenience or grocery store shelves and go for a retailer that specializes in beer and brewing.
Beer ingredients, just like beer, are best when they are fresh. Old ingredients like hops can create off-flavors in your beer. Hops that are too old or stored too warm create isovaleric acid which gives beer a cheesy or foot-like off-flavor, not something you’ll enjoy in a beer you’ve worked hard to create. For that reason you should also avoid kits that have pre-hopped extract. This may seem like you’re saving a step, but really, hops and malt should not be stored the same way. Your flavors won’t be clean and distinct.
For a jumpstart on your homebrewing equipment collection, you can get a prepacked homebrewing kit, like this one from More Beer. As you learn what you like and don’t like about a brew day, you can always upgrade pieces of specific equipment. As you move from extract to partial mash and eventually to all grain your equipment needs will change, but you can keep many of the things on this list for a long, long time.