home brew equipment

Homebrew 101 – equipment

When it comes to equipment, homebrewing can be relatively cheap to do.

It is certainly possible to get a brew going and bottled for under £40, provided you invest some time collecting old bottles. There are additional pieces of equipment that can go a long way to improving your experience. Many homebrew shops sell starter packs. These are a good way to ensure you have all you need. Here I take a look at the equipment involved in doing your first brew.

Equipment

Essential

Fermentation vessel

The fermentation vessel (abbreviated to FV on homebrew forums) is the bucket in which your beer will ferment. It is nothing more than a big plastic bucket with a tight-fitting lid. There are upgrades you can make to your FV, some of which I’ll look at later. The FV shall set you back around £10.

Fermentation Vessel
Fermentation Vessel with a volume scale marked out, and thermochromic display (these are not very accurate – a thermomemter is always a good idea)

 

Airlock

The airlock sits in either a rubber bung or grommet in a hole on the lid of your FV. It is there to let CO2 out, ad prevent anything unwanted getting in. During fermentation, it will bubble periodically. An airlock should not cost ore than £3.

Airlock
A basic airlock and grommet. This fits in to a hole on the top of the fermentation vessel.

Long-handeled spoon

Usually made of plastic (but neven use wood), the this spoon should reach right to the bottom of the FV. It has a number of uses, but is primarily used for mixing the extract with the water, and then for airating the suagry water (wort) prior to adding (pitching) the yeast. It’ll probably not cost more than £2.

Siphon

A siphon is used to transfer the beer either to a pressure barrel or to bottles. It is a long rigid plastic tube with a sediment trap at one end and flexible plastic tube at the other.

Siphon
A siphon, complete with sediment trap.

Bottle brush

If using bottles, you’ll need to give them a good clean, and a bottle brush will help. Cost: ~£3

Bottle brush
Bottle brush

Bottles/pressure barrel

Once fermented, you’ll need something to condition your beer in (and to serve it from). Bottles are convinient and easily transported. Pressure barrels are good if you’re having a party. Expect to spend £1 per bottle if buying new, and for a 23L batch, you’ll need up to 48 of them. A basic pressure barrel will cost about £20, but can be accessorised with CO2 inlets (discussed further down).

Bottle Capper

There are different types. The twin-lever cappers are less bulky. It re-using old beer bottles, invest on one that can be adjusted for the height of the neck. You should get a bit of change out of £15, though cheaper cappers are available for under £10.

Twin-lever bottle capper
Twin-lever bottle capper. This model can be adjusted to accept both high and low-neck bottles.

Nice to have

The following are not absolutly essential, but can enhance the process, some more than others.

Tap

Adding a tap to the bottom of your fermentation vessel can help you avoid the need for siphoning. It can also make bottling a lot easier. A PVC tap will set you back around £5.

Tap for fermenter
A basic tap that can be retrofitted to most fermentation vessels. The rubber seal should be on the outside.

Thermometer

It’s wise to check the temperature of your wort before adding the yeast. A simple thermometer will allow this, and can be bought for around £4.

Hydrometer

A hydrometer is used to tell you the gravity, in other words how dense (and therefore indicates sugar content), of the wort before and after fermentation. Having a reading before and after fermentation allows you to calculate the alcohol content of your beer.

Hydrometer
Taking gravity readings allows you to calculate %ABV of your beer.

Trial jar

A trial jar is a measuring cylinder in which samples can be placed to measure the gravity of your brew. It is used in conjunction with a hrdrometer.

Bottling wand

A rigid tube with a valve at one end, this attaches to the end of the siphon tube, or the tap on the fermenter. When the valve meets the bottom of the bottle, with a little pressure, the beer flows out of the bottom and gradually fills the bottle. To stop the flow of beer, simply either lift the wand out if attached to siphon tube, or lower bottle it attached to the fermentation vessel. The volume displace by the wand when in the bottle leaves exactly th riught amount of headspace in the bottle hwne removed. Bottling is a much clean experience if you have one of these. Rough price: £5.

Bottling wand
Despite its low cost, a bottling wand is invaluable come bottling day.

Bottle tree

Cleaning and sanitizing bottles is a particular burdon on time and space. One way to reduce the impact on space is to have a bottle tree. It neatly holds 48 bottles and allows them to drain. For less than £20, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Bottle tree
Bottle tree

Bottle rinser

A bottle rinser can really help with cleaning and sterilising bottles. Simply invert the bottle, press down a couple of times and a jet of water/sanitizer is squirted up into the bottle. Combined with a bottle tree, this can be a real time saver. It should cost no more than £20.

Bottle rinser
A bottle rinser squirts liquid (i.e water, sanitizer etc) up in to a bottle when the bottle is inverted and pushed on to it.

CO2 bulb holder

If using a pressure barrel, you’ll likely need to use a CO2 bulb or other CO2 supply to pressurise the barrel and prevent air flowing back in to the barrel. These are fairly inexpensive, and are used to hold an 8g CO2 bulb on to the lid of the pressure barrel (it’s worth getting a pressure barrel lid that already can accomodate this).

Consumables

Sanitizer

It is widely said that 90% of brewing is cleaning. That is indeed correct, so you’ll need sanitizer. Many types are available, including no-rinse. A small tub can be obtained for around £3, and this should last a few brew days.

Beer kit

For each brew, you’ll need a beer kit. These range in price and contain either one or two cans of malt extract, a sachet of yeast, and sometimes a sachet of hops. For the one-tin kits, you’ll usually need about 1kg of brewing sugar/spraymalt too. Kit’s range in both price and quality, but are normally found in the £10-30 range. Don’t be put off by the cheaper kits – they can be a good place to start.

Courage Directors kit
Courage Directors kit. This is a two-can kit.

Brewing sugar

If using a one-can kit (see above), you’ll likely need to add brewing sugar or spraymalt. It can also be used to prime your beer. A 1kg should cost about £2.

Priming Sugar/Carbonation drops

Unless force-carbonating your beer, you’ll need either priming sugar(spraymalt or brewing sugar works well – see above) or carbonation drops. Either can be obtained for about £2.

Bottle caps

If using glass bottles, you’ll need caps too. This come in a variety of colours/designs. If you buy new bottles, they may come with caps, but it’s always a good idea to have some spare. A bag of 100 will cost £2-3.

CO2 bulbs

If using a pressure barrel with a CO2 bulb attachment, you’ll need an 8g CO2 bulb. These are disposable and usually come in packs of eight or more for under £5.

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