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PHOTO: Cambridge Brewing Company
If you are a fan of good beer – not the mass-produced mega-corporation style swill that is forced on us through endless streams of commercials – then you have no doubt witnessed the explosion of craft beer over the past few years. Hundreds of microbrews now pack the shelves at your local liquor stores. Finally, beer with flavor and character is available for the masses. Supporting local “Mom and Pop” businesses and breweries AND enjoying quality beer is now possible.
The popularity of these microbrews has led many beer-lovers to question how beer is made and what is involved. As a result, home brewing has quickly grown in popularity. Who doesn’t want to just walk into the kitchen and grab a fresh, delicious beer – one where you know every single ingredient used to make it? If the ingredients are chosen carefully, gone are the issues of headaches due to preservatives and chemical additives, gone are any issues of GMO’s in the beer, and gone are possible allergic reactions.
You may be thinking of trying this out for yourself, but you probably have a lot of questions. Fortunately, there are multiple sources of information and help out there, and that home brewers are generally a fun and helpful group of people.
Here’s a little Q&A to help you get started:
“Isn’t there a large amount of equipment required?”
Generally, to brew beer at home, some equipment is required. At a minimum, you need a large stock pot – roughly 5 gallons in capacity, a 5-gallon plastic bottle with an airlock (also called a fermentor), a 5-gallon plastic bucket with a spigot and bottling equipment (to get the beer from the fermentor and into bottles), and cleaning/sanitizing equipment – nothing worse than spending the time to brew your beer only to have it get funky on you (in a bad way). Of course, you can always go “bigger” and more advanced – with kegging systems, brewing stands, and other pieces of specialized equipment.
“Does it cost a lot of money to get started?”
You can find pre-packaged starter kits at the multitude of brewing stores that have sprung up in the past few years. Depending of the size of the batch of beer you want to brew and the complexity level of your brewing kit, it should cost anywhere from $80 – $200 to get started initially. Of course, you can go big and it could cost in the $1,000’s.
“Do I have to keep buying equipment?”
Not typically. If you keep your equipment clean and sanitize it properly, you can re-use almost everything (except bottle caps, cleansers, and ingredients). Keep reusing your bottles and bottling equipment.
“How long does it take?”
Brew day can take a few hours. It typically consists of bringing 2-3 gallons of water up to a boil, adding ingredients, boiling for an hour, quickly cooling the batch down, adding the yeast, and transferring it to a fermentor. After the beer starts fermenting, it can be ready for bottling in as little as two weeks or upwards of three months, depending on the style of beer you are making. After that, you can either bottle it, or keg it. If you bottle it, it can take about two weeks to carbonate. Kegging will yield drinkable beer in a matter of a few days.
These are just the very basics of getting started in home brewing. As you learn more, you can create more complex beers that can rival those of the big breweries. But even with a simple brew, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself and you know what is in your beer. Plus, giving home brewed beer is a great gift or a good excuse to have friends over and enjoy a few beers.
Have fun with it and enjoy the end results, responsibly of course!