So you've decided it's time for your first brew day. Where to begin? Though one can spend a lifetime learning about the intricacies of the beer-making process, basic extract homebrewing is rather straightforward and can be accomplished with minimal equipment cost. Below is a standard list of homebrewing equipment items to get you started.
Basic Beer Homebrewing Equipment
Brew Kettle (or pot) - Probably the most expensive of the start-up brewing items, a metal pot for stove-top use is needed. It should be large enough to hold at least half of the total amount of beer you want to make each batch.
Brew Spoon - Used for stirring the extract smoothly into the water, and for pushing down the pesky hop particles that stick to the side of the brew kettle. We recommend metal spoons for metal vessels, like the kettle, and only using plastic spoons with plastic fermentation buckets.
Fermenters - The most economical choice for fermentation vessels are 5-6 gallon plastic bucket-style fermenters with air-tight lids. Be sure the plastic is food-grade and that they are handled with care - no abrasive cleaners or brushes should be used in them. Having two buckets is ideal, since transferring of the beer is needed for clarification & bottling.
Airlock & Grommet - This is necessary to allow CO2 to leave the fermentation vessels while preventing outside air from making contact with the beer. These go in the small holes on the fermenter lids.
Plastic or Vinyl Tubing - Necessary to transfer your beer from one vessel to another in a manner that minimizes air contact.
Cleaning Agent & Sanitizer - The need for keeping items clean and sanitized cannot be emphasized enough. Cleaning products (like OxiClean or PBW) should be first used to remove visible substances from the equipment, and then a no-rinse sanitzer (like StarSan) should be used to kill off microorganisms that could infect your brew.
Additional Optional Equipment
The following items are optional but very helpful and recommended:
Glass Carboy - This is used as a replacement for one of the plastic fermentation buckets. Advantages include transparency (you can see your beer fermenting) and durability (glass is less likely to scratch and harbor bacteria over time). But be careful - glass can get slippery and will be more dangerous if dropped. You will also need a special curved brush to clean the inside of the carboy.
Siphon (Auto-Siphon) - This is used to draw liquid up and out of the fermentation vessels and through the plastic tubing when transferring your beer. Extremely easy to use, just be sure that it is very clean. Filling just the tubing with clean water before placing it in the beer for transferring will also initiate siphoning.
Hydrometer - A simple scientific device used to measure the density of your pre-fermentation and post-fermentation liquid. Since sugar is consumed by yeast during fermentation, the density of the liquid will change, going from more dense (with sugar) to less dense (after sugar loss). This difference in density indicates the level of alcohol in the finished beer, and also helps you know at what point the beer is finished and ready to drink or bottle. If you're going to use a hydrometer, be sure to get a hydrometer jar. That way you can test a sample outside of the main batch of beer, reducing the likelihood of contamination.
Thermometer (Glass Stem or Fermometer) - It is helpful to know the temperature at which your beer has been fermenting, when following a recipe or when trying to ensure consistency between batches. Also, your pre-fermentation beer needs to have cooled down to at least 80° F (about 26° or 27° C) before pitching yeast, so having a thermometer on hand will help.
Bottle Filler - Most likely you won't want to serve all your beer directly from the bucket (though you could, in an English cask-like style) and therefore you'll most likely want to bottle your beer. The bottling process is fun but can be tiring and messy, so a bottle filler will help expedite the process, and prevent unnecessary amounts of ambient air (oxygen) from entering the beer.
You’ll discover that, like any other activity that requires tools, the more homebrewing equipment you own typically means an easier brew day and a better finished product. But for now, focus on knocking out several batches of extract homebrew to practice your routine.
Jeffrey Michael, known as The Biking Brewer, is Certified with the Beer Judge Certification Program, having judged over twenty homebrew competitions over the past ten years. Also a trained sommelier and student of the French Culinary Institute, he frequently travels to uncommon parts of the globe in search of new fermented beverages. He tweets at @TheBikingBrewer and posts at www.facebook/TheBikingBrewer.