Home brewing recommendations

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ChowYunPhat
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Home brewing recommendations

Post by ChowYunPhat »

For those of you who have delved into the hobby of home brewing, how did you go about this? I'm considering giving it a shot and enjoy craft beers. The excess time I have at home demands a hobby for the sake of my sanity.

Several questions for today's home brewers
  • What types of equipment / kits would you recommend purchasing to get started?
  • If you wanted to splurge on equipment, what upgrades would you recommend?
  • Best beer bottles for reuse or do you use other storage containers?
  • Money saving tips?
  • Favorite recipes that have turned out well?
  • Storage of equipment and location of your setup (garage / basement / other, climate controlled)?
  • Equipment cleaning process?
  • Other recommendations or advice to help avoid beginner mistakes?
I'm aware of other information sources, and more curious about some of the BH's experiences. Appreciate folks' insights.
A wise man and his money are friends forever...
captpete
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by captpete »

I am also interested in this and have been for a long time but up until now I haven’t had a block of time long enough to dedicate to it. With work slowing I will have a month to give it a try.

I’ve been researching “starter kits” but would like some advice on something more substantial. I think people post things like this on Bogleheads looking for the “value thinkers” perspective.

Hope to see some more replies.
whomever
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by whomever »

For the detailed advice/procedures I'd get a book, or there are probably websites.

My 2 cents: I brewed for a few years ages ago before the craft beer renaissance arrived. Washing bottles is a huge pain, as is carbonating in the bottle. I ended up getting a soda keg/CO2 setup. The good news there is you aren't messing with bottles and carbonating is a no-brainer. The bad news is that you have 5 gallons of the same beer to drink; unless you drink a lot or have friends that takes a while. Once craft beers arrived I found I'd rather just buy them for the variety.

The soda keg setup is still going strong, though, for seltzer water.
ipabrewer
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by ipabrewer »

Here's one of the websites where you can find the answers:

https://www.homebrewtalk.com/

I used it when I started brewing, about 15 years ago. It's a fun hobby. It comes with a few inconveniences, like washing bottles and equipment, but overall it's fun.
barnaclebob
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by barnaclebob »

Ive been brewing for about a decade. Most will recommend starting with extract (malt syrup). Skip that garbage. The only extra equipment you need for all grain brewing is a $20 mesh bag.

Look up Brew in Bag homebrewing. Its what I do exclusively and turn our great beer. Brew in bag is easier with less cleanup than traditional 2 or 3 pot brewing.

For 5 gal batches all you need is a 10 gal pot, burner, mesh bag, fermenter bucket, various tubes, and a few other small odds and ends.

Bottling or kegging is up to you. If you bottle, do it on the dishwasher door to make cleanup easy.

I use brewtarget to calculate my water temps and volumes. Its really important to adjust your settings after each batch until you get it dialed in. After that you really only need to measure your initial water temp. I only measure the mash temp about half the time now and haven't measured my specific gravity in a couple years. My focus is on making good tasting beer so i dont nerd out on all of the fussy details or do complicated decoction brews. I dont really care of i can't replicate a beer exactly.

An upgrade i would suggest is a banjo style burner because they are much quieter and more efficient. I also use a sabco keg fermenter so I can let my beer mostly carbonate itself before kegging and i do 10 gal batches so i needed the fermenter volume.
lazydavid
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by lazydavid »

Tons of options all across the spectrum, from extract brewing you can do in a large pot on your stove, all the way up to 3-vessel HERMS system with full automation, like a scaled down version of a regular brewery.

After starting with a Picobrew (the Keurig of beer brewing), and spending a great deal of time researching, I moved up to a Brew Boss system, which is a single-vessel automatic electric brewing solution. That set me back about $2k, and I spent about another $1000-1500 on fermenters, refrigerators to put them in, kegs and miscellaneous hardware. I also strongly considered systems from High Gravity Brewing, Spike, SSBrewtech, and Electric Brewing Supply, but settled on Brew Boss, primarily due to the really cool automation and some of the other innovations.

There's a good chance you don't want to spend a solid four-figure amount before you figure out how much you're into brewing. That's completely fine. I would probably suggest BIAB (Brew in a Bag), which is a relatively simple way to do all-grain brewing with a single vessel. In fact, my Brew Boss is really just a super-fancy BIAB setup. But you can get started much simpler than that. If you want a kit I would look at something like This one from MoreBeer! for about $250, which has some nice upgrades over their cheaper kit that allow it to be more flexible. You can also assemble your own, or do a 2-vessel setup using a cooler as a mash tun. Like I said at the top, the options are almost endless.

But above all, I'd recommend getting involved over at homebrewtalk.com, which is a fantastic forum filled with people at all levels of skill from rank beginners to commercial brewers with decades of experience, and every level of investment. Spend some time lurking, see what other folks are doing that you think might work for your situations, ask questions. You'll get lots of help. I'm no expert myself, but am willing to answer any questions I can.
bryanm
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by bryanm »

I highly recommend "How to Brew" by John Palmer. The first edition is free online and the fourth edition is $15. It really does have everything you need to know to get started, and is easy to understand. It has great recommendations for basic equipement.

I do recommend you start with extract--I prefer "dry malt extract" (DME) over syrup. A key thing to remember when starting is not to go crazy. Don't try anything "special." No barleywines, lagers, session IPAs, double-imperial-bavarian-hefeweizens, etc. Stick with a pale ale, brown ale, or the like. And keep batch sizes small (5 gallons)--you really do need different equipment to do larger batch sizes. You can do a 5 gallon brew using mostly things you probably have around the house: a stock pot, a 5g bucket, and the like. (A post above mentioned a 10G pot, but I don't recommend that for a first time. A typical stove will have trouble keeping a full 5 gallons at a boil. Instead, use a smaller pot and don't boil the whole batch. Do a "partial boil"--details in the book or in various online locations.)

Above all: don't worry, have a brew.
travelspot
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by travelspot »

Yes the book “How to Brew” was key for me, and a great starting point. Get a huge, quality pot too.

I would also stress the need to (over) sanitize everything during the brewing process.

It’s a fun hobby, good luck!
If you don't do stuff, then you don't do stuff.
bikesandbeers
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by bikesandbeers »

I started brew in a bag with mixed results, moved back to extract and got everything dialed in, and then moved back to large scale all-grain brewing, 10 gallons at a time and kegging.

You could look on craigslist or facebook marketplace for equipment
The Broz
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by The Broz »

My buddy got a kit a few years ago - Mr. Beer or Mr. Brew or something like that. I would say to start with something simple like that and see if you like doing it. Yeah, the process will be simplified and the results may not be what you are looking for exactly but you could avoid pouring (no pun intended) a bunch of money into a hobby that you hate and further cluttering your basement / attic / garage. If you end up liking the process, then start looking at more serious equipment, books, etc. Alton Brown did an episode of Good Eats on brewing beer many moons ago.
captpete
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by captpete »

Thanks for all these great suggestions. Just the kind of information I was looking for from fellow Bogleheads.

Pete
SevenBridgesRoad
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by SevenBridgesRoad »

Another idea: if you have a local or nearby brew club, you will have opportunities to join in and help others on their brew days. You can get a feel for the hobby without spending money up front. I highly recommend this approach.

Home brewing is a great hobby. The end product is just part of it. It's a fun combination of science, cooking, plumbing and other forms of putting things together, depending how far you go. For example, building a "keezer" out of a chest freezer (to hold 5 gallon kegs and dispense like at a brew pub): involves some easy carpentry, plumbing, and a bit of fun MacGyverism.

Some other random thoughts:
1) Start with 5 gallons batches. It's plenty of beer at a time for most people. Liquid gets very heavy and moving 5 gallons is easier. And some of my ten-gallon friends are constantly looking to get rid of beer. Brewing is the fun part and storing beer can quickly overrun you.

2) It can get messy particularly when learning (boil overs, lots of slopping sticky liquid on the floor). Lots of stories about disasters in the kitchen. Fortunately I have a nice space in the garage.

3) I started out heating with propane (as many do). Moved to electric mainly because it gets very cold here in the winter and I didn't want to keep the garage door open...must have adequate ventilation if using propane. Now I really like electric and think it's the way to go. You'll want a 220 outlet.

4) Expanded over time to three vessels (boil kettle, mash tun and hot liquor tank) and did it this way for years, before gradually simplifying to brew-in-bag using single or two vessels. Easier clean up, too. Another reason to brew with friends and see the different approaches.

5) Skip the bottling phase and go right for 5-gallon corny kegs. Bottling is a pain (did it with friends a few times and knew it wasn't for me). Kegging does require more stuff, though. I think it's worth it.

I love the tinkering part of the hobby. Always something to mess with. And the beer is really good too!
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ChowYunPhat
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by ChowYunPhat »

whomever wrote: Wed May 06, 2020 11:17 am For the detailed advice/procedures I'd get a book, or there are probably websites.

My 2 cents: I brewed for a few years ages ago before the craft beer renaissance arrived. Washing bottles is a huge pain, as is carbonating in the bottle. I ended up getting a soda keg/CO2 setup. The good news there is you aren't messing with bottles and carbonating is a no-brainer. The bad news is that you have 5 gallons of the same beer to drink; unless you drink a lot or have friends that takes a while. Once craft beers arrived I found I'd rather just buy them for the variety.

The soda keg setup is still going strong, though, for seltzer water.
Thanks Whomever. The consensus seems to be 5 GA batches to start with and having a decent pot that can accommodate. Appreciate the insights.
A wise man and his money are friends forever...
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ChowYunPhat
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by ChowYunPhat »

barnaclebob wrote: Wed May 06, 2020 11:37 am Look up Brew in Bag homebrewing. Its what I do exclusively and turn our great beer. Brew in bag is easier with less cleanup than traditional 2 or 3 pot brewing.

For 5 gal batches all you need is a 10 gal pot, burner, mesh bag, fermenter bucket, various tubes, and a few other small odds and ends.

Bottling or kegging is up to you. If you bottle, do it on the dishwasher door to make cleanup easy.

I use brewtarget to calculate my water temps and volumes. Its really important to adjust your settings after each batch until you get it dialed in. After that you really only need to measure your initial water temp. I only measure the mash temp about half the time now and haven't measured my specific gravity in a couple years. My focus is on making good tasting beer so i dont nerd out on all of the fussy details or do complicated decoction brews. I dont really care of i can't replicate a beer exactly.

An upgrade i would suggest is a banjo style burner because they are much quieter and more efficient. I also use a sabco keg fermenter so I can let my beer mostly carbonate itself before kegging and i do 10 gal batches so i needed the fermenter volume.
Great advice barnaclebob. I'm taking notes.
A wise man and his money are friends forever...
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ChowYunPhat
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by ChowYunPhat »

lazydavid wrote: Wed May 06, 2020 12:09 pm Tons of options all across the spectrum, from extract brewing you can do in a large pot on your stove, all the way up to 3-vessel HERMS system with full automation, like a scaled down version of a regular brewery.
Lots of great stuff in your post lazydavid. Thanks for all of the great guidance.
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ChowYunPhat
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by ChowYunPhat »

SevenBridgesRoad wrote: Wed May 06, 2020 2:58 pm Another idea: if you have a local or nearby brew club, you will have opportunities to join in and help others on their brew days. You can get a feel for the hobby without spending money up front. I highly recommend this approach.
This may be the best advice thus far. Start learning with some experience before making any financial investment. Appreciate this little gem.
A wise man and his money are friends forever...
Brewman
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by Brewman »

I would also like to recommend Palmers How to brew book. I got that when I started about 15 years ago and it really helped me understand the process before I jumped in. I would also recommend after you read the book and stop at your local Home Brew store once they open back up and ask them to help you get setup and started. There are a handful of shops within 45 mins of where I live and the people that work there are always happy to get a new convert and help show you the way, some even offer some mini hands on classes to walk you through the process.

I would also recommend that you start off with Extract brewing at first to see if it is for you then you can easily move up to partial mash or BIAB and even all grain brewing later as you get further roped into the hobby.

I also jumped into wine making using much of the same equipment.

Enjoy
lazydavid
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by lazydavid »

Brewman wrote: Thu May 07, 2020 9:17 am I would also recommend that you start off with Extract brewing at first to see if it is for you then you can easily move up to partial mash or BIAB and even all grain brewing later as you get further roped into the hobby.
Just to clarify, BIAB is all-grain brewing. It's just a variant that's been adapted for the use of a single vessel vs. 3.

I knew what you meant, but newbies might not. :sharebeer
barnaclebob
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by barnaclebob »

ChowYunPhat wrote: Wed May 06, 2020 3:12 pm
barnaclebob wrote: Wed May 06, 2020 11:37 am Look up Brew in Bag homebrewing. Its what I do exclusively and turn our great beer. Brew in bag is easier with less cleanup than traditional 2 or 3 pot brewing.

For 5 gal batches all you need is a 10 gal pot, burner, mesh bag, fermenter bucket, various tubes, and a few other small odds and ends.

Bottling or kegging is up to you. If you bottle, do it on the dishwasher door to make cleanup easy.

I use brewtarget to calculate my water temps and volumes. Its really important to adjust your settings after each batch until you get it dialed in. After that you really only need to measure your initial water temp. I only measure the mash temp about half the time now and haven't measured my specific gravity in a couple years. My focus is on making good tasting beer so i dont nerd out on all of the fussy details or do complicated decoction brews. I dont really care of i can't replicate a beer exactly.

An upgrade i would suggest is a banjo style burner because they are much quieter and more efficient. I also use a sabco keg fermenter so I can let my beer mostly carbonate itself before kegging and i do 10 gal batches so i needed the fermenter volume.
Great advice barnaclebob. I'm taking notes.
Thanks.

One more completely optional upgrade I remembered for BIAB (Brew In A Bag) is your own grain mill. The Cereal Killer is what I use. This allows you to crush the grain finer for better suger conversion efficiency. Most homebrew suppliers keep their mills pretty course so that people don't clog up their traditional brewing systems (its called a stuck sparge or stuck mash and is a huge pain in the rear). A fine grind with BIAB will reduce your grain usage by about 10-20%. So from an investment perspective its not great but its more fun IMO. it will take about 30 to 50 5 gal batches to pay for itself. But it also means less volume in your mash tun, less heavy lifting and more fun.

Another semi necessary piece of equipment i forgot to mention is a wort chiller. These are easy to make with a 50' coil of 1/4" copper pipe from lowes the wort outside. Also in some areas in the summer your tap water might not be cold enough to get your wort under 70 degrees. Its really important to keep your fermentation temps in the mid 60's or you start getting off flavors.
kenoryan
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by kenoryan »

I started brewing at home about 10 years ago. I bought a kit with recipe from northernbrewer.com and i made a batch of Sierra Nevada Pale ale clone. It turned out pretty good. Then I started making 5 gallon batches every couple months and the bottles started accumulating and I started giving away a lot of beer. I was also drinking a lot more than usual because the next batch was on deck! Carrying the carboys down to the basement was hard on my back. Anyway, I did spend a couple grand on equipment and stuff. I stopped brewing two years ago because it was getting a bit too much and now you can pretty much get any craft beer at your local grocery store. I gave away most of the equipment like the kegs and CO2 cylinder and carboys. I kept the burners and large steel kettles for making tomato sauce from my garden tomatoes.

It was a fun hobby while it lasted.
redmaw
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by redmaw »

Definitely read how to brew as already recommended. It will help you understand the minimum equipment you will need. You probably have most of it now. I recommend going light on equipment until you know you are going to stick with it. Use a stock pot you already have, if you brew with extract you can't make it in an 3 or 4 gallon pot on your stove and top of the batch to 5gs most recipes call for. After that you'll need a fermentor (I use a food grade bucket) and a bottle capper and that's about it for a truely basic setup. Once you do it once or twice you can tell what parts of the process need improvement, and invest accordingly. In addition to home brew talk mentioned above I learned most from the beeradvocate forum (Homebrew section). If you stick with it definitely check out brewcipher(recipe calculation spreadsheet) made by vikeman on that forum.

For specific recipes it depends on what you like but here is the simplest recipes ever and it's good beer:

5g batch
Bring to boil, add 6lbs of wheat dme (it's actually 50/50 wheat and barley) add 1 ounce of any German hop (such as hallertua), boil 1 hour, cool, add two packs of hefeweisen yeast, ferment as cool as you can (lower 60s ideal, I just throw it in the basement) for 3 weeks bottle, wait a week or so, done.

Other thoughts, don't try to save money by brewing,it's not worth the time, and the savings are minimal unless you brew a ton. Equipment costs ratio most anyway. I get my supplies from morebeer.com but there are plenty of suppliers.
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beernutz
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by beernutz »

Lots of great suggestions and information so far. I have been homebrewing since 1992 so be careful, it can be addicting and expensive and also a lot of fun.

You should definitely consider finding a homebrewing club in your area. I belong to two of them in my area and have belonged to a total of 4 over my lifetime as a brewer. If there's a homebrew supply store in your area those usually have info on local clubs and imo it is a good idea to support local businesses. You can also find clubs using the AHA website: https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/ ... brew-club/

Our clubs will periodically have brew days, either at a member's home or at the local homebrew store where you can see and talk to people who are brewing. I've brewed at those at least 5 times and I also hosted a brew day at my house a few years ago where 5 batches were made. Seeing how the process is done and asking questions will help you understand some of the voodoo in brewing.

Personally I brewed one extract batch back in 1992, mainly to see if I wanted to continue brewing, then switched to all grain using something called an easymasher. About 7 years ago I built a single tier, 3-vessel, natural gas powered, PID controlled HERMS system but I also like to use brew in a bag (BIAB) sometimes for simple single infusion mash recipes. BIAB can be done with a single pot and single heat source and doesn't require a pump though imo they come in very handy.

To avoid boilovers, especially if brewing inside, I recommend using Fermcap or its generic equivalent which will drastically reduce the foam on top of the wort that causes boilovers. This could possibly save a marriage if you are brewing indoors on a stove top.

Besides cleaning and sanitation I think one of the main keys to good beer is controlling your fermentation temperature. This can be done a lot of ways but personally I use a chest freezer with a temperature controller. I built my controller but they have come down in price so much that it almost doesn't make sense to DIY them any more.

Another longer term enjoyment factor is moving to kegging as opposed to bottling. When I built my brew system I also build what is called a keezer (chest freezer made to hold kegs with taps in the side). Mine has 4 taps and holds 5 kegs and it is a joy to use as opposed to the few batches long ago that I bottled. If I want to bottle for a contest or club meeting I can do so easily from a keg.

I actually started kegging with a single keg back in the 90s using a DIY jockey box (a small ice chest filled with ice with a tap in the side and a cooling plate that beer is run through to cool the beer) for at least 10 years before building the keezer.

If you are looking for brewing equipment of course you can buy new but there are always people leaving the hobby so checking craigslist or FB marketplace or the homebrewtalk.com for sale forum can sometimes get you a bargain. A friend is currently selling his propane 3 keggle system which I know he has at least $500 in for $250 and would probably take $200. If I didn't have too much equipment already I would buy it myself.

As you get farther along in brewing I think brewing software can really make a difference in both enjoyment and effectiveness of the hobby. I invested in Beersmith many years ago and have continued to use it though upgrades but there are now many alternatives including some good free and open source ones. After using DIY spreadsheets for about 20 years brewing software has made the recipe planning and recording process a joy instead of a necessary evil.
Don't gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don't go up, don't buy it. --Will Rogers
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Quirkz
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by Quirkz »

Looks like you're getting great responses. The below comes really close to what I was going to say, so I just second it.
bryanm wrote: Wed May 06, 2020 12:20 pm I highly recommend "How to Brew" by John Palmer. The first edition is free online and the fourth edition is $15. It really does have everything you need to know to get started, and is easy to understand. It has great recommendations for basic equipement.

I do recommend you start with extract--I prefer "dry malt extract" (DME) over syrup. A key thing to remember when starting is not to go crazy. Don't try anything "special." No barleywines, lagers, session IPAs, double-imperial-bavarian-hefeweizens, etc. Stick with a pale ale, brown ale, or the like. And keep batch sizes small (5 gallons)--you really do need different equipment to do larger batch sizes. You can do a 5 gallon brew using mostly things you probably have around the house: a stock pot, a 5g bucket, and the like. (A post above mentioned a 10G pot, but I don't recommend that for a first time. A typical stove will have trouble keeping a full 5 gallons at a boil. Instead, use a smaller pot and don't boil the whole batch. Do a "partial boil"--details in the book or in various online locations.)

Above all: don't worry, have a brew.
I'd start fairly basic/cheap and only upgrade if you decide you really like it. A basic kit, a simple recipe, and call it good. Bottling is kind of a pain, but you assuming you already drink beer, you'll probably have bottles for free, and it's fine to get started. Better than dropping a few hundred or more on a kegging system that you use twice and decide you don't like.
FishTaco
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by FishTaco »

I brewed a bunch during school/training but got out of it once the kids came around. Been thinking about getting back into it. I'd give these recommendations:

-John Palmer's "How to Brew" and also his recipe books are great.
-Go straight to all-grain. It's more complicated but I found the quality to be lightyears ahead of extract brewing. You're essentially making tea at a controlled temperature rather than mixing a powder into water. The boiling, cooling, fermentation, and bottling is otherwise the same. It's not as hard as it seems.
-Use a 10-gallon insulated water cooler for a mash tun. I'd get a second in order to preheat your sparge water and keep it at the right temp when sparging. If you replace the the fittings with stainless bulkheads with ball-valves, your life will be much easier.
-Make a yeast starter for every batch and purchase quality yeast.
-Cleanliness and temperature control are crucial. A floor freezer and temperature control are great for lagering or fermentation temp control. For sanitizing, I really liked using StarSan out of everything I tried.
-Brew 5 gallon batches and go straight to kegging.
-Use a wort chiller.
pjhalifax
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by pjhalifax »

There's a lot of good advice here already so all I can add is that you might want to check out some of the early BrewingTV episodes on YouTube. It's a series by Michael Dawson and Jake Keeler, who at the time (2011-ish?) worked at Northern Brewer and made the videos as part of their marketing department. The episodes are really well done and Dawson and Keeler, and later Chip Walton, are very good hosts. They explain homebrewing basics as well as more esoteric aspects of the hobby. They all eventually left NB and I never really got into the later BTV episodes.

Here's episode 1 for starters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvkWA4wiHTQ

Dawson has his own book out called Mashmaker which has some pretty great recipes. I use that along with Jamil Zainasheff's Brewing Classic Styles as inspiration for most of the stuff I brew.
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beernutz
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Re: Home brewing recommendations

Post by beernutz »

pjhalifax wrote: Thu May 07, 2020 6:30 pm There's a lot of good advice here already so all I can add is that you might want to check out some of the early BrewingTV episodes on YouTube. It's a series by Michael Dawson and Jake Keeler, who at the time (2011-ish?) worked at Northern Brewer and made the videos as part of their marketing department. The episodes are really well done and Dawson and Keeler, and later Chip Walton, are very good hosts. They explain homebrewing basics as well as more esoteric aspects of the hobby. They all eventually left NB and I never really got into the later BTV episodes.

Here's episode 1 for starters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvkWA4wiHTQ

Dawson has his own book out called Mashmaker which has some pretty great recipes. I use that along with Jamil Zainasheff's Brewing Classic Styles as inspiration for most of the stuff I brew.
I second the Brewing Classic Styles book. I have a ton of homebrewing books and it is the best for recipies.

Chip Walton and friends have a new webshow called Chop & Brew which is pretty good. It isn't strictly brew-centric but I enjoy it. I do miss those early BrewingTV shows.
Don't gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don't go up, don't buy it. --Will Rogers
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