Notes of a Homebrewer – Start Up Costs
Written By Timperial Stout
As of yesterday, DSR and I have completed 5 collaborative batches of beer on the 10 gallon gravity-fed homebrew system that we built together. Some, great success. Others, massive failure.
It goes without saying that, in these early days of experimentation, we have learned a great deal about brewing beer at home. I’d like to share some of those things with you, just in case you are thinking that it’s about time to stop only drinking other people’s beer, and start making your own.
Also, I recently started working at Homebrew Heaven up in Everett, and am learning massive amounts with each passing day, so listen to me people!
The number one rule, when getting into homebrewing, at least from my experience, is to be prepared to spend a lot more money than you initially calculate. Honestly, I’m not complaining when I say that. For people like DSR and I, who absolutely live and breath beer and will pretty much do anything to make good beer, money is about as close to no object as possible. But if you are feeling a little bit on the fence about it because of the initial investment required, your worries are legit. Take a couple of extra months to save up.
Here’s a few things to think about when determining your budget.
Your kettle/brew pot is your baby. Though the “magic” mostly happens in the fermentor, most of your labor will revolve around the kettle. Make sure you get one that is much bigger than you think you need. Boiling over is a lot easier than you may imagine, and it sucks something fierce. I’d go with a 9 gallon pot for a 5 gallon batch. We have a 15 gallon converted keg for our 10 gallon batches and it’s not big enough. Also, get a spigot and thermometer installed. Mash temps are crutial, and the Blichmann Brewmometers really makes life easy.
While on the topic of suping up your brewpot, I’d highly recommend getting a kettle screen. Whole leaf hops just feel more official, but they can seriously be a pain in the ass to infuse into the wort. Reusable steeping bags are really hard to clean, and chances are good that you’ll end up having to re-buy. With the screen, you can just toss the whole leaf hops into the boil and you won’t have to worry about jamming up your spigot. You’ll also get a better infusion of the lupilin. The best part is, it’s a “buy once and done” item. That, I think you’ll find, is a bit rare in homebrewing.
This leads me to my next point – you must factor in the reality that a lot of the items used in brewing are extremely fragile. At the very least, expect to break your hydrometer, test jar, and airlocks at some point along the way. Also, if you get at all lazy about cleaning and drying your hosing, racking cane, cleaning brushes, etc., expect to have to replace them at some point. Our carboy brush got rusty somehow, and our raking cane hose got all moldy on the inside. Quite obviously, these items were swiftly replaced. After all, like I’m sure you have heard a million times before, cleanliness is everything with brewing.
The last subject I’d like to breach at this time is the dilemma of bottles vs. kegs. Like with almost everything in homebrewing, the better option is more expensive at first, but much easier and cheaper in the long run. Bottling sucks ass. What do you think sounds easier, cleaning and sanitizing and filling and capping 54 12 oz bottles/30 22 oz bottles or cleaning 1 corney keg (5 gallon batch)? You’ll have to refill your co2 tank every couple of months, but believe me, it’s totally worth it. Yes, this may require a large refrigerator or kegerator, I know, but make it happen. It’s almost ChristmaHanuKwanzaakah right? Wish wisely.