Homebrewing beer is an exciting and a thrilling hobby that easily turns into a passion many Australians take part in. Some do it because they want to save money, and others do it because they enjoy creating new recipes and trying new tastes. Whatever it is that drives your personal desire for home brewing, there are a few key items that you need to make your time spent brewing go smoothly.
Sanitation is an essential component of good homebrewing. On brew day, everything that touches your wort has the potential to create off-flavours, even if it looks clean. And since most of us aren’t brewing in a sterile environment, there is always a chance for contamination.
Sanitation is important on brew day, but it is not difficult. There are a few tricks, though. For example, you can use Star-San or iodophor to sanitize your equipment, but bleach works well, too, if you rinse it thoroughly. Just make sure there is nothing in your brewing water that could contaminate your wort.
Keep in mind that not all equipment needs to be sanitized (just cleaned). Spent mash vessels and hop bags don’t need to be sanitized because they are no longer coming into contact with the wort.
Thermometer and a Hydrometer
A thermometer is used to monitor the temperature of your wort (unfermented beer) as it cools. This is important because yeast can be killed if the wort is too hot, and certain strains of yeast will not begin fermentation until the wort reaches a particular temperature. You need to cool your wort quickly, because otherwise bacteria will start to grow in your beer, and these will ruin it. The aim is to get the wort from boiling to pitching temperature (the temperature at which you add the yeast) as quickly as possible.
A thermometer is not strictly necessary if you have enough spare time. You can simply leave your brew for a few days, and by then it will be cool enough to pitch with the yeast. However, this means that during this time your wort is vulnerable to bacteria, and so it is a useful idea to use a thermometer.
Another item you need is a hydrometer. A brewing hydrometer with easy to read scale is necessary to determine the density of your wort before and after fermentation. The density of the unfermented wort directly correlates to how much alcohol there will be in the final product, so it’s important to know how dense your wort is before fermentation. This will let you know how much sugar you need to add. After fermentation, you can use a hydrometer to see when fermentation is complete.
In the brewing process, the specific gravity of your wort may change depending on how much water you added. This can help you determine when fermentation is complete and when to bottle. It is important to measure the specific gravity of your beer before bottling to ensure it has reached the desired alcohol content.
Hydrometers are made from glass and are long, thin cylinders with a bulb at one end. Plastic models also exist but they are not as accurate as glass ones. The brewing hydrometer floats in liquid and indicates its density with markings on its surface.
Dry Malt Extract
Dry malt extract is an important ingredient in beer brewing. It is a powder, which consists of sugar and malt that have been dried or evaporated to a powder form. When used in beer recipes it provides the sugars needed to make alcohol, as well as gives the beer its flavour.
Just like the rest of the brew ingredients and tools like the practical brewing hydrometer, dry malt extract (or DME for short) can be found at homebrew shops and online. There are many different kinds of DME, some dark (which will usually provide a darker beer) and some light (which will usually provide a lighter beer). The colour of the DME you use will depend on what kind of beer you are making.
When using dry malt extract, one should take into account that it increases the density of the wort (the liquid that contains the sugars derived from malted barley), without adding much volume. This means that if you are brewing a high gravity beer, such as an ale or stout, the amount of water added will need to be adjusted accordingly.
Dry yeast is a mix of dried cells of the fungus saccharomyces cerevisiae. They are contained in a packet with a desiccant to keep them dry. Dry yeast cells are dormant, they have been dried out and need to be “woken up” before they can become active and start fermenting.
You do that by dissolving the yeast into some warm water. If you are using a liquid yeast culture, you just add it to the wort. You should use about 5 grams (1 teaspoon) of active dry yeast for every 10 litres (2 gallons) of wort. This is a guideline, and you can use it more or less.
The idea is for it to be enough so that there will be about 3 million cells per millilitre in the wort. The main reason not to use too much is that your fermentation will start faster and finish faster, which may not suit your schedule or taste.
A scale is essential in making beer. If you add hops to your brew by the ounce, you must have a scale that measures in ounces as well as grams. Brewers who buy grain in bulk will also need a scale that measures in pounds and kilograms.
A spray bottle is a must-have item for any home brewer. Used mainly to aerate wort, this little tool can also be used to clean work surfaces and bottles. This spray bottle can be filled with tap water, boiled water, or sanitizing solution.
Use this spray bottle to add air to your wort right before you pitch your yeast. Just mist the surface of the wort and your yeast will quickly gobble up the oxygen and will ferment more thoroughly. Use it again immediately after pitching your yeast to keep the yeast happy during the lag time before fermentation begins in earnest.
To Sum Up
As with any hobby, there is a little bit of investment to be made at the outset. The rising popularity of home brewing means that you can now pick up all of these items in one place as well, so you don’t have to worry about trying to find different parts separately. That is why it is also very common to see complete home brewing kits sold online and stocked in home brewing stores, so it’s easy to get the necessary equipment even if you don’t have a local store nearby.