Test Out Brewing for $12 equipment outlay
I’m a cheap bastard, and I always look for ways to cut costs. For those looking to get into brewing, but want to avoid a big costly outlay, I will explain my suggestions on how I do it inexpensively. The cost will be between $12-$40 to create your setup.
The goal is a very tasty beer. That is what I achieve consistently with this method.
Use a 2 gallon fermenter to make just shy of 2 gallon batches. This makes around ¾ case of beer. There are many reasons this is good:
- Easy storage. It takes up less space than 5 gallon batches
- If you do screw up, the hit to the pocket is less
- Less sanitizing and clean up. This made me stop messing with 5 gallon batches way back when.
Your equipment will consist of a large pot, 2 gal. fermenter, bottles, sanitizer, airlock, thermometer and hydrometer (optional).
6 quart pot - This is the minimum size pot that you would want to use. Most people already own a pot this size. This will boil a little more than a gallon which is suitable for a 2 gallon batch. The downside to this is you have to add water to the end of the boil. The problem with this is it makes the process is a little less sanitary and your beer will taste “lighter”. You will still be able to create a good brew, so go this direction if this is all you have. This is more than adequate for testing the waters.
3 gallon pot or larger -This allows you to boil all the water you will use for your beer. I usually boil around 2.25 gallons of water. Pros: More sanitary and your beer will have a more robust flavor. There is also a less likely chance your wort will boil over. Cons: If you have a stove with a ceramic top it may be hard to get your wort to break. It also takes longer to cool down your wort.
The fermenter you will use is a 2 gallon food grade bucket with a lid setup for an airlock, a bottling spigot with barb, and a airlock. These items can be purchased at your homebrew store..
Making your fermenter: 1) With scissors, cut off two barbs on your spigot, leaving two left. This allows you to have your spigot closer to the bottom of the bucket without your spigot going below your bucket. The purpose of this is for ease of storage. 2) With a 1” drill bit, drill a hole in the side of your bucket low enough where your spigot is barely above the bottom. Attach your spigot, making sure to avoid scratching the inside of the bucket or spigot nut. Consider putting a wash cloth around the nut if you are using a wrench to tighten it. The spigot must be watertight. Your fermenter is ready to go!
Cost: Under $12.00
Chlorine - Chlorine is something everyone should have available to them. To make a sanitizing solution, use 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water. A rinsed out milk jug is a good container to put the solution in. Pros: cheap and accessible. Cons: must rinse out the chlorine with water which makes it more susceptible to infection over other methods. It will adequately sanitize your equipment and bottles.
Idophor - Idophor is an iodine based solution used to sanitize your equipment. Pros: It is unnecessary to rinse out Idophor with water which makes it more sanitary than chlorine. Cons: it can stain plastic and cost more than chlorine. The staining of plastic does nothing to affect the cleanliness of your equipment.
There are other options for sanitation and all are more costly.
Cost: $0.00 - $5.00
Used Pop Bottles - These can be obtained for free. I suggest getting the 20 oz. bottles. You will need 10-12 bottles. Avoid Root Beer Bottles, as they will affect the taste of your beer. Pros: Cheap. Cons: You must keep them out of light. Light can ruin your beer. They do not last as long as glass.
16 oz. Brown Flip-Top Bottles - These are great for 2 gallon batches. You will need one case. Pros: These are easy to clean. The brown glass helps keep out light. Flip tops last a very long time and are super easy to cap. The long term cost of these bottles are minimal. Cons: They cost more than pop bottles.
There are other options you can go with, but they don’t make sense when you are just starting out with this method, or are doing 2 gallon batches. You can get caps and a bottler and scrounge up used beer bottles. The issue doing this is the cost is the same as flip tops. Capping is more time consuming and costs more over time than flip-tops.
AVOID CANNING JARS. They are meant for vacuum instead of pressure. They will explode.
Cost: $0.00 - $20.00
THERMOMETER and HYDROMETER - If you have a cooking thermometer, even a candy thermometer, it will be sufficient for this process. Even though a hydrometer is optional, I would recommend it. It lets you know how much sugar is being converted to alcohol. It allows you to know how the process is going, and if it is going correctly.
Cost: $0.00 - $10.00 ($5 for each Thermometer and hydrometer)
Total equipment cost: $12.00 - $47.00
INGREDIENTS AND PROCESS
Quality is important when it comes to ingredients. Your brewing procedures will also be important in how your end product turns out. This is the majority of where you will determine how good your beer will be. My recommendation is to keep it all barley and skip adjunct sugars like corn sugar. The other recommendation is time. In my experiences, the more patient you are, the better product you will get.
As per recipes, there is an easy formula for creating inexpensive SMASH (Single Malt And Single Hop) recipes.
- Get 3 lbs. of bulk liquid malt extract. Save 1/2 cup out for carbonating. At my store that costs $9.
- Get a 2 oz. bag of Hops and use 1/4 oz. for each phase: Bittering, Flavoring, and Aroma. Recommendations are Saaz, Simcoe, Cascade, or Fuggles. Cost is around $3. You can make 3 batches with a 2 oz. bag of hops.
- Use 3-4 grams of Dry Yeast. It's the cheapest and most foolproof way to go. The cost is $3 for a pack that is good for 2-3 batches.
COST - $11 for roughly 3/4 case of beer.
This is what I do, and I am happy with the end results.
Here's a sample Recipe:
2 gallon Batch Amber Ale
3 lbs. Bulk Amber Extract
.75 oz. Saaz (Use .25 oz for each stage: Bittering, Flavor, and Aroma)
1/2 pkg. Mutton's Gold Yeast (3 gms)
Make sure all equipment that will be touching your wort is sanitized, especially your fermenter.
Bring 2.25 gallons of water to a boil.
If your pan is not big enough, then bring 1.25 gallons of water to a boil
In your boiling water, add in your extract EXCEPT leave out ½ cup for later. This is your wort.
Add in 1/4 oz. of your hops and boil for 50 minutes. This is for bittering.
With 20 minutes to go in the boil, add in 1/4 oz. of hops. This is for flavor.
After your boil is finished, add in 1/4 oz. of hops. This is for aroma
At this point you will want to cool down your wort. If you boiled 1.25 gallons of water, get a gallon of cold water from your tap and pour it in your fermenter. Add your wort to your fermenter. Top it off with cold water up to about ¾” from the top. You want your wort to cool down to 72 degrees.
If you have around 2 gallons of wort, In a sink with cold water, cool down your wort to 72 degrees. I add in ice to do this. Add the cooled wort to your fermenter. Pour it in a way where there is a lot of air bubbles. this adds in oxygen which helps the yeast do its job.
Once your cooled down wort is added to your fermenter, add 3-4 gms of yeast per instructions on the packet.
Put on the lid and make sure the airlock is on. The airlock should be filled up to the fill line with ½ vodka, ½ water. This stops bacteria growth. Just water will work. You may want to change out the water often though.
Put your wort in a dark area that is consistently between 67-75 degrees. If on the low end of the scale (67), let it sit in your fermenter for 28 days. If it is on the high end (75), let it sit for 19 days. Adjust the length of time if your temperature is somewhere in between. For example, if the temperature is 70-72, I would ferment for 20-23 days. 68-69, about 22-25 days.
Cold Crashing (optional but recommended) - Take out the airlock and cover the hole with saran wrap. Put the fermenter in a chilled cooler. A cheap 55 qt. cooler works well. Keep the cooler at 37-40 degrees for 5 days. I do this with filling up four plastic water bottles (4/5ths full), freezing them, and using those as my cooling source. About once a day, I transfer them out and put in 4 more fully frozen ones.
After fermentation time is over, make sure all your bottles are sanitized. For carbonation, boil 2 cups of water. Add in the ½ cup of extract. Note: it is important to keep to ½ cup or less. This is going to be used to carbonate your beer. Over carbonation can lead to bottle bombs. Note 2: This is where a hydrometer comes in handy. It allows you to confirm that the yeast has done its job and converted the sugars to alcohol. If it hasn’t you may have too much sugar at bottling and again, have exploding bottles.
Cool down the liquid to room temperature and add to your beer, keeping the bubbles to a minimum. Slowly stir the beer with a sanitized spoon for about 30 seconds to mix in.
Put the liquid in the bottles through the spigot keeping aeration to a minimum. Leave room at the top of the bottle for air so it can carbonate.
Let your bottles sit in a dark area between 67-75 degrees for 10-14 days. Then cool in a cooler or fridge for two weeks.
Now, It’s time to drink your beer! Letting it sit a month or two usually will create a more conditioned, and smoother beer.
Well, that’s what I recommend and I have great luck with it. After testing the waters, you can always upgrade or go a different direction if you want to. This is just a cheap way to get your feet wet :)
You can get a 5 gallon food grade bucket with a lid at home depot, along with the rubber grommits.
You need larger than a 2 gallon bucket to ferment 2 gallons of beer, or you will have terrible problems with blow off.
You can get 3 gallon buckets from Walmart for free, just ask at the bakery dept, they toss them into recycle bin.
Nice write up....I agree a hydrometer in a necessity....only way to tell if your done fermenting. I don't like bleach for sanitizing though, and you'll also need a bottling bucket and a racking cane and bottle filler.
When mixed with distilled water starsan lasts so long it becomes to cheap to mess with chlorine and rinsing/risking off flavors.
I started out for $8 - just the fermenter from Mr. Beer. And I bough some ingredient kits.
After several kits I got a real kit from Midwest Supplies
The Fermenter has a spigot installed. No need for bottling bucket, cane, or filler. It functions like a Better Bottle... just better in my opinion ;)
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