Getting Started

Getting Started in Home Brewing... Again.

Home brewing beer at a large scale
The mash tun at work Jeff Frank

If you're asking yourself, "How do I get started brewing beer at home?", the answer is simpler than you might expect! With minimal equipment you can start brewing your own beer in your kitchen. And you'll find that it's great beer too. It's a hobby I started a long time ago, but let it fall by the wayside until quite recently.

How I started home brewing beer...

Eight years ago I started my journey in home brewing. While walking through a Toronto Indigo store on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I stumbled across a dusty box that claimed to be everything you need to start brewing beer at home. Like many people I thought 'what the hell' and decided it would be a cool thing to try out. And like many other people, I found myself addicted to this hobby right away.

I remember pouring in the impossibly thick extract into as much water as my one Ikea pot could hold. The smell of the hops when you first open the bag, and the satisfying first 'glug' as the airlock starts to bubble. Home brewing is an exciting journey to go on and, as with many hobbies, it can be as simple or as complicated as you like.

Brooklyn Brewshop One gallon home brewing starter kit
My first kit, everything you need to brew 5 litres of beer.

What you need to start brewing beer at home...

The list of items you need is actually not that long. You'll find that there are a lot of options and a huge variety in complexity. The two main categories you'll see are 'Extract Brewing' and 'All-Grain Brewing'. Each need different amount of equipment, time and dedication. But, both will yield excellent beer if you take your time and follow the recipes.

Extract Brewing

Extract brewing is the simpler of the two. In extract brewing, the majority of the fermentable sugars are already extracted from the grains and provided to you in a liquid or powder form. To create your wort, you add this extract to water and start your boil. Hops are added to the boiling wort as you would in All-Grain brewing, and fermentation is the same as well.

To start extract brewing you'll need the following items:

  • A pot big enough to all the beer you want to make plus about 15%
  • A fermentation bucket, or carboy big enough for your batch size
  • Bottles to put your beer in when it's ready
  • Some bottle caps and a capper.

Most of the above (minus the pot) is usually available in kit form. The one I started with included the fermentation vessel and an airlock to keep any unwanted bacteria from coming in.

All-Grain Brewing

This is the more complicated option, and the way the beers have been traditionally made. In all grain brewing, you take malted crushed grains and steep them in hot water for an hour to extract their sugars. Because this step requires you to control the temperature and maintain it over a longer period of time, and deal with 10+ pounds of wet grains, it requires extra equipment. If you're getting started, this is not something you'll want to do right away. The process of soaking the grains in hot water is called 'Mashing'. Mashing is a complex subject with a lot of interesting science behind it.

For all grain, you'll need everything above, plus equipment for mashing.

  • Mash Tun ( a insulated vessel with a screen at the bottom to seperate grain from wort); or
  • Brew in a bag mesh bag (with a large enough pot you can do the mash in the pot inside a mesh bag)

Mashing is an entire process on it's own that can let you produce some unique beers. It's well worth your time if you're interested in competition or making bespoke brews. But it adds hours to your brew day, and if you're getting started it can be a bit much to get your head around.

Your first brew day

When you buy your first kit you'll have some detailed instructions on what to do to make the beer you've chosen. The process, in general, will be quite similar regardless of style.

First you collect your wort, either by using extract, or mashing. You then begin the boil where you add hops at differing times based on the purpose. Early hops added right at the beginning of the boil, are generally to add bitterness to the beer. Hops added later are more for flavour, as less of the acidity is extracted from them.

Some other adjuncts can be used, like sugars or spices during the boil.

Once the boil finishes, you'll need to cool your wort and transfer it to the fermentation vessel. Once that's done the yeast is 'Pitched' (added to the wort). The yeast take the sugars in your wort and convert it to CO2 and Alcohol. Generally the fermentation process takes between 1 to 2 weeks.

While it may be tempting to taste, it's important to leave your beer alone for those 2 weeks!

Now what?

iIf you're interested in trying it out, I'd suggest you go find a kit from a local retailer. There is a thriving business community around home brewing. You'll find dozens of online and brick-and-mortar retailers. I'd recommend staying away from Amazon if you want any sort of advice on brewing, or support on picking your gear.

The options you'll have will depend heavily on your country. If you're in the UK, I've purchased from these two when getting started again:

No sponsorship, only my opinion; I highly recommend Get 'Er Brewed. Shipping was quick and their prices quite good. They also have kits available for every style of brewing. 

If you're the kind of person who likes to know more about what they're getting into before they start, there are some incredible resources online. You can check out this website which is the online version of John Palmer's classic book How to Brew. This book is considered the bible of home brewing. It's well worth reading to understand the process of brewing. If you want to ask questions, take a look online for a local home brewing club. You can often join for free and learn more about it before you start. You might even be able to take part in other member's brew day before you commit to buying your own equipment
I'm excited to get back in to the world of home brewing again myself. I've picked up my kit and will get my first batched brewed up soon. I hope you try it out too!


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