Essentials for Your First Brew

Tips and techniques to help you brew better beer at home.

Anyone can brew great beer at home. I first learned how from a friend who brewed in his backyard. He made 10 gallons at a time on an outdoor setup that you had to get up on a step ladder to use. When I moved across the country to a smaller apartment, keeping up the hobby meant that I had to scale down the process in order to brew indoors. But a small space shouldn’t get in the way of your desire to make your own beer.

It does take a bit of specialty gear to make quality homebrew, but you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get started. It’s possible to make delicious beer on a setup that will cost you less than $150 total. Here is a list of the minimum equipment setup and ingredients, along with a few optional pieces that will make your brew days easier. These items can be purchased online or at your neighborhood homebrew supplier (if you’re lucky enough to have one of those.)

Essential equipment:

Optional equipment:

This might seem like a lot of stuff, but most of these items are pretty small. If you stack the buckets together, almost everything else will fit inside and you can hide it in a corner of your closet when you’re not using it. Homebrew stores typically sell these items bundled in a beginner set, and these can be a bargain and save you some shopping time. Here’s a good one that includes everything you need, with the exception of the pot and empty bottles. If you do buy a bundle, make sure it has the gear that’s listed above as “essential” at the very least.

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Once you have your equipment, you’re going to need a recipe. There are quite a few ingredient kits out there for new brewers, and these can be a good place to start. You’ll want to choose a kit that’s geared toward beginners if it’s your first brew. Anything that states “partial mash” or “all grain” will require more advanced techniques. Beginner ingredient kits also usually come with instructions that can be a helpful reference as you make your first few batches of beer.

I recommend avoiding any product that uses “pre-hopped” malt extract

Many kits promise a clone of your favorite commercial beer or style. They range from pre-packaged retail products like Mr. Beer to custom packages put together by the homebrew shop. To start, I recommend avoiding any product that uses “pre-hopped” malt extract. The flavors of pre-hopped kits never come through quite right and people who taste your beer will be able to tell it’s homebrewed right away (and not in a good way). Also, be sure you buy a fresh kit that has been stored properly. If you buy from a reputable local shop or from one of the bigger online homebrew suppliers, they’re generally going to provide you with a fresh product.

The best advice for the new homebrewer is the classic phrase you’ll hear many times: “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” Grain, hops and yeast want to become beer, and all you need to do is show them the way. Don’t worry, I’ll be here to help. Get stocked up and I’ll see you back here next week!

By: JOE POSTMA 

How to Setup the Perfect In-Home Bar

Thanksgiving is a time to surround yourself with family and friends. If you are entertaining everyone in your home this year, then you are probably searching for a simple way to setup the perfect in-home bar for Thanksgiving Day. With so many people in your home, space is at a premium. Fortunately, there are a variety of space-saving tips that you can use to maximize the little amount of free space you have available.

Choose the Right Kegerator

Every beer geek out there loves a good draft beer. If you really want to impress your guests, then you need a kegerator for your in-home bar. Kegerators are not only a great accessory for Thanksgiving dinner, but they’re great for year-round use. Not only are they perfect for football season, but they offer a simple way to dispense adult beverages without consuming a lot of space. Most people immediately think of full-size kegerators but don’t always have space for them. If you want to add a kegerator to your home bar this Thanksgiving but don’t have the space, then consider these alternatives.

Ice Maker for Home Bar
  • Mini Kegerators

    The easiest way to enjoy all of the perks of a kegerator while also saving space is by using a mini kegerator. Mini kegerators are much smaller your typical kegerator dispenser. You can put them on your countertop or home bar top for convenient use, and then store it away when you’re not using it. While they include all of the functionality of a full-sized kegerator they are designed to dispense beer from mini-kegs. Some can even store and dispense beer from two mini-kegs simultaneously.

  • Undercounter Kegerators

    If you want to use a full-sized keg then consider an undercounter kegerator. Undercounter kegerators are nearly identical to traditional full-size kegerators, but the primary difference being that you can install them directly in your countertop. This is an ideal solution for anyone that has little floor-space for a portable kegerator.

  • Outdoor Kegerators

    The final option is to buy an outdoor kegerator. This is the perfect solution if you spend a lot of time outside or simply have limited space to entertain indoors. The best part about outdoor kegerators is they are designed to maintain a constant internal temperature regardless of what the surrounding temperature is. This means you can safely store and dispense your beer outdoors all year round.

Take Advantage of Beverage Refrigerators

If a kegerator isn’t your style, then consider using a space-saving beverage refrigerator. A mini-fridge is a simple way to keep all of your adult beverages cool without having to make a trip to the kitchen all the time. Beverage refrigerators take up very little space and can even act as an additional countertop as well.

If you have the space in your kitchen, you can install a built-in beverage fridge directly into your countertops. This would allow you to have an extra fridge with a convenient location, but not sacrifice any of your floor space. If you have an old trash compactor, many undercounter fridges are designed to be the same shape for an easy transition.

Don’t Forget to Accessorize

When setting up your in-home bar for a Thanksgiving Day celebration there are a number of important bar accessories which will make entertaining much easier.

Ice Maker for Home Bar
  • Ice Makers

    One of the most important pieces of equipment to have is an icemaker or ice crusher. Icemakers take up very little space and are incredibly convenient. First, they make ice easily accessible to all of your guests. This will allow you to worry about preparing Thanksgiving dinner, entertaining and ensuring there’s enough pumpkin pie leftover for seconds rather than continually getting ice for everyone’s glasses. Second, having an ice maker readily accessible eliminates the risk that you’ll run out of ice.

  • Blenders, Juicers & Cocktail Accessories

    If your guests will primarily be drinking mixed drinks then there are a variety of bar accessories you may want for your in-home bar. The market for drink and cocktail preparation appliances has greatly expanded over the past several years. You can get anything from a margarita mixed drink maker to a premium juicer and blender. When choosing the right appliances for your in-home bar the most important consideration is what types of beverages your guests will be drinking. There is no reason to purchase a professional juicer or blender if your guests will primarily be drinking beer, wine, or beverages on the rocks.

  • Glassware Options

    An overlooked aspect of setting up your in-home bar is choosing the right glassware. While selecting glassware is extremely important if you’re serving wine, it is equally important when serving beer or mixed drinks. Different types of beers will taste best in glasses specifically designed to accentuate their bouquet, clarity, and level of carbonation. This is especially true if you are a home brewer and will be serving your own unique beers during your Thanksgiving Day celebration.

Setting up the perfect in-home bar for Thanksgiving Day doesn’t have to be a complicated and overwhelming process. Before choosing what appliances you will use there are two key characteristics to consider. The first is available space. It doesn’t matter what type of appliances you want if you don’t have space to set them up.

For example, it would be great to have a full size kegerator but that doesn’t mean you have the space to actually use one. Instead, opting for an outdoor or mini kegerator is a more realistic solution. The second consideration is versatility. While it would be great to purchase bar accessories and appliances solely for Thanksgiving Day, try to purchase equipment which you will likely use throughout the rest of the year as well.