On January 25, 2016 my life changed. I brewed my first batch of homebrew. It was a “beer in a box” type of kit that comes with all the ingredients you need except for a stock pot used on the stove. That year for Christmas I received a Brooklyn Brew Co American Pale Ale package and that’s what got me started on a journey I’ve been on for more than four years now.
Homebrewing is a fantastic hobby and I highly recommend getting started to anyone who’s ever had an interest. It’s so much fun! No matter what personality type you are, homebrewing is a perfect match. For the super detail oriented, type-A, engineer type of folks, homebrewing will allow you to express your love for precision and perfection. Quality beer is a science project that relies on controlling certain variables for certain outcomes in the finished project.
For the more artistic types that like just throwing stuff at the wall and see what happens, you’re about to begin a perfect hobby that will give you plenty of delicious beer to enjoy. Creativity in beer making is what sets the ok beers apart from the absolutely delicious beers. Over time, you’ll figure out what you like best and will be able to explore new horizons using the same ingredients. With only four main ingredients, there is a ton of creative freedom, not counting the infinite number of other things you can add…
Not only is homebrewing a great hobby, if you like drinking craft beer, you can drink whatever style or flavor you want any time of year! You can also make the beer you can’t buy in your local stores. Feel like a heavy, dark stout in the middle of summer? No problem. (Typically dark, high ABV beeres are only availble in winter.) Want like a clean German style pilsner in January? Done. (Usually pilsners are summer beers.) IPA all year? You got it! (Nowadays IPAs are year round, but that wasn’t always the case!)
Another reason I was interested in getting into homebrewing was the cost savings. Now this is where things get a little divergent, because there are two basic ways to make homebrew – extract or all grain. Both options will save you from spending an arm and a leg at the store ($10 for a six pack? seriously?), though you’ll see more savings with all grain, among other advantages too. Think of extract like beer syrup. It’s basically concentrated wort. What’s wort? Alright, lets back up.
Beer is made up of four main ingredients:
To make beer, you start with a grain recipe, rinse those grains of all the sugars inside with hot water, boil that sugary solution, add hops at various intervals, then add yeast to the cooled, sugary solution, now known as wort. The yeast convert the sugars to alcohol and that’s what makes beer.
So back to cost-savings. Extract is concentrated wort that looks like a really thick syrup, similar consistency to molasses. To make an extract homebrew, you steep some specialty grains in hot water (extract comes in limited flavors and the specialty grains add more flavor), add the extract, boil, add hops, then cool, transfer to a sanitized fermenting vessel and add yeast. Because extract is a product that must be created, the cost per batch is a little bit more than producing an all grain batch, but still costs less per finished fluid once of beer than what you’d buy at the grocery store. The advantage of extract brewing, however, is the fact that it requires less equipment and often less time to brew than all grain. The other downside to extract is that extract is only sold in a finite number of flavors, so your options to make various types of beer are limited.
This one gallon “beer in a box” kit got me hooked. It only took a couple of batches of one gallon beer kits before I realized it was too much work for too little beer. And I was doing this to save some dough, right? By May of 2016 I had upgraded from 1 gallon batches to 5 gallon batches and by November I had upgraded to 5 gallon all grain brewing.
One of the additional benefits of all grain brewing I alluded to earlier is the infinite number of flavor combinations you can devise with just the malt. Because all grain brewing gives you complete control of the malt profile, you’re not beholden to the limited number of extract flavors. This is how pro brewers brew – all grain.
Now, when considering all grain brewing, there are some startup costs and because this is a hobby you’ll continue to enjoy, you’re going to want to keep spending money on upgrading your setup. If you factor in the costs of additional equipment, over time, your cost per finished ounce of beer will eventually save you alot of money as compared to buying at the store. You’ll also have fun talking to all your friends about what you’re doing and will occasionally get to show off your equipment to them and explain how beer is made. If you like to cook, you’ll enjoy making beer.
From here on out, I’ll share some of my favorite recipes and some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way. I love talking about homebrewing, so subscribe to my blog if you want to learn more!