How to get started with small-scale home-brewing
(for busy thrifty people)
Say ‘homebrewer’ to most people and they will think of a neighbor with an enormous garage filled with kegs. Someone who has entire Sunday afternoons to while away lovingly scrubbing glass demijohns, undisturbed by family members or other niggling items on the to-do list.
But now back to reality. We live in the era of the raging success of the Instant-Pot – the magical machine that makes your dinner for you. So realistically, if we don’t even have time to cook dinner for ourselves anymore, how many of us truly have the bandwidth for such time-consuming hobbies?
Luckily, getting started with brewing could be easier than you think, especially if you keep the scale small. Brewing at home is a fun activity for families or even as a date night! Here are my five top tips for getting started as a homebrewer, on time constraints, and on a tight budget.
Get set with the right equipment and prep
To brew a 1 or 2 gallon batch, you’ll need a big pan which holds around 15-20 quarts. You might already have a stockpot in the cupboard that you can re-purpose! You’ll also need a glass thermometer and a primary fermenter ready for storing your beer.
Make sure you also have plenty of ice handy to speed up the cooling of the wort (the soon-to-be beer) in the kitchen sink
Really. By using crushed malt over malt extract kits, you’ll get far more control over the flavor profiles you create. Plus, you’ll learn a heap more about ‘real’ brewing, safe in the knowledge that you are doing pretty much exactly what your local microbrewery does, albeit on a teeny scale.
The brew-in-a-bag method is the easiest way to minimize the need for excess equipment and space and makes cleaning up easy. Mesh bags are available from all good homebrew stores.
You’ll seep your grains in your pan (this is called ‘mashing’) then remove your bag of grains to boil the wort, during which time you will add the hops.
Clean, clean, clean
I can’t stress this point enough; the most important factor in ensuring that you produce drinkable beer is preventing the nasties that can creep in and cause infection. Wash all equipment in hot soapy water before and after brewing.
You’ll also need to sanitize everything that will come into contact with the wort post-boil. I recommended getting a bottle of StarSan, a no-rinse sanitizer. It takes the stress out of sanitizing completely, and you only need a tiny dilution mixed with water, so the bottle lasts ages.
Get thrifty by recycling bottles
Rather than buying a mini keg, why not ask neighbors to save their used brown glass bottles for you? Grab a bottle brush and give them all a good scrub in a big tub of hot soapy water, then box them safely away. With all the sugary residue removed, your bottles are now almost as good as new, and ready to be sanitized shortly before you bottle your beer.
Get involved in communities – locally and online
There’s plenty of online stores offering home-brew equipment, so your new hobby could be a great chance to support a local business, and maybe even meet some like-minded locals. And if you still have niggling questions on brew day, don’t worry. So far there hasn’t been a single question I’ve had that I haven’t been able to find the answer to online, thanks to homebrew forums with discussions from thousands of more experienced brewers. When you’re ready to join the conversation, the Reddit Homebrewing group is a great place to start.