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This is how I brew it!

You’re welcome for the Montell Jordan flashback that will be stuck in your head all day… anyways – on to the point of this post.  One the most fascinating aspects of homebrewing are the endless methods and approaches to equipment/process folks have devised.  More impressive is the fact that you can make some remarkably good tasting beer with some pretty rudimentary equipment.  I wanted to share my personal equipment and rationale for my approach in hopes it might give you some ideas (or you can fire away with criticisms).

MASH

  • I made the leap to all-grain from extract brewing after one batch.  I find the entire process to be more rewarding and easier than dealing with a carton of goop.  Not that you can’t make excellent beers from extract, but it’s what works best for me.
  • Coleman 48qt Cooler – I nabbed one of these from Dick’s Sporting Goods on sale for $19 one day and it works fine for about 90% of my five-gallon batches.  I dropped in one of these awesome cooler conversion kits from BargainFittings.com and it has never let me down.  I have a Coleman Extreme 62qt Cooler for big batches or when I do a barleywine.  I just switch the fitting out from the other cooler.
  • Stainless steel toilet supply line  – This is an extremely simple and cheap way to make a filter that rests on the bottom of the grain bed.  You remove the inner plastic tube, crimp one end of the line, and then wrap some heavy gauge copper wire around a pencil to create a support coil that will go inside the stainless tube.  Fasten the tube to your fitting with a stainless steel worm clamp and you’re done.  Or, if you’re not the DIY type you can pick up a bazooka screen for pretty cheap that performs a similar duty.
  • One other inexpensive “hack” that I use is a fleece cover for my basic cooler.  I picked up scrap fleece material from a fabric store and had my mom sew it in a rectangular shape with a flap at the top that secure with velcro.  This creates an extra layer of insulation to help hold the mash temperature.

BOIL KETTLE

  • While strolling through my local Lowes, I found this nearly 9-gallon turkey fryer on clearance for $45.  I thought thought valve would be useful, but it’s worthless.  The built in thermometer is useful to get ballpark temperatures but it isn’t precise.  The burner is powerful and will get a full kettle of warm/hot wort to boil in 10-15 minutes.  Some argue aluminum pots are bad but science has proven there  is nothing to worry about it and its far cheaper than stainless.  The mushroom shaped kettle really helps control boil overs for 6-7 gallon boils.  If you’re brewing something larger that puts it at capacity then you still need to be mindful of your temps.  This has worked flawlessly and the safety device has never given me any problems.
  • You can also piece together a kettle and burner pretty inexpensively if you prefer a more versatile setup.

FERMENTATION

  • First things first is a stir plate to make a yeast starter.  With some parts found laying around your house, a flask, and some DME – you can ensure a healthy and robust fermentation.
  • The tried and true plastic buckets work fine but I’ve always preferred to watch my fermentation.  Glass carboys are great since they are scratch resistant (to avoid infections) but they are also very breakable.  I’ve had very good experiences with my Better Bottle plastic carboy.  It’s 6 gallons to give plenty of room for krausen, very light and durable, and it’s pretty easy to clean.  I just use hot water, oxy-clean, and a soft cloth to swirl around inside for stubborn krausen.  I use this handy carboy cap and some spare tubing to make a blow-off tube so I don’t have to worry about a clogged air-lock.
  • The most important piece of my fermentation process (and actual beer output) is my trusty fermentation refrigerator.  Someone was getting rid of an old basement fridge so I converted it by assembling my own dual-stage temperature controller using an inexpensive aquarium temperature controller.  I keep my fridge in my garage so it was important to me to controller cooling and heat as the weather changes.  I use a very low wattage hair dryer suspended upside down to blow warm air around the chamber.
  • I followed this simple build video (there are others besides this, just search youtube) and finished the project in an hour or so.  In addition to the temperature controller you need just a few other cheap parts.

PACKAGING

  • I quickly moved from bottling to kegging as a matter of convenience (and I’m not good at bottling).  I personally use ball lock kegs since it seems to be the most preferred standard but I haven’t heard any complaints about pin lock kegs.  The biggest difference is generally the height and diameter of the two standards.
  • I have a kegerator that I purchased off of Craiglist but it can be a pain to keep the tower (and beer line inside) properly chilled.  That being said, my favorite part of the setup is the Perlick tap.  This thing moves like butter every single time while my old standard faucet we get jammed up with crud and was surely tainting some of my beers.  Throw in one of these growler fillers that you see at all the brewery taprooms and you’re good to go.
  • When I need to fill bottles for competitions, I use one of the rigs explained here but it’s generally a messy and probably damaging process.  Long-term I may invest in an actual counter-pressure filler for a better experience.  Many people swear by them, others think they’re an unnecessary luxury.  However, it seems to make sense to me.

WHERE TO BUY

WHERE TO LEARN MORE

Mike Stuart

Craft beer enthusiast and hombrew dabbler. Part-time writer, sometimes funny.

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