There are several different ways to begin your adventures in brewing your own beer. The average person will want to try his or her hand at brewing but wonít want to spend a ton of money t do it. Thatís smart! You may not really get into it so way spend so much hard earned cash when you can get your feet wet and learn the basics very inexpensively with the mini kits they have available today?
In the animation above I have shown several types of fermenting vessels from the least expensive Mr. Beer to the more expensive V-Vessel. If youíre thinking about brewing beer but your not sure if youíll stick with it or you just want to brew a few gallons at a time - go with the Mr. Beer kit! The cheapest kit goes for around $40 and gives you everything youíll need to brew your first batch of beer except the bottles. Save your soda pop bottles for a few days and youíve got bottles. This kit will give you the opportunity to get familiar with the process and decide what you want to do. The purists will say go with the carboy spend a lot of money thatís how the pros do it! Well your not a pro, you may never even want to be a pro and you may not want or need to brew more than a few gallons at a time.
†When I tried to briefly describe the four methods of brewing with the basic type fermenters† listed above without complicating it with all the scientific whys and wherefores it became:
There are Four Basic ways to brew Beer
Extract Brewing Ė Kind of like making condensed soup. Put water in the pot, pour in the concentrated beer malt and away you go. You still have the option of adding additional ingredients, to make a special recipe but thatís basically it. When you purchase a beer extract kit you usually get a can of condensed malt syrup in the style of your choice with the hops already added, maybe a can of plain malt syrup and sometimes the yeast. * Note the concentrate may be in the form of a powder.
Extracts with Steeped Grains - Same as the extract above but you add a few ounces of crushed malt grains you steep in a small muslin bag like making tea. Not a whole lot more effort but a big difference in taste for some beer styles.
Partial Mash Ė In one pot boil water. Put specialty grains in a muslin bag, place in a second small pot of water, bring water up to 170įF turn off heat and let it steep like tea for about 20 minutes then remove the bag. When the water in the big pot boils add extracts and the ďteaĒ from the small pot. Add hops as needed.
All-Grain Ė This is the most complicated of the four and takes some extra equipment. This is how beer has been made for thousands of years. You need a mash tun to soak to grains in and two large pots, one to add the water to the mash tun and one to collect the water from the mash tun. The basic process is to add the grains to the mash tun, allow the water to be filtered through the grains to extract the sugars and boil the collected sugar water down to make an extract Ė then itís just like extract brewing.
NOTE: These are just a basic descriptions Iíll get into more details in later pages.
There are several types of beer brewing kits available from the more traditional bucket and carboy to the newer self contained keg fermenters. If you not sure about how much youíll like brewing, you are short on space or you donít expect to make more than a few gallons at a time, I recommend the self contained fermenting kits such as Mr. Beer or Beer Machine. These kits make roughly 2.5 gallons of beer at a time.
Iíll go over several types to give you an idea of whatís available and to help you choose the one thatís right for you. Iíll try to list an average price per unit you can use these information for comparison purposes.
The simplest type of Mini Brew system is the Beer Machine. This is a self- contained single step unit which allows you to brew 2.6 gallon batches of beer. I have seen this unit at Wal-Mart at Christmas time and I believe it can be purchased at the As Seen On TV stores for around $129.
A friend of mine who just returned from Iraq said they had these in the barracks. I have not personally used this unit, but I do know people who do and they seem to be somewhat happy with it.
According to the instructions you just pour water into the airtight Beer Machine cask, pour in one of the prepackaged Beer Mixes, seal the cask, leave the Beer Machine out at room temperature for 3 to 5 days, then move it into your refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. It uses small CO2 cartridges (similar to the ones used in paintball) to add carbonation to the beer in the cask. The beer may be dispensed from the cask or bottled.†† The Beer Machine Website
A more traditional yet small sized brewing system. I actually got started brewing with the Mr. Beer brew system. I love the little keg fermenters! They are easy to use and easy to clean. Itís just a little PVC container with a spigot and a cap. The cap threads have little cuts down them to let excess CO2 bleed out if needed, so an airlock is not needed. Each keg produces about 2.5 gallons of beer. This is a great size for testing the waters or experimenting with different malt extracts, hops, steeped grains and even mini mash recipes.†
I love these little fermeters and I personally have 6 of them. Itís a great way to make multiple batches of beer and not take up lots of space.† Two of these will fit in a large Rubbermaid container and can be stacked up almost anywhere if lined with brown paper to block out light. Itís also a good way to store your supplies when not in use.
There are a few different packaging variations of this kit. The Deluxe Kit comes with the keg, the ingredients in make one batch of beer sanitizer and plastic bottle caps for $30 . The Premium Kit also comes with eight, one liter PET bottles as well $40.† Mr. Beer Kegs and Mr. Beer Products†† or†† Mr. Beer in the UK ††
The Homemade Mini Fermenter
If your really frugal like I am and like cheese balls you can buy the large container of cheese balls for about $3 at Wal Mart, add a spigot and an airlock and for about $8 build a 3 gallon fermenter. You will have to put it in a cardboard box or something to keep the light out as this container is clear but it works! Youíll notice I use this same type of container to brine chicken and small turkeys on the smoking pages. I have a ton of them now and recycle them all of one thing or another. They donít take much more room than a gallon of milk and fit well in the fridge. Nice if your going to be lagering.
Here are two Yahoo forums that deal with brewers using the smaller 2.5 gallon size fermenters - the Mr. Beer and Beer Machine:
Note: You can always buy a kit designed for 5 gallon batches and just use half the ingredients. Put te remaining ingredients in an air tight container and use it within a few weeks.† Itís cheaper and it works great!
This is the simplest of the traditional brew fermenters. They can be purchased completely assembled for about $20 or you can do it yourself.
Itís not hard to make and you may already have the parts laying around the house.† Do you have a restaurant you frequent? Maybe you could ask them if they throw away their white food buckets? A lot of stuff comes in these buckets, pickles, pancake mixes, iced tea mixes, sea food you name it! They come in sizes from about 55 gallons to 1 gallon. Youíll want at least one (two is better) 5 gallon size and donít forget the lids!
Look around you might get them for free. I got one free from a lunch counter at work. Then one day I went by one by favorite Chinese Supermarket and they had at least 50 of these things sitting out back. I asked the woman in the store if I could have one and she sold me one for $3. I would have paid at least $6.50 just for the shipping so I was still way ahead of the game.† If your bucket smells of I former contents just wash it in soapy water, fill it full of crumpled newspaper and let it sit for a few days. The newspaper will remove the smell.
Add an airlock and a spigot and youíve got a fermenter!
Glass carboys are the most tradition method of fermenting beer or wine. Today they are also made of plastic. They come in sizes from 3.5 gallons ($16) to 6.5 gallons ($25). They are very popular but very slippery and heavy (especially when full) and explode when dropped!†
Commercial breweries and micro breweries generally use huge conical fermenters. Conical fermenters make brewing amazingly easy (especially on your back). No lifting heavy buckets or carboys, no need to transfer to a secondary fermenter to clarify your beer. One container does it all! The most common conical fermenters are made of stainless steel or copper, needless to say they are VERY expensive but they also come in PVC . This one costs about $500!
The steeply angled bottom (about 60 degrees) allows all of the trub and spent yeast fall to the bottom. The trub can be dumped out using the lower ball valves for cleaner, clearer beer. It is also good for capturing the yeast for reuse later. The upper ball valve is used to remove your beer above the trub line so you could simply leave the old yeast in there and add new wort to start a whole new batch of beer!
Another style of conical fermenter and one that I use for larger batches† is called the V-Vessel. The V-Vessel System consist of the unit itself (looks like a big light bulb) with the collection capsule, bracket and mounting accessories, cleaning brush, rubber bung and airlock, an extra female coupler with a tubing adapter and 5 ft of tubing.
Itís designed to hang on a wall but I have mine setup on a stand made of some scrap angle iron and rebar. I use the ďextra female coupler and tubing adapter for racking (itís hanging over the stand).
The collection capsule is used for removing trub and yeast Ė I use a jar. When I reclaim the yeast I use mason jars to store it in so why wash an extra container? This thing is great! I wish I had more than one! I bought this on sale for $99 a few years back at Christmas time the regular price is $149.
Similar to the V-Vessels are the MiniBrew polyethylene plastic conical fermenters. They come in 6.5 gallon, 8 gallon, 15 gallon, 25 gallon and 40 gallon sizes. WOW!
One of the things I wished the V-vessel had was a bigger mouth opening so I could actually stick my arm in it for cleaning. The MiniBrew has it! What it also has is a second valve port for draining your brew from above the yeast and trub. I have not used this product however I have got to say Iíve had to convince myself more than once that I really donít have room for another conical. The price of the 6.5 gallon unit is $120.
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