Anyone, on any budget, can get started in brewing beer. From kit and kilo setups and beer brewing starter kits, through to professional setups. Starting off on a hobby of home brewing is easier than ever. Below is some popular startup gear to get you going in creating that very first batch of delicious beer.
Starter kits are the simplest and easiest way to get into home brewing. These kits provide all you need to make your first batch of homebrew. These utilise a simple extract recipe with little to no extra additions of malt or hops required.
Starter Kits will generally contain a large 30L plastic fermenter with lid and bubbler airlock. A hydrometer for reading your OG (original gravity) and FG (final gravity). A digital stick-on thermometer to help you temp control your brew. A spring-loaded bottle wand to make bottle filling a breeze. The spring-loaded mechanism will start the flow of beer once it hits the bottom of a bottle and will stop once bottle is removed.
The kit will also include a simple extract recipe to start with. Typically a basic lager or pale ale and quite often a bag of dextrose or brewing sugar. Generally, it’s a case of pour in your extract tin. Add any dry ingredients. Fill the fermenter with cold water and pitch your yeast. It doesn’t get much simpler than that!
Kits will also come with a brewers spoon or paddle that will be made from food grade plastics and good kits will include all the necessary cleaner and sanitiser for the firs batch plus P.E.T plastic bottles for when it’s time to bottle your first beer.
This equipment will get you started with extract brewing and will last you quite a while. I still use my first kit fermenter. I think these kits are great for beginners and for gifts to get someone into home brewing. I’ve found one of the best kits on the market is the Mangrove Jack’s Starter Brewery Kit.
Brew In A Bag
This is considered the “starter kit” for all grain brewing and is a good step up after you’ve brewed a few batches using your extract Starter Kits. Brew in a bag is just steeping of crushed grains but at a larger volume. This will not require any extract kits and minimal additional adjuncts like dry malt or dextrose. There are many benefits to all grain brewing such as better flavour, more control and greater variety in experimenting.
For a good brew in a bag set up, you will need a large stockpot or boiler. Recommended is something over 30L if you plan on doing standard 21 to 23L batches. This can be a large stockpot made from aluminium or steel with a lid and ideally have a ball valve at the bottom so it’s easier to transfer your wort from the pot (known as a kettle) to your fermenter. Many people have taken an old keg and cut the top of it to use as a kettle. I’ve also seen some people use hot water boilers. It is also recommended that you get yourself a gas burner for your pot or keg kettle as using the stovetop for pots this big can be tricky. A simple 3 or 4 ringer burner and standard BBQ gas cylinder is all you need.
You will also need the most important to a brew in a bag set up – the bag itself. The bag is designed to hold crushed grains and allow water to soak through them. Bags should be of a mesh material, preferably polyester and sewn together like a pillowcase. The bag should be big enough to fit over the diameter opening of your kettle. Some will have an elastic or drawstring to keep secure over the lip of the kettle. If not, a few pegs or bulldog clips will do the trick. The bag also needs to be able to hold up to 9kg of grain, especially if making imperial stouts or IPAs.
The final piece of equipment you will need is a good thermometer. It will need to be accurate and liquid proof. The key to brew in a bag method is to keep a constant temperature while mashing so this will be an important piece of equipment. Other things to consider are heatproof gloves as the kettle will be hot to touch or lift. If you can, set up a pulley mechanism to help lift out the grain bag at the end of the mash. The wet grain will be heavy and you don’t want to pull your back out lifting a grain bag out of the kettle!
You will still need some of the gear from your Starter Kit, for instance, the fermenter, airlock, hydrometer and brewing spoon or paddle.
Brew in a bag is another minimal investment way to get into brewing. You can get away with all of the above mention gear for a few hundred dollars. It’s really simple to do, easy to set up and clean after a brew, plus doesn’t take up much space in the garage or brew shed.
All In One Systems
All in one systems take brew in a bag a step further with one vessel used for the mash and boil of your brew. Popular systems are Grainfather, Robobrew/Brewzilla, Guten and Braumeister. The benefit of these setups is the simplicity of use, small footprint, and incredible versatility.
All in one systems are one vessel and include a malt pipe that fits inside used for mashing, they will have its own power source for heating the water and touchpad to set temperatures and mash/sparge/boil times. Depending on which one you get, they can come with a bunch of optional extras from immersion chillers and chilling systems. In-built sparge facility, recirculation pumps and some
now even have distilling options if you want to make your own spirits.
This setup will produce faster results in terms of brew time with less margin for error as it is a fully automated process. The design also allows for ease of cleanliness after a brew day. Costs for these systems can vary depending on which you go with. Robobrews start from around $400. Grainfather’s can be closer to the $1000 mark. Braumeister’s will be on the higher end of the budget range ($2000-$5000) given that they are more used for commercial purposes.
3 Vessel systems
This is where you get as close to a professional brewery setup but on a smaller scale. The set up involves 3 major pieces of equipment. A mash tun, a kettle and hot liquid tank (HLT). You can buy full decked out stainless steel 3 vessel systems if you have a spare few grand lying around or you can create your own buying each piece individually. And if you’re really talented, you could even make your own gear yourself.
You mash in your grains using a mash tun. A kettle for your boil and an HLT to prepare hot water for both mash and boil. With this system, the three vessels are connected to each other. This allows the transfer of hot liquids from the HLT to the mash tun and kettle can take place seamlessly and effortlessly. The system can be either powered electrically for heating or it can be heated via a gas burner (similar to Brew In A Bag set up). The system allows you to manually control every step including sparging and chill stages of a brew. These are also generally bigger volumes, previous setups mentioned above generally allowed for 21-25L batches. These systems can scale up from 50L up to 200L or more.
What’s great about these systems is that you are in complete control of the whole brewing process and you can easily scale up to larger volumes if required. The downside is they do take up a considerable amount of space in the garage or brew shed and with lots of small parts that can (and will!) fail over time (hosing, tubing, ball lock valves, clamps etc). This means a lot of problem solving and additional cost in replacing malfunctioning parts. But if you want to create that real microbrewery feel and have the time and money to invest, this is a great way to go.