What exactly does it take to start making beer?

When people taste homebrew for the first time, they usually have a lot of questions.  “You made this?”  “How long did it take?”  “Is it difficult?”  The most common question is usually “What did it take to get started?” and incidentally, how much did it cost to do so.  Here’s a look at what it takes to get yourself off the ground with regards to making [good] beer.

First, let me say that anyone can make decent, drinkable beer.  Anyone.  It’s really an incredible thing if you stop and think about it.  Local homebrewing shops today carrying just about any ingredient you can imagine, combined with endless amounts of homebrewing information on the internet makes it more accessible than ever before in history.  Ever!  As I’m reading right now in The Brewmaster’s Table by Brooklyn Brewing Co.’s Garrett Oliver, back in the day (like, the year 1400) the skills and knowledge necessary to brew was kept close and secret by brewers across the world; very few knew how to do it, let alone do it well.  In fact, brewing bad beer was considered a crime in some parts of the world – the penalty being thrown into the town’s manure pile. Rough! The trade of brewing excellent beer is still proprietary at some level, but for us common folk, there’s little in your way of making your own if you want to try it out.

I took a really silly yet spontaneous approach to brewing.  I was helping my dad clean out his basement one day and found a can of malt extract dated 1992, labeled “IPA”.  Without doing any background research, I curiously read the attached instructions, which said something like “1. Mix contents of can with water, bring to boil, 2.  add more cold water to cool to room temp and reach desired volume (???), 3. add yeast (a small packet of dry yeast came attached with the can)”..  I followed the steps carefully as I could, poured the mixture into the fermenting bucket and sealed it off. A few days past so I decided to open it up and see how my first production of “beer” was coming along. The only thing produced was some slimy mold on the surface and a stench that I’ll probably never forget.  Of course, I had to figure out why this didn’t work out as planned, and from there I did some reading, made more batches (successfully), and repeated. Little did I know that 20 year old yeast packets were likely to not function as well anymore 🙂

You can get started with basic equipment in a kit for usually around $100, then buy a basic extract recipe from a local homebrew shop usually for around $30-$40. Maryland Homebrew‘s website has a bunch of great beginner recipes that I can personally vouch for.  The employees at homebrew stores are extremely kind and helpful, so don’t feel embarrassed just telling them flat out that you’re a n00b and need your hand held the first few times.  I certainly did!  The more romantic answer to “What do I need to get started?” is really just some curiosity.  Everyone who homebrews and/or drinks beer has their own purpose and philosophies on why they do. Some are smitten by it and want to know everything there is to learn about it, others don’t really care and just enjoy the final product – and that’s great, too.  Besides curiosity, you’ve gotta be persistent. Do not give up. Your first few batches won’t be works of art, but that’s expected. Like anything else, the only way to get better is with practice, and in the end it’s a great accomplishment to drink real beer that you, yourself, created and be truly pleased.

So… are you ready to start?

Just for kicks, I’ll throw in one of my first extract recipes.  Follow the procedure for any other extract based recipe on my site (or, just send me a message if you have questions. More than happy to help.).  After tasting this beer, I remember grinning and thinking to myself “Oooookay, I can get used to this”.  Hopefully it will have the same effect for you (and not produce a slime bucket like my first batch)!

Belgian Pale Ale (extract)

  • 6.6 lb Breiss Light liquid malt extract
  • 1 lb pilsner malt
  • 0.5 Biscuit malt
  • 1 oz Hallertauer hops (60 min)
  • 1 oz Styrian Goldings hops (20 min)
  • 0.5 oz Saaz hops (20 min)
  • 1 oz Tettnanger hops (10 min)
  • WYeast trappist ale yeast
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