During the initial quarantined last year as everyone ran to the supermarket to stock up on flour and yeast homemade cakes, my older brother and I had another thought: to stock up on malt barley.
For the past eight years, we’ve met almost every Saturday in its shaded driveway to hang out with our dogs, have lunch on the grill, and brew a fresh batch of beer. We’ve been steadily advancing from money to relatively experienced brewers, and lately we’ve been researching fresh local ingredients (recently barley malt from barley). But we would be lying if we said we did it because of the constant supply of foam.
Like grilling or gardening, making your own booze at home is more than just a way to get cheap booze. It also connects you directly to the culinary and scientific history of mankind. Did you know, for example, that we may have gone from hunters to gatherers to farmers because of our love of beer? What about the fact that Louis Pasteur discovered pasteurization while studying spoiled wine – and that he hated German beer?
One of the things I love is how easy it is to progress with this hobby. You can probably make something drinkable on the first try, but you can do something quite professional if you put in a little effort. This generally requires the ability to read instructions. When you’re done, your products can help you relax afterwards a long day of curses.
Want to try it? It doesn’t take a lot of money. Here’s what you need to know to make beer, wine, cider and mead.
Updated July 2021: We’ve updated the links and prices, and added some tips for buying malt and hops in bulk.
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Making alcohol is easy. Take the sugar liquid, add the yeast that eats the sugar and wait.
While yeast eats sugar, it produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. Wait long enough (a few weeks) and you will get a fully fermented beverage that is (probably) safe to drink. Here are some general tips to keep in mind when fermenting your own booze, for quality:
Sanitation is the most important part of any fermentation process. You want to make sure that anything that touches your liquid before and after fermentation is completely sterilized with a non-rinsing rinse aid (see the Star San section below). This prevents bad taste yeast and other contaminants and ensures shelf stability.
There is a saying in the brewing community that brewers are really just celebrated janitors: yeast is what actually makes beer. This cannot be true. Maintaining your little biological friends is of the utmost importance for a booze that tastes good. Be sure to grind a healthy amount of yeast cells and maintain fermentation in the recommended temperature range for the particular yeast you are using.
“Relax, don’t worry, take a homebrew,” is the reason the most popular saying in the world of home fermentation. Making a good booze can take time, and it’s important not to rush things, even though you’re excited!
The tools you will need for everything
There is a good chance that you have a liquor store in your area. I recommend that you buy as much of this equipment locally as possible, as trade experts are invaluable resources. If you are a little further away, we have included links to purchase this equipment online. If you are buying malt, hops or other ingredients in large quantities, buying local is a great way to save on shipping. Pro tip: Hops are harvested in August and September in the U.S., so you’ll often see good discounts on last year’s harvest around that time. Fresh hops appeared on the market in December.
- Thermometer for $ 11: You will need a high quality and accurate thermometer to check the temperatures of different liquids. I like this long one because you don’t steam your hand over the hot water boiler.
- Hygrometer for $ 33: A hydrometer is a cute little floating thermometer that measures the density of a liquid instead of a temperature. By measuring the density both before and after fermentation, you can get a fairly accurate idea of the alcohol content. As alcohol becomes present in the solution – a byproduct of the sugars that eat the yeast – the liquid becomes less thick.
- Kitchen scale for $ 20: A simple kitchen scale like this Etekcity model will help you measure everything from hops to honey.
- Siphon for $ 14: You will need a way to get your precious beverage out of the bucket after fermenting it. The automatic siphon allows you to do this without sucking the hose, which would require re-sterilization.
- Fermentation vessels for $ 28: Fermentation vessels range from glassy carbon to fancy stainless steel tanks and beyond, but the best place to start is a simple plastic food bucket and lid like this one from Home Brew Ohio. It’s affordable and you don’t have to worry about breaking the glass if you drop it. Pro type: When cleaning them, use only the soft side of the sponge. The rough side can create scratches in the bucket to which wild yeast and bacteria can stick during cleaning and sanitation.
- Air chamber for $ 7: An air chamber is a simple device that goes to the top of your fermenter and allows it to remove carbon dioxide – another major by-product of fermentation other than alcohol – while keeping the inside of the bucket closed from wild yeast and bacteria. This package brings you five cheap.