Essential Equipment For Brewing Beer
To ensure you have the necessary equipment and ingredients to proceed with brewing.
A list or knowledge of your home brewing equipment, ingredients and some sanitizer.
Success, so the saying goes, is 90% preparation and 10% inspiration, and so it is with beer. Brewing beer involves boiling malt, hops and water to create a grainy, sugary liquid.
Next, we add a fungus – yeast – to the wort, allow for time to pass and we have flat, warm beer.
Finally, we mix this warm, flat beer with a bit of sugar and bottle it, which will result in carbonated beer after a week or two.
But, let’s step back a moment. We add a fungus? Sure. Yeast is a fungus, a very special fungus, it is the crucial element to the creation of beer, it is what converts sugars into alcohol. We want to create an environment in which the yeast is happy; where the yeast is allowed to eat away at sugars without any competition. Competition means the yeast is unable to produce alcohol and even worse, competition means that some other element has entered our beer. Chances are this other element is bacteria. Bacteria will create off flavors in beer, beer that tastes, smells or feels unlike beer should, perhaps a strong smell of vinegar, a taste of cardboard, a viscous feel. Yuck.
To prevent the introduction of such odd elements, we clean and sanitize. It is the most important task of the entire brewing process. You must clean well everything that your beer may come in contact with, and just before use you must sanitize this equipment as well. Your brew kettle will not need to be sanitized as the boiling wort will accomplish this, but you will want the kettle clean.
There are many sanitizing solutions on the market, each with their own direction. Most are quick and easy to use. For example, Easy Clean: 1-Tablespoon Cleanser per 1-Gallon warm water and 2 minutes of contact time. No rinsing required.
- Sanitizer: Sanitizer keeps your equipment clean and prevents infection.
- Brew Kettles: Used for boiling your wort.
- Fermentation Vessel: A container used to ferment your beer.
- Fermentation Lock: Keeps your beer from being oxidized during fermentation.
- Spoon: Used for whirlpooling and helps prevent boilovers.
- Hydrometer: Use the hydrometer to figure out your original and final gravity.
- Bottles: Once your beer has fermented, bottle it for serving.
- Auto Siphon: The auto siphon to transfers beer between fermentation vessels.
- Bottle Cappers: An essential piece of equipment, fastens caps to the bottle.
- Bottle Caps: We have a variety of closures that work with many different bottles.
- Starter Kits: Choose a variety of Starter Kits to begin brewing!
All Northern Brewer Recipe Kits and for that matter nearly all beer will have four basic ingredients: Malt, Hops, Yeast and water. Don’t be fooled by the length of this list; there is enormous variety within each of these categories, enough to produce the wondrous array of beers available today, from the palest pilsner to the blackest stout and everything in between.
Some recipes and kits may also include specialty grains, sugars or spices.
You provide the most basic ingredient for your beer, water. Water chemistry can make a dramatic difference in your beer, but if your water tastes good to drink, it is fit for brewing.
Beer is brewed by fermenting the sugars of malted barley and other cereal grains. Brewers utilize the process of malting, wherein seeds are prompted to sprout, after which growth is stopped through kiln drying, to eventually access these sugars. Malting stimulates amylase enzyme production within the grain. Brewers crush the malted grain and soak it in hot water in a process known as “mashing.” This activates the enzymes, which convert the grain’s starch into sugars. These sugars are then rinsed from the grain and the resulting liquid, known as “wort”, is boiled with hops and other ingredients. After boiling and cooling the wort yeast is added to ferment the substance and produce delicious beer.
Most new brewers prefer not to perform the mashing step themselves. Liquid malt extract and dry malt extract are the concentrated results of this process, malt sugars that have been produced by mashing and packaged for later use. Extract brewers then steep a small amount (usually about 1 pound) of specialty grains to provide specific malt flavors and color in the finished beer.
Hops are the cone-shaped flower of the perennial Humulus lupulus plant. Hops are added to wort to impart a bitterness perfect to balance the sweetness of malt and to provide a wide variety of flavors and aromas. In addition to the bittering, flavoring and aromatic qualities that hops bring to beer, they also serve as a stability agent, preventing spoilage, contribute to head retention and act as a natural clarifier. While the use of hops in brewing is the norm today, it wasn’t until the eleventh century that hop use was first documented in Germany and not until the sixteenth century the use of hops became common to British brewers. Prior to this introduction beers were flavored and preserved with plants such as heather, rosemary, anise, spruce and wormwood; adventurous brewers still use these ingredients today. Particular hop varieties are often associated with particular beer styles, regions or even a particular brewery’s signature style. Hops are grown in countless varieties. All hops contain alpha and beta acids, it is these acids that contribute to the stability and bitterness of the beer.
Hops also contain a host of essential oils which can boil off if added early in the boiling process but which lend characteristic flavor and aroma when added later in the boil or even after fermentation. Each hop varietal can contribute dramatically different qualities of bitterness, flavor and aroma to beer. These flavors and aromas are often described as grassy, floral, citrusy, flowery, spicy, earthy, etc. Hops are often found as pellets, plugs or whole leaf. A staple of homebrew stores, you can also grow your own!
In 1516, The Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, listed the only allowable ingredients for brewing beer to be malt, hops and water. As you can see, at one time, yeast was an unknown element, the primary agent of fermentation being completely mysterious! The Vikings found that if they reused the stick used to stir their beer, it would help start the next fermentation process. These ‘magic sticks’ were so valuable they were often family heirlooms passed from generation to generation. In truth we now know that these sticks carried the family yeast culture, the crucial element in fermenting wort to create beer. Fortunately for German brewers the Reinheitsgebot was amended rightly to include yeast after the microorganisms were discovered.
There is an old saying: brewers make wort, yeast makes beer.
So just what is yeast?
Yeast is a type of fungus. An organism that reproduces asexually, it is unusual in that it can live with or without oxygen. In a low oxygen environment yeast cells consume sugars and in return produce carbon dioxide and alcohol as waste products. This process is fermentation. Yeast is used in making wine, mead and cider as well as beer. Brewing yeast tends to be classified as either “top fermenting” or “bottom fermenting”. As the names indicate, the yeast strains tend to be most active towards the top and bottom of the wort respectively, though the cells are dispersed throughout. Top fermenting yeasts produce an ale style beer, bottom fermenting a lager style beer. These yeast strains are actually two different species, differentiated by temperature tolerance as well as a few other factors. Ale strains prefer warmer temperatures while lager strains ferment best at cooler temperatures.