Homebrewing for Better Beer: Part 3 – Where To Start

This is the third in a three part series on the basics of homebrewing.  Part 1 looks at the benefits that homebrewing offers the believer in better beer (aka YOU).  Part 2 gives a basic overview of the process that a new homebrewer will undertake.  Part 3 lets you know what you need to get started and provides some helpful resources.  If you have thought about getting into homebrewing, hopefully this series will push you over the edge!

You’ve decided that you want to get into homebrewing, but where do you start?  First of all, let’s talk about some resources that are going to show you how to brew in far greater detail than we discussed in Part 2.  There is lots of stuff out there, but here are some that have served me well:
The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian.  Considered by many to be the “Homebrewer’s Bible,” Papazian is a central figure in the modern history of American homebrewing.  His text is a classic; it will take you from your very first batch, discuss ingredients, provide recipes, and arm you to be a resourceful homebrewer.  And he coined and uses (ad-nauseum) the mantra: “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.”
How To Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right the First Time by John Palmer.  Many consider this to be the best book for the beginner, with Papazian’s being better once you get your footing.  Palmer offers great technical help and troubleshooting tips.  The current edition is well worth owning, but you can read the 1st edition for free online HERE.
Basic Brewing Radio/Video.  This is a great homebrewing podcast that is updated weekly and available either on the site or through iTunes for free.  They handle basic and more advanced techniques.  The full archive is also available for free, so you can find topics that interest you and listen for hours.
-Local Homebrew Clubs: I know of two homebrewing clubs in Cincinnati: The Bloatarian Brewing League and the Cincinnati Malt Infusers.  I’m not involved with either, but clubs can be a great way to kickstart your hobby, gain great experience, and meet others who are as crazy about beer as you are.

Secondly, let’s talk about where to buy what you’ll need to get started.  There are two homebrew shops in Cincinnati (that I know of).  Where you go may be determined by where you live and which is more convenient.
Listermann: located close to Xavier’s campus on Dana Avenue.  This is where I do most of my shopping (again, I live close).  They are well stocked, and I’ve always found the staff helpful and knowledgeable.  Also, they have excellent ingredient kits that give you all the ingredients you need to brew a 5 gallon batch.  I used these to hone my craft before I started formulating my own recipes, and each one was a winner.
Paradise Brewing Supplies: located on Beechmont Avenue in Anderson Township.  I’ve only been there once, but they staff was very helpful and I had a great experience.
-Online: you can also get just about anything you want online.  Might I suggest clicking on that Cooper’s ad on the Hoperatives website?  ;-)

Finally, what extra supplies will you need to start brewing?  There are several paths to follow.  If anyone has other experiences, please comment below!
-Hardware: your local homebrew shop should have an equipment kit that has most of the hardware you’ll need to get started, including a fermentation bucket, a bottling bucket, along with brushes, measurement tools, and cleansers – all for around $60.  You could buy this all separately, but this will probably save you a little money and a lot of grief.  The kit will allow you to make ANY 5 gallon batch, which is the standard size of a homebrew recipe.  I know there are other kits out there (like the Mr. Beer) that include hardware and ingredients, and I’ll confess that I don’t really have any experience with them.  However, I’m a little suspicious of kits that tie you a too closely to then having to use THEIR ingredient kits to keep brewing (plus, there are some elementary flaws to the Mr. Beer kit, in particular, that effect the brewing process).  If you have experience with any particular kits, please comment below!  But a standard 5 gallon equipment kit will allow you so make great beer, whether you’re using a kit or gathering your own ingredients for a recipe.
-Most kits do not include a brew pot.  Preferably, this will be a stock pot that holds at least 3 gallons.  You can make do with smaller, but your beer quality may suffer.
-Bottles: some kits may include bottles, but you’ll likely need to buy your own.  Two dozen 12 ounce reusable glass bottles will run you about $10, and two dozen 500 mL plastic bottles go for about $17.  Take care of your bottles, and they can last you a long time.  Plus, you can clean and save bottles from commercial beers to refill with homebrew.  That’s recycling at its best!
-Ingredients: when starting out, I personally recommend using a kit.  That way, you can concentrate on the process and enjoy a tested recipe.  I only have experience with Listermann’s kits, and they’ve never steered me wrong.  Also, both the books above have basic recipes that are easy to assemble at the homebrew shop.

If you know someone who homebrews, he or she may be your best resource starting out.  The first batch can be nerve-wracking, with all the waiting and worrying and wishing for a cold homebrew of your own.  It’s easier to not have to go it alone.

In closing, I hope you’ll consider homebrewing!  It’s relatively easy, extremely fun, and educational.  I guarantee that homebrewing will help you love and appreciate beer better than you already do.

Homebrewers, please comment below with any tips or advice.  Here’s to better beer!

-John Lavelle (#13)

One Reply to “Homebrewing for Better Beer: Part 3 – Where To Start”

  1. great primer on homebrewing. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

    as a member of the Bloatarian Brewing League I have to say that getting involved with a club is a great way to learn more about homebrewing. Not only that it’s a great way to meet people who are passionate about the same thing. We have a great time whether it’s just hanging out and sharing a few beers to working a (mostly) serious homebrew competition complete with judging and awards.

    I invite all interested parties to seek out the BBL or CMI clubs and visit a meeting or two. Both clubs are worthy of participation.


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