Building your own home brewery is a rewarding challenge. At first glance, it may seem to not be worth the expense of procuring all of the carboys, kettles, and specialty equipment. You will find that with a little ingenuity, many of the tools for larger scale beer production can be had for a fraction of the cost you usually see. The rewards of building your own home brew are also quite enticing.
The first place to start with low-cost home brewing is to think in terms of scale. The larger you're batches of beer, the easier and more efficient it is to brew. Three to five gallon batches are good to start with just to get a good feel for home brewing. This is what most home brewers start with: a three to five gallon kettle, long metal spoon, grain bag, bottle capper, five to six gallon carboy with airlock, large bottlebrush, and some cleaning and sanitizing solution. Most of the items on this list are most efficiently bought. But surprisingly, your brewing kettle is one of the things that you can make yourself.
I made beer this way in the kitchen for many years, by myself. With my years of experience, I can tell you that there are much more efficient ways to start out - as I said earlier, with a little ingenuity. The first place to start is with a BIG kettle. Although kettles are usually one of the highest priced items for home brewers, there is a way to get one for cheap or nothing. Ask around among the pack-rat crowd and try to find someone with a metal keg or two laying about their yard or garage. Go to the salvage yard, the flea market, and surely you will come up with something sooner or later. Try to find a keg that has a bare metal bottom. Some kegs have rubberized lower halves - these simply will not do - because you are going to turn this keg into a 15 gallon brewing kettle. Save the rubberized kegs for making a fermentation vessel later.
Next, if you know someone who is handy with a plasma cutter or sawzall, take the keg to them. WARNING - you MUST de-gas the keg before transforming it into a kettle. De-gassing is accomplished through the use of a ¾ crescent wrench. It is a good idea to turn the keg sideways, pointing it away from anything that doesn't want a beer shower. Using the wrench as a lever, fit it into the lip of the tap groove. By placing the back end of the wrench against the ball valve, you can now use this as your lever's fulcrum, or balancing point, to release the pressurized contents of the keg. Watch our Keg to Kettle conversion video.
Some folks cut off the whole top of the keg, and others merely cut a hole in the top. Either way, here you have a 15 gallon kettle which may be used for boiling a lot of wort at once. You can also take your new-made kettle to a metal shop and have a false bottom and spigot installed, or do it yourself. Now you can use this kettle as a sparger!
The benefits of the beer keg kettle are best enjoyed with an outdoor high power propane burner. These are sold at major hardware stores as deep fryers, and the put out enough heat to get your beer going quickly, with little hassle. This keeps your brewing mess out of the kitchen as well. It is much easier to clean up after a brewing session with a hose than with a bucket and scrubber.
The proper cleaning supplies cannot be overlooked when building your own home brewery. Make sure that your brewing area is kept clean and sanitized to prevent any contamination of beer. Use iodophor solution for sanitizing your stainless steel pieces and bleach on the surrounding area. For bottles, bleach is going to be your most inexpensive and easy to deal with choice.
Having a keg and carboy rack is a great benefit to the home brewer. Wooden shelves will do the trick, but metal shelves are perfect for the heavy five-gallon carboys when they are full. If your brewing area has windows, be sure to cover your carboys with paper bags or dark color towles to ensure that the sunlight does not degrade your hop character.
This should get you started on building your own home brewery. Remember that the faster you can move ahead with bigger projects, the happier your home brewing experience will be.
Building an Efficient Outdoor Home Brewery - Learn How to Build an Efficient Outdoor Home Brewery and get Tips on Everything from Grain Storage to Brewing Operations for the Different Seasons.
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Sanitation in the Home Brewery - An interview with Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing on the importance of sanitation in the home brewery. Using closed brewing systems to reduce the amount of air exposure during beer transfer.