There are a lot of products out there on the market for home brewers. Some are vital, some are nice to have, but not necessary, and some are frivolous. I will show by example what is necessary and what is unnecessary in the realm of homebrew equipment. With over ten years of home brewing experience, I have found that there are just a few basic elements of home brewing equipment that one needs to produce high quality, quaffable ales at home.
When starting off with the home brew hobby, it is not necessary to get everything at once. There is a number of pieces of home brewing equipment that are not necessary for the beginning home brewer. You will not need a hydrometer. You will not need to start out with a false bottom brew pot with spigot, unless you wish to start brewing using the all grain method. You won’t need corny kegs (aka soda kegs), carbonation tanks (CO2), or about half the supplies that line the walls of your homebrew supply store.
Glass carboys with airlocks are vital. They are the vessels which protect your brews from bacterial infection, rogue yeasts, and other evil spirits. It is important not to skimp on your carboy by buying plastic ones. Plastic carboys can harbor microbes in tiny scratches in the plastic on the inside of the carboy, and also lend an unsavory taste to the ale. Glass is heavier, more fragile, and yet a safer place for your beer to develop. Glass carboys can be cleaned meticulously, whereas the harder you scrub the plastic carboys, the more prone they are to harboring bacteria colonies which can ruin your beer. This is of the utmost importance to the home brewer.
I highly recommend reusable nylon grain and hops bags in your arsenal of home brewing equipment. These bags can hold enough grains and hops for even the biggest batch of beer any home brewer is likely to produce. The initial cost is more than muslin bags, but the ease of use – and re-use – far outweighs this cost.
A good spoon and brew kettle are very important. No set of home brewing equipment is complete without these simple tools. You need big ones. A five-gallon stainless steel brew pot is recommended, although you can get by with enameled steel pots. You can, at least, until the enamel chips. A long handled stainless steel spoon for stirring your wort – way down to the bottom. Without it, you might end up burning some of your malt to the bottom of your brewing cauldron. It takes a lot of scrubbing to get that out.
I have always preferred hand cappers to bench cappers when it comes to getting that beer bottled. Even when kegging, I usually set aside a few bottles of beer for my private reserve, so I have always kept my bottling supplies handy. The cappers with the red plastic handles and metal inserts have always been my top choice.
I have also always been one for recycling, so it is common for me to bottle into cleaned and sanitized 22 oz. bottles. Grolsche style bottles with built in caps are especially useful for this purpose, and very durable. To properly clean and maintain a sanitized selection of re-usable beer bottles, I recommend acquiring a high pressure beer bottle spray attachment for your brew room’s sink nozzle. After drinking, a quick rinse with one of these easy to use nozzles will greatly help with the cleaning and sanitizing of your bottles.
Home brewing equipment for kegging your beer is something that I recommend investment in. Cornelius kegs, or soda kegs, are very useful in making your brew easily accesable and for saving you time. I have found the ball lock systems on corny kegs to be to easiest to use, and that by purchasing a few extra fittings, one can make one’s own air pump out of a bicycle tire pump. Having a CO2 system for carbonation increases the convenience of this process immensely.
One reason why there are so many products on the market is that the art of home brewing is multifaceted. To make different kinds of home brew, one needs different homebrew equipment. Wine makers need wine bottles, and different tooling for shoving corks into place as beer brewers need to cap bottles. Hard cider afficianados need a cider press to make brew from fresh apples. Beer brewers working on specialty Belgian ales need temperature controlled yeast that are very fragile creatures.
Also, one needs different tools for different scales of production. A first year home brewer does not need the same homebrew equipment that a five year veteran does. When you’ve been brewing for that long, word gets around, and you have to up production just to meet with the demand. At this point, most brewers start shifting over to all grain brewing, if they haven’t already, which takes a whole new slew of homebrew equipment needs. The investment pays off quickly, though, as with most homebrew equipment.