As you continue to homebrew you will gather a collection of homebrewing equipment. This collection will continue to grow and evolve as you continue to brew and you find what works for you.
Basic Homebrewing Equipment
The equipment described here should be considered vital to any homebrewing set up. These items should be purchased from a reputable homebrew supply store, since the quality of materials and construction of these tools is of absolute importance. A brewer can choose to use sub-standard ingredients, and/or less than perfect brewing practices (with the exception of sanitation procedures), and still produce a drinkable beer. Conversely, even with the highest quality ingredients, and the perfect application of brewing procedures, use of poor quality equipment will invariably lead to disaster. When choosing equipment, purchase equipment made from stainless steel, high quality tempered glass, and food grade plastics when possible.
- Brew Kettle - A brew kettle should always be used to boil wort (unfermented beer) before pitching yeast. Some beer kits may claim that boiling is not mandatory, such as pre-hopped extract kits, but experienced brew masters know that hopping even pre-hopped extracts will result in a fresher taste and boiling ingredients will help prevent unwanted microbial infections. The kettle should be made of stainless steel, or aluminum. While a 3-gallon capacity can be sufficient a larger kettle, capable of holing an entire batch with adequate space to contain foaming will improve the quality of beer produced. Many homebrewers prefer a kettle with a ball valve attached, allowing simple gravity transfer to the fermenter.
- Stove or Burner - Some method of heating the wort to boiling is needed. Small batches can be boiled on a kitchen stove, however propane burner are preferred by many, as they can reduce the time needed to bring wort to a boil, and allows larger volumes of wort to be boiled.
- Stirring Spoon - It is important to stir the wort while bringing it to a boil and while boiling to keep from scorching the solubles. The spoon should be steel or food grade plastic; never use wood or porous materials. Flavors from previous boils can transfer via porous materials, but even worse, so can bacteria.
- Fermenters - Your fermenter must be made of high quality food grade plastics or tempered glass. There are two types of fermenters commonly used by modern homebrewers; glass carboys and plastic buckets. A few homebrewers use stainless steel conical fermenters, which are similar to the tanks large brewerys use, however these are not necessary to produce great beer. Generally, for a five gallon (19L) batch of beer, the fermenter should have about a 6.5 gallon capacity. During fermentation, a layer of foam will form on the surface of the liquid, which is called krausen. You will need an adequate amount of ullage to prevent the krausen from contaminating the airlock. (Ullage is the space between the surface of the contained liquid and the top of the container.) It is imperative to properly sterilize fermenters before and after use, and to be careful not to scratch or damage the inside surface. You should have at least one fermenter and an additional food grade bucket to serve as a "bottling bucket." Some brewers choose to have two fermenters; one for primary fermentation and one for secondary.
- Bottling Bucket - A bottling bucket is a simple food grade bucket with a spigot attached. The bottling buckets allows priming sugar to be added to the beer consistently without disturbing the yeast and trub layer at the bottom of the fermenter. The spigot allows bottles to be filled easily and constantly using gravity.
- Airlocks - There are several types of airlocks, the two most popular being the three-piece and the single piece airlocks. The goal of the airlock is to prevent foreign particles and oxygen from floating into the fermenting beer while allowing CO2 to push it's way out. The one piece works similar to the drain trap under your sink, CO2 pushes on the trapping water until it pushes slightly past the bottom of the J, allowing part of the interior atmosphere to escape. In the three-piece design, the escaping CO2 actually pushes a plastic cap piece up until the gas can escape around the bottom of the cap. Another type of airlock used with carboys, is called a blowoff hose. A large plastic hose (1.5in for most standard carboys) is attached to the mouth of the carboy and the other end is placed in a container of water. Escaping gas simply bubbles through the water. Blowoff tubes are frequently used for active fermentation. The yeast matter can then escape through the tube into the bucket of water.
- Syphon - Once fermentation has begun, and there is alcohol in the liquid, it's a good practice to avoid aerating the liquid. Yeast still in beer will oxidize and cause undesirable tastes. So, it's also good practice to carefully siphon the beer when transferring from container to container. A meter of hose will do the job, but if you purchase a kit from your local brew supply store, you will receive a racking cane, a cane clip, and a tube clip, in addition to some hose. The racking cane is a rigid plastic, cane shaped tube that when clipped to the "from" bucket with the cane clip eases the entire process. The tube clip is will allow the syphoner to stop the flow of liquid by pinching the hose; when filling bottles, it's a good idea to have an "off button."
- Bottles - A standard 5 gallon (19L) batch of beer will fill approximately two cases (48 bottles), depending on transfer loss. Either swing top bottles (with the rubber gasket) or pry top bottles may be used. Screw top bottles cannot be capped reliably using equipment available to the homebrewer.
- Bottle Caps - Caps can be purchased from a brewing supply store, usually by the gross (144).
- Bottle Capper - There are two main types of cappers, as pictured to the right (someday). Description of pros and cons of each should go here :P
Optional Brewing Equipment
The equipment and tools listed here can ease certain burdens of the brewing process, and/or can allow the brewer to employ complex techniques. Some of the tools can be home made, but they should be constructed using the highest quality materials.
Record Keeping & Measurement
log book, clock
A hydrometer is a device to measure the specific gravity (a measure of density) of a liquid. For the brewer the specific gravity(SG) relates the amount of fermentables in a solution of wort or beer. Taking Specific Gravity readings after boiling (OG) and at the end of fermentation (FG) the amount of alcohol can be calculated. Hydrometers are relatively inexpensive equipment which will help to produce consistent beer. A hydrometer should be verified before each use by placing in distilled water, the hydrometer should read 1.000 in distilled water, if slightly off adjust for the inaccuracy, if far off replace your hydrometer. The alcohol content is approximately ABV=(OG-FG)/7.62
A refractometer is used to measure the refractive index of a solution. A refractometer is used as a substitute for a hydrometer in brewing applications. Refractometers have a few advantages over hydrometers, first they can be re-calibrated easily. The second advantage of a refractometer is only a few drops of a sample are need to take a measurement. The two main drawbacks to a refractometer are they are substantially more expensive than hydrometers and, the a correction is needed for alcohol content in a partially fermented sample.
Temperature plays an important role in the brewing process. An accurate thermometer, which can be calibrated is important to ensure a consistent beer.
All Grain Brewing Tools and Equipment
Sparge equipment, Grain sack, iodine, etc.
A grain mill is used to crush grain for steeping or mashing. Crushing the grain breaks the husk and endosperm inside the kernel allowing access to the components inside the grain. Most grain mills are roller mills, where the grain is run between two closely spaced rollers. While having ones' own mill allows more control over the crush of the grain, and allows brewers to purchase bulk grain keeping costs lower, most home brew shops will crush grain for you.
A mash tun is a vessel where the biochemical processes of the mash occur. Most home brewers use a combination mash/lauder tun. The mash/lauder tun must hold the grain and water during the mash and allow the sweet wort to be drained from the vessel. The most common mash tuns used by homebrewers are plastic beverage coolers, with a false bottom (stainless steel plate with holes in it) or a manifold on the bottom of the vessel. The grain bed and the false bottom or manifold act as a filter only allowing the sweet wort to flow out of the mash tun to the boil kettle. Commercial breweries will frequently use a separate mash and lauder tun. The mash tun is where the starch conversion occurs, the entire mash is then transferred to a lauder tun to be drained and rinsed in a process called a lauder or sparge. This frees the mash tun for another batch to be mashed, while the sparge is conducted on the first batch. Separate mash and lauder tuns are unnecessary for smaller operations where a batch needs to be in the boil kettle as much of the time as possible.
Bottle washer, tree, brushes, bleach, oxyclean
bottle fill tube, bottling bucket, spigot, cooler, kegging, etc.
Other Useful Tools
Hop socks or hop bags are knitted bags. Hop cones or pellets are placed inside a sock to allow alpha and beta acids, and flavoring and aroma characteristics to be extracted from them during the boil, while allowing the spent particles to be quickly removed from the wort. Use of hop bags is a controversial subject. Some believe that hops should be allowed to freely move in the boil, while others use hop bags to reduce the sediment in the bottom of the kettle at the end of to boil.
Chillers are used to cool wort to yeast pitching temperatures from boiling temperatures as rapidly as possible. Rapid chilling of wort reduces the formation of DMS (a compound which contributes to off flavors). There are two basic types of chillers, immersion chillers and counter-flow chillers. Immersion chillers are simply a coil of tubing, typically copper, which is placed in the wort. A coolant, typically tap water is then run though the chiller exchanging heat with the hot wort. Counter-flow chillers work by the wort flowing through the chiller on the way to the fermenter, and cool water flowing in around the wort line in the opposite direction. Two varieties of counter-flow chillers are commonly in use. the concentric coil chiller with the wort running thought a metal tube which is surrounded by another tube which the coolant flows though. The other type is the plate chiller, which is much more compact and smaller, however also much more difficult to clean after use. Cleaning and sanitation are very important with counter-flow chillers as the wort flowing though the chiller is not boiling after it leaves the chiller, and it is not possible to examine or scrub the inside of a counter-flow chiller.
A Whirlpool is used to remove turb from the wort before entering the fermentor. For homebrewers using a whirlpool the hot wort is pumped from the bottom of the kettle and then pumped back into the kettle such that the wort spins. This causes the sediment to set in a pile at the center of the kettle when the pump is turned off and the wort allowed to settle. Many homebrewers are experimenting with combining a whirlpool with an immersion chiller. This has shown to decrease chilling time substantially as well as reducing the solids transferred to the fermenter.
Filtration of brewing water can improve the flavor of a beer. The removal of chlorine or chloramine (common disinfectants used in municipal water supplies) can greatly improve the flavor of a finished beer. This is especially important for all-grain brewers. A activated carbon filter will remove chlorine, chloramine and many organic compounds which are undesirable in the brewing process.
Many brewers wish to improve the clarity their beer thorough filtering. Filtering of finished beer will remove haze in a beer, as well as any yeast left in suspension. Depending on the degree of filtration a beer many need yeast reintroduced to be naturally carbonated. Alternatively a beer can be force carbonated directly in a keg after filtration.
Oxygenation systems are used to reintroduce oxygen to the wort before the yeast has begun fermentation. Yeast require oxygen to grow, however boiled wort will be nearly free of dissolved oxygen. Stainless steel diffusion stones are frequently used to encourage the gas to enter solution. Oxygen is either supplied through a pure O2 tank or a air pump using a sterile filter.