If you are fortunate, as I am, there is a brewing supply store near you. This gives you the opportunity to walk around, look at the equipment and beer making ingredients they sell, talk to a sales person who is probably an experienced brewer, and collect everything you need. If you don’t live near a brewing supply store, you can get equipment through mail-order or get some equipment through mail order and some of the more generic equipment, like the large bucket for bottling and the carboy (a big, glass, multi-gallon bottle) from a local hardware store. More specialized equipment you will likely need to order.
A list of brewing equipment suppliers in given in the blogroll.
Here is what you need to get started:
A big pot for boiling up the wort. If you want to make five gallons at a time, you should get a big four gallon pot or bigger. If you are making three gallons at a time (which is what I do) a two-gallon pot will work but three gallon is better. I suggest stainless steal or ceramic coated steel rather than aluminum since the aluminum can possible leach into the wort.
A big glass bottle, or “carboy”, for fermenting the beer. I use a four-gallon bottle to make a three-gallon batch. You need a six-gallon bottle for a five-gallon batch. In addition, if you are interested in making a lager, you need either a three gallon or five gallon bottle in which to lager the beer. I’ll explain more about this process in the next chapter.
Some people use a plastic bucket for fermenting. This has a couple of advantages. You don’t want any light hitting the beer. The plastic bucket is opaque. If you use a carboy, you need to store it in a dark place or wrap it with a towel or two to keep it from getting hit by light. Also, plastic buckets are lighter, so easier to move around, and cheaper. Personally, I don’t like having my beer sit in plastic for two weeks, even though food grade plastic should not leech into the beer. Also, I like the aesthetics of the glass bottle.
If you do use a plastic bucket, be sure to have an airtight top with a hole that fits a plastic plug used to hold the air vent.
A plastic plug and air trap vent. While your beer is fermenting (or lagering if you decide to do this), you want air to be able to get out but not in. A large plastic plug in the carboy, or hole in the plastic lid of a plastic bucket, provides a good seal. The plug need to have a hole in it in which you can insert an air trap so air can escape but air (and dust and wild yeast and who knows what) can’t get in. If you can’t get an air trap (they cost less than $5 so price should not be an obstacle), you can use a long piece of plastic tube that ends in a jar full of water. This also allows air to escape (bubble by bubble) but not enter. Just don’t knock over the jar.
Large funnel. When you pour the wort into the carboy, you need a large funnel to direct the flow into the jar and away from the floor. If you ferment in a bucket, you don’t need the funnel.
Candy/liquid thermometer. A large thermometer for use in liquids is useful to check the temperature of the wort before you add the yeast. Wort that is too hot can kill the yeast, too cold and it can be hard for the yeast to get started. I have a thermometer but I don’t actually use it since I have a sense of what it too hot and cold from making bread with yeast. You can feel the side of the carboy or bucket and see if it feels warm but not too hot. If you feel confident about checking the temperature this way, you can forgo the liquid thermometer.
Air thermometer. Most beers like to ferment in the range of 70-80 degrees. I really like having a little standing thermometer (the type you can get to put inside your refrigerator) to see what the fermentation temperature is like. If you lager, you might also want a thermometer to make sure that the location is cool enough but not too cool, as will be discussed in Chapter 3.
Hydrometer. This is a device that measures the alcohol content in your beer. It is useful to determine if the fermentation process is complete. It is not necessary for this but useful. Also, if you are concerned about the precise level of alcohol in your beer, you would want to use this.
Bottling bucket. You need a large, plastic bucket with a pour spout with a valve at the bottom to make bottling way easier.
Flexible plastic tubing. You need a length of flexible plastic tubing for siphoning your beer from the carboy to the plastic bottling bucket and to make it easier to fill your bottles. 4 feet should be enough unless you have a very high counter for your bottling.
Stiff plastic tube with an L shape. This is to put into your carboy or fermentation bucket to siphoned the beer into the bottling bucket or into the lagering carboy. You don’t want to just pour the beer since you don’t want to stir up the sediment on the bottom. Also, using the flexible plastic tubing without this tube doesn’t work either because it is near impossible to get the flexible tube down toward the bottom of the carboy, just above the sediment, for siphoning.
Bottle filler tube. This is a wonderful device. It is a foot long tube with a valve at the end that opens when you push down on it and closes when you stop. You can push it into the bottle you are filling and the beer will pour in. As soon as the liquid reaches the top, you pull it out. The liquid displaced by the tube leave the perfect sized little air-pocket at the top of the bottle.
Please note that the stiff plastic tubing needs to be small enough that the flexible tubing can fit around the end of it, forming a tight seal for siphoning the beer. The flexible tubing also needs to be large enough to fit around the end of the spout of the bottling bucket and the bottle filler tube.
Bottles. Brown bottles are best since they protect the beer from light. You can buy these but sometimes bars or pubs will have bottles they will give you.
Bottle box. This makes storage of your bottles and beer and transport much easier.
Bottle caps. You will need to buy these at a brewing supply store or on-line.
Bottle capper. There are a few types. I use the hand capper and have found it works great.
Mesh bag. You need a large mess bag with a drawstring top to hold the grains while you soak them, making your “tea”. The bag should be about 7” x 9” or so.
Disinfectant. I use iodine drops to disinfect all of the equipment I am using and prevent unwanted yeasts and bacterial from taking up residence in my beer. You can also use more industrial products but I like the fact that iodine is more natural. I also use sodium percarbonate to clean my equipment. This is necessary after having made multiple batches. Residue can build up. Always clean your carboy etc. shortly after use to keep as clean as possible. A large carboy brush is necessary for this.
Bottlebrush. You need a small one to clean bottles that will be refilled and a large one with an L shape to clean out the carboy after you use it.
Many brewing supply stores sell complete kits at a much better price than buying the individual items separately.