The Basics of Home Brewing

By: Joel Marino

Another season of snowmageddons and polar vortices is upon us, meaning you could brave the frostbite and venture out to your neighborhood dive when that hankering for a pint hits... or you could stay warm and toasty at home and make your own damn beer. I recently chose the latter, trying my hand at the art of suds manufacturing with an IPA kit from the highly recommend Brooklyn Brew Shop. And while their recipe booklet was pretty thorough, there were a few tips and tricks I had to pick up on my own as I went along. Herewith are some of the harder lessons learned from my first foray into the potion process. Take careful notes, all you future Sam Adamses out there.

Do Have Plenty of Workspace

First off, remember that you’re not just making beer here—you’re making science. The process requires enough tubes, beakers, jugs, spoons and flames to make a mad scientist jealous. So yeah, a kitchenette with a hot plate ain’t gonna cut it. You’ll need a full stove to boil the grains, a spot to strain the resulting mash and plenty of elbow room to move the various pieces of your boozehound laboratory. You’ll use everything but the kitchen sink. Wait, scratch that—you’ll actually need that, too.

Don’t Go at It Alone

The lone-wolf type can get a lot accomplished... just not home-brewing beer. Get at least one good buddy to sacrifice his or her time for the greater alcoholic good. My best friend and then-roommate played Igor to my Frankenstein, and those extra pair of hands made all the difference. We were able to alternate chores (e.g., he stirred the grains while I sanitized some beer bottles and vice versa) and remind each other when it was time to move on to the next step. Of course, this can also just be an excuse to hang out and have a good time with a close friend. Beer: helping pals bond even when they’re not drinking it.

Do Get Every Last Piece of Equipment

Here’s a major warning: most kits don’t provide all the materials you’ll need to craft those perfect suds. Brooklyn Brew gives you the organic ingredients (grain, yeast, hops) as well as some of the production tools (tubes, fermentation jug, sanitation packets). Then they expect you to chip in the rest: thermometer, pots, strainers, a funnel and various other kitchen-appropriate gear. I had most of the necessities, and the ones I didn’t have... well, improvisation’s a wonderful tool, right?

Big mistake. Finding myself sans funnel, I finagled a crude cone out of aluminum foil and Bounty paper towels. When the time came to pour the hoppy liquid into each individual bottle, the mess caused by my makeshift spout nearly brought me to tears: the proto-brew broke through the paper and leaked through the tinfoil, splashing all over the kitchen. I lost half the product, filling only six of the dozen bottles. Small batch indeed.

Don’t Lose Your Cool

Brewing’s the kind of hobby that requires the patience of a Gandhi. There’s an immense amount of precision that goes into each step, and getting just one thing wrong could ruin all the hours of work you’ve put into your beer (see above funnel incident). The key to success here is to closely follow every step given by your kit, especially if it’s your first time handling such esoteric ingredients as hops and brewer’s yeast. Brooklyn Brew’s website has incredibly informative videos that helped clear the air whenever I got stuck on a step, and there are plenty of other sites and forums dedicated to the pastime. Basically, keep calm and carry on—popping open your very own cold one is so worth it.

LOGISTICS: Brooklyn Brew Shop, kits available here

Joel Marino is a NYC-based freelance writer and editor who enjoys traveling and saying “I told you so” as much as possible. When not writing, he spends his time on a never-ending quest to find the perfect empanada.