Homebrewing is not only a science but an art. As with art, expensive equipment does not necessarily mean a great piece of work. However, in homebrewing, one’s skills may quickly outgrow their beginning tools, and they might look to improve their craft.
In this article, we’ll discuss all tools and setups, from beginner’s tools to expert level gear. Whether you’re an experienced homebrewer or a complete newbie, this guide will be helpful for your brewing needs!
This section is for those of you who are completely new to homebrewing and have no equipment whatsoever. If you’re past this level skip to the intermediate section!
If you are new to the world of brewing you’ll probably want to start off learning about extract brewing.
Brewing with extracts is simple, as there’s no fuss about milling grain or achieving mash efficiencies or water chemistry. The hard work is done for you already.
This method isn’t just for newbies though! Many experienced homebrewers turn to extract brews all the time for their easy brew days and relative simplicity. The value and joy that come with simple extract brewing are extremely high.
For extract brews, you don’t need much equipment, and much of this equipment is relatively inexpensive.
Types of equipment For One-Gallon Extract Process
The one-gallon extract process is a perfect introduction to homebrewing. With this process, you can brew on one’s stovetop, and after finishing, leave the brew in a pantry for a week. After a week or two, it will finish fermenting, and you can then bottle it.
Much of the equipment is likely already in your kitchen. However, if you do not already have these items, they can be found either in big box stores like Walmart. If you want to be thrifty, you can find them online on websites like Craigslist, eBay, or others.
Kits containing both the supplies and the equipment exist if you’d prefer to not have to shop around. These are available at your local homebrew store, or through online vendors as well.
Ready to get started? Here are the pieces of equipment you’ll need!
A brew kettle can be a two to three-gallon pot and is going to be the sole vessel for the brewing. You will be boiling the wort in this on the stovetop.
This is for stirring in the extract (whether powder or liquid). It’s good to have a very long spoon because the wort will be hot and you don’t want to get your hand too close to boiling liquid.
You’re going to want to find a one and a half to three gallon PET fermenter for your beer. You need to have some headspace in the fermenter because when the yeast starts fermenting, it’ll foam up and create what’s called krausen.
You don’t want krausen to clog the airlock and cause a beer explosion! Try to find a fermenter with a spigot on the bottom. The spigot will allow you to bottle straight from the fermenter with ease.
The airlock will sit in the bung on the fermenter and allow carbon dioxide (CO2) to escape while not letting any bacteria or bugs inside of your precious beer.
The large volume of beer being fermented will form a lot of krausen. Because of this, you may choose to use a bit of tubing in the bung where the airlock would go, and then, submerge the end of the tube in a sanitizer solution.
For the first time brewer, I recommend reusing plastic soda bottles. They’re cheap and don’t require a bottle capper and caps.
If you do choose to use traditional beer bottles, you must have a bottle capper and new caps. Screwcap beer bottles that do not work!
Supplies and Ingredients
The ingredients for your brew are going to depend largely on the style of beer you are making, although they will generally consist of the same stuff.
Be wary of purchasing homebrew ingredients online, as their freshness cannot be guaranteed. Support your local homebrew store!
This is either going to be in liquid or dry powder form. Most brewers prefer dry malt extract (DME) over liquid malt extract (LME) because it has a longer shelf life.
If you do choose to use the LME method, try to stay away from pre-hopped extracts. These tend to make a less tasty final product. Many types of DME and LME methods exist for different styles, like the Pilsen, light, amber, and wheat styles.
Follow your recipe to determine which extract to use.
Hops are green flower-like nuggets that make beer, well, beer. Most homebrewers use pelletized hops. These should be used for small batch extract brewing. Your recipe should tell you which hops to use for your beer.
The yeast is what does all the actual work in making beer. Yeast takes your sugary wort and turns it into delightfully alcoholic beer. There are many different strains of yeast to choose from.
Most beginners will use the Safale US-05 strain because it is a dry yeast and can handle room temperature fermentation.
However, I’d like to suggest finding a Kveik strain of yeast such as Omega’s Hothead. This is because it can ferment at higher temperatures without any off-flavors seeping in, all while finishing fermentation within a few days.
Arguably, the most important part of brewing! Since your extract was created with a specific mineral profile, there’s no need to add more salts and minerals.
But be warned. Tap water generally contains chloramines and these will make your beer taste off.
You want to use either distilled (RO) or spring water to make the best of your beer.
This is a sugar that comes loose in a bag or comes in tablet form.
After fermentation is over, you either add the sugar to the beer and then, bottle it. Or you add a tablet to each bottle and pour the beer on top.
Carbonation will take one to two weeks to complete. Priming sugar calculators exist online if you have the powder form and may be in your recipe.
Pieces Of Equipment For Five Gallon Partial Mash Extract Process
Some people may jump straight to the Five Gallon Partial Mash Extract method, like myself. This will still be a form of extract brewing, but you will use steeping grain to add color and flavor to the beer.
This is a quick and excellent method of brewing and is used by newbies and seasoned homebrewers alike. Some of us even go back to doing partial mash brews sometimes, because of their simplicity and quick brew days.
You can still do this with two to three-gallon stovetop pots, as the extract will be diluted down to five gallons.
It is not recommended to do these on the stovetop if you choose to use a larger kettle and to perform a full volume boil. This is because the heating element may not be strong enough to hold the kettle. Beer can take much longer to cool this way.
These bags can be found at your local homebrew shop or can be purchased online.
Your grain will steep in water in this mesh bag at about 150-170°F, before boiling and adding the extract. You may also want to pick up some smaller bags for your hops, as the larger batch size will warrant the use of more hops.
This is for stirring in the extract, whether powder or liquid. It’s good to have a very long spoon because the wort will be hot and you don’t want to get your hand too close to boiling liquid.
A six to eight-gallon fermenter is needed for five-gallon batches in order to have enough headspace to allow the krausen to form and not blow out the airlock.
Your typical fermenter will either be a PET or glass carboy, a brew bucket, a conical fermenter, or a stainless steel fermenter.
If you’re still new to the hobby, I recommend going with a brew bucket as they are inexpensive and quite easy to use.
This will sit in the bung on the fermenter and allow CO2 to escape while not allowing any bacteria or bugs inside your precious beer.
Because of the large volume of beer being fermented and the volume of krausen that forms, you may choose to use a bit of tubing in the bung where the airlock would go. Then, submerge the end of the tubing in some sanitizer solution.
This neat bit of plastic tubing is for transferring your wort to the fermenter as well as your finished beer to a bottling bucket. Make sure to have the vessel that is being drained elevated above the destination vessel, otherwise, the siphon will be slow or stop completely.
This is where you transfer your beer after fermentation is complete.
Be careful not to splash your beer into the bucket, as this will cause the beer to get oxidized and your beer won’t taste as good!
When transferring from the fermenter, try to pick up as little trub as possible. Trub is the yeast/hops/protein cake that will be left at the bottom of the fermenter afterward.
The bottling bucket allows you to bottle with ease, and you’re going to need all the help you can get while filling fifty or more bottles!
Bottles and Bottle Capper
You probably don’t have dozens of empty soda bottles laying around. But if you do, feel free to use them.
Otherwise, you’re going to want to use brown glass beer bottles, new unused caps, and a bottle capper. They sell cheap ones at the grocery store, and they even come prefilled with beer!
Jokes aside, you want to use bottles that are not screw caps, and cheap bottled beer is about the same price, if not cheaper, than buying empty bottles … so, hooray for beer!
Bottle cappers can be found at your local homebrew shop and may be of the handheld or tabletop style. I recommend the tabletop/mounted cappers if bottling is going to be your primary method of packaging during your brewing career.
Supplies and Ingredients
For the basic ingredients please see the one-gallon extract supplies and ingredients section as they are largely the same.
We will be using grain that imparts flavor and color to the beer. The type and amount of grain will vary depending on the style and recipe. Dark roasted barley for a stout or flaked corn for a cream ale, are two quick examples.
You will need to use a large mesh bag in your kettle to make sure the grain doesn’t make it into the boil.
When brewing a five-gallon partial mash, you likely won’t be doing a full volume boil. So, you will need to top up the fermenter with water to reach your full five gallons.
I recommend using about five pounds or more of ice in the kettle before transferring to the fermenter to reach the correct temperature for the yeast. This way, you do not have to wait as long for the wort to cool. This really shortens your brewing time and still makes excellent beer!
Now that you have a few brew sessions under your belt you probably want to have more control over the outcome of your hard labor.
In this section, we’ll discuss all grain brewing methods and equipment. I’ll leave the ingredients to you as you probably already have enough understanding of recipes to get by.
Five-Gallon Brew/Mash in a Bag (BIAB, MIAB)
Brewing or mashing in a bag (BIAB, MIAB) is the next logical step to take your brewing to the next level. After experiencing the extract brewing method you’re likely looking to make further specialized recipes to let your artisanship truly shine.
The BIAB method is unique because it allows for all-grain brewing while still only requiring just the boil kettle.
Rather than using extracts you’ll be using milled base malts as well as specialty malts to produce the sugary wort. You can scale this down to lower volume batches or may scale it up to ten gallons depending on your desires.
Here is some equipment you will need:
The brew bag is where you will perform your mash. It is a fine mesh bag that holds all of the grain in while allowing it to steep in the water. While there are reusable and tough bags made especially for BIAB, some brewers utilize paint strainer bags, as they are cheap and can be thrown away with the grain.
For a five-gallon BIAB process, you’re going to want a ten to twelve-gallon kettle. The volume of the grain plus the mash water takes up significant space in the kettle. For high gravity batches, you’ll be using fifteen or more pounds of grain.
I highly recommend a kettle with a ball valve and a false bottom as these are upgrades that you may end up needing in the future anyway, and of course makes the transfer process much easier.
Your stovetop is not going to be able to handle the weight of a five-gallon BIAB batch, so you’re going to need to move this outdoors.
While a cheap turkey fryer burner may work, consider purchasing a burner that has a 200k+ BTU capacity. The faster you can heat the water the shorter your brew day becomes.
To increase efficiency some brewers sit the bag in a colander above the kettle and squeeze the mash bag to get all the sugary wort out.
Because you need to prevent any dough balls from forming in the mash you’re going to need a long mash paddle. This will let you properly stir in all of your grain.
You may consider purchasing a giant-sized whisk, which many brewers swear by, and claim greatly helps saturate the grain and break up any dough balls.
Hop spider (optional)
A hop spider is a stainless steel mesh cylinder that either attaches to the side of the kettle or sits inside. This is used so that your kettle does not have lots of hop material in the end, and so that you can effectively control the amount of bittering that occurs from your hop additions.
Immersion Chiller (optional)
An immersion chiller is for chilling the batch quickly after the boil. The chiller sits in the wort and cold water runs through it while you stir to cool the wort to pitching temperatures.
No more waiting around for ice baths to cool down your wort. Immersion chillers will make your beer better and make brew days much shorter and easier at the expense of some water.
At this stage in your hobby, you’re probably looking into better fermenters over carboys and plastic buckets.
Although these work fine I recommend springing for a stainless steel fermenter with a ball valve and thermowell as a “buy once, cry once” solution to any brewing woes that you may have later.
Fermentation Chamber (optional)
Every seasoned homebrewer will tell you that controlling fermentation temperature is the one thing that took their beer to new heights.
A fermentation chamber can be as simple as a minifridge (big enough for your fermenter) plugged into a temperature controller, or as complex as a glycol chiller.
Controlling the temperature allows you to use a wider range of yeast strains, and lets the yeast perform their duties comfortably so they don’t make lots of esters and off-flavors.
Kegs are the next upgrade in the packaging process. They are easier to clean than a dozen or more bottles, and kegs also allow you to force carbonate your beer so that you don’t get yeast with every pint.
While kegerators can be found second hand I recommend purchasing a new unit covered under a new warranty, as the compressors in them sometimes stop working.
A hydrometer and refractometer allow you to calculate the amount of alcohol in your beer! There are online calculators in which you input your measurements to find the ABV.
If you’re using a refractometer make sure to use a calculator that will account for the distortion caused by the presence of alcohol.
Electric Brew in a Bag (EBIAB)
Electric Brew in a Bag (EBIAB) is great for those brewers who live in apartments or for those who would prefer to not use propane.
The equipment is largely the same except for a few key components. Choosing plate induction versus immersed induction coils comes down to personal preference. There are benefits and drawbacks to both.
This is going to be your heat source for brewing. For five-gallon batches, a 1,800-watt plate is good enough, but if you want to do larger batches in the future you may consider a 3,500-watt induction plate.
While there are induction plates that run off of standard electrical outlets, the higher wattage ones will require a 220-volt outlet, much like the outlets used for ovens and laundry machines.
Some brewers note that the center of the plate might get hotter than the edges and that stirring is necessary. It’s important to choose an induction plate with a good reputation for brewing purposes.
If you choose to go this route you will also need a kettle with weldless fittings for the coils to be inserted. Alternatively, you can drill your own ports for the coil.
These coils have the benefit of having direct contact with the wort/water, and lack hotspots like the induction plate. You risk melting the brew bag if it touches the coils, so be careful.
This is for those who have outgrown BIAB and want to brew larger batches and higher gravity beers. These are three-vessel systems that consist of a hot liquor tank (HLT), mash tun, and boil kettle.
If you’ve gotten this far you’re probably neck-deep into this hobby, and everyone probably knows you as “The Homebrewer” (and you probably also secretly love that nickname).
A three-vessel propane system is going to consist of a hot liquor tank, mash tun, and a boil kettle with either two or three burners.
You probably already have most of the equipment needed so we’re going to cover the upgrades to a previous BIAB setup.
You should have a dedicated cart for your brewing system to keep everything together and organized so you don’t have any unwanted accidents, like tripping over a propane tank.
To eliminate the need for pumps a tiered brew cart is necessary to allow the liquid to flow from one vessel to the next.
Hot Liquor Tank
The HLT is where you keep your hot water you treat minerals with. It will go into the mash and sparge. The vessel should have a ball valve fitting at the bottom.
You will need a burner to heat the HLT and either a pump or a tiered system to run the hot water into the mash tun.
This is going to be where you perform the mash. You will need a vessel with the same or larger capacity than your boil kettle, due to the additional grain.
If you plan on doing ten-gallon batches or more you may want to spring for a fifteen to twenty-gallon mash tun.
A false bottom and a ball valve are necessary to drain the mash without bringing along the grain, and you may want additional ports near the top if you choose to do a recirculating mash with a pump.
You’ll need to vorlauf (recirculate the mash) before draining it into the kettle so that you do not have any grain particles in the boil. From there you can sparge from the HLT into your grain bed and repeat the process.
You will need a one-gallon pitcher to vorlauf if you do not have a pump to recirculate the mash. Make sure to not disturb the grain bed by pouring gently down the walls of the mash tun.
You likely already have this, but you might upgrade to a higher volume for larger batches. If you have the means to make a keggle out of an old half-barrel keg, it’s an inexpensive way to increase your batch size.
Keggles can be used for all three vessels, but make sure to ethically obtain the kegs!
If you don’t have a tiered brew cart pumps are a necessity, and allow one to recirculate the mash which can increase efficiency.
Make sure to choose a pump that is meant for brewing!
You might already have an immersion chiller from your previous setups, but a plate chiller or a counterflow chiller is a great upgrade to your brewing system. These chillers cool your wort fast to pitching temperature and shorten brew days significantly.
A chest freezer with a temperature controller is a great and relatively inexpensive way to control your fermentation temperature.
If you need to control multiple fermentations (maybe you’re lagering beer while also fermenting an ale) a water or glycol chiller is an awesome upgrade.
These are two electric alternatives to the previous method. They provide stellar efficiencies and extremely clear wort by recirculating the mash and holding it at a constant temperature.
This allows for shorter mash times as well. Both of the following systems are very similar to the three-vessel propane setup, but use induction plates/coils as a heat source.
Heat Exchanged Recirculating Mash System (HERMS)
Heat exchanged recirculating mash system (HERMS) is a three-vessel system in which the mash is recirculated through coils inside the HLT.
The HLT is heated from an induction plate or induction coils and held at a constant temperature by a controller. This heats the wort through indirect heat exchange (hence the name) and prevents the temperature of the mash from dropping.
Recirculating Infusion Mash System (RIMS)
Recirculating Infusion Mash System (RIMS) is similar to HERMS. But instead of running the mash through coils in the HLT, the mash comes into direct contact with a submerged heating element in the kettle (which is controlled by the temperature of the mash).
Glycol Chilled Fermenter
If you’re this deep into this amazing hobby you probably want to splurge on a nice stainless steel fermenter with glycol chilling. No more breaking your back heaving your fermenter into a chest freezer.
Some chillers will even allow you to program steps into your fermentation schedule for stepped fermentation and a diacetyl rest. Additionally, you can cool multiple fermenters to different temperatures. This is the ultimate brewing upgrade.