Thursday, February 28, 2013

General Homebrewing Equipment Recommendations

One of our readers left a comment on a recent post asking for equipment recommendations for new homebrewers.  I know this reader personally, as he attended the last all-grain training class I taught, and we discussed specifics off-line.  But, the core of his request remains an excellent post topic, as the variety of equipment options can be daunting to those just entering the hobby.  I have found some general maxims to keep in mind when considering homebrewing equipment that I hope others will find valuable.

The first, and arguably most important advice, is to carefully consider your purchases and "slow down."  You do not have to purchase ever possible piece of equipment right away.  New homebrewers can jump into the hobby with both feet and quickly spend a lot of money for little gain.  I would recommend that new homebrewers purchase the bare minimum of equipment at the beginning and then start to make beer, which is the end goal of this hobby.  Sure, if you know you want to go all-grain right away, do it.  But, by starting with the basics, new homebrewers can spend their money on ingredients and decide what they like about the hobby.  If they stick with it, then slowly upgrade things that can be effectively used in their process and their situation.  Following this maxim, equipment purchase decisions become more surgical in nature, and more effective.  Remember, people who have been homebrewing for a long time have also accumulated equipment over a long time.

Secondly, developing a process is of critical importance.  Arguably, it is more important to have a repeatable process that works in your environment, than to own all the latest gadgets.  Extract brewers with a solid process can make better beer than all grain brewers with varying temperature controls.  Get settled into a process and then upgrade one or two things at a time.  This more scientific method of equipment purchasing, allows the brewer to try things out and see if they actually work in that brewers process.  Overall, the process slowly changes over time, which allows the brewer to remain comfortable with it and for it to remain repeatable.  Adjustments can then be made that are not simply equipment related, but can be changes that save time, or increase control over critical values, focus on cleaning and sanitation, etc.

Third, when making equipment purchases, buy bigger than you need.  This maxim is particularly true of vessels that hold volumes of liquid (water, mash, wort, etc).  The increased size, to a point, provides increased flexibility, often for only a slightly higher cost.  For example, a new brewer could buy a cooler mash tun that is 5 gallons for around $25, while a 10 gallon version costs $45.  The 10-gallon cooler's capacity allows the user to make a normal 5-gallon batch, an imperial 5-gallon batch, or a normal strength 10-gallon batch.  The 5 gallon cooler only allows the brewer to make a normal 5 gallon batch.  The increased flexibility outweighs the increase in cost and the brewer can avoid the mistake I made by purchasing the smaller one, then a year later buying the bigger version.  The same sort of logic applies to boil kettles, conical fermenters, hot liquor tanks, etc.  As always, use common sense because purchasing a 55-gallon kettle when you would never use that volume is a waste of money.

Finally, exposure to new ideas and methods is positive.  I love attending group brew sessions, despite having to haul my equipment outside of the house.  I find the different ways other brewers tackle problems fascinating and have adapted the methods of others to my process numerous times.  Information comes from a wide variety of sources, including podcasts, books, magazine articles (BYO and Zymurgy are great), classes and more.  Homebrewing clubs are fantastic sounding boards for ideas and seeing what other homebrewers are doing.  When examining this information, do not accept it wholesale, but evaluate it to see if it fits well with your process and the knowledge you have accumulated.  If it fits, give it a try and see what happens.

Most importantly, remember homebrewing is about having fun.  Some people love gadgets and equipment.  If that is what excites you, go for it, and even look into what it takes to make your own equipment.

If you have suggestions about equipment for new homebrewers, or old ones, please leave us a comment.



No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...