The process isn’t really that hard. It’s also not as costly as you might expect. A full set of equipment for beginners, including bottles and a recipe kit, can be had at many homebrew stores for a couple hundred bucks. But becoming a home brewer does raise some perhaps unforeseen issues that you might want to consider. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself to determine if you have the heart to homebrew.
1. Why do you want to homebrew?
In the old days people homebrewed because it was the only way they could get good beer. These days though, the success of craft beer means you can find hundreds of great beers in any good liquor store. While home brewers can make beer that is on par with the pros, why go to the fuss and bother when it’s much easier to pick up a six pack?
Cheap beer is the reason most often given by beginning brewers. I used that excuse myself when convincing my girlfriend that smelling up the kitchen was a good idea. It’s true, once you have made the initial investment in equipment, you can make two cases of beer for around $30. That’s less than a buck a bottle. But truth be told, most home brewers end up spending more on commercial beer after they start brewing than they did before. You’ll need to do “research” to get ideas for your next brew. So in my experience, the thrift excuse doesn’t hold up.
The only reason to make beer at home these days is because you enjoy the process. Are you a DIY kind of guy? Do you love to cook? Does the idea of handing your friends a frosty glass of suds and saying “I made that” appeal to you? Then you should homebrew.
2. How much do you like beer?
A typical homebrew batch is 5 gallons. That’s about two cases of 12 ounce bottles. If you brew very often, you will end up with a lot of beer. Having friends helps. And believe me, with that much beer sitting around they will show up.
3. How do you feel about cleaning?
Take a look around your kitchen. Do the dust bunnies roam free? Is the stove still coated with the splatter from last week’s fish fry? Then home brewing may not be for you?
The most important lesson for new home brewers to learn is cleanliness and sanitation. The brewer’s job is to make the perfect growth medium for yeast. That also happens to be the perfect growth medium for all kinds of beer-spoiling bugs. Everything that touches your beer must be kept spic and span and be carefully sanitized. That is unless you like a beer that tastes a bit like electrical fire or barnyard.
4. How patient are you?
On average it takes 4 to 6 weeks from brewing to drinking, sometimes longer for stronger beers and lagers. Can you wait that long to sample the fruits of your labors?
5. How patient is your family?
You should know before you begin that your first batch will mark the start of an obsession. You will watch the fermenter like it’s your first-born child. You will hang out in the dark closet where it sits counting the bubbles that burble from the airlock. Before you know it your whole life will revolve around beer and brewing. Your bedside reading will be books on beer styles. The pile of equipment in the basement or garage will grow ever larger. You will be incapable of talking about anything unrelated to making beer.
Ask yourself, how tolerant will your spouse will be of this behavior (the term “beer widow” is used a lot). And don’t forget your children. (Wait, I have children?)
6. Extract or all grain?
Do you want to brew from a mix or from scratch? Extract brewing – brewing from a mix – is easier and requires less time, equipment and knowledge. You can make good beer with extract, but your options are a bit more limited. Brewing all-grain – from scratch – requires more time, additional equipment, and significantly more knowledge. However, the full range of ingredients and flavor combinations available to the pros will also be available to you. Your decision will be somewhat influence by how you answer question 7.
7. How much time do you have?
Brewing does take a little bit of time out of your day. Brewing from extract is a 3-hour process. An all-grain brew takes 6 hours. Other steps later in the process, like moving the beer from one vessel to another or bottling, take anywhere from 30-minutes to a couple of hours.
And then there’s all that cleaning. And all that “research” (see questions 1 and 5 above).
8. How mechanically inclined are you?
The deeper you get, the more complicated your equipment will become. You’ll find yourself wanting to tinker with things to make your brew day easier. It’s good to have the creativity and know-how to be able to improvise MacGyver-like solutions to problems.
9. How well do you handle failure?
It will happen. I promise you that you will eventually have an infected batch (see question 3 above) or a batch that just isn’t what you’d hoped it would be. When it happens, will you crash and burn, alarming your neighbors with cries of “never again” as you shatter bottle after infected bottle in the alley? Or are you the type who can rise above it and regroup to try again?
10. How much do you want your friends hanging around?
If you make it they will come. And they will stay. They will drink your beer. Your beer will disappear faster than expected. You will have to brew more often to keep up. More beer means more friends (see question 5 above).