If you want the easy answer, get something like this. All of the stuff in that link can be picked up at one of STL’s Local Homebrew Shops where a store associate can also answer any questions you might have.
For the better and more insightful answer, keep reading.
Nowadays, it’s easy to find a “beer geek.” Everybody either knows a beer geek or claims to be one (present company included). Unfortunately, I know a lot more beer geeks than I know home brewers. From a personal perspective, I know that I wouldn’t appreciate beer as much as I do without the comprehensive knowledge of what it takes to make that beer.
You like watching the Cardinals, right? Well, doesn’t it make it more fun when you know who all the players are? A casual fan can root for the team, but a true fan can tell you what players’ batting averages are or what a pitcher’s best pitch is. The more you know about the players, the easier it is to talk about the team, be a fan of the team and enjoy what goes into each victory.
Beer = Team. Players = Ingredients.
To summarize the above metaphor, the first thing you’ll need if you want to homebrew is a passion for beer.
The second thing you’ll need is realistic expectations. Let’s be honest with ourselves here, you probably will never brew a beer as great as Perennial’s Abraxas, Schlafly’s Tasmanian IPA or 4 Hands Chocolate Milk Stout. At some point, you will probably pour $50 worth of ingredients and hours worth of time down the drain. You also probably won’t bring home a medal for your lovingly crafted “Chocolate Apple Eisbock.” Guess what? Every brewer at every level has experienced all of these things and much worse. If you come into the hobby with unrealistic expectations, you’re not going to have a great time.
The next thing to point out is that if you want to begin brewing beer with an investment of around $40 or by purchasing a “Mr. Beer” kit, you’re wasting your time reading this article. I’m not saying you need to spend a fortune by any means but you get what you pay for and if you first batch is crap, you won’t brew again. So, the third thing you’ll need is a small investment of around $150 (or $75 if you can find a brew buddy).
What to buy
If you’re still reading, then we can both assume that you’re serious about getting started. So let’s talk about what to buy with your $150 and what you already have at home, shall we?
A Boil Kettle (AKA a pot): You should have this already (3 gallons or larger).
Thermometer: You’ll soon learn that specific temperatures play a big part in brewing.
Hydrometer: This is used to know how much alcohol is in that beer of yours!
Sanitizer: Infections aren’t just bad for people. I prefer to use StarSan.
A Homebrew Kit: This is a pre-packaged group of ingredients that includes everything you need to brew your first batch (the only exceptions are typically yeast and/or hops due to the need of cold storage).
Fermenters: After boiling the ingredients, the liquid you’ve made (right now it’s called “wort,” and it’s not quite beer yet) will need to sit for a week or two after yeast is added to become beer. Start out by using a food-grade bucket or a carboy (glass container) as your fermenters.
Airlocks for your fermenters: These plastic devices fit into the top of your fermenters (buckets) and are filled with water to keep oxygen and bacteria out of your brew while allowing carbon dioxide produced during fermentation to escape.
Carboy Brush: Gotta keep your carboy nice and clean.
Auto Siphon and tubing: For transferring beer from vessel to vessel.
Bottles: Keep your pop-top bottles as you drink them. No twist-offs for homebrew.
Bottling Bucket and Bottle Filler: Filling bottles is hard unless you have a bucket with a spigot on it that connects to a bottle filler….all of which was specifically designed just for this.
Bottle Capper and Bottle Caps: You’ll eventually need to package that delicious beer you’re brewing.
Now that you know what to buy, where should you buy it from? I can’t stress enough that if you’re new to brewing, going to your local homebrew shop is going to be a truly valuable trip. While you may pay a little more per item at your LHBS than you would from an online retailer, you’re going to get the amazing interaction and advice from someone who is extremely passionate about this hobby. They’ll most likely have a starter kit already bundled for sale but you may be able to mix and match some upgrades (or downgrades) with the collaboration of your Beer Sherpa.
Since you now have a little insight and a shopping list, the final step is getting together a plan of action. Allow me to provide that to you in the next few sentences: Next Saturday, get all your equipment and a 6 pack of beer. Next Sunday, open one of those beers, fire up your stove and put that stuff to use. You’re welcome.