Make Your Own Beer!

I did not love beer when I made my first brew. Most of the macrobrews I drank were a miasma of toned down malt bitterness that left me wondering why I just hadn’t opened a bottle of wine or poured some scotch. I lived in Pennsylvania when I first started brewing and the only option for buying beer was by the glass at a bar or by the case at a distributor. It was a sad and expensive reality that was not conducive to learning about beer or developing an appreciation for the beverage. Things have changed and beer is more accessible now but back then my wife was both brave and understanding when she shelled out $200 for my Christmas present—a beer brewing kit.

The kit was a little uninteresting. Tubes, buckets, unidentified measuring tools and bottles—two cases worth–and a red ale kit. I was a little shocked at what $200 got me. Despite this antithetical experience I was also excited. The directions were pretty thorough as I recall—I didn’t use them. Instead I picked up a book that explained everything I needed to know about brewing the information would provide instruction for the next couple of years it turned out. I decided I was well above the parochial recipe kit that came packaged with my brewing tools and wrote my own recipe. My brew day was a miasma of activity and improvisation. It was a sordid affair that saw me utilizing almost everything in the kitchen to get my beer into the fermenter both utensils and ingredients. It was a disaster—as was the beer. I have heard stories from other brewers that detail a much less disastrous result. I think my hubris was my downfall.

Brewing beer is a process. I had mistakenly envisioned it as a culinary experience with all of the flash and excitement that is involved with such endeavors. Brewing beer is a regimented unforgiving task. I had mistakenly envisioned it as a hobby that I could quickly squeak into my weekend while playing with the kids cutting the grass and socializing with the neighbors. Brewing beer is exhausting and disappointing, too. But there is nothing I love doing more than brewing beer. Hopefully, you will feel the same after you’ve brewed your first batch. And these next few articles will help you do just that—for much less than $200 and a wasted batch of beer.

Brewing beer is very heavily dependent on equipment and cleanliness. I quickly outgrew my starter kit—in fact some of the equipment included in the kit was useless to me from the start. I won’t pontificate about business or business owners but a starter kit is either going to be a gateway purchase for them or a dead end purchase. By the way that the kit was priced I assume that, statistically it was the latter of the two possibilities. So the business owner is guaranteed some profit from a custom that probably will not be. So I have come up with a sure fire answer to a $200 kit and the following list is what we are going to need to brew your first beer:

1 16qt or larger uncoated metal pot
1 5 gallon food grade bucket with lid
1 air-lock
4 feet of 5/16” food grade tubing
1 metal cooking spoon
3 hops bag or grain bag


Fig 1. Brew bucket, hops bag, airlock, tubing and
bottle capper.

6# of Light DME (Dry Malt Extract)
1# of Honey
2 oz Tettnanger (German) Hops
1 packet of Danstar Abbaye Belgian Ale Yeast
¾ cup of sugar
48 brown beer bottles
48 bottle caps
1 bottle capper


Fig 2. Dry Malt Extract (DME) hops, and hops bag.

The price for the above should run you less than $80 if you plan wisely. Firstly, get some beer—artisanal craft beer. Get about 48 different kinds from the local bottle shop. Taste each one, take notes on flavors, aromas, colors, and mouth feel. These should all be pretty accessible after a few tastings. Rinse the bottle out and save it for later. We will wash and sanitize them further along in the brewing process. This will be a huge savings. The cost of new bottles is as much as a case of beer. So, why not just buy a case of beer and start pondering what kind of beers you will make? If you already have a large pot it will definitely cut costs. It should be an uncoated stock pot type—if you do not have one check the local thrift store. Buying a pot from a homebrew store is extremely expensive and you really need to know if this is for you if you are going to start spending that kind of money. The bucket will be one of your first purchases at the homebrew store—it should cost no more than $15 (with lid). This is your fermenter. The airlock, too, is an essential and will be less than $5. The metal spoon should be longer than your pot is deep and may already be in your kitchen if not look for it at the thrift shop. The tubing is important and so is the length. You can get this at the homebrew store. Its market price is around 40¢ a foot. A grain bag or hops bag is a cheesecloth type bag that will help you with hop additions they should be no more than 50¢. The extract is usually packaged in three pound bags at my local shop, online as well and sells for about $13 a bag. The honey you can get at the store. The hops will come in 1 oz. bags they are pellets of extreme goodness and should be about $2 a bag. The yeast, too, will be in a packet and will be about $4. Sugar you already have—if not get it at the food store. The bottle caps you will get at the home brew store and will be around $5. The bottle capper should be under $20.

I have included some pictures of these items below.

Head to the homebrew store and explore! Check out the gadgets and ingredients. Smell the grain and take a look at some of the recipe kits. If this article is successful you will be spending more time there. Introduce yourself to the shop owner and show him your grocery list if you are uncomfortable searching for these items on your own. Whatever the case this gentleman or gentlewoman will be an important part of your brew day in the future. And what is beer making good for besides making friends?

Anyway, I will give you some time to get your gear and to read a free on-line book about brewing! Head on over to it is a free resource provided by John Palmer. If this is the hobby for you it won’t be the last book you read on the subject but it is an amazing start.
How’s that for a cheap start?

Here is some of the reasoning behind my choices. As I stated before ‘starter kits’ (I believe this to be true for most hobbies) have a large proportion of ‘business conducting’ cost—it’s a gamble to price these things lower as a majority of purchases go unused or discarded. Building a more trusting and realistic relationship with the homebrew store owner is a better way to go for everyone. And this is the way we are going. The homebrew shop owner will become your buddy and instructor and his help and business should not be ignored. Also, while there are many on-line homebrew stores I think keeping it local is the best way. And by going this route you save about $100: a nice way to sample a hobby. All of the things you will purchase will be usable again. As I stated before my initial starting kit is long ago discarded—and, truthfully, became obsolete rather quickly. I am, also, going to eschew all of the fascinating beer recipe kits that will line the main wall at your shop for a rather simplistic recipe. We will be brewing a Belgian Style Ale that will both highlight malt flavors and hops aroma. If it goes bad at any point you will still have a great beer to sample and share. If it goes great you have a benchmark from where to go for your next brew. And the recipe is simple and easy to pull off on your first try. So, armed with all of this information go forth and explore. My next article will actually take you through brew day—the best day ever!



– Chris Bova

TWITTER: @cebova