The idea that you can brew your very own fizzy, amber-hued, hop-filled beer at home is incredibly exciting — but also not without a fair share of worries. I get that. In my time teaching homebrewing, I think I've heard all the questions and all the concerns, so trust me when I say that the worrywart elbowing for position with the part of you who just wants to dive in head-first is totally normal.
Today, I want to put some of these fears to rest. Exploding bottles? Beers that make you sick? Bring it! Here are five fears to lay to rest so you can participate gladly in our upcoming Beer School.
Worry #1: Don't I Need a Ton of Space to Brew Beer?
No, you really don't. Not anymore. You see, back in the day (as in, a few years ago, when homebrewing wasn't nearly as trendy as it is now), the only real option available to homebrewers was to make five-gallon batches. And yes, the equipment for a five-gallon batch of beer requires some dedicated space.
But in these days of homebrewing luxury, we have the option of brewing smaller one-gallon batches — and that's what we're going to be focusing on in our Beer School. It's the same technique, the same equipment, the same awesome homebrew, but just scaled down so you don't have to worry about clearing out a whole closet or brewing in your garage.
For a one-gallon batch of beer, you'll need a free shelf somewhere in your house or apartment — or even just a corner in the living room. A space about two cubic feet in size will serve quite nicely for stashing your gear while you're not using it, and the bucket of beer while it's fermenting. Beyond that, you're good. No man-cave required.
(By the by, even if you want to eventually brew five gallons and have the space for it, I still recommend starting small with a one-gallon batch. Learn the ropes when the stakes are lower, then scale up later!)
Worry #2: Is This Going to Be Expensive?
What feels expensive is going to be relative to each person, but again, this is a place where brewing one-gallon batches is helpful — smaller equipment and smaller batches are all more friendly on the wallet. It's still bit of a commitment, financially speaking, but less than it would be otherwise.
If you have to buy everything, including things like a stockpot and a digital thermometer, then the total will be about $200. If you really only need to pick up the brewing-specific equipment, like jugs and tubes, then the total will be about $90. You can save yourself another $12 or so if you save beer bottles and recycle them for your homebrew.
Keep in mind that equipment is a one-time expense. The more you brew, the more you "pay off" this initial, upfront cost of the equipment.
For ingredients, you can estimate between $10 and $20 for each batch you brew. There is some variance based on the type of yeast you buy, the price of hops, and so on.
Worry #3: Am I Going to Make Myself Sick?
For this one, I can definitively tell you, no, you will not make yourself sick on homebrew. For one thing, if you have even a little alcohol in your beer, that effectively sanitizes your beer against anything truly harmful. After all, fermented beverages were how people were sure they had something safe to drink for centuries when they were dubious about the water quality.
This said, yes, your beer can still pick up infections that make it taste awful and that would surely make you feel sick to your stomach if you drank it. But if your beer has picked up an infection, you will definitely know it — it will smell awful, look slimy, taste disgusting, or all three. Use your common sense here: If it doesn't taste good, don't drink it! (And if it does taste good, then there's no need to worry. Drink happy!)
The number-one cause of an infection in your beer is poor sanitation, so we'll be talking a lot about this topic during Beer School.
Worry #4: What About Exploding Bottles?
Exploding bottles of homebrew do happen, but before you run for the hills, let me reassure you that it happens rarely. You're not just rolling the dice whenever you bottle a batch of homebrew; there are a lot of built-in safeties to help prevent this from happening.
Bottles shatter because too much pressure builds up inside them. Beer bottles are specifically designed to hold quite a lot of pressure, more than just base-level carbonation, so it takes something going wrong for pressure to build up so much that the bottle explodes. The causes are usually that you bottled too early (before the yeast had finished fermenting the beer), that you added too much sugar during the bottling step, or that you picked up an infection somewhere along the way. All three of these things are easy to avoid if you are careful when you follow a recipe and pay attention to what you're doing.
On top of this, I always recommend that you store your bottles somewhere enclosed, like a cupboard or a box. That way if something does happen and a bottle shatters, both the explosion itself and the mess left behind are all contained.
Also, I need to get this off my chest: Hank Schrader did a real disservice to homebrewer's reputations in Breaking Bad when his bottles of homebrew started exploding. You know Walter White never would have let that happen.
Worry #5: How Will I Know What to Do?
Beer brewing has its own language and specific techniques — none of which will be familiar when you first start brewing. This is intimidating at best and painfully frustrating at worst.
This is actually one of the biggest reasons I wanted to do this Beer School on The Kitchn. My top goal is to ease you into homebrewing with enough support that you never feel lost. Not only have I broken down all the lingo and all those specific techniques into bite-sized chunks that will (hopefully!) be easy for you to absorb, but I will also be with you along the way. You can leave comments — here or in the posts as they go up — and I will respond as quickly as I can. You can also email me or tweet me with questions — all of my contact info is right here. (And if you're reading this months after the Beer School has officially ended, emailing me will be the fastest way to get a response.)
You can sign up for the Beer School right here, or you can wait until May and peruse the posts at your leisure. Either way, I hope you'll join us!
What other questions or worries do you have about brewing beer at home? Leave a note in the comments and let's talk!
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