The Equipment You Need to Brew Beer (and Where to Get It)
- Today’s topic: A rundown of all the equipment you’ll need to brew a 1-gallon batch of beer
- The Kitchn’s Beer School: 20 lessons, 7 assignments to brew your first 1-gallon batch of beer.
- Sign up & see all the assignments! The Kitchn’s Beer School
Brew pots and siphons! Fermentation buckets and bottle cappers! Getting your equipment situation in order to brew a batch of beer can definitely feel like stepping into a mad scientist’s laboratory. Some things look familiar while other things look very strange indeed.
Today, we’re going to walk through all the equipment you’ll need to brew your first batch of beer. From stockpots to bottles, we’ll make sure you’re set to go.
Your equipment is definitely the biggest upfront cost of homebrewing — but also the most important to both your success and happiness as a homebrewer. Bad equipment (or worse, trying to get by without) can cause you some major headaches and make your whole experience of homebrewing feel very frustrating. But you also don’t necessarily need the fanciest, shiniest, most futuristic-looking equipment in order to brew good beer. Like Goldilocks, we’re aiming for that happy middle. Here’s what I say:
Buy any equipment you need and buy the best you can afford.
The list that follows is derived from years of brewing experience — it’s what you need, but nothing fancy. You’ll also use this equipment again and again, batch after batch (except for bottle caps, which you’ll need to use new for each batch). If you keep brewing, you’ll earn back this upfront expense fairly quickly.
Cost Breakdown for 1-Gallon Brewing Equipment
- Total Cost — About $200: This is if you need to buy everything below, including things like a stockpot and a kitchen scale (which are definitely some of the biggest expenses).
- Just the Brewing Equipment — About $90: This is if you already have some of the big things like a stockpot and a kitchen scale, and all you need to buy are the brewing-specific items.
You can also save about $12 if you save beer bottles from ones that you drink rather than buying them new.
Here’s the Equipment You Need for Brewing
- A Big Stockpot ($40-$75): A 12-quart (3-gallon) stockpot is perfect for making 1-gallon batches of beer. If you need to buy a new stockpot, this is the size I recommend (it’s also handy for making big batches of stock and boiling lobsters!). But if your current stockpot holds at least 2 gallons, that will be fine for now — start with that and upgrade later.
- Long-Handled Spoon ($5): You’ll need a spoon that can reach all the way to the bottom of your pot without putting your hand at risk of getting submerged in boiling liquid. I like ones that have a fairly large, paddle-like head.
- 10-inch Fine Mesh Strainer or 5-quart Colander ($15-$30): You’ll use this when you separate the grains from the sugary liquid you create during brewing. You want one that’s big enough to hold a few pounds of wet grains and that fits easily inside the top of both your stockpot and your fermentation bucket (described below). If you use a colander, the more holes it has, the better.
- Electric Kitchen Scale ($15): Precision is key when brewing, so if you’ve been hemming and hawing about buying an electric scale, now is the time. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just something that can easily toggle between grams and ounces and can accurately measure down to 1 gram.
- Instant-Read Thermometer ($15): A thermometer is another must-have piece of equipment for accurate brewing, and I recommend getting a digital one. A candy thermometer that clips to the side of the pot would also be fine, but meat thermometers aren’t really precise enough and take too long to measure the temperature.
- Digital Timer ($10): This also doesn’t have to be anything fancy — you can use your iPhone, the timer on your oven, or anything else that will beep at you when time is up.
Equipment Needed for Fermenting
- 2-gallon Plastic Bucket and Lid with a Hole ($10): This will be your “primary fermenter” for the first stage of very active fermentation, and it also doubles as a sparging bucket, a sanitizing bucket, and a bottling bucket at other points in the brewing process — lots of use out of one 2-gallon bucket! Make sure this is a food-grade bucket and that the lid snaps on tightly. Also make sure there is a rubber-lined hole drilled in the top of the bucket; this is where you’ll insert the airlock. When you first get your bucket, I recommend marking measurements on the side for easy reference: measure out a gallon of water and mark the side with “1 gallon,” then measure another half gallon and mark “1 1/2 gallons.” Being able to quickly check both of these measurements will be very handy.
- Airlock ($2): An airlock is a handy little contraption that allows gases to escape from the bucket as the beer ferments, but doesn’t let anything (like errant bacteria) get inside. They need to be filled with a little water — up to the “fill line” — in order to effectively work as a barrier against the outside. Bubbler airlocks and 3-piece airlocks are the most common kinds. Bubbler airlocks just need to be filled with water and capped; for 3-piece airlocks, fill with water, insert the floater, and cap. Familiarize yourself with how your airlock works before you start.
- 1-gallon Jug with Stopper, with a Hole ($6): This will be your “secondary fermenter” for the second, less active stage of fermentation. Green glass jugs are the best since they protect against UV rays, but clear glass jugs are also fine. Be sure to get a stopper that fits snugly in the neck of the jug (generally #6 size), and make sure the stopper has a hole drilled through it for the air lock.
- 13-inch (Mini) Auto-Siphon ($10): You’ll need this odd-looking thing when you transfer the beer from the bucket to the jug, and again when you bottle the beer. We’ll talk about how to actually use this piece of equipment when we get to this step, but for now, just know that you’ll need it! Be sure to buy a 13-inch (mini) autosiphon for our 1-gallon brews.
- 3 feet of 5/16-inch Plastic Tubing and Clamp ($5): We’ll use this tubing when transferring beer as well. It should slip easily and snugly over the top of the autosiphon — generally, that means 5/16-inch tubing, but double check the specifications on your autosiphon when you buy it. Also buy a clamp for the tubing so you can easily clamp it shut when you want to.
- Hydrometer ($10): This science-y looking tool is used for calculating the alcohol in your finished brew! Depending on the exact hydrometer you buy, you may need to buy a separate hydrometer tube (usually just a few dollars) — check with the clerk at your homebrew store or the product’s online description to see if your hydromter comes with a tube or not.
- StarSan Sanitizer ($10): Keeping all your equipment clean and sanitized during the whole brewing process is very important to making good-tasting beer. Buy a sanitizer that is easy to use and dependable — I recommend StarSan. One jug will last you for years.
Equipment Needed for Bottling
- Bottle Filler ($3): This gadget makes filling bottles with homebrew much easier and less messy.
- Butterfly Bottle Capper ($15): This is the easiest and least expensive kind of at-home bottle capper, and it works great. All you have to do is press the arms down to crimp a bottle cap around the lip of the bottle.
- Bottle Caps ($5): You’ll need to use new, unused bottle caps for every batch of beer you bottle. Plain crown caps work just fine.
- Beer Bottles ($12 for 24 bottles): Beer bottles can be used again and again, so keep them and use them as many times as you like! You’ll need about 10 (12-ounce) bottles, 6 (22-ounce) bottles, or 8 (16-ounce swing-top) bottles for a 1-gallon batch of beer. Make sure your bottles are all tinted brown — this protects the beer from UV rays. It’s also fine to reuse bottles saved from store-bought beer (just avoid any with twist-caps). If you buy swing-top bottles, be sure to buy ones that are designed to hold pressurized liquid (any bottles from a homebrewing store are fine; if you’re buying bottles from another source and can’t figure out if the bottles are OK or can’t find someone to ask, then assume the answer is “no”! Hint: IKEA swig-top bottles are not OK for bottling beer.)
Where to Find Your Equipment
Lucky you — you’re getting into homebrewing at a time when it’s easier than ever to find all the equipment you need to brew good beer. Homebrew supply stores are popping up in neighborhoods all over the place, and most are going to be well-stocked with whatever you need.
If you don’t have a store close to you or you have trouble finding something above, here are a few fantastic online stores:
But Wait! What About Ingredients?
Yes! Ingredients! Before you rush out and buy all your equipment, we should definitely talk about ingredients. This is the subject for tomorrow’s conversation, and I’ll also have a full list of all the equipment and ingredients you’ll need with our assignment this weekend. If you’re feeling eager and want to get a jumpstart, you can take a look at the posts here:
Where do you shop for homebrew equipment and supplies? If you have already found a homebrew store in your area, perhaps one that friends recommended and like, give it a shout-out in the comments!
Brew Better Beer: A Companion to Beer School
I love brewing beer so much, I wrote a book about it! Brew Better Beer (May 2015, Ten Speed Press) is a complementary guide to Beer School. Take a look for even more nerdy details about homebrewing, how to brew 5-gallon batches, and plenty of recipes for different beers.
→ Find it: Brew Better Beer by Emma Christensen
With The Kitchn’s Beer School, we’ll teach you how to brew your own beer at home — and brew it with confidence. In 20 lessons and 7 weekend assignments, we’ll get you set up with your own home brewery, walk you through your first brew day, show you how to bottle your beer, and then toast you on your first pint. Ready to brew your first beer? Join us!