How to make a clone of your favorite beer right in your kitchen.
By Luke Henslick, Renegade Brewing Suppliesin Turlock, California
At Sommbeer we of course love craft beer, and enjoy exploring new beer styles and breweries that may be popping up in our local areas. We may even wish to travel to breweries we enjoy, but have you ever thought, “Gee, I can clone my favorite beer style right in my kitchen?”
The hobby of homebrewing has exploded in the last 20 years, and has only continued to grow as connoisseurs realize how easy it is to create their favorite recipes at home. The homebrew community has grown considerably since 1978 when it was signed into law legalizing the making of beer at home for personal consumption. Now the hobby consists of people from all walks of life with many different interest levels in the hobby. We see homebrewers who make simple extract kits on the stovetop and bottle two cases of beer every couple of months to the hardcore brewer who brews on a Nano brewery system that would be on par with those seen in many commercial breweries. We see homemade DIY Kegerators, Glycol chilled fermenter chambers, or the more modest and common food grade plastic buckets stacked in a basement. We also see those who attend classes in Microbiology, Chemistry, and Engineering to better improve their hobby and the understanding of the science behind what we do in the brewing industry, and we also see those who read forums, books, and attend local club meetings to soak up all the information they can to make a better beer. There are many beers entered in both local competitions and national completions, and then there are those die-hard enthusiasts who choose to become BJCP certified judges and evaluate beers entered in competition.
As a homebrew shop owner, I get a lot of customers who walk in and ask how to enter the hobby and how to get started. I see a lot of intimidation from people who are interested, and I feel as though that fear scares many potential homebrewers away from entering the hobby. I wanted to write this article to hopefully take some of the fear away from what would be new brewers and offer some advice on how to get started brewing.
The first thing I would recommend is read and research. I talk to a lot of people who are excited to start making their own beer, but have not done any type of research on the subject. I strongly recommend a reputable book on the subject written specifically for homebrewing. “How To Brew” by John Palmer or “The Complete Joy Of Homebrewing” by Charlie Papazian are two very good places to start. Both of these books are easy to follow and understand, and are written for those who have no experience with homebrewing. I also strongly recommend hanging out with other brewers. By watching and having someone explain the process makes a lot more sense than just reading about the process. Finally, I recommend seeking out classes or tutorials. Local homebrew shops often times have regularly scheduled classes for newcomers to the hobby, and allow you to have a hands-on approach to homebrewing.
Of course, not everyone wants to be a brewer, and that is completely fine; the world needs drinkers too. Something I ask potential customers is why do you want to make your own beer? This is not a hobby to get into if your end goal is saving money on beer. We enter this hobby because we want to make a better tasting beer than what we can buy at the local supermarket and improve upon a fantastic craft. Now that being said, a person can easily enter the hobby with a modest investment of about 150 to 200 dollars and really get started on the right path. I always recommend a good heat source and a good size stainless steel pot capable of holding at least seven gallons of liquid. Once you have those two items the majority of the cost has been covered. We do have to account for our time, however. When entering the hobby of homebrewing, ensure you can dedicate at least three hours to your brew day.
The next couple of things I can’t stress enough. Sanitize! If we don’t sanitize with an actual sanitizer then we will never make a good quality product. Learn the difference between cleaning and sanitizing and learn why everything needs to be absolutely sanitized during the brewing process. Also, good quality ingredients should always be used. Yes, you can save a couple of bucks by going to the local feed store and buying grains and bread yeast, but these items were never intended to make anything human consumable. Since the legalization of homebrewing we have been spoiled with the same quality ingredients that professional brewers use. Malted barley, healthy brewer’s yeast, and fresh hops are the staples of any good beer. Without good quality ingredients, you will never be able to make good quality beer. Lastly equipment is very important. I have many people ask why they should not just run to the hardware store and grab a five-gallon bucket for half the price of the typical plastic fermenters. For starters food grade is very important. Everything used in the brewing industry even at home needs to be food grade since we are ultimately going to consume what we are creating. Also, the hardware store buckets are usually painted, and that is not ideal for making a good quality beer. Lastly if our target volume of beer is five gallons then we need a vessel larger than five gallons to contain the beer during fermentation or we will end up with beer all over the floor. We as brewers can get away with skimping on some items, but ingredients and equipment should not be those items.
Homebrewing can be very rewarding and provide a sense of self accomplishment. There are very few things in a beer lover’s life that can give him or her pleasure more than popping the top on his or her own creation and sharing it with his or her friends, or even pouring it from his or her own personal kegerator.
Something to keep in mind is just about every professional brewer in the industry started out as a homebrewer at some point in his or her life. Making your own beer is literally no more complicated than following a recipe to cook your favorite meal or making soup. So, while you are sitting there reading this article drinking your favorite craft beer just think you could be sitting there reading this article drinking your own handmade craft beer.