Brewing your first beer: what home brewing equipment to buy

by Daniel on January 26, 2012

Choosing the right equipment is the first and also most important step that will make or break your home brewing experience.  There is a plethora of resources out there that recommend all kinds of different hardware.  If you’re like me,  you want to get started affordably but without cutting corners that will cost you in beer quality.  Deciding how to achieve this can take days to weeks of searching online & in books, visiting different local home brew shops (LHBS) comparing kits and asking the experts (at least it took me that long).

I decided to start with a basic kit to save money and because they have what you need to start (mostly).  What I found in all my searching is that buying a kit is the way to go, but there are some key elements can make a huge difference in your brewing experience without costing you much if any extra, if you look in the right places.  My recommended shopping list is below, with starred (*) items being those crucial pieces of bonus equipment you want to find IN the kit, or will want/need to buy if it’s not in order to make your first batch (does not include beer ingredients).  Items with a (~) don’t come in many kits and you may have to buy separately.  If they are in the kit, all the better!

  1. 6.5 Gallon Bucket with lid & hole
  2. 5 Gallon Carboy (Glass or “Better Bottle” which is plastic, I recommend Better Bottle)
  3. Bottle Capper
  4. 3/8” Plastic Bottle Filler
  5. 3/8″ inner diameter plastic tubing (for transferring & bottling) – 5-6ft is nice – needs to be food grade!
  6. Airlock
  7. Rubber stopper with hole for airlock
  8. Thermometer
  9. Hydrometer
  10. ~Hydrometer Jar
  11. Long handled plastic or metal spoon (24″ or so) – some kits don’t come with these, if you can believe it!
  12. *Bottle Brushes – having one specifically for the carboy is nice (has 90 deg angle to it)
  13. *Autosiphon (if the kit doesn’t have this, it has a racking cane along with the tubing, so you have to start your own siphon by filling the tube with water and blah, blah, blah – way more annoying & time consuming)
  14. ~Package of Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW) – a cheaper alternative is to use OxyClean (the plain powdered version) – you’ll use this to clean everything
  15. ~Bottle of Star San Sanitizer – sanitation is absolutely paramount in brewing
  16. ~Bag of Bottle Caps
  17. ~Reusable Mesh Steeping Bag – great for doing a “steep” of grain to get some added complexity of flavor when you’re otherwise brewing only with liquid & dry malt extracts.
  18. ~*Bottle/carboy washer – Not found in any kits that I know of, but for $12 or so it’s worth its weight in gold.  It will save you so much time in cleaning bottles and your carboy, I just don’t know how any of my friends that brewed lived without it (other than because they didn’t know about it).  You may also need a faucet adapter like this one (easily found at your LHBS or home improvement store).


The kit that I found worked best with my above criteria and budget was the Brewer’s Best DELUXE Beer Making Equipment Kit – the #1002BB comes with the PET Better Bottle carboy and is pretty affordable (my LHBS had it for $100).  Buying local is nice since you will be needing their support for advice and other supplies.  Often after shipping, any savings online is negligible.  The absolute best part about this kit is that is comes with TWO buckets and a carboy, and one bucket has a spigot.  Just by purchasing an extra bucket lid with an airlock grommet & airlock (totaled me an extra $4) I have an extra primary fermenter!  Also, having an extra bucket to use for sanitation is always nice.

My second choice for a kit is from KegWorks.com.  It’s got all the basics, plus an autosiphon and a 5 gallon stainless steel pot for just $139!  As you might find, stainless stock pots can be very expensive, and are rarely included in homebrew kits.  So this could be the right choice for you.  Of course, if you’re doing all-grain or full volume 6 gallon boils, you’ll want a 7.5 gallon or larger pot.  But this can be a great way to start, and you can always use the 5 gallon pot for heating up water for sparging, etc later on as you advance.  If you come across the Monsterbrew Gold Kit, I recommend skipping it.  You’ll have to buy a lot of extra pieces that these two kits have (for the same price), and that you’ll need anyway no matter what on brewing day.

So unless you get the kit from KegWorks, you’ll most likely have to purchase a brew pot separately.  Of all the things to skimp on, this is not it.  Though you can get by with a 4-5 gallon pot, you may want to get something in the 8-10 gallon range.  You can brew a “full boil” 5 gallon batch which makes your brew taste better in the end, and you are less prone to boil-overs.  Most people buy stainless steel, but it is quite expensive.  As I learned from John Palmer in “How To Brew”, aluminum is a perfectly good substitute, and much less expensive.  I got a 10 gallon one on Craigslist for $15!  Happy brewing – I can’t wait to share my first batch with you!

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