Getting Started, Part 2 – Ingredients for Your First Batch

August 3, 2011 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Now that you have your equipment it’s time to get the ingredients for your inaugural batch of home brew. Some home brew shops have ingredient kits made by breweries. You can buy Rogue’s Dead Guy Kit, for example. But I recommend you start with a simple pale ale recipe to cut your teeth on. I often see people try to make some complex beer like cherry coconut pale right off the bat and it just never goes well. My first batch was a standard pale and it tasted quite good. Bolstered by my success I then tried to brew a maple porter…

It didn’t go well.

What You’re Buying

Beer is made from four primary ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast. You can add a bunch of other ingredients on the side as you get more advanced in your brewing. Let’s just look at the basics for now.

Water

Unless your tap water really tastes bad, just go with it. You can use store-bought jugs of water, too. Don’t use distilled water. In my opinion, distilled water lacks some of the minerals that make beer tasty. Others will argue it doesn’t matter because malt extracts contain all the minerals you need. Over time you may decide it doesn’t matter to you as well. As you advance in your brewing you’ll probably want to have your tap water analyzed so you can add chemistry that will have an impact on flavor.

Steeping grains

Steeping grains are roasted barley grains that are used to give your beer color and to enhance flavor. The darker the grains you use, the darker and “roastier” your beer will be. The grains will have been crushed at the home brew shop in such a way as to create maximum exposure of their sugars during the steeping process.

Malt Extract

Malt extract comes in two forms: liquid and dry. Liquid malt extract (LME) is typically packaged in 3.3 lb cans and is segregated by malt color. Most varieties you’ll find are lager, light, amber, and dark. Some are also labeled as “hopped”, meaning they are already infused with hop flavoring. I avoid using hopped extract because they cannot be boiled and I prefer more control over the hop profile of my beer.

The other form of malt is dry malt extract (DME). This kind is typically packaged in plastic bags of 1lb, 3lb, and sometimes gargantuan 55lb boxes. They are also segregated into light, amber, and dark varieties.

When I started brewing I used liquid malt extract. Later I switched to dry because I found I had a little more control over the color of the beer. Also, I created less of a sticky mess with the dry malt. For your first batch just pick one and go with it. But as you brew more beers you may eventually prefer one form of malt over the other.

Hops

This is my favorite ingredient! Hops are wonderful little flowers that add so much flavor to beer. They typically come in three forms: leaf, plug and pellet. The leaf version is exactly that – leaves. Hop plugs are compressed hop leaves and look like little, green hockey pucks. Hop pellets are leaves that are ground up and super-compressed into small pellets that remind me of hamster food.

I started using pellets, but then switched to leaves. I found boiling hop leaves in a bag made less of a mess than adding pellets straight into the kettle. As with the other ingredients we’ve reviewed, you will develop a personal preference for which form you use.

Yeast

Like malt extract, yeast comes in two forms: liquid and dry. The liquid form is usually requires no preparation other than needing to be brought to room temperature. Dry yeast sometimes will need a “starter” to be brought to life prior to being added to your beer.

I’ve always used liquid yeast and I highly recommend you do as well. There are far more varieties of liquid yeast available than dry. Also, Wyeast makes a product referred to as a “smack pack”. This is a convenient form of liquid yeast that doesn’t require any preparation and can be added to your beer right out of the refrigerator.

So, there’s a review of what you will be buying at the home brew store for your first batch of beer. Remember, this is your first batch so you don’t need to get fancy. Just stick with the basics and you’ll likely create a tasty brew to share with friends.

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Getting Started, Part 1 – Getting Equipped to Brew Being an Older Dad

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