Monthly Archives: November 2012

Brewing Beer – Q&A

Is it legal?
In civilized states, yes.  There are still a few corners of the US where their politicians are as educated as rabbits running down street.  There are limits as to how much you can make, and in some places, you may need a permit.  Distilling is illegal, but if you’re just making beer, wine, or mead, you have nothing to worry about.  Distilling is for liquor.  For more detailed legal information, check out this reference from the Homebrewers Association.

Can I sell my beer?
I don’t know anywhere in the states where you can sell your beer without special permits.  If you could, you would see dozens of vendors at the local farmer’s market giving it a try.  You can usually give it away to legal recipients.  Homemade beer and wine make great gifts and can make you the life of the party.  A personality also helps.

How much does it cost to brew beer?
Investing up to $300 for your first batch of beer is not unheard of.  You can probably do it for under $200 if you already have a stocked kitchen.   From there, you are likely to invest anywhere from $40 to $60 for a 5 gallon batch of beer.  You could also set aside a few bucks more a month depending on your budget, to grow your hobby to the limits of your spouse’s tolerance.

How much beer will a 5 gallon batch make?
Ideally, you will yield up to 11 bottles per gallon of beer.  I find that by the time I take a couple of samples for testing and filter out some sediment, I’ll fall short of that, but have at least that many bottles to fill.  Hopefully you’ll come up with just a little over 2 cases.

How long does it take to brew a batch of beer?
Your first few beers will be brewed and bottled within a couple of weeks and require at least a couple more weeks in the bottle.  Several beers are called at their best one month after they are bottled.  So it doesn’t take long.  Other beers will take months.  Wines and meads will take months to years.

How much time does it take to brew a batch of beer?
Your first few beers will probably take 4-5 hours to make and clean up after yourself.  As you get into making more complicated beers or graduate into all-grain brewing, it will generally be an all-day affair.  Then you do virtually nothing but wait.  Bottling will take you 2-3 hours.  Drinking time varies from person to person.

Should I start by brewing beer or making mead?
That is complicated.  Beer is less expensive to make and you can start consuming within the month.  That means you can get virtually immediate feedback and learn quicker.  Mead is actually a wine, but made with honey.  It is the easiest to make but doesn’t reach its peak for several months; some would say a couple of years.   They payoff is worth it though.  You will want to ferment and store in glass for the mead.  While both have endless experiments available to them, I think the opportunity to geek out on beer is a little more endless.  That might be the circles I run in, though.

What kind of beer should I start with?
Start with Ale.  Lagers require a colder environment that you probably don’t have yet.  Any brewing store will sell kits.  Choosing one of those would be easy or take one of my recipes into the store and have them help you collect the ingredients.  If I had to pick one for you to try, it would be an all barley beer; probably American pale ale, porter, or a stout.  My start-up instructions will be for all barley beers.  Pick something you would like to drink.

What is the difference between a lager and an ale?
Lager simply means aged, but the yeast used in making a lager is also a little different.  There are many strains of yeast, but beer making yeasts generally fall in two categories.  Ale yeasts are sometimes called top-fermenting yeasts because of the way they float when they are active.  They typically do their work at or right below room temperature.  Lager yeasts, or bottom fermenting yeasts, prefer a little cooler climate when doing their business.  Each strain of yeast imparts a little different flavor on the resulting product.

Where do I buy beer making stuff?
Brewing and wine making stores can be found in most every major city in the US.  There are also resources online.  One source will get you about everything you need, unless you want to buy filtered water.  In that case, you will also need to find a filtered water station.

Do I really risk explosions in my house if I make beer?
You don’t have to worry about fiery explosions of death and destruction, but there is a chance that you might take a misstep that results in over-pressurized bottles.  That can mean beer all over the room.  Sometimes my fermenters will overflow, too.  For this reason, I keep my fermentation vessels in a spare tub, and freshly bottled beer in a place that can be mopped up, just in case I have an issue.  This way I can clean it up before my girlfriend ever notices there was a problem.

Do I want to ferment in glass or plastic?
It depends on a couple of things.  If you are only going to ferment for a couple of weeks, plastic will work fine.  It has a tendency to let oxygen in, and you don’t want that, but for a short fermentation cycle, you are probably fine.  Storage and aging should always be in glass.  Another consideration is that plastic will easily scratch.  These scratches make nice little nesting grounds for bacteria and are hard to clean.  That little scratch can mean bad beer.  When using plastic, just be careful.  It’s cheaper, but you’ll eventually start using glass.

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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in How-To Brew