Homebrew

Homebrewing information.

We make beer and wine at home.  This is usually from kits rather than from scratch.

Getting a cork out of a wine bottle link

Homebrew.

I was inspired by the pages of the Spousal Sponsorship Program to provide this write-up on homebrewing:

  1. "Is my spouse's hobby OK?  Need I be worried?"
  2. "My spouse has expressed an interest in <X>.  How do I get them started?"
  3. I have a question but can't ask my spouse.  Where can I go for extra information?

So...

Is homebrewing OK?  Is this something to be worried about?

Making bread is where you add yeast to a grain flour (e.g. wheat or rye) (plus some other bits) to get the yeast to make bubbles (it also produces some alcohol, by the way).  You then bake the bread to kill the yeast.  The yeast has made the starch in the grain into a more easily digested form.

Making beer is where you add yeast to an extract of a grain (e.g. barley or wheat) (plus some other bits) to get the yeast to make alcohol (it also produces some bubbles, by the way).  You then wait for the yeast to die off.  The yeast has made the starch in the grain into a more easily drinkable form.

Homebrewing is as weird, scary and unnatural as making wine or making bread.  Bread takes hours, beer takes weeks and wine takes months.  Other than that, it's all much the same.  In theory.  There is no standard way of beer-making, there are hundreds of ways two people can do it differently, but, obviously, your hobbyist's method is the only true way.  It is discovering the different methods and their outcomes plus discussing that with other people that makes the hobby addictive.

Some people find they drink less when they take up home-brewing because quality becomes more important than effect.  After the initial outlay, homebrewing should work out cheaper than buying (especially in the tax-burdened UK!)  Drinking tends to happen more at home than away.

Homebrewing is typically a home-based hobby although clubs also exist.  Many of the activities benefit from a second pair of hands and there is plenty of non-technical manual labour that a helper can do.

What is homebrewing - what does it entail?

Homebrewers come in two types: "all-grain" and "kit".  This determines how they make their beer.  [The responses you got from rec.crafts.brewing were typically from those who make their beer from scratch, the "all-grain" brewers.]  They start from grains and hops and make up a brew from that - this will take them all day.  This is because they need to "extract the malt" from the grains.  This extract will be boiled, dissolved in water and brewed for a couple of weeks.

Some of us just do the easier and quicker "kit" method.  Here you get a kit which has one or two big cans of ready-made malt extract, yeast (and possibly a huge tea-bag containing hops or spices) and the beer is made from that.  Such a kit costs about 10 - 20.  The advice you have already is never to buy a kit that requires the addition of sugar.  This is generally true because those needing sugar produce lower quality results ... but your hobbyist may be happy to do so.  This extract will be heated, dissolved in water and brewed for a couple of weeks.

Typically an individual does one type or the other (either "all grain" or "kit") - much more equipment is needed for "all-grain" brewing.

If you have an "all-grain" hobbyist, they might, occasionally, do a kit brew - but this is unlikely as the "all-grain" method is clearly the superior method as you can choose your own ingredients.

If you have a "kit" hobbyist they might, one day, want to move over to the greater expense and effort needed to be an "all-grain" brewer.  They may not want to do so as it is a lot of extra effort for little extra benefit, the "kit" method is clearly the superior method as an expert has chosen the ingredients for you and little is left to chance.

Homebrewers come in another two types: those who "keg" and those who "bottle".  This determines how they keep their brewed beer.

Does your hobbyist put the finished beer in barrels ("kegs") or bottles?  There is a religious war as to which is better - both sides argue their method is superior.  Obviously, the method used by your hobbyist is the only sensible one.

Some people have a bar at home with refrigerated sections in which kegs are kept.  They have created a mini-pub in which guests can be entertained professionally and in great comfort.  Very impressive.  Clearly the only way to present home-brewed beer.

Good gifts include anything which promotes the impression of a well-stocked, well-run bar.

Some people simply prefer to use bottles - you can't go giving kegs away!  But many people appreciate a few bottles of home-brew as gifts.  Clearly, the only way to present home-brewed beer.

If the hobbyist prefers bottles, then good cheap gifts include:

Fairly safe gifts for any homebrewer:

Homebrewers like good beer.  In the UK there is a body called CAMRA - the Campaign for Real Ale.  Check if your hobbyist is a member, if not they will probably appreciate membership as a gift.  See www.camra.org.uk  The CAMRA web site also has other ideas for gifts.

Homebrewers like pubs that sell good beer.  In the UK there is the "Good Beer Guide" - it is actually a good pub guide.  It is a useful book to have when travelling and so makes a good gift generally.  Say you bought it "So we can go somewhere nice for lunch when out and about".  Buy it at any bookshop, Amazon or the CAMRA web site.

Information for aspiring homebrewer spouses:

Your spouse has said for years and years that homebrewing is something they want to get into, if only <insert excuse here>.  You want to help.

1st Warning: Buying a "beer kit" for someone with no equipment will NOT enable them to make beer.  A "beer kit" is the ingredients you need to make up a batch of beer.  They will still need a food-grade fermenting bin, thermometer, hydrometer, oh, loads of stuff.

Solution: Just find a homebrew shop and visit it.  Say what you want your spouse to be able to do and buy what they sell you.  Be prepared to spend 50 to allow your spouse to start making up beer kits, including the first kit.

2nd Warning: There are now "beer starter kits" available that DO contain everything you need.  These may contain bottles or large polythene bags or small plastic barrels, all manner of things to allow you to create one batch of beer with nothing added except water (and perhaps sugar).  Experienced homebrewers sniff at them as toys.

Solution: These are a fun way to introduce someone to homebrewing for the first time.  You may see these available at garden centres (for some reason) and online boys' toys web sites - these are meant to be low-cost, low-risk and low commitment.  They make great gifts.

Finding further information...

Your best bet is to find out if your spouse uses a homebrew shop.  If so, use them for advice.  If not, try to find a local one or one that does mail order.  Although negative criticism of homebrew shops is remarkably rare, those that specialise in wine and do beer on the side should be avoided, if possible.  Homebrew shops rely on winning trust from their customers and then rely on repeat trade.

If you want a crash-course in the details of what homebrewing is about, Wikipedia is usually your friend:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home-brew

but that is a bit technical for someone just wanting to help.  Then again, there is always the local library.

When searching online or in indexes, don't forget the information may be under "home-brew", "home brew" or "homebrew".