Homebrewing is a rewarding and engaging hobby that is growing tremendously in popularity. Many men and women alike have discovered the art and science of brewing beer and making wine, mead, cider, and other fermented drinks. The key to the draw of this hobby is the constant desire to attain better and better results.
If you’re an outsider to homebrewing, it may seem like trying to give your homebrewer a brewing-related gift is off-limits due to the complexity of the hobby and your lack of knowledge in the area. This does not have to be the case!
Brewing Starter Kits (for the not-yet brewer)
There are numerous kits available on the web, they come in a range of completeness, and all share common characteristics. The necessities are:
- Fermenter – This is either a Paper Bags in Vietnam bucket with a lid fitted with an o-ring seal, or a glass or plastic “carboy”, which looks like a large jug. A kit with two fermenters allows the ability to improve clarity and flavor by allowing the brewer to transfer the beer to a secondary vessel for aging and clearing.
- “Racking” Accessories – “Racking” is the act of transferring beer from one vessel to another. This always has to be done at least once during the beermaking process. A kit will include a length of clear plastic tubing which can be used to siphon beer, and may include additional siphon accessories. A plunger-action automatic siphon starter will save a lot of frustration, and starting a siphon can be unsanitary without one.
- Hydrometer – This simple instrument is used to measure the specific gravity of the beer throughout the brewing process. It enables the brewer to gauge the completeness of fermentation, and helps him or her avoid the dreaded “bottle bombs” that can happen when still-fermenting beer is sealed into glass bottles.
- Packaging Equipment – This can be as simple as a bag of crown caps and a capper, but some more expensive kits may include a starter kegging setup.
Equipment kits are priced from around $50 to upwards of $300.
Equipment Upgrades (for the brewer who is already hooked on the hobby)
There is a long list of upgrades to the basic starter kits which brewers will appreciate. They essentially fall into one of two categories: those that help a brewer improve the quality of his product, and those that make the brewing process quicker, easier, and more enjoyable.
Most brewers are most interested in improving quality. Here are some of the top quality-enhancing upgrades to the basic extract brewing kits:
- 6 Gallon (or greater) Boiling Pot – the ability to boil the full 5 gallon volume of “wort” (unfermented beer) will increase the quality of the finished beer noticeably. Any pot with the required volume will do, but cheap enamel-coated pots tend to chip or crack. A quality stainless pot is ideal. These pots can be found through normal retailers or homebrewing suppliers, and range from $30 to $200 for fancy brew kettles eqiupped with valves, thermometers, etc.
- Wort Chiller – the boiled wort must be cooled before yeast can be added. This is time-consuming without a chiller, which usually consists of a large coil of copper tubing through which cold water can be flowed. Quickly chilling the hot wort avoids a specific off-flavor common in homebrewed beer. These start at around $50.
- Temperature Controller – The fermentation temperature of beer plays an enormous role in the flavor of the finished product. A temperature controller allows a refrigerator (or heating pad, etc) to be used to obtain a specific temperature. These start around $55, but require a fridge or heating apparatus.
- Yeast Stir Plate – A chronic problem with newer brewers is that they add too little yeast to their beer. This has a very detrimental effect on the quality of the beer. Yeast culturing stir plates are the best way to grow up large colonies of healthy yeast, and are an upgrade highly desired by many brewers. Most stir plates start at upwards of $100, but a stir plate designed specifically for the homebrewer is offered by at least one company on the web.
Custom “Homebrewery” Gear (for the novice to expert brewer, or beer lover)
Almost every homebrewer has fantasies of being a pro brewer. The first comment of “You really made this beer?” is enough to set the wheels spinning. Most homebrewers create a brewery name for themselves, and many design and print labels for their bottles. Some brewers have become so involved in the hobby that they seem to have purchased every piece of equipment they will ever want. Custom brew gear is a new category of products, and is perfect for these brewers