Home Brewing: Equipment and Ingredients
Much of the equipment used for making wine can also be used for brewing beer at least in its simplest method. A polythene brewing bin is commonly used, but in an emergency a polythene bag in a cardboard carton will do as a container in which to ferment the brew. You will also need a vessel somewhat larger than the quantity of beer to be brewed to allow for the frothy head that forms during the early days of fermentation. A polypropylene spoon or paddle is needed for stirring, a polythene funnel, a siphon, a thermometer and, of course, some proper beer bottles and stoppers. Crown caps are frequently used and a tool to crimp these firmly on to the bottles is essential.
For the enthusiast who wishes to brew his beers from grains, a mashing bin fitted with an immersion heater and thermostat as well as a draw-off tap, is very desirable. A filter stand and straining bag may be needed for sparging the grains. A suitable boiling pan is essential for boiling the hops and wort. It should be made from stainless steel, good quality aluminium or unchipped enamel.
Beer is made from crushed malted barley, hops, water and yeast but other grains are sometimes added to ‘stretch’ the barley and to enhance the flavour. Sugar, too, is used to increase the alcohol content with the minimum of expense. Household sugar is quite suitable, but brown sugar, golden syrup or glucose may also be used.
The malted barley is available in several colours: pale, crystal or amber, chocolate or brown, and black. The longer roasting of the grains varies the flavour and colour extraction but reduces the starch content. Raw or unmalted barley is sometimes added in small quantities for flavour, so too is torrified barley that looks rather like popcorn. Flaked rice, flaked maize and flaked wheat are also occasionally added in small quantities.
Malt extract is the most commonly used form of malt in home brewing. It consists of a brown, toffee-like syrup. Sometimes, the grains from which it is made are so blended as to produce an extract especially suitable for a particular style of beer, e.g. bitter, lager, brown or stout. Some extracts are also mixed with essential hop oils and are ready for dilution and fermentation.
The water used is important if you wish to make high-quality beers. Soft waters are ideal for lagers. Brown ales and stouts, but need an addition of a small quantity of hardening salts (a mixture of calcium sulphate and magnesium sulphate) to make good bitter-style beers. In hard water areas, the addition of up to half a level teaspoonful of table salt per 4.5 litres/1 gallon of water used, is necessary to make good stouts, brown ales and lagers, although by itself the water will make excellent bitter-style beers.
Hop flowers are essential for flavouring and preserving the malt. If using a plain malt, use a Wye Challenger or Golding type hop for bitter beers and a Wye Northdown or Fuggle type hop for brown ales and stouts. A continental hop such as Saaz or Hallertau should be used for lagers. The British hops are now also available in pellet form making them easier to use, especially when dry-hopping.
A good quality beer yeast will produce a better beer than a bread yeast. It is worth the few extra pence to buy the best. Indeed, this advice cannot be too strongly emphasized when buying all the ingredients. The actual cost per 600 ml/1 pint of beer made from the best ingredients compared with that made from cheaper ingredients is insignificant. The difference in quality, however, is clearly noticeable. In every instance, it pays to buy the best.
Finings are frequently added to help beers clear quickly, although they are not always necessary. Irish Moss may be added at the boiling stage to ensure a clear wort to ferment. Isinglass or gelatin may be added at the end of fermentation to clarify the beer before bottling.
Sulphite is not used in beers but is often used to sterilize containers. Chempro is very popular for this purpose since it also removes stains and keeps containers not only clean but also sterilized.