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“It was okay, and it got me and my friends drunk,” says London-based homebrewer Tristan Fisher, remembering his first batch of homemade 7.2% stinging nettle beer. “I guess you could call it a successful first attempt.”
Today, the beer enthusiast brews out of a “single saucepan and bucket situation” in his flat in Brixton, south London. “I use a 20 litre stainless steel induction stock pot and a powdered malt extract. It’s much nicer to have the creative control when mashing from grain rather than malt extract, but it’s too messy in a small kitchen. But I do mash crystal and speciality malts in the boil for different recipes.”
While Fisher was inspired to brew after watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on River Cottage, Nat Ryles, workshop instructor and tap room manager at the London Beer Lab says he got into the art “just looking to make cheap beer.”
“I bought those all-in-one kits and did a few of them over the years, but always wanted to make beer from grain,” says Ryles. “Eventually I took the plunge and started all-grain brewing three years ago. I bought some books, watched online videos and joined a homebrew club.”
In the last few years, the brew masters both say they’ve seen a serious uptick in the number of people making beer at home. “There’s way more people doing it now. The internet is a gold mine for information, and techniques are improving thanks to people experimenting more. There’s cool new stuff coming out all the time, and people are constantly looking to improve brewing technology for hombrewers. That’s a great thing, but a lot of it’s expensive.”
Luckily for you, we’re celebrating International Beer Day with a roundup of the best affordable gadgets to help you brew the perfect pint at home.
A wide-mouthed glass carboy for fermentation has been “super useful,” says Fisher. “I used to use plastic buckets for fermenting, but a glass carboy is definitely the best option.” He recommends products with a wide mouth, as “the narrow mouthed ones that were originally available were a nightmare to get hops for dry hopping out of.”
Literally just a bag, ideally made of a light weave and strong fabric like linen or voile. Super cheap, and in Ryles’s words, “works just as good and saves a lot of time.”
“I don’t know what I would do without an auto-siphon”, says Fisher. “It makes transferring from the fermentation bucket to the bottling bucket or keg so much easier and mess free.”
Ryles brews with the help of an Ss Stainless Brewtech Kettle. It’s one of the more expensive items on our list ($129 for the 5.5 gallon), but comes with “riveted silicone coated handles, a three-piece ball valve with trub dam pick-up tube, a lid designed to hang on side of handles, etched volume markings gals/liters and is induction burner compatible.” According to its makers, the kettle features an integrated trub dam into the dip tube to minimize the pickup of trub and hop material during knockout, “a first in home brewing” allowing “clearer wort making its way into the fermenter.”
If you’re homebrewing outside the kitchen, you’ll need heat. A 3kw induction hob will give you “lots of power for not a lot of money, and a really solid rolling boil,” says Ryles.
When it comes to fermenting, temperature is one of the most important steps for happy yeast. The BrewJacket Immersion Pro: Dual Heating & Cooling “raises or lowers your fermenting beer to 35º F (20º C) above or below the ambient temperature in your house.” But, Ryles says, you can always “use a good old fridge with external thermostat.” Less recommended? The “painful process of cooling down the wort in a bathtub of cold water,” says Fisher.
Whirlpooling can offer quicker chilling, clearer wort, improved hop flavour and aroma, and reduced DMS. You can do it with a spoon, but Ryles is just about to get a pump setup that he’s “very excited about”.
The Plaato airlock, available for $99 as a Kickstarter early-bird special, is a digital hydrometer with extra functionality. The “reinvented airlock sends information about your beer brewing fermentation straight to your phone, including specific gravity, fermentation activity, alcohol percentage, ambient temperature.” It promises to be “100% non-invasive” and, according to Kickstarter campaign, “for every single batch, a unique fermentation analysis report is generated that lets you analytically understand what’s going on.”
The most expensive item on our list is the EdgeStar Ultra Low Temp Refrigerator for Kegerator Conversion. At just over $300 it’s a little pricey, but as Ryles says, “there’s nothing quite like having cold beer on tap in your kitchen!”