The Recipe for a Home Brewery

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Dave DraperDave Draper, manager of the Astromaterials Research Office at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, has been a home beer brewer for 18 years.  We have had the honor of interviewing Mr. Draper on the ins and outs of setting up a home brewery. 


What equipment does one need to start a home brewery?

The most basic requirements to brew a simple beer from malt extract are: a large pot, a fermenter, several cases of empty beer bottles, tubing and a “bottling wand”, bottle capper and caps, plus the ability to clean and sanitize these items. 

For more advanced “all grain” brewing, there’s a fair amount more: a grain mill, mash tun, at least one more fermenter (for “secondary” fermentation), a propane burner with power suitable for crab boiling or turkey frying, a “wort chiller” (to quickly cool the liquid after boiling), a substantially larger brew pot, and stainless steel kegs for dispensing instead of bottles.  The cost for a basic setup is typically $50 or so, and can reach $200-300 (more for the really avid brewers) for the all-grain equipment.

Could you describe the set-up of a home brewery?

The setup I use is for all grain brewing. It consists of a mash tun made from a converted beer keg and fitted with a “manifold” made from copper tubing with many slits sawn into it.  This vessel contains the grain + water mixture, the “mash”, while it sits and undergoes conversion of starch to fermentable sugar by the grain’s enzymes.  The manifold allows the liquid to be drawn away from the grain, and is carefully drained into a large brewpot.  This sits on a propane burner, and I have a wort chiller made from fifty feet of copper tubing.  The chiller is placed in the kettle 15 minutes before the end of boiling so it can be sanitized, and then after boiling water is run through the chiller, which draws off the heat very rapidly.

All this sits outdoors, because the pot is large (40 quarts) and requires the use of the propane burner.  I connect my garden hose to the chiller for cooling the liquid after the boil.  The beer is transferred to the fermenter that sits either in an indoor room (during winter’s cool weather) or in a dedicated brew fridge out in my garage (during summer when it is too hot to ferment in the house).  I also have a second brew fridge used for my set of 4 stainless steel soda kegs (how soda used to be dispensed before bag-in-box became the norm), in which I package the finished beer.
For the basic setup described above, one can do everything in the kitchen.  There are drawbacks, such as having to boil a more concentrated liquid owing to the pot’s smaller size, and the comparative difficulty of getting the  boiled liquid cooled as rapidly (rapid cooling is a must to avoid contamination by airborne biota).

What ingredients are needed?  Are they hard to come by?

The four essential  ingredients of beer are water, malted grain (or its extract), hops, and yeast.  For basic brewing, one uses malt extract to make the sweet “wort” that is then boiled with hops and finally fermented with brewing yeast, of which there are very many strains developed for particular styles.  For all grain brewing, one uses a wide variety of malted (and some unmalted) grains to control precisely the flavor profile of the finished beer as well as its alcohol content, fullness of body, dryness, and many other aspects.  It is definitely possible to make great beer with the simpler malt-extract approach, but the brewer gains the most control over the final product from doing all grain brewing.

Fortunately there is a very robust homebrewing supply industry, and most all sizable towns have a homebrew supply shop.  There are also many good vendors online, and these often have a much larger selection and lower prices than local stores, particularly in less populous areas.  One can very quickly find online vendors using standard search techniques. So ingredients are not at all difficult to come by.

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