Beer can be expensive. And when you're trying to save money, alcohol is one of those no-brainer things to cut from your budget. But we're in our twenties!  We don't want to give up alcohol! We're still young enough to enjoy it without feeling like death in the morning- why not take advantage of that! (okay, that's a lie- hangovers already make me feel like death in the morning. but go with me here)


So what's a frugal twenty-something to do about the expensive alcohol situation?  Buy cheap Natty Light as a college throwback?  No, no, that's ridiculous.  Let's not get desperate here.   Brew your own beer instead!


home brew ale


I used to think home brewing would be difficult, confusing, and would require a ton of equipment and space.  I was pretty nervous about jumping into it.  But now I see that it's so easy- and hopefully this post will show you how quickly you can get your own brewery up and running! The picture above is of our first batch, Caribou Slobber.  I didn't take any pictures while we made that one because we were too busy trying to read the instructions and figure out what the heck we were doing.  But last Friday, we tried our hand at a second batch- an IPA- and I attempted to document the process to show you how easy it really is!  So here we go...


What You'll Need to Brew Beer

We ordered the Essential Brewing Starter Kit from Northern Brewer and like it a lot.  The items that came in this kit are:

  • 6.5 gallon fermenting bucket with lid and airlock
  • 6.5 gallon bottling bucket with bottling spigot
  • Bottle filler
  • Bottling tubing
  • Auto-siphon & siphon tubing
  • Beer bottle brush (actually we really don't use this)
  • Bottle capper
  • 60 Caps
  • PBW Cleaner (oh we don't really use this either)
  • Star-San Sanitizer
  • Instructional DVD (this is helpful, we've watched it a few times already)


The Essential kit also came with a choice of 3 ingredient kits- we chose the Caribou Slobber brown ale as our first beer and it was SO GOOD.  Seriously, so good.  Can't recommend that one enough!  The Essential kit was a great deal- for about $90 (with shipping) you get all of that equipment and the $30-$35 ingredient kit.   Other than what was included in the starter kit, we only needed 3 additional items to get started brewing:

  • Thermometer (technically you can get by without this.  But the instructions will give you temperatures to hit so it's nice to ensure you have a way to check the temps.  I have a thermometer used for making candy- it's not the most accurate but it works!)
  • 5 gallon stainless steel pot (with lid)-- this is the one we got- it was on sale for $19.99+shipping (and looks like it still is today)
  • about 50 pry-off beer bottles (don't be tempted to buy empty bottles online...  it's about the same price to buy a few 12 packs and drink the beer / clean off the labels yourself!  Plus it's more fun :) )

There is a lot of other stuff we could definitely use but it's not necessary.  Don't get tricked into buying a bunch of fancy stuff when you see it on the websites!



How to Brew Beer

Note:  all measurements/times/temperatures/steps are based off this particular recipe kit.  Your instructions may vary slightly.  I'm just trying to give you an idea of what this beer requires!

1.  Order recipe kit.  We're using the Chinook IPA from Northern Brewer here.


2.  Empty the bag o' crushed grains into the provided cheesecloth-ish sack and tie it up.


like this.


3.  Steep grains in 2.5 gallons of water for 20 mins or until temperature reaches 170*.


Here's what it will look like as it "cooks"


4.  Once the temp is up high enough or you reach 170*, take out the grain bag.


5.  Take pot off the heat and stir in the dry malt extract (they call it DME in our instructions-- so maybe that's the cool way to say it?)


6. At the same time, pour in the liquid malt extract.  We heard that soaking it in hot water first makes it a little easier to pour.


7.  Bring mixture to a boil and then add hops.  That top picture is the hops!  The instructions will tell you the time intervals to add in hops.  In this recipe, we added one packet, boiled the mixture for 50 mins, added another packet, boiled 9 mins, added the last packet and then boiled 1 more minute.  You don't strain these out or anything afterwards, they just chill in the beer.  Maybe they dissolve?


8.  Once done with the hops, take mixture off the heat and cool it down as quickly as possible.  We filled our sink with water, ice, and frozen ice packs.  We kept the pot mostly covered because at this point, any air-borne particles that hit the wort (that's what the beer-mixture is called at this point) can contaminate the entire thing.


9.  While wort is cooling, you'll need to start sanitizing your fermenting equipment.  This is a super super super important part of the process.  Fill up your fermenting bucket with 5 gallons of water.  In our 1 bedroom apt the only other big faucet is our tub... so that's where we filled our bucket ;)


10.  Add 1 oz of sanitizing solution to the 5 gallons of water and stir around.


11.  You'll need to sanitize everything that will come in contact with the wort.  This means:  fermenting bucket (which is why you make the sanitizing solution in the bucket- so that it gets sanitized!), lid, scissors (you'll need these to cut open your dry yeast, if you're using that), yeast packet (we forgot to do that in the first batch, so that's why it's shown being done separately), thermometer, airlock, and big spoon (to stir wort if needed).


12.  Soak items for 2 mins in sanitizing solution, then take out and leave on the lid.  We laid the lid top down (since the top of the lid won't touch beer) and put the sanitized equipment on the inner part of the lid.


13.  Once everything is sanitized, pour out sanitizing solution.  (you can use your tub or maybe something normal like a sink.  whateva works!)


14.  Once wort is cooled (ours was supposed to get down to 100*) pour into sanitized fermenting bucket (the same one that was just filled with sanitizer).  You'll pour almost everything from the pot- just be sure to leave the sludge at the bottom.  You don't want chunky beer!  We had to add some additional water to get the level up to 5 gallons.


15.  Put lid on and "shake" the bucket around for a minute or so.  This was Mike's job because I am a weakling.  He sloshed it around, shifting the weight from side to side.


16.  Remove lid and pour in yeast packet (use sanitized scissors to cut open the yeast!).  We stir in our yeast but you can just sprinkle it on top I think.  Then replace lid and insert airlock (that's the goofy lookin plastic thing sticking out of the lid.  It lets you know when the beer is fermenting because it bubbles!)


17.  Store bucket in a cool, dark, quiet place.  The closest thing to cool, dark, and quiet in our apartment is our front coat closet.  It works.


18.  Let beer sit for a few weeks.  This recipe requires 2-3 weeks of fermenting.  Just leave it alone until that time.  Don't open the bucket to look at the beer.  Like I said earlier, any airborne particles that hit your beer can contaminate the entire thing.  You don't want to ruin all your hard work!  Patience, grasshopper :)


And that's the brewing process!  Now go check out the bottling process (which is even easier!).  


Have you ever home brewed?  Or have you ever considered it?