By Greg Yee
It was the summer, long lazy days of July when sunsets of dripping honey and grenadine blended into the rippling water of Woodbridge’s North Lake. I had just moved back to Irvine after spending two years on Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula, and was really starting to miss the beach.
My new roommate came home one day with a giant smile — at his feet, framed in the open door, stood a kegerator. The time for home brewing had arrived.
Earlier that week we bought an Anchor Steam clone brew kit, enough to make five gallons of wonderful California Common beer. My two roommates and I spent the afternoon brewing.
Since that July afternoon, my roommates and I have kegged or bottled eight brew kits, including three apple ciders, an incredible Scottish Wee Heavy fortified with a fifth of some smoky scotch whiskey and, most recently, a weizenbock.
Brewing beer at home, especially the five-gallon kits, is a satisfying hobby that is fulfilling, inexpensive and rewarding.
Aside from drinking the finished product, brewing beer is the most enjoyable part of the process, after all, fermentation involves a week or two of waiting until the gas lock stops bubbling. A typical brew kit costs from $35-$65, and comes with malted grains, malt extract, hops and yeast. Most home brew supply stores carry at least 25 different styles of brew kits, IPAs, stouts, lagers, Belgians and everything in between.
One of the great joys of brewing beer is adding the malted grains to the boiling water. The grains are contained within a cloth bag. Once they drop into the water, a sweet, bready scent fills the air. Hops, which are added later in two separate stages, smell amazing, but nothing quite equals the sweet ecstasy of that malty scent.
Equipment is always a deciding factor when taking up any hobby. You can expect to spend close to $80 on a basic brew kit, which includes a large food-grade plastic bucket, fermentation lock, steeping bag for the brewing grains, thermometer, bottle capper and food grade sanitizer. Even though glass carboys are available for fermentation, plastic buckets are much more convenient and affordable for a novice brewer.
The strongest impulse to avoid when starting to brew is the temptation to spend money on a kegerator and its related equipment. A new kegerator costs an average of $500. Home brew kegs, which are reconditioned soda kegs, can run upwards from $200 for a full system. At least those fancy tap heads don’t usually cost more than $40 for a polished wood handle.
In addition, home brew kegs require an external C02 tank, and though a tank usually lasts for about four five-gallon brews, once the tank empties, the beer stops flowing.
Bottling, then, really is the way to go when starting out, and even though getting enough bottles might seem like a pain (five gallons of beer will fill up 50 12-ounce bottles), the bottles will keep your beer fresher longer than a keg as well as save hundreds of dollars. Just be sure not to get twist-off bottles, the bottle caps will not fit, and to use brown or amber bottles to protect the beer from UV light.
Although starting the home brewing process may seem daunting, it is an entertaining and cost-effective way for anyone to try and make their favorite style of beer or cider. Once basic brewing skills are mastered, there are infinite variations of malt, hops and yeast that can be mixed together and fermented to produce different levels of bitter, hop and malt flavors. The next time the Anthill Pub carries your favorite brew, take a trip down to a local home brew supply store, buy a brew kit and make your favorite lager, cider, stout, ale or Belgian at home.