Equipment To Get Started
The easiest way to get up and running is to get a Homebrew Equipment Starter Kit for either wine, beer, cider or spirit making kits. HomeBrewWest starter kits are the best value in Ireland for the simple reason that, as home brew distributors, we can afford to put the best equipment in them.
Comparing starter kits isn't easy though because we need to understand the components that are in them in order to compare like with like. So lets take a look at these components for 23 litre systems (standard size).
Fermenter: usually a food grade bucket made from polypropylene that can withstand boiling water for cleaning. It should have plenty of head space to accommodate foaming so a 30 to 32 litre vessel is best; it should be fitted with a graduation strip so that you can see how many litres of liquid it holds. We'd recommend this one this one.
Syphon or tap/filling stick: next you need to consider how you are going to move the beer or wine from your fermenter into either a second fermenter or bottles. There are essentially two options:
- syphon which is a piece of tubing - place one end in the beer and suck the other end to create a flow, or
- a tap fitted to the fermenter and a tube that you can connect to the tap.
Basic syphons are hard to use, and not very hygenic; the more advanced (and expensive) "auto" syphons work well but are very hard to clean and even harder to dry out. For these reasons, the vast majority of modern home brewers in Ireland are now using a tap and "filling stick" solution like this one. The filling stick can be attached to the tap and removed as required, and a length of plastic tube like this can be attached to the tap if you wish to transfer to a second fermenter. Taps are also much better than syphons for taking samples used to check the progress of the fermentation.
Airlock and bung: fitted to the lid of the fermenter using a rubber bung, the airlock holds a small amount of water in a U bend that will allow carbon dioxide to escape from the fermenter but will not allow air back in. Air can oxidize your beer or wine so this is important especially if the fermentation takes more than a week or two. Airlocks also come with a small "cap" that keeps fruit flies out.
Stirring paddle: a long paddle or spoon to stir and mix ingredients. A paddle is usually preferred because its better at mixing in lots of air which the yeast needs during the initial stages of fermentation. This paddle works well and can be attached to a drill to make life easier.
Thermometer: essential to keep your fermentation at the correct temperature. Liquid crystal ones are ideal because they are attached to outside of the fermenter and are easy to read (you don't need to open the fermenter so no air gets in). This one one is great but this this one one is cheaper and works fine too.
Hydrometer and trial jar: these are required to monitor the specific gravity of your fermentation. This is essential to determine when the fermentation is complete, and also to calculate the % ABV alcohol strength of your beer / wine. The most popular home brew hydrometer in Ireland is this one. To get a specific gravity reading, use the fermenter tap to place a sample in the trial jar and then insert the hydrometer. Read the specific gravity where the liquid surface meets the hydrometer.
Cleaner/sterilizer: although not strictly home brew equipment, its critically important to make sure that all your equipment is thoroughly clean and sterilized before use. The best all round one is this one.
Heating belt, timer: Unless you live in an apartment where the temperature is always abount 18 to 20 decrees C, you will probably need to heat your fermenter, particularly during the colder months. This is the most popular one. A simple timer is by far the best way to control the heating belt.
Capper and caps: you can either buy home brew beer bottles or collect your own and then use a cheap capper and caps to bottle your beer or cider. You can chose more expensive bench top professional cappers, but the cheap one is a good option to start out with.
Corker and corks: you can either buy wine bottles or collect your own and then use a cheap corker and corks to bottle your wine. You can chose more expensive bench corkers and spend a lot more on professional corks for top quality home brew wines, but it often makes more sense to start out with a cheaper option until you know where you want to go with this hobby.
Bottles and bottles: Coopers OxBar bottles are an excellent choice with screw top lids that can be reused over and over; OxBar is an abbreviation for "oxygen barrier" and these are top quality but affordable PET bottles from Coopers. A big advantage is that you can squeeze the bottle and "feel" if it is carbonated and ready to drink. Another option is "swing top" bottles; these are qualioty glass bottles with a "clip top" mechanism that can also be reused without having to buy caps. The most popular ones are the Kilner swing tops. All bottles should be brown or green in order to avoid damaging your home brew with sunlight or fluorescent light. Clear bottles can be used but would probably require the addition of lots of sulphites to protect your beer / wine.
So these are the essential bits and pieces; we will add more later on kegs, CO2, etc.