Starting From Scratch: Building a Setup

Well, after the Breaking of the Fellowship, our brewing has been sparse. Tim, the only one living with brewing equipment, was without a stove, Paul only recently was able to brew, with his friend’s setup, and I was dealing with a roommate who was looking for a reason to get me evicted. Eventually I decided my roommate would just have to grow up and realize he didn’t get his way all the time (this prompted me recieving an empty threat that I was ‘getting an eviction notice tomorrow for brewing beer’, a laughable claim, that has yet to even earn me a landlordian repremand).

So what kind of setup did I want? What pieces did I need/want, and what could I do without? Having pieced together our setup in Ann Arbor over more than a year, I knew what was important, what was convienent, and what I could overlook. These were the things I had to get, and my options for them:

  • Sugar Conversion – Mashtun OR Only be able to use malt extract
  • Brew Pot – Large pot + stove OR Turkey fryer
  • Cooling System – Copper wort chiller OR Use of sink
  • Fermentation Vessel – 6.5 Gal Glass carboy OR Ale Pale
  • Carbonation/Storage – Spigoted Ale Pale/Bottling OR Kegging kit

Part of the fun of brewing is mixing your own grains and mashing them. Only using malt extract is easier, but other than the initial startup cost of a mashtun, the per batch cost of extract is much higher. I went with a 10 gallon rubbermaid mash tun using a modified ( read the instructions and made it up as I went along once I got to the hardware store) version of these instructions.

For the brew pot, I spent some time shopping around, but I actually was able to find a 7.5 gallon turkey fryer for less than I could find a brewpot of the same size. While this route also took the purchase of propane, it was totally worth it, but more on that later.

For cooling, I was able to find a wort chiller for about $45 dollars, but I hadn’ scrimpt on anything yet, and with the time savings from the turkey fryer, I figured I’d go cheap here. 45 minutes in time savings isn’t worth fifty bucks to me… at least not right away.

The final two items I was able to pick up as a package deal, along with other odds and ends I needed (thermometer, hydrometer, etc.) from Adventures in Homebrewing. For a little over $200, I was able to get a kegging kit, ale pale, and 5 gallon carboy. The other option was to drop the kegging kit and get a wort chiller, brewpot and a spigoted ale pale, but for 20 bucks more. Given my feelings about kegging (it’s awesome and easy) vs. my feeling about bottling (it takes too long, and requires hoarding bottles) I went with the kegging kit.

Now, all in all, this totalled up to about $350. Sadly, I also needed to get it to where I live. This added a good $200s in shipping costs, because the Vail Valley is apparently more difficult to ship to than Valdez (hyperbole, but not by much).

In addition to my order from Adventures in Homebrewing, I had them pack in a Wee Heavy recipe and shipped it out. Sadly, the autosyphon that shipped was damaged in transit, but everything else arrived safe and sound in less than a week.I finally got my shtuff together, found a friend to give me a hand and brewed. All went well, aside from a slight snafu involving the airlock seal on the ale pale leading me to think the yeast was dead, leading me to rush to the nearest brewery to beg for some active yeast, only to get home, open the pale, to find a nice layer of krausen on top… Always double check your grommets.

I have yet to fill up my CO2 tank, to keg the brew, but it is now fully fermented, and I eagerly await getting it all done (I did snag a taste of it from the carboy, as well as a gravity reading: A bit strong, and a little more dry than I was hoping, but should be a fantastic brew).

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