What to know before home brewing

To make beer, the only ingredients you need are grain, hops, yeast and water. But according to Mark Colomb, a member of local home brewing enthusiast group Home Brewers of Hardin County, it’s the endless variations of these ingredients and the beer maker’s personal touch to their process that makes brewing an alluring pursuit.

Home Brewers of Hardin County will set up a booth June 16 at the Kentucky Craft Beer Festival in Elizabethtown, showcasing the process of home brewing. Colomb, who has been home brewing for about six years, said the hobby has gained traction locally in the past few years.

“There is an increase in the interest in home brewing and that’s a reason why we created the club,” he said.

Colomb said anyone can create their own beer if they can gather the right materials for the job. However, he said getting started might seem intimidating for home brew novices.

“Just looking at the equipment that you need to brew beer can be daunting,” he said.

For a traditional 5-gallon home brew, beginner brewers will need a ceramic or steel boiling pot, a burner, a fermenter with airlocks, a siphon, a large stirring spoon, bottles, a bottle brush, bottle caps and a bottle capper to get started. A thermometer, bottling bucket and hydrometer also are recommended.

Several starter packs containing all or most of these elements are available for purchase online and at home brew supply stores. However, Colomb said these kits often are better for getting an idea of the process than for seriously pursuing home brewing.

He said beginners often will gravitate toward extract brewing, which is less complex than the all-grain process. Extract brewing includes first creating a solution called wort with water, malt extract and hops. The wort then is combined with yeast and left alone for about two weeks so it can ferment. For those who bottle their beer, a priming solution is added to the bottles before adding the beer to ensure carbonation. About another two weeks of waiting is required before serving. A typical 5-gallon session usually will yield about 54 12-ounce bottles, Colomb said.

Aaron Hawkins, co-owner of Flywheel Brewing in Eliza­bethtown, said though brewers have more creative control when using the all-grain approach, using malt extract might be better for beginners because of the fewer steps and equipment needed. The all-grain requires grain mashing and sparging, steps that require additional resources.

“It takes a step out and minimizes risk of not getting necessary sugar out of grain,” he said.

For gathering all of the necessary ingredients for beer, recipe kits are available for purchase online or at home brew stores. These kits include whole grains or malt extracts, hops and brewing instructions. Colomb said these kits are useful for beginners who are learning the process and are not yet ready to experiment with their own recipes.

Hawkins said sanitation is perhaps the most important part of the brewing process. Sanitizing every aspect of equipment is essential before brewing because failure to do so will result in unsavory beer, he said. Colomb suggested using a home brew cleaning solution such as Star San.

“No matter how close you follow a recipe, if it gets compromised post-boil, it’s a ruined batch,” Hawkins said.

For information about the brewing process, Colomb suggested using home brew online forums, searching the internet for brew guides, or visiting brew supply stores, which exist in cities such as Louisville and Bowling Green.

He said the Home Brewers of Hardin County meet monthly and offer advice and assistance with novice brewers as well. Club information and meeting times can be found at facebook.com/groups/hardinhomebrewers.

Hawkins said once a potential brewer understands the basics of brewing, creating personalized beer recipes will come much easier and often will prove to be rewarding.

“In my opinion, the best thing about home brewing is getting to make stuff you can’t buy anywhere else,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to add crazy ingredients.”

Andrew Critchelow can be reached at 270-505-1746 or acritchelow@thenewsenterprise.com.

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