As a first-time brewer, there are some things you will definitely need, and some things you will definitely need to know. There are other things that may come in handy, but may not be necessary. Here’s the stuff you will definitely need, and need to know, with some tips, tricks, and money-savers thrown in.
Fermenter. You have to have something to brew in. While any 30 litre+ container with a lid could be made to work, the fermenter is built for purpose and adaptable.
Airlock. You have to have something to let the gas out!
Long stirring stick. For stirring your extract to get it to dissolve, among other things. Indispensable at every stage of your brewing journey.
Bottles (and lids). There are many options available, but if you’re on a budget, any bottle that once contained fizzy liquid for drinking is fine. Soft drink bottles will do, and they come in all sizes. A 500ml bottle is just shy of a pint. Get collecting!
Thermometer. For getting your fermenting temperature right (see below).
Siphon. For getting the beer from one container to the other (for instance, when bottling). This can be fiddly unless you have help. There needs to be liquid filling the pipe to get the flow going up and over, and if the end of the pipe leaves the liquid you will have to start again unless you’re quick. A pumping siphon can get you started without having to fill the pipe with water. Better still, you can fit a tap to your fermenter 4-5cm from the bottom that you can stick a pipe into – with an in-line tap on the end of the pipe. This is how I fill bottles on my own without getting beer everywhere.
Everything has to be sanitised. VWP is a typical brewing steriliser and will get all the germs off. In all likelihood the yeast will grow so fast that it outstrips any bacterial growth, then kills anything lurking by virtue of making the environment unliveable (no oxygen, alcohol in the beer) but some bacteria can survive this and sour the beer. So sterilise your fermenter, pour the steriliser into a bowl, and sterilise everything else that comes into contact with your beer. Pour some into the airlock to prevent bugs getting in that way too.
Getting the right temperature quickly
As we shall see, yeast will only work in a certain temperature range (typically 15-22°C, but many yeasts go a little warmer and some go colder). Once you start opening cans and dissolving extract, you want to get to that temperature ASAP. Having your brewing water already cold will often balance out the heat of your 5 or so litres of dissolved extract. A simple way of doing this is to fill your fermenter with cold water up to the required volume, minus the volume of extract and hot water you’ll be using to dissolve, then sticking it the fridge overnight. You may need to remove some shelves, but unless your fridge is tiny or very well stocked, you should be able to save space at the top for your food. You could also buy some 5 litre bottles of spring water from the supermarket and chill those instead. At time of writing, Ashbeck is available from Tesco for £1.10 per 5 litres.