The interest in craft brewing and small-scale wine production at a commercial level has also led to a surge in brewing beer and making wine at home. Creating one’s own alcoholic beverages dates back centuries in human civilization. Both beer and wine are created from the simplest of ingredients, but the magic is the science behind the process. Having the necessary know-how makes the difference between success and failure.
Both beer brewing and winemaking require advance preparation and quality ingredients. Beer brewing requires a brew pot (a large, stainless steel pot with at least a five gallon capacity), a primary fermenter (a large, airtight plastic vessel), an airlock and stopper, a plastic hose, bottling bucket, and thermometer. This equipment sounds like it costs a lot, but it is actually reasonably priced. For home winemaking, the equipment list is similar to beer brewing. A batch of wine requires a 30-litre bucket with lid, grommet, and airlock, a 25 litre fermenter with large cap, bung, and airlock, a large auto-siphon, a thermometer, and a hydrometer with case. To bottle the final product, you will also need a sterilizer, a capper or corker, and, of course, bottles and caps or corks.
The actual ingredients for your beverages can be purchased online or through a home brewing shop. In the case of beer, you will need yeast, barley, hops, and sugar. There are kits available, but many brewers like to start from scratch and then tweak their recipes as they become more experienced. For home winemaking there are two approaches. The most common is to use kits purchased from home-brewing shops, which include all the juice concentrates and in-depth instructions. Going it alone and supplying and preparing your own fruit is trickier because you are dealing with a natural product where the acidity and sugar levels can vary widely. However, many home vintners enjoy the challenge.
The two most important aspects of home brewing are cleanliness and temperature. Remember, everything that comes into contact with the ingredients needs to be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. The correct temperatures called for in the recipe must be maintained at the correct stages of the process.
Another important point is that the beer or wine needs to be stored correctly and monitored while it matures. Each beverage recipe has its own requirements for storage and maturation, and since this is the most crucial part of the process, it cannot be sped up. Another point to remember is that, unlike commercial products, there are no preservatives added. So the alcoholic beverage must be consumed within a certain time and is not suitable for long-term storage.
Even though home brewing may seem like a solitary experience, it doesn’t have to be. Seeking out like-minded hobbyists at a home brewing shop or taking courses at a community college are great ways to share knowledge and stories of successes and failures. Home brewers ultimately do not undertake this hobby to save money; they do it because they enjoy the process and the sense of accomplishment when everything falls into place.
Carla is an AU student majoring in English. She welcomes comments and discussion on her Twitter feed, @LunchBuster.