“You’ll always have problems,” says Dereck Hales, founder and owner of Bad Shepherd Brewing Co in Cheltenham, Victoria. He’s talking about his craft. “We all do. That’s kind of the fun of DIY, figuring out how to overcome problems.”
Before establishing Bad Shepherd, Hales was a two-time Victorian State champion at the Australian Amateur Brewing Championships. He says there’s a simple incentive for people thinking about getting into brewing their own beer: “It’s not hard.”
Sam Mealing, owner of Hop + Grain Brew Store in Marrickville, Sydney, agrees. “Start simple,” he says. “You can build your knowledge as you go. Start with the basic kit concentrates then move up to a technique called ‘extract brewing’. This is where you actually boil the extract and add hops. Then you can go to all grain.”
“All grain” means buying raw ingredients and making the beer from scratch – just like commercial breweries.
Hop + Grain offers two starter kits for beginners: a five-litre kit perfect for apartments or small spaces, and a larger 23-litre kit. He says customers should expect to spend around $80 to $120 to get underway.
“With the larger starter kit you make 23 litres of beer, which is over two cases,” says Mealing. “You are probably spending around $50 a case just for the first time round, including your equipment and everything.” This of course means that the longer you brew, the more you’ll be saving.
Hales says the key to making great beer is keeping the yeast “happy” with temperature control during fermentation. His suggestion for novices is to put it in a cool cupboard or leave your fermenting beer immersed in a large tub of water. This will help keep a consistent temperature while the yeast does its work.
A better way is to invest in a fridge and plug-in temperature controller. Even if short on space, with a small fermenter and a bar fridge you can create great beer.
“You can buy used bar fridges for 30 or 40 bucks online,” says Hales.
Try not to get discouraged. Hales says his first attempts were so bad he tried to sell his equipment. But instead of finding a buyer, he discovered that fellow homebrewers were friendly and supportive.
“All these passionate homebrewers came back and told me what to do,” he says. “So I did those things and the beer started coming out alright. If you spend that extra week reading a book, and talking to people that know their way around homebrew, your beer comes out fine.”
Mealing makes a great example of this. He encourages people to send him a Facebook message or give him a call if they run into any problems. Hop + Grain also holds education sessions and homebrew swaps, where people can get advice, feedback, and share some beers.
“If you make a beer you’re actually proud of, that’s a good thing,” says Mealing. “Especially when you can have a few mates around and say, ‘don’t worry about bringing beers’.”
This article is part of the Summer Craft Beer Quarterly presented in partnership with James Squire.