In which my son and I make our own beer

Ryan is going to be 22 at the end of the month. For those of you who have been here since I wrote the 13 on 31 post, you now know how I feel every single day. The rest of you can get off my lawn before I call your parents.

So the other day, he and I were having a beer together, and Ryan said, "We should make our own beer while I'm home this summer."

I tried homebrewing once when I was about Ryan's age, and it ended … poorly … I've wanted to try again, but I've always been intimidated by what I remembered was a complex and peril-fraught process. When Ryan suggested that we do this, though, the excitement and joy of doing something together gave me a natural 20 on my Save Versus Fear. Besides, even if it's a spectacular failure, it's still something we did together, something we can bond over, and something that will stay with us — success or failure — for the rest of our lives.

"That would be the most awesome father/son activity, ever," I said. "Plus, we get beer when we're finished!"

The next morning, we did a little research online, and the entire process actually looked a lot simpler and more straightforward that I remembered it being coughmumble years ago when I was 22. As long as we could follow a recipe and do our fermentation in a place that was temperature-controlled, we'd probably be able to make some beer that didn't suck.

We found a local homebrewing supply store, and went there yesterday to get our kit and ingredients.

The late afternoon had given way to early evening, but it was still 90 degrees as we parked the car and walked up the sidewalk toward the shop.

"I'm really excited about this," I said, partially because it was true, and partially because I needed to calm the nerves that were working themselves up. What if they laughed at us when we walked in? What if whoever worked there wasn't interested in helping a couple of noobs get started? What if I said something stupid and embarrassed my son?

"Yep," Ryan said.

'Yep'? That's it? 'Yep'? Not "Me too dad this will be awesome!" Not "Yeah, I'm looking forward to this, too." Not even, "Don't embarrass me, dude." Just 'yep'. Okay, Wil, don't blow this.

We walked into the store. It was cool inside, and smelled delightful from all the different types of grain that were in tubs along the walls. A man sat behind a counter at the far side of the room, reading a computer screen. I took a breath, and decided that it was go time.

"Hi," I said, "I tried homebreaing once about 15 years ago, and it was a disaster. My son's home for the summer, though, and we wanted to make our own beer together. Can you help us get started?"

He looked up at me, and smiled. "Sure, just give me one minute."


For the next twenty minutes or so, he literally and figuratively walked us through the entire process, showing us equipment and ingredients, and explaining in simple and precise terms exactly how the whole thing worked. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this guy could cast Dispel Fear as a free action, because by the time he was done, I felt like I was ready to go home and start brewing right away.

"Is there one type of beer that's more difficult than another?"

"Not really," he said. "Most of the beers you're going to make are pretty simple and forgiving. The hardest thing to make, honestly, is something like Budweiser."

Before I could say, "I said beer," he continued: "That's a very pale lager that doesn't leave much margin for error."

So they make that shit taste that way on purpose? And it's difficult? Wow, I learned something today.

"What about a California-style Pale Ale?" I asked, hopefully.

"That's very easy," he told us, "it's one of the most popular styles." He gave us a recipe to follow, and helped us pick out the various ingredients to make it. I thought it was really cool that he didn't just show us where things were, but also explained to us what made each specialty grain unique, how different types yeast worked, and the benefits and risks associated with each one. I never felt like he was trying to sell us anything, but that he was educating and truly helping us. It was really great.

Ryan and I gathered up all our individual ingredients, including Caramel 10L, Caramel 40L, and Columbus and Cascade hops. We paid for everything, and I thanked the guy on our way out.

The whole way home, we talked about what we'd just learned, and I may have repeated several times that I was excited to get started and do this together.

We're going to do our brewing on Sunday, so we can continue to research and learn about the proper way to make it go. I asked Twitter for advice on forums, and here are the most frequently-recommended sites:

Are you a homebrewer? I'd love to hear any advice/warnings/stories you have.

189 thoughts on “In which my son and I make our own beer”

  1. I’m repeating some advice others have given, but it’s worth repeating. The 3 most important things are:
    1 Sanitize
    2 Sanitize
    3 Sanitize
    Seriously. Other than that, try to relax and don’t get too stressed about it. People have been making drinkable beer for a very long time, since before the invention of thermometers or microscopes, or the discovery of microorganisms. You’re following a proven recipe and using good yeast. As long as you sanitize, you’ll end up with a decent beer.
    Homebrew stores are generally pretty friendly and helpful places. From what you said, it sounds like you found a particularly good one. If you run into problems you can probably give them a call.
    Joy of Homebrewing is a good book as far as general process and the “Relax, don’t worry” attitude, but older editions should be taken with a grain of salt, especially the recipes. Hopefully newer editions have been updated. I have a couple books by Dave Miller that are also good.
    If your tap water tastes funky, do something about that… Mine is heavily chlorinated, but otherwise pretty good, so I use a charcoal filter. Bottled water would also work.
    As others have said, watch the boiling wort like a hawk. It WILL try to boil over.
    The fermenter may also bubble over, so keep it somewhere like the kitchen where you can clean up. Keep the fermenter dark. I used to wrap a bath towel around it. (Light causes hops to produce a skunky flavor.)
    I used to put my bottles in the dishwasher for a final rinse/sanitize cycle as someone else mentioned. But if you run a rinse cycle MAKE SURE there’s no rinse aid in the diswasher, it would probably be bad for the beer’s head. Even if you don’t add detergent, there may still be a rinse-aid reservoir in the dishwasher. I highly recommend filling the bottles over the open dishwasher door. The door will catch most of the spills and then all you have to do for cleanup is close the door.
    I second the recommendations to keep a log.
    Some people have recommended kegs and big outdoor burners. Both *excellent* suggestions, but I would brew a few batches first and see how you like it, before you go on a spending spree.

  2. I found that the brewer’s best kits are a great way to get started. the ingredients are all prepacked and the directions are easy to follow. if you save the directions you can modify the recipe the next time.
    my first batch could have been better. I made my own recipe right off the batch but i thought i could do it as I just did a research project on Beer. And I was still a few months underage at the time. My biggest problem was that it came out flat. I did a darker Bock with adjuncts of Maple and Brown Sugar. The Flavor was pretty good. The yeast i used, which i don’t remember, left a slight banana taste as well. Unexpected but delightful surprise. I called my monstrosity of a mistake Brown Goat Maple. Despite my shortcomings a belgian friend of mine said he enjoyed it so for my first batch i think it had potential if i were to try it again.

  3. I mentioned that fact to my classmates at Tech School for the Air Force. One decided to look up to see if i was right and was persistent that was wrong. “I looked it up, its made of hops not rice.” i tried explaining the difference between hops an grain but he was so proud to be using the term hops, which he just learned about, that he would learn any more from me.

  4. I have only just started home-brewing myself this past year and it is definitely very easy to produce great results. Beyond all the prior comments I would just re-iterate: patience. While your beer may be “ready” in a couple of weeks, keep track of how it tastes through time as well, you will likely find it takes a little while longer to taste its best. My most recent batch is a black lager that tastes just as good as sam adam’s:

  5. Two things:
    1) Sanitize! Using iodine is simple and very effective.
    2) The homebrewing forum at is chock full of very accomplished homebrewers and some commercial brewers. Plus, it’s very laid back when it comes to newbie questions and the like.

  6. I’ve been homebrewing for about 2 years now.
    From what I’ve heard, the quality of ingredients has gone up a lot since you last brewed, so hopefully you’ll have better luck.
    I’d echo what others have said: sanitize, take notes (especially your starting and finishing specific gravity)
    Try to get as close to the recommended temperatures as possible, in every step.
    The biggest rule in homebrewing is to relax. Everything will turn out.
    How To Brew has a decent troubleshooting section if you don’t like the way your first beer turns out.
    See you on r/homebrewing!

  7. Wil, you’re about to embark on a hobby that could very well consume you (as well as being a hobby you can consume!). As others have stated, you can start small and scale WAY up if you choose. Additionally, be prepared to set aside some space to stow equipment, fermenting beer, bottled beer, empty bottles, etc.
    Here’s a few bits of advice from this type-a, O.C. homebrewer:
    – It bears repeating: sanitize, sanitize, sanitize, ad infinitum. StarSan is a perfect no-rinse sanitizer for every step of the process. Also, you could go the route of baking/dishwashing your bottles to sanitize, but StarSan and a bottle-tree and a Vinator bottle sanitizer are a simple, straightforward way to go. Worth the minuscule investment, and you’ll use that bottle-tree so much you’ll wonder why you didn’t get it from the first. Never had an infected bottle.
    – Save yourself some mess and get a nylon grain bag to mash/sparge your grain in. It keeps the mash/wort clean, transfers the grain to the sparge vessel easily, and once rinsed out can be used as a hop bag to boil your hops in later, keeping the wort clean that way too. Rinse again, toss in the dishwasher, and you’re done. Save that grain and make doggie biscuits for Seamus. I have a dynamite recipe that my pooch would do anything for.
    – Copper wort chiller + ice chest + cheap fountain pump from Harbor Freight + 30lbs of ice + 1 gallon of water = wort cooled from 212° to 68° in 9 minutes. Also, less wasted water. Use the melted ice to water your garden.
    – Cool your wort to below 70° before pitching your yeast, and for most ales keep it below 70° while fermenting. Fermentation is an exothermic process, so even if your room is cool it may not keep the brew cool enough. Get one of those cube ice-chests, put your fermenter in it, and fill the ice chest around it with cool tap water to 2/3 the way up the fermenter. That’ll leech some heat out, and if the brew still stays too warm, you can throw in some frozen ice-bottles (old 20 oz soda bottles, filled with water and chucked in the freezer) to cool the water-bath down. That’ll also help save your carpeting if you have a blow-off, unless it’s a geyser. Place over the whole shebang a tall box that fits around the ice-chest and over the top of the airlock and you have an instant “dark place” to ferment that can be put in any room of the house (I use 2 boxes taped together for the height).
    – Buy an extra hydrometer. Trust me — the consensus is that it’s not a matter of if you’ll break one, but when. $7 is a small investment.
    – Add your diluted bottling/priming sugar (corn, honey, whatever) to your bottling bucket, rack your beer on top of it, and give it a gentle stir before bottling. That’ll make sure you get a nice, even amount in each and every bottle.
    – Fermenting and bottling generally follows the “1-2-3″ guideline: 1 week in the primary fermenter, 2 weeks in secondary, 3 weeks conditioning in bottles before consuming (some folks don’t bother with the secondary fermenter, so just go 3 weeks there) (darker/maltier beers benefit from longer than 3 weeks conditioning, so add another week if you can constrain yourself). Dump the dregs of the yeast from your fermenter into your compost bin, or if you have a septic system, flush it down to help improve septic health.
    – Get a “benchtop” bottle capper rather than the handheld one, it’ll save your sanity later. Go to your local office-supplier and buy a pack of 3/4″ round while labels (Avery 5408), print your brew-name on them and stick them to the caps after you’ve bottled as a good way to identify what’s in the bottle.
    – Start your “pipeline” early. Once you clear the equipment of fermenting beer, start another batch — 6 weeks is a long time to wait for more homebrew once you run out. I keep a minimum of 3 batches on hand, of different styles to have whatever suits my mood when I want a beer.
    – There are lots of time-saving gadgets that will make brewing/bottling/cleaning a lot simpler. Evaluate and purchase as you see fit, but never disregard the little doohickey that seems a little pricey if it will save you time and hassle over the long haul, especially if it helps with a tedious process. If the hassle of brewing overrides the joy of it, you tend to not want to do it as often — and that’s a damn shame.
    – Once you’re comfortable with beer, think about making cider, mead or wine. You already have the basic equipment on hand, so why not make it multitask for you (thank you Alton).
    – Keep good notes (I have a spreadsheet in perpetual design tweak mode), use a log sheet as you brew. Use good quality water, but not distilled. Use fresh grain, hops and yeast. Have fun. Relax, don’t worry, have a home brew.
    Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize!
    I merged the excellent process listed here: ( with a tremendous amount of the good advice John Palmer offers in How To Brew (legally free, online version found here:, and condensed the whole thing down into 3 basic “crib-sheets” each covering a day in the process of brewing (brewing, racking to secondary, bottling). It helps me keep my process straight, and tweak it as I find improvements.
    See? Folks are right, brewing is a natural geek hobby. Just imagine that your logs are character sheets for each brew. Brewing itself is the act of making/crafting something for the sheer joy of it, regardless of the mess or hassle. Drinking that brew while sharing it with friends and family is the ultimate way of leveling up as a human being by spreading joy to those around you.
    Sorry about rambling on. I’m very passionate about brewing, and helping encourage others to take up the craft.
    One of us! One of us! Gooboo gaboo, gooboo gaboo!

  8. We’re homebrewers here too. Went recently from the bottling process to a kegging operation. Actually if your genius son wants to make his own recipes, he should be able to without much mishap, especially if you do an easy basic one first (like you are). It’s basically adding stuff to a basic concoction.
    We’ve done some really crazy recipes that ended up surprisingly good. And we like to make up clever names for them too. Like the time we made a watermelon lager and called it “Gal-lager.”
    (get it?)
    Oh, cider is also fun and yummy.
    Have fun! ~Jenn in Boulder (the capital city of micro- and home-brewing…)

  9. Sorry if these are duplicates, but I’m late to the party and there are a lot of comments! Here are my top tips from my experience:
    1. “The Joy of Homebrewing” is a must-have reference. When in doubt, check the book and relax… Have a home brew.
    2. Watch the wort during the boil. It can get away from you easily and boil over into a huge mess.
    3. Boiling the wort stinks. Badly. Open your windows first.
    4. Hopefully the salesman sold you liquid yeast (within its expiration date) instead of dehydrated. If not, go with liquid next time around.
    5. I don’t often brew in the summer because it can be tough to cool the wort. Try a cold water (or ice) bath in the tub. Don’t get antsy and add the yeast too soon while the wort is still too warm.
    6. As others have said, sanitization is important. When it comes time to bottle, I always rinse my bottles and scrub them with a bottle brush, then I run them in my dishwasher using the heated drying setting. The finished bottles are sanitized with minimal effort!
    7. When you are ready for even better beer, buy a second carboy and add a second fermentation.
    8. Instead of filling your fermentation lock with water (which has a small chance of leaking into the wort and contaminating it), buy some cheap vodka and use that instead. Nothing survives in vodka (true on multiple levels…), so if it does leak a little, you don’t have to worry about it skunking your batch.
    Also, one of the reasons beer like Budweiser is more difficult for the home brewer is that pilsners use a yeast that requires stable cold temperatures to ferment. Unless you have a fridge big enough for your carboy, this can be tough. Ales use a warm-fermenting yeast and therefore can be kept in a closet while they are working their magic.
    Good luck!

  10. Hello!
    First things, first: “Long time reader, first time poster!” (you may call your favorite reference to mind, mine is Hank Azaria in Grosse Pointe Blank).
    I got into homebrewing about 6-7 years ago when I had heard enough of my students do speeches on how to make beer amd I figured if THEY could do it, well, *I* certainly could! It is a lot of fun and you can involve lots of people. BE CAREFUL: It is straight up geek/nerd central in its addictiveness. You find yourself buying stuff just like you buy Fiend Folios or multisided dice.
    Although I certainly support the “sanitize” admonitions, please FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY use the right sanitizer. A lot of the first time kits use an iodine-based sanitizer. I used that initially and then went to a class where someone was spraying sanitizer on EVERYTHING like it was no big deal. I then did the same on my next batch . . . . I made five gallons of band-aid flavored beer. It was NOT pretty!
    As far as cooling the wort, I have made beer from cooling it in my sink to chillers to all grain now and it is difficult. Get a wort chiller (copper tubing thingee you run cold water through) and your life will be much easier.
    Also, since you are in California, brewing in the summer is difficult because of keeping the fermenting beer between 64-74 degrees, but you can make a fermentation chiller for about $30 (do a google search on the term) with stuff from Home Depot/etc. Doesn’t take a lot of skill (thank goodness for me!) and works wonders in the heat (I live in the Central Valley).
    I am a BIG hops fan so started growing my own hops just this year and am looking forward to making so very hoppy beers. I am also currently fermenting a cider of my own creation because, well, we Americans are sooooo far behind the Europeans when it comes to cider and I am hoping I can make some good enough to fill my own gap.
    As has been said before, I am sure, if you screw it up . . . relax, have a beer, keep going!
    ANyway, the last couple of posts you have made have really kinda ‘spoken to me’ and this one pushed me over the edge! Have fun!

  11. I’m from Boston and for my birthday my wife got me a class at in Woburn. As near as I can tell in order to own a homebrew shop you have to be the nicest, and most passionate person when it comes to beer. They love talking about it, making it, and helping others who are interested in the hobby.
    I made my first batch about a month ago…and it was terrible. Long story short is I did not provide a constant enough temperature for the wort and I think the yeast that I had was not stored properly (by me.) I’m going to be working on my second batch as soon as I get a few more home improvement projects done. I also need to get some more equipment. I did the beginners approach which is fermenting and bottling in the same vessel which means the wort sits in the sediment for longer and can give it an off flavor if you aren’t careful. Going with a two-stage method is a lot more forgiving.
    As far as tools go, I am a big fan of “The Thief” from Fermtech for taking hydrometer readings. Much less of chancing contamination with this method. Oh, an for sanitation I really like Star San as it is made from food-grade acids, is odorless and tasteless, and requires no rinsing. I keep a gallon of it for rinsing tools and bottles and some in a spray bottle too. Remember, we just want our yeast as the microorganism in the wort.

  12. Ah, home brewing. I remember my first batch. My brother and I chose a nut brown ale for our first try. Everything went great on brew day. Then, when we went to bottle we made a crucial mistake. The instructions that came with the ingredients did not say how much priming sugar to use. It just said add the sugar. So we did…the whole 5 oz. bag of it. This resulted in us creating a nut brown soda. I was really shocked that none of the bottle shattered. It actually was not that bad, you just had to let the bottle sit after opening for about a half hour.

  13. If you are making something high gravity, or with ginger, or that otherwise ferments fast and furious, don’t seal the lid in the initial ferment. Don’t put in the airlock even, or at least take it out once the foam starts pushing up into it. We have had 2 brews *explode all over the wall* before we figured this out. Don’t worry, it’s generating CO2 at such an accelerated rate you won’t get any contamination without your airlock.

  14. FWIW, here’s a good online priming sugar calculator. Take the volumes included in pre-fab recipes with a grain of salt, and prime to the style of beer you’ve made… or even your own preference. Environmental factors will even change the amount of sugar from batch-to-batch of the same recipe.
    The “Beer Temperature” in that calculator should be the warmest temperature the beer was allowed to reach once fermentation is complete, and before you bottle. There will always be some residual CO2 in your brew, but the warmer it gets, the more rapidly it will off-gas that CO2, leaving less in suspension. The calculator will take that into consideration and adjust the amount of sugar accordingly.

  15. That is awesome advice! I had my first batch come out bad, but it was still bottled and now 6 weeks have passed. I took your advice and put one in the fridge last night and what do you know, its not bad! Its not great either, but I have a whole batch of beer that I’ll be drinking rather than pour down the drain

  16. Any danger in boiling the wort outside? I’m wondering if the sideburner on my grill would be a better choice than having it in the kitchen.

  17. When my dad did homebrewing a while back, he stored the fermenting containers in the downstairs shower – it wasn’t often used, so it didn’t cause much trouble. Being inside the house meant the temperature was regulated, and the tile walls and glass doors were easy to clean if one of the containers built up too much pressure and overwhelmed the release valve.

  18. Welcome to the madness, Fezboy! I haven’t had time to read all of the other responses, so sorry if I repeat what has already been posted. I started brewing in college because I could make a better beer for less money. I keep my technique very simple: I use 7 1/2 gallon plastic buckets to brew in. I sanitize with bleach (rinse well), and that is about it. Out of 60+ batches, I only had one go bad: hot summer and A/C went out during fermentation. I haven’t brewed as much since graduating college because there is no homebrew supply store where I live and postage to ship a beer or wine kit is a little high.
    I quickly got tired of bottling and upgraded to a kegging system. The kegs are the 5 gallon soda pop kegs used at restaurants and are sold at most homebrew supply stores. Be sure to replace all of the rubber O-rings or your brew will taste like soda pop.
    Once you make a few batches, you will see how easy (and cost-saving) homebrewing can be. I’ll bet you start making wine next.
    I have an excellent Irish stout recipe if you are interested, my friends like it better than Guinness (blasphemy, I know).

  19. I forgot, probably the most important ingredient is WATER. Try not to use tap water unless it is filtered. You can buy spring water to use. Several of my friends use reverse osmosis water, but to me the beer has a “laboratory sterile” taste to it. In college, I had a 400ft deep well tapped into an aquifer that had some of the best water for brewing.

  20. I would think that boiling outside would be fine. Cover the wort when you are done boiling to keep contaminants out. If you move the pot to another location for cooling, be very careful as it will be heavy and you don’t want to spill boiling hot wort all over yourself. Cooking on a gas burner is actually better than cooking on an electric burner: you are less likely to scorch the wort and get the resulting flavors

  21. Wil gets a coolness skill check!
    I’ve been brewing for about two years now, and it’s much easier with two people working on it at the same time…so you are starting off in a good way!
    Things I’ve learned;
    1. Sanitize (yes, others have said it. I like iodine for that, never bleach).
    2. Watch (and control) the temperature at all stages. mashing or steeping, sparging and at fermentation time. I made my worst beers when I mashed too hot and fermented too hot. One of them tasted like cherry beer, the other like a Belgian.
    3. It smells great..don’t listen to those other readers!
    4. Blow Off – for the first few days of active fermentation,use a tube into a container of water instead of just a small vapor lock. You can get tubes that fit into those rubber stoppers with holes in them. I’ve had beers go ape and spew all over the place.
    5. I’ve never had bottle bombs as someone else said…just measure your bottling sugar carefully.
    6. Double pitch yeast (not just one package or tube). Better yet, make a starter. That way you can buy a cool flask! This will help YOUR yeast win the battle and also help with attenuation (how much sugar is eaten by the yeast)
    7. Don’t put f-ing corn in your beer!
    8. Light/hoppy beers will change in the bottle over time much quicker then you want…so drink it fast.
    9. Find ‘Pliny the Elder’ and try one out.
    10. You might like wheat beers if you make them yourself and make an American Wheat instead and not a German Hefeweizen with all that strange banana and clove flavor. Its all in the yeast; Cal Ale WLP-001 instead of WLP-300) and a few oz of extra Cascade hops..I was the same way…now its one of my favorite things to drink..but never can find it at the store.
    Have fun and save the planet by making Organic beer!

  22. Wil,
    I really hope this goes well for both of you. I have never been lucky enough to have a child but this looks like it could be a nice project. I hope you two at least have fun.

  23. Safety Warning: Be very careful with your carboy if it is glass. Google carboy accidents if you want examples of what they do people when they shatter while being held.
    I’d suggest getting a brew hauler carboy carrier (~$15) and try to avoid moving if you can. I wouldn’t let it touch anything stone or concrete – you know how if you set a glass vase on a granite countertop just wrong and it shatters? Imagine that with 5 gallons of beer and thick glass in your hands. *shiver*
    Advice – depending on your recipe (any over 1.050 or so) I’d double the yeast. That’s where the beer is really made and you’ll have better results with more yeast. Especially when using extract, the proper yeast amount fermenting at the proper temp is the biggest contributor to quality of the beer. If you want to know how much yeast you should be using, try this calc out:
    Podcasts – check out the brewing network. I learned a lot from the Jamil show. He wrote a book about classic styles and did a podcast per style. Great fun to learn what goes into making all the different kinds of beer.
    Enjoy it – its a blast. Don’t sweat the goofs. Even a terrible brew day yields drinkable beer. The details just make it better. Can’t wait to hear how it goes.

  24. I started homebrewing three years ago so I’d have a hobby to do with my father-in-law. You’ll have a blast! My advice (that I haven’t seen elsewhere on this thread):
    1) Once you bottle it, the longer you leave in in the bottle before drinking the better it will be. When I made my first batch the directions said “Ready to drink in 2-6 weeks!” so I, of course, poured the first out the day it turned two weeks. And it was terrible and I was crushed. Then I thought “What the hell?” six weeks later and tried another one and it was delicious! I leave mine in the bottle a minumum of two months.
    2) If you are making a fruit beer (I have a blackberry wheat ale in the secondary now) add the fruit to the secondary fermenation instead of the boil or the primary for a more subtle, less in-your-face flavor.
    3) Buying a couple dozen flip top “Grolsch” style bottle is a nice way to avoid having to use bottle caps. Just make sure (beating the dead horse here) to sanitized everything, especially the rubber gaskets for the flip tops.

  25. They also make a $5 metal handle coated in rubber that screws around the neck of the carboy. One of the most useful items I’ve purchased for my home brewery.

  26. Don’t sell glass carboys short… there are distinct advantages to both vessels, but here are a few in favor of using a glass carboy vs a plastic pail. Not trolling here, just wanting to weigh in with a view from the other side.
    Sure, the buckets are easy to clean, but they are prone to scratching — even if you use something as innocent as the rough side of a sponge — and even very tiny scratches can harbor microorganisms that even the most fastidious sanitizing can miss. Those little bugs can and will infect a batch of beer. This also goes for the “better bottles”, which are the polycarbonate version of glass carboys. I’m sure you’ve not had problems in your 10+ years of brewing in pails, and I congratulate you on your good run, but your experience isn’t universal.
    Glass carboys allow you to visually monitor the progress in your brew, they don’t scratch easily (especially on the inside!), they don’t stain, and most importantly they don’t absorb odors (ever put your nose inside even the most well cleaned pickle bucket? It never loses that smell).
    Cleaning is as easy as a soak with 1 oz of OxiClean Free in 5 gallons of hot water for 10 minutes. Most crud falls right off as the Oxi attacks protein bonds. Anything still remaining is easily dislodged with the swipe of a carboy brush.
    On the topic of OxiClean Free (it must be the “free” version as is has no chlorine, perfumes or dyes), it is the reigning champ at cleaning and de-labeling beer bottles. Again, 1 oz of powder to a 5 gallon bucket of super hot water, and most labels fall right of after a few minutes. If the bottles hadn’t been rinsed and a mold colony has started to form, that mold will come right off with no scrubbing in most cases (although I’d still hit it with a bottle brush to be sure). Be wary of the cheaper knock-off brands, I had to use 3 times the powder to achieve the same result as the Oxi brand.
    To be fair, the disadvantages of glass carboys are that they are heavier, being glass they will break if dropped from high enough (never handle a full carboy with wet hands!), they don’t have a nifty built-in handle, and they do tend to cost more than the buckets. But! a thrifty homebrewer can set up feeds for their local Cragslist for “beer brew”, “beer making”, “carboy”, and “homebrew” and snag some exceptional deals (and not just for carboys). There are also “brew haulers” — that look like strappy bondage gear — that make transporting glass carboys an absolute breeze.
    And, in the interest of full disclosure, I do own a 7 gallon plastic fermenting bucket. I use it when making melomels (fruit mead) as I need the extra space for the fruit.

  27. My soon-to-be-husband has been homebrewing for over 10 years and it was actually one of the many things that attracted me to him. I’ve been homebrewing now for just under 2 years and won a homebrew contest at a Timbers Army tailgate last year, even.
    First rule of homebrewing, which a lot of people have already said, but it deserves to be said again: sanitize *everything*.
    Second rule of homebrewing: relax, and have a beer.
    I also suggest keeping a good watch on your boil, especially if you’re using a lot of sugars (usually for heavier beers), as boilovers are a pain in the ass. Keep a hose with a fine spray nozzle available, or if you’re brewing indoors, keep a spray bottle handy to keep the foam down.
    Once you’ve made a couple of batches successfully, don’t be afraid to step out and experiment with different hops, steeping time, etc. That’s how I made my winning Honey Ginger Lager, and it’s fantastically tasty. Hell, maybe I should actually publish the recipe…
    Lastly, it is really really handy to have a secondary fridge/kegerator/freezer available to chill the beer and keg it instead of bottling. We don’t typically bottle too often any more, and having a fresh keg in “the back kegerator” is so very awesome. We have 2 batches to keg up tomorrow, in fact. Happy brewing!

  28. I’ve heard some horror stories about those handles snapping off the neck of a full carboy, as all the weight is on the weakest point of the bottle (the neck), and the wight is all poorly distributed to mostly one point (where the handle attaches).
    Was advised by my LHBS (local home brew shop) to use them only to transport empty carboys, and to use a brew hauler for full ones. Pretty much what I opted for.

  29. 1) Welcome, I think you’ll find the community warm and welcoming, every homebrewer wants someone to talk homebrewing with.
    2) Echoing that you should get “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Vol. 3″ by Charlie Papazian. It’s huge, filled with recipes and advice including “Don’t worry, relax, and have a homebrew.”
    3) When you decide to make your own recipe I found it’s best to start with a clone recipe of something you want it to taste like and then modify it to your own tastes. I started with a Sierra Nevada PA clone, changed the bittering hop, and increased the bitterness and malts, changed one of the malts, and boom! I’ve got a great tasting Imperial IPA. It took 3 or 4 batches to get to this point, and I’m still refining it.
    4) You should join the homebrewer group on the Nerdist Node (Firkin Nerds).
    Let us know how it turns our. I have a Blind Pig IPA and Pliny the Elder (actually Russian River recipe) fermenting right now.

  30. 1: Use a hydrometer to find out when it’s time to rack, don’t track the bubbles. Tracking “Gravity” is your friend and will make brewing PERFECT beer easy.
    2: I recommend a Glass Carboy for both fermenting cycles (The Primary and The Secondary) so you can monitor color, activity, and deposits at the bottom of the carboy.
    3: Experiment with different sugars. This sounds arbitrary but this is part of the fun of homebrewing: Experimentation!! SCIENCE!!
    4: For your first brew, leash the urge to make additions or modifications to the basic recipe. Make the basic recipe FIRST then after tasting it brainstorm what you think it lacks and what is good for it. Then add stuff into the primary next time you brew. I made an orange blossom honey mead with mint and clove. The mint and clove wasn’t in the recipe but oh man it was a brilliant addition.
    5: All yeasts are not the same. Experiment with those too, but generally if you’re making beer a good Ale yeast or the liquid yeast (I highly recommend using these, they are magic in a tube) create a great desired flavor without leaving a bread-like yeasty taste in your beer from sitting on those dead yeast husks at the bottom of the carboy.
    6: If you can find them, use fresh hops. But the freezer packaged ones at homebrews are still great, the fresh hops just pack a little more umph and require less hops for a desired flavor.
    7: Sanitization is another factore. Either bleach clean everything you use or use the powder sanitizer at the Homebrew store. DO NOT USE HOT WATER ON YOUR PLASTIC TUBING OR AIRLOCKS. These can ruin them permanently through warping and put future brews at risk of contamination.
    That’s all I can think of. Good luck and good brewing.

  31. Welcome to homebrewing!
    – Yes, logs. Take notes. You’ll thank yourself later.
    – If you ever decide to try a hefeweisen or similar wheat style, make sure you have ample space in your primary carboy/bucket. The yeast is *very* enthusiastic. VERY. Our first time we ended up with a little gyser of foam burping out the airlock and generally making a mess.
    – Careful when pouring DME (dry malt extract). That stuff is deceptively sticky, will get on everything if there’s the slightest breeze, and it’s a pain to clean up (“Dammit, everything is still sticky!”).
    – It’s always good to take a hydrometer reading before bottling just to make sure the sugars have really been nommed by the yeast. We had a case when we were making a dark lager where we bottled without checking. Turns out there was too much sugar left. They turned out all foam on the pour since the yeast went into overdrive during bottle fermentation.
    – Have fun! :)

  32. I apologize in advance, because this is gonna sound smug/arrogant since it violates what almost every homebrewer considers the prime directive.
    I’ve been homebrewing for over 20 years. For the first few years I was beyond anal about sanitizing everything. Then my buddy, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, wanted to learn. He came over and I was showing him the elaborate process I was going through to sanitize all the bottles. He said, “You know, if they’re clean without any crud on them, if you just fill them to the brim with tap water and let them soak for a few hours, it’ll kill any bacteria.” Could this be? Yes it could!!! I haven’t used sanitizer or bottle brushes since the mid 90s. When I drink a brew, I rinse the bottle thoroughly and put it away. When I’m ready to bottle a batch, in the morning I fill my empty bottles to the brim from the sink, and dump the water as I’m filling up from the bottling bucket that afternoon. This works, and it saves hours of crappy un-fun prep. For the fermentation and bottling buckets (and hoses and bottler and lid, etc.) I just fill them with a weak household bleach solution for a couple of hours, drop all the ancillary equipment in, and rinse them before use. To respond to a previous commenter: bottling doesn’t have to suck. It can be a fun hour or so with a friend, spent mostly sipping homebrew as you do it.
    I think I will now go get a 22oz. of my Ginger/Honey Double IPA Hop Bomb from my fridge.

  33. Whoa. Sorry, a bit off topic…has it really been almost a decade? Thought about you and the old soapbox/IRC channel a few days ago after a conversation with my (now 10 year old aspiring actress) daughter re: Hollywood, remembering advice I’d read from your blog. Thought I’d check in after all these years (yeah, life and all that, you know how it goes) and low and behold the first post I see you make mention of his birthday post and I actually remember it. I see I commented there (yoyofool – wow I haven’t used that in forever,) along with so many names I haven’t seen in so long… well, “happy birthday Mojo” again, to Ryan, and Happy brewing. Good to see WWDN is still going strong. I don’t follow many celebs on Twitter, have barely used it frankly, but I GUESS I can make an exception in this case… 😉 Much respect.

  34. Seconded! A pale ale, like the salesperson said, is fairly forgiving of a multitude of sins– but nothing forgives lack of sanitation. Skunky beer is never fun.
    For future experiments, definitely keep a log. And try out things that sound strange! Some of our favorite batches involved dried lavender flowers, another bourbon-soaked oak chips. Have fun, and definitely host a sampling party.
    On that note, next time you come to Boston for anything (PAX East? :D), consider yourself invited to my house for a pint (or several) of our homebrew. Totally serious.

  35. If it works for you, it works… I’ll not throw stones at a proven homebrew veteran’s method.
    And just to be clear, there is a distinction between clean (no visible foreign matter), sanitized (a dramatic reduction of near invisible microbes that could cause an infection), and sterile (the complete absence of microbes by application of high heat and great pressure… by use of an autoclave, for example). Clean and sanitary are the best the average and above-average homebrewer can and should aim for. Not even bleach kills 100% of all microbes.
    I can say, however, that it costs me less water, considerably less space, and less time to go with StarSan, a Vinator and a bottle tree when sanitizing bottles right before I fill than it would if I were to fill each bottle with water and let it sit taking up precious counter/sink real estate for a few hours — and that’s only if I’m bottling a single batch that day!
    But, you are correct, once you have your bottling method down, it’s really not that much of a hassle. About an hour — from sanitizing, to stowing away the boxes filled with beer — and with a little music, and a good brew, you can easily let your hands do the work while you let your mind happily wander. It’s almost pleasantly trance-like. And of you have a helper… it zips by in no time at all.

  36. I agree – whatever works for you is what you should go with and I would never presume to tell someone what they should do, if they have a workable routine. In my local homebrew krewe, we have everyone from guys to do kits only to guys who do 20 gal. of gravity assisted all-grain at one throw. I have a buddy who I get nervous helping because of his damn-the-torpedos approach to cleaning equipment, and one (a NICU pediatrician) who drives me nuts with his “laboratory approach”. They both make great stuff.

  37. Yes indeed, there is no one absolute right way to brew! I’m fairly fastidious, but I bow to sensibility, and practical convenience and time savings over labratory-like conditions (although, not by much *grins*). I’ve stopped bothering to “sanitize” my reverse-osmosis filtered water with sodium metabisulfite (Campden tablets) when I do meads, ciders and hard lemonade (all three are “no-boil” methods) as the R-O filter removes as many, if not more microorganisms than StarSan or other sanitizers can, and strips out most of the chlorine added by water treatment. Ultimately, you’re just trying to eliminate any beasties that could beat up your yeast in a fair fight.
    I’ve heard “war stories” of folks dropping their wristwatches (and other type items) into the bottling bucket right after racking the brew over, and never having a bad bottle of beer. There’s even one guy who busted his dog lapping out of his fermenting pail… he had such a spectacularly great batch of beer, that he puts one or two dog hairs into each batch now for good luck. *grins*
    Basically you really really have to screw up to fail to make something that tastes like beer (although it may not be what you expected), or ruin a batch beyond all hope.
    Half the fun of this hobby is finding your own way, and tinkering with it. I love to learn new things, and I research new interests to death. I don’t think I’ll ever know everything about brewing, and that’s a damn fine way to keep me engaged.
    I was once given some sage advice “the day you stop learning is the day you should just lay down and die.” At this rate, I may just be immortal.

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