5 Ways to Start Homebrewing This Weekend

Liquid malt extract (pictured) saves time and simplifies your brew.
Liquid malt extract (pictured) saves time and simplifies your brew. Getty Images

One in every 200 Americans will brew a batch of beer this year and we think it's high time you swelled their ranks.

Why is homebrewing so much fun? First off, you get to unlock your mad scientist and flex your creative muscles at the same time. Two, it's no secret that beer is delicious and intoxicating and once you add the secret ingredient — pride of ownership — you'll be hooked. Finally, sharing homebrew is always rewarding. Even if your early efforts leave something to be desired, your friends will be beyond grateful when you share your brew with them. Trust us, everyone loves free beer. 

Method 1: Malt Extract Kit
Brewing an extract beer is analogous to baking brownies from a box. You might not win any points for originality, but you'll save yourself a lot of trouble and still make something that's totally delicious. The work of extracting fermentable sugars out of the grain has already been done for you and you'll start by mixing either a powdered extract or a syrup into water before adding hops. Head over to your local homebrew shop (find one here) and ask for their basic starter equipment kit and recipe kit of your favorite beer style.

The whole thing will probably set you back around $150 and you'll get a couple buckets or glass carboys to ferment in along with some tubing, a funnel, bottling wand, and a bottle capper – everything you need to produce five gallons or about 54 bottles of beer in your kitchen. Most homebrew shops will have a one- or two-page instruction booklet and an enthusiastic (and wonderfully nerdy) employee that would love to help you out. Don't have a local homebrew shop? Hit up one of the big online stores like Northern Brewer, More Beer, or Keystone Homebrew and they'll get you outfitted.

Method 2: The One-Gallon All-Grain Kit
When Brooklyn Brew Shop introduced their signature one-gallon all-grain homebrew kits we were skeptical. All-grain brewing is a bit more complicated than baking brownies from scratch and typically only tackled by brewers who have at least a few extract batches under their belt. By scaling the batch sizes down to one gallon though, Brooklyn Brew Shop allowed new homebrewers to make beer without purchasing any additional equipment. The recipes are quirky, but good, and you can make a beer from grain to glass.

The only quibble that we have with these kits is that they're only going to yield you around 10 bottles and it takes nearly as much time to brew one gallon as it does to produce five. Still, these kits are available nationally in stores and at supermarkets, and they're a great way to get started for $40.

Method 3: Hit the Books
If you're really itching to fall down the rabbit hole with brewing there's no better way to learn how than with a top homebrew book. The absolute bible of the genre is Charlie Papazian's Complete Joy of Homebrewing, now in its fourth edition. Papazian demystifies the process and shows you easy and effective ways to craft killer beers. What truly sets his book apart is his infectious enthusiasm for brewing. This method will give you the skills and confidence to turn a five-gallon batch around in less than a month. "Relax, Don't Worry, Have a Homebrew" is Papazian's mantra and after a couple batches you'll be saying it too. 

Method 4: Dump and Stir an Apfelwein
Too lazy to boil water, but still looking to get drunk on some homemade hooch? Apfelwein is your ticket. All you need is a sanitized (we recommend using Starsan) six-gallon bucket or carboy. Fill it with five gallons of pasteurized 100-percent apple juice (without preservatives or additives) and dump in two pounds of corn sugar. Shake well to mix and add one package of dry wine yeast. Seal the container with a stopper and airlock, wait a couple months, and you'll have dry, apple-flavored wine that drinks like a cider and knocks you on your butt at about 8-percent alcohol.

If you prefer to drink it sparkling you can mix in an extra 3/4 of a cup of corn sugar after fermentation and bottle immediately (in sanitized bottles). Leave the packaged brew at room temperature and the Apfelwein will carbonate in the bottle in about two weeks.

Method 5: Throw Money (and Automation) at It
If money is no issue, by all means go big right away. The Picobrew Zymatic promises the ultimate in brewing automation along with the extreme flexibility that comes with working on your own recipes. The Zymatic is basically a Keurig-style machine for beer, where you drop in your ingredients, punch a few buttons, and walk away. The price for this convenience is a cool $1,799 — a bit steep for our tastes, but eminently reasonable as long as we're spending your money. We haven't actually tested this puppy, so caveat emptor.