The Basics; Part Two

Part Two of the brewguide focuses on equipment. Mmmm, equipment.

In general, the minimum of gear that you need to brew something is as follows-

1. An Airlock; when filled with water or cheap grain alcohol, this keeps oxygen (and bacteria, insects, dust, etc) out of your brew while allowing the carbon dioxide to escape during the active fermentation stage of your brew. Without this, your brew may literally explode as pressure inside the bottle mounts...pretty terrible thing to have happen between the loss of brew, the loss of your bottle and the sticky mess! These invaluable little buggers are quite cheap- usually around 2$. They are quite easily mounted to your vessel by way of the next item on the list.

2. Rubber Stoppers; For most of the containers I use, from my 1-gallons to my 7 gallon, a no.6 to a no.8 has fit everything. They come in two variants- drilled and whole. Drilled stoppers are used to install airlocks, simply push the pointy end of the airlock into the stopper and then push the stopper into the mouth of the bottle. Whole stoppers are useful after fermentation is complete and you no longer need an airlock- be careful though! If the yeast isn't done making gas, the stopper will rocket out at high velocity and/or your vessel will explode!

3. A fermentation vessel. Fermentation vessels come in all shapes and sizes and materials. Most commonly used are Carboys/Demijohns, 5 gallon brew buckets and kegs. Less commonly used are barrels and spiffy new gadgets with high prices and lower human interaction ..oh so spiffy. Generally it's a good idea to have a second empty vessel capable of containing at least as much liquid as you are fermenting so that you can transfer into it for the secondary fermentation and any other transfers after that. Basicly, the vessel needs to be a couple things-
  • Food safe; like stainless steel, glass, or food safe plastic.
  • Sturdy; the contents may become pressurized, and you dont want any explosions
  • Have a mouth that fits your stopper/airlock of choice
  • Have an exact measurement, preferably in gallons/liters
4. A siphon hose; such as aquarium tubing. You'll use this to transfer the delicious brew from the sediments (dead yeast, etc) later on. You cant rely on pouring off the good stuff, as it will more than likley only mix the sediments back into the drink as you pour.

And that's it.

Of course there is more you could use depending on what you are making, like co2 carbonators, keggeraters, cappers, corkers, bottles, labels, fruit crushers and so on, but for the basics you only really need the above. If you really want to try out brewing I reccomend doing it right and spending the 15$ it'll cost you for a small 1g glass carboy, siphon, airlock and stopper, but if for some reason you are not able to do that, well, my first ever brew was a wine made in an empty spring water container with a empty yogurt cup, ziplock bag, and copious amounts of duct tape. It wasnt bad either, even when I had a wine officianado taste it!

Chances are there is a homebrew shop near you that google can find, but if you want to shop online here are some links to my favorite online places to shop, and tips for things you can get at the grocery store

  • 365 Organic Apple Juice Ok so this stuff is about 7$ at my whole foods, but goes on sale fairly regularly for 5$ and 6$ instead. In addittion to being tasty, it comes in a 1 gallon glass carboy perfect for small brews, and costs 3$ cheaper than buying the empty carboy at my local homebrew store. I have quite a few, and I have to say my other carboys and 2 barrels are collecting dust. They may be small, but they hold about 4 bottles of wine and are great for brewing on a budget...being that I'm a college student in a bad economy, that's a serious plus.
  • On the note of carboys, the Better Bottle is growing in popularity. If my local shop carried them, I'd own one!
  • Austin Homebrew, Northern Brewer, as well as local homebrew shops are where most folk seem to order from online. I've ordered from both of these places and both were great, though Northern Brewer got my goods to me much faster. There is also Midwest
  • Try pet shops for aquarium hose/siphon hose. It's pretty cheap, just clean it well.
And that's it folks! I'll touch on the other parts of specific gear when it becomes nessessary, but for now, brew happy! As for me, I'll be scooping up couch change untill I can afford one of those awesome v-vessels :)

Next part in the Brewguide- Yeast!

The Basics; Part One

This is my brewing guide. There are many like it, but this one is mine.. *cough*

Ladies and Gentleman, The Brewguide, Part one.

Let's start with the most important part. Can you guess what it is? It's not the ingredients. Nope, not the yeast either, or the temperature or the equipment either.


Now, before you skip this part, let me clarify what sanitation means in this context. If you merely cleanse or wash something, it's not sanitized. The water you get out of your tap probably isn't sanitized in a brewing sense. To achieve true sanitation, you have to ensure that all the bacteria that might try to infest your brew is dead, along with having all residues and oils and other things that might contribute off flavors to a drink clear and gone from every instrument that touches your brew. Since the water you are using may in itself contain some of these nasty buggers, whatever you use needs to be 'rinse free' as well.

Here are some things I use or have used.

1. Campden Tablets
So, these are easy to find and are often used in the actual brewing process as well. They're basically potassium powder compressed into pill form, and they function as a rinse-free bacteria killer. In wine it's not uncommon to add a tablet or two to the unfermented wine (called "must") to kill off all the baddies that might have been hanging out on the grape skins or the feet of the crushing team or what have you. Since they kill yeast too, you need to wait a bit before you add yeast to any batch you brew with campden tablets but as a sanitiser the dissolved tablets act pretty much like everything else. I dont like using them too much, mainly because they take a while to dissolve and I like the option of spontaneity.

2. Dilluted Bleach
This is one of those that you can use, but maybe shouldent. Just a capfull or two in a sink of water is enough, but you risk contaminating your final product. I sometimes use this to clean my siphon hose and transfering bucket after I'm done with them though.

3. Powdered cleaners
Ok so this is hands down my favorite. I use Ultimate Brewery Cleaner , and everything it says in the product description is true. Not only does it do a fantastic job cleaning up gunk and nasty bacteria, it lets you know it's doing it. Something in the reaction causes the dead organic material to turn a cloudy grey-green. It's pretty scary when you take a apparently clean bottle and pour in some water, powder, shake it around, and then pour out green tinted water that contained bugs that might have ruined a batch! I actually use this stuff around the house sometimes too, like if I bake ribs and get that cement-hard pork fat crust stuck to my baking pan- UBC takes it right off. Cheaper than Dawn too!

So, now you've got your options set before you, let's talk about the rules of sanitation.

Rule no.1- Everything, and I mean everything, that touches your brew must be sanitized.
It should be a no-brainer that all your equiptment needs to be sanitized, but remembering that the environment and you yourself need to be clean is just as important. Sanitize the counters! You know the term, "so clean you could eat off it"? That, but moreso. As you work, you'll inevitably have to scratch yourself, take a pee, pet the cat, touch something you forget to sanitize etc, so I have a routine I follow for hand sanitization;

If you touch your face, wash your hands. If you touch something you didnt sanitize a right before you started, wash your hands. If you take a break, wash your hands when you get back. If you're waiting on something to boil, wash your hands before you go back to it. If it's been ten minutes, wash your hands. since it's pretty easy to get your gear cleaned before you start, your hands are most likley where any bacteria that find their way into your drink will come from. Even if you are wearing gloves, it's best to wash any time you think of it.

With this first step out of the way, you are ensuring you dont lose a batch to what is probably the #1 cause of brews gone bad. Tune in next time for The Basics; Part Two- Gear!

So it begins!

Welcome to Thornback Brewery, a digital representation of one chick's homebrewing adventures, deeds and mistakes for your amusement and education!

As this is the first post, I'm going to answer the basic questions. Dont worry, the booze will come.

1. So who the hell are you anyway?
The name's Liv, not Liz, Eliza, or Loaf as most people I get introduced to seem to think. I'm a 20-something college student at Ringling College of Art and Design. I dig mythical beasts, wildlife, outdoorsy hiking and bird watching kinda things, art, good books and videogames.

2. Why Homebrewing?
Why not?! In all seriousness, I think the desire to make booze-a-hol started young with me. I was an avid fan of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques and I always found myself fascinated by the hedgehog brewmaster Ambrose Spike. Jacques has this amazing talent for describing food, and even a decade or more after reading his books I still fondly remember some of the scenes he crafted with loving care.

3. Why Blog about it?
I have Celiac's Disease, which means I cannot have gluten or wheat unless I want to have a big huge allergic reation that can last days or sometimes weeks. Most people I run into these days dont seem to quite realize the extent of what those two ingrediants are in, so here's an incomplete list . Much of homebrewing is reported on by folks that really dig beer. I cant blame 'em! I've never been able to drink it though, and I know other Celiacs are in the same spot, so, every recipie I go over is gluten and wheat free.

4. Oh ok I guess that makes sense. So what's your homebrewing background, you're not gonna make us go blind with your prison hooch are you?
Actually it's a common misnomer that home-made alchohol will make you go blind. Methanol ("Wood Alcohol", responsible for alcohol blindness) is present in all things alcoholic, including that 6-pack you bought from the store, in very small amounts. It only becomes dangerous when it's concentrated, such as through distilation which is illegal in the US. So bottoms up!...unless you're drinking some moonshine someone made in an old carborater.

I've been brewing since I turned 21, actually a little beforehand as I wanted to have my own homeade wine be ready on my 21st. I've had my share or mistakes and successes, I feel overall I've been lucky though as most of my brews have turned out great :)

5. Huh...well how do you do it? What makes ______________ work?
We'll get to that! If at any point you have a question, just ask! I'll either answer it on the spot, point you to someplace more knowledgable, or write a blog up about it if it is worthy!

6. Last one. Why "Thornback" breweries?
Well, in addittion to being a brewer I am an illustrator, and I specialize in fantasy/sci-fi illustration..especially something I call 'exobiology', which is a word I made up that simply means the study of alien creatures, or creatures that dont exist. It's different from making up stuff like Puff The Magic Dragon (with it's huge body and tiny wings and fiery breath that we suspend doubt for on the grounds that 'it's magical') because in order to pass my test everything has to be scientifically plausible based on evidence from the natural world we know. It just makes for a better creature in my book. Anyway, Thornbacks are a species of big wingless dragons I thought up at one point that have a lot of my favorite characteristics in charismatic megafauna. They've become something of a mascot or a personal symbol for me. My parents have a buisness my mother created when I was young called Dragon Wings ( ), and so it's also kind of continueing the family naming convention :)

Happy brewing everyone! More soon!