In addition to brewing, I enjoy spending time in the outdoors. Whether it’s hiking to a mountain lake, backpacking over rolling terrain for days at a time, or skiing in fresh backcountry powder, there’s nothing like a day outside to clear the mind and lower the blood pressure. And once I get back to the trailhead, beer awaits.
A basic tenet of outdoor responsibility is carrying the so-called “ten essentials”: ten items that one should never be without when venturing into the wilderness. The list, which includes such necessities as a map and compass, first-aid kit, matches, and extra food, is designed to keep you alive and safe in the event of an emergency.
Just as outdoors essentials are there to help you survive the unexpected, certain brew-day items ensure that things run smoothly and safely when you’re making beer. Here are the ten essentials I like to have at the ready when I brew.
One can fudge many a thing on brew day, but sanitation ain’t one of them. Most of us rely on Star-San or iodine products, but a bleach solution can work just fine in a pinch if you rinse it thoroughly. Just make sure to have something to protect your wort from contamination.
2. Dry malt extract
Whether you brew mostly from extract or mostly from grain, a little DME is great to have around in case you undershoot your gravity, need to make up for a boil over, or have to deal with similarly tragic events.
3. Dry yeast
Maybe you forgot to buy the yeast. Maybe you forgot to make a yeast starter. Maybe your last order is running a day late in shipping. In such cases, it never hurts to have a few sachets of dry yeast on hand for backup.
All-grain brewers will almost certainly have a thermometer, but even if you mainly brew from extracts, it still comes in handy. From checking the temperature of steeping water to knowing when wort is cool enough to pitch, a reliable thermometer is indispensable.
Ignore original gravity at your own peril: It really is the only way to know what to expect from fermentation. Taking a gravity reading before pitching yeast helps you predict a target final gravity and offers valuable information about the efficiency of your process. Refractometers are optional, but every brewer ought to have at least one hydrometer ready to go (preferably two, given their penchant for rolling off counters and crashing onto the floor).
6. Spray bottle of water
These are great for keeping boil-overs at bay. When the hot break foams and rises in the kettle at the beginning of the boil, give it a few vigorous spritzes of water to push it back down where it belongs. Spray bottles are also great for conditioning malt before milling.
7. Oven or barbecue mitts
A pair of big, insulated gloves may be all that stands between you and a trip to the emergency room, especially if you’ve had a few homebrews. Even if your rig is mostly automated, you never know when you’ll have to handle hot pieces of brewing equipment.
A scale is essential for measuring out hops additions, especially if you have to adjust for alpha acids on the fly. Every brewer should have a scale that measures in ounces and grams, and brewers who buy grain in bulk will also want one that measures in pounds and kilograms.
I love to eat, but when I’m in the middle of brewing, regular meals don’t always happen. That’s why I like to keep peanuts, cheese and crackers, chips and salsa, or other easy snacks around to stave off the inevitable mid-boil sugar crashes.
If you haven’t brewed in a while, commercial beer may have to stand in for the homemade stuff. Otherwise, brew day is a great time to enjoy some of your previous efforts!
These are just my ten essentials: Depending on your brew rig and your brewing style, yours may be different. Figure out what works best for you, and then make a list (seriously, write it down with a pen and paper) so that you have everything you need for a successful brew day.
From ingredients to equipment, process, and recipes—extract, partial-mash, and all-grain—The Illustrated Guide to Homebrewing is a vital resource for those who want to brew better beer. Order your copy today.