Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Resolved: Learn to Homebrew in 2015

To hell with all those ascetic New Year’s resolutions that only promise to make you enjoy life less. How about resolving to acquire a new skill this year that’ll pay off in something tangible: Beer.

If you’re into good beer, you owe it to yourself to take a stab at making your own. There’s no better way to learn about the essence of beer than brewing it yourself. It’s not difficult, it’s not too expensive and your efforts won’t go to waste. Basically, if you can make soup, you can make good beer. And there’s few things quite as satisfying as draining a mug of delicious beer that you brewed.

Here’s how to get started...

Gather Your Equipment
The best way to start putting your brewery together is to buy a basic starter kit that includes everything other than a thermometer (which you probably already have), a boil kettle (a 3-gallon stock pot works fine) and empty beer bottles (collect those by saving your empties). Good starter kits can be purchased for under $100.

In Oshkosh, you can find starter kits at NDC. Their prices are good, but there isn’t a person on staff to answer homebrewing questions. Then again, there are enough resources available on the web that you may not need that.

The Cellar in Fond du Lac is the most complete homebrew shop in the area. I think it’s the best homebrew shop north of Milwaukee. Their prices are good, the selection is excellent and the staff is extremely knowledgeable. I’d recommend starting at The Cellar.

RiteBrew is a mail-order homebrew shop about 25 miles north of Oshkosh in Little Chute. They do allow local pick, however, and their prices are fantastic. Right now they have a basic starter kit on sale for $74.99.

You can find a full list of all the equipment you’ll need HERE.

Gather Your Ingredients
Now that you’ve assembled your brewery, you’ll need collect the ingredients needed for making beer. Most homebrewers start with malt extracts. And with good reason. The most complicated aspect of making beer is producing the wort: the sweet liquid created by steeping malted barley. With extract brewing the wort has already been produced making your job easier.

The best way to begin is to buy an extract kit that includes all of the ingredients you’ll need to produce five gallons (about two cases) of beer.

NDC in Oshkosh, The Cellar in Fond du Lac, and RiteBrew in Little Chute each sell extract kits. These kits include instructions that will take you step-by-step through the brewing process (HERE is a glimpse at what the process looks like). I’d recommend starting with an ale kit since their fermentation is much easier to manage. Something fairly robust like a stout or an IPA would be good beers to begin with.

• You can view a list of The Cellars kits HERE under the Store link.
• RiteBrews kits are listed HERE.

Get To Know Some Brewers
I began brewing eight years ago. I started by reading books about how to brew. That worked out OK, but my beer definitely improved after I fell in with other homebrewers and saw how they approached beer making. There are a lot of great resources out there, but there’s just no substitute for talking to other brewers.

In Oshkosh we have it good. The Society of Oshkosh Brewers is a community of brewers happy to welcome beer-minded folks into their fold. They’re a friendly and easy going bunch made up of homebrewers of all levels, from absolute beginners to award winners. Their next meeting will be January 15 at 7:00 pm at O’Marro’s Public House. The meeting is open to the public and there’s no obligation to join the club.

One thing every homebrewer should have at the ready is a good reference book. The Oshkosh Public Library has a few you can dip into. My favorite is How To Brew by John Palmer. This is the only book most homebrewers will ever need. It’ll take you from beginner to advanced.  It’s the most complete resource out there.

Get Started
Really, it’s easy. Just dive in. If you started brewing this weekend, you’d have homebrew ready to serve by mid-February. Just a word of warning: this is one of those hobbies that people tend to get obsessive about. But as a very strange and wise man once said, “Life is nothing if you're not obsessed.”


  1. If you live a little farther south, The Central Wisconsin Vintners and Brewers are the homebrewing and winemaking club in Fond du Lac. They meet every first Wednesday of the month from 7PM-9PM at the Elks club in downtown Fond du Lac.

    1. Thanks, Cullen. The Vintners are a great club!

  2. The library has even more titles than the ones you linked to, including How to Brew. http://catalog.winnefox.org/Search/Results?library=OSHKOSH&lookfor=Brewing+%3E+Amateurs%27+manuals&submit=Find