Letters to a Young Brewer – Equipment

When you first start out on the brewing odyssey, you’re first stop is the equipment kit isle at your homebrew shop.  I’ve covered this before in the How To section, but I thought I’d take a different tack on it this time.  See, there are those that will buy a basic kit for around $200, brew once or twice and then unload it on Craig’s List for $50.  Then there are the others of us who will brew on it 5 or 6 times, get the “fever” and then start going bat-shit crazy picking up new gear and upgrading everything until we’re $1000 into it and have no idea where the money went.  It’s that second group of people that I’d like to address.

Truth be told, if you really really knew, deep down, that you wanted to brew and that you were going to do this for the rest of your days no matter what your significant other says, then there’s actually a few ways to get a hold of a totally bitchin’ rig on the cheap.  First, let’s just jump straight to all-grain brewing.  You know you’re gonna do it, so why bother avoiding it?  It’s not like it’s hard, nor does getting a rig that is setup for all-grain exclude the odd extract brew.  Second, skip the kits at the homebrew store.  There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re priced at a bit of a premium and since you’re just going to go for it, you’ll want to save some dough for larger ingredients purchases you’re going to make.

Option 1: Scan Craig’s List.  There are always people who, for whatever crazy reason, buy in WAY too big and never use the gear.  It ends up taking up space in the garage, and one day they just dump it on CL for 1/3 of what they paid for it.  I see it quite a bit.  If you have around $1000 (sometimes less) you can score a full brew sculpture with pumps and chillers.  The worst thing you may have to do is purchase new high-temp hoses and give the kettles a good scrubbing.  The down-side to this is that it may take some time for one of those super sweet deals to pop up, so some level of patience may be required.  I don’t have that so I went with option 2.

Option 2: Locate a kitchen supply outlet.  There are two kind of these – ones that say they are kitchen outlets and knock off $5, and those that are overstock dumps for importers of stuff from China.  Guess which one you want to find?  The “restaurant supply stores” take the same stuff that you get from the Chinese supply store, but they’re usually not the direct buyer, so there’s not much savings to be had there.  So find the direct importer either near you, or on the intertubes, and get things like kettles, burners, large stainless spoons and digital thermometers from them.  For example, I picked up the exact kettle that my homebrew shop sells for $350 for $180.  No joke.  Same brand name and everything.  Next, if your using coolers for a mash tun, check out Costco.  You can get 75qt coolers for $40.  Pick up your stainless fittings (faucets and hose barbs) from McMaster-Carr.  If you’re putting together a ghetto rig like mine you can do a 10 gallon setup for under $500.

Option 2.5: Can you weld?  Well then you are in business!  Taking the same tack as option 2, you can weld up a free standing brew sculpture with just a few weekends of work. Though I’ve never priced it out, I have it on pretty good authority that you can put a system together for $1000 or less.  There are plenty of plans available on the Internet for you to choose from.  If I had the mad welding skillz, I would be doing this.  Here’s a guy who got one together for under $800!

Perhaps I can save somebody out there some big money.  I know I certainly would have benefited from knowing some of this stuff when I started out.

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