Where to Buy Your Homebrew Kit
You're ready to brew. Even more you are ready to drink your brew. Let's not prolong the agony a second more.
But no gear, no homebrew.
Getting your equipment and ingredients should be your first step. This is especially true if you are buying online as shipping could take a week or more. That brings up a good question
Should you buy your kit locally or online?
Not everybody has a homebrew store nearby, which makes the decision easy. How do you find out if you have a local homebrew store?
Google it. Type in “[Your town] homebrew store” and you should find out in a few seconds whether or not you have one close by. Another method is to use the American Homebrewers Association's store directory and search for your area.
If you have a local homebrew store
I'm a big proponent of supporting your local homebrew shop, but only if it's a good one. Just because you have a store nearby it doesn't mean you should buy from them. The majority of homebrew stores are well-run and have friendly and helpful people working there. Definitely buy your supplies at these places.
Unfortunately there are the shops that are neglected and the people aren't knowledgeable or friendly. I've been in a few of these where they just don't care. If you find a store in your area, check out it's Yelp reviews and if you know another local homebrewer, get their opinion. Visit the place and if it makes you uncomfortable, leave. You're not obligated to buy anything.
Most homebrewers are good people though and chances are your local shop is just fine.
Every homebrew shop has one or more equipment kits for beginners. There are as many variations of equipment kits as there are homebrew shops. While you could buy their kits, I recommend you buy the items from The Academy's list below. You can print off the list and buy the items individually.
If you don't want to deal with the hassle, it might be easier for you to buy our recommended kit from Midwest. That way you know you got everything, and including shipping it's still probably cheaper than buying the gear locally. You could always frequent your local store after you're up and running with the kit.
Got questions about your gear? Let me know.
Buying your equipment online
Buying online is nice because it's easy to compares options and prices across companies. You can also take your time to do research and not feel pressured like you might in a store. There are many great online homebrewing suppliers, and most have retail locations in their hometown. My favorite sites are Midwest Supplies, MoreBeer, Northern Brewer, Austin Homebrew, and Williams Brewing. I'm sure there are other great ones that I just haven't ordered from.
Our recommended kit comes from Midwest Supplies. I worked with Midwest on assembling this kit and personally selected every item with Homebrew Academy members in mind. You can watch the video walk-through here.
While you can certainly use other kits and follow the Homebrew Academy lessons, this one will serve you best.
The Equipment Needed for Brewing (video)
The recommended kit for Academy members is the Midwest Homebrew Kit from Midwest Supplies. The Homebrew Academy and Midwest teamed up to create this kit specifically with Academy members in mind. It has everything you need except a kettle and beer bottles, but those can be purchased as an upgrade along with a wort chiller.
Other kits are certainly OK to use, but at the moment we feel the Midwest kit is the best one for the price. If you have questions about equipment, contact Billy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What about the upgrades?
On the Midwest Kit page you'll see the option for three upgrades:
- A case of 12-oz beer bottles
- An immersion wort chiller
- A 20-quart (5 gallon) brew pot
I'll give you some guidance on whether or not you should by these items. Links to the items are provided so you can read more about them but you can add them all to your cart from the main kit page.
First the beer bottles. You can either buy new beer bottles or reuse commercial bottles as long as they are not twist-off. I tell new brewers to have 55 12-oz bottles on hand to be safe, but you'll probably use more like 45 to 50. If you can save up that many bottles, great. Reusing commercial bottles is a great way to save money. But if you don't think you'll be able to save that many or don't want to deal with the hassle of cleaning them, then I recommend buying the bottles new. If you buy two cases you will have 48 bottles which should be enough but you can always have a couple 22-oz bottles on hand in case you need some more.
Next up, the wort chiller. A wort chiller is optional if you are doing partial boils (chilling 2-3 gallons) but a necessity if you are doing a full boil (chilling 5-6 gallons). For partial boils, it's a matter of convenience. A wort chiller will cool the beer in half the time (or better) than it takes using an ice bath. If you can afford it, you won't regret getting the wort chiller.
Finally we have the brew pot. A brew pot is not optional – you will need one of some sort. They are not included in kits because some people already have a sufficient pot plus there are many different types of pots and the vendors want to give you the freedom to choose. The one available as an upgrade with the Midwest kit is a very nice pot and is available at good price. At five gallons it is the perfect size for partial boils and it is very durable. The quality is a big step up from the cheap and flimsy 5 gallon pots and this one will last you forever if you take care of it. Unless you already have a pot that is big enough for brewing, I recommend you pick up this one when you buy your kit.
List of required items
- Brew pot; at least 5 gallon capacity
- Plastic carboy; 6 gallon recommended
- Bottling/Sanitizing bucket
- Rubber stopper; make sure the size you get fits your carboy
- Airlock; single or 3-piece
- Siphon/vinyl tubing + racking cane; also see autosiphon in “Nice to have items”
- Grain bag; mesh is better than muslin
- Hop bag; at least 2 are recommended
- Large spoon; plastic or stainless steel work fine
- Hydrometer; be careful with these because they're very fragile
- Hydrometer jar; the hydrometer and jar come together in the kits
- Thermometer; also see the Thermapen digital thermometer in “Nice to have items”
- Beer bottles; 55 12 oz bottles for 5 gallon batch. These can be free if you save commercial bottles.
- Bottle caps; 1 per bottle
- Bottle capper; I've never found a bench capper necessary
- Bottling wand/filler
- Fermometer; for monitoring fermentation temperatures. Get one for each fermentor.
- 2″ piece of vinyl tubing; make sure it fits the size bottling wand you buy
- OxiClean Free; The “free” version doesn't have perfumes. You can also find this at bigger stores like Wal-Mart and Target.
Nice to have items
- For racking/transferring beer – autosiphon
- High-quality digital thermometer (Pricey but worth it. Read the reviews.) – Thermapen
- For cooling down the wort quickly – immersion chiller
- For performing full boils – propane burner
- For easily storing cleaned or sanitized bottles – FastRack
- For easily sanitizing bottles – bottle rinser
- For cleaning glass carboys (don't use on plastic) – carboy brush
Ingredients Overview (video)
Should you Buy an Ingredient Kit?
Besides equipment, you will need ingredients for your first batch. Have you decided what to brew? I suggest reading my guide titled The Best Beers for New Brewers (pdf).
As for where to buy your ingredients, follow the same guidelines regarding equipment. If you have a good local homebrew shop, buy from them. If you're buying your equipment online, buy ingredients at the same you buy your equipment.
There are really two ways to brew: from a recipe kit or buying ingredients individually. Let me clarify:
- Kit – The ingredients (malt, hops, yeast, and anything else) come in a single package. The recipe is predetermined and comes on a piece of paper. The ingredients are already weighed out and ready to go. There is nothing you need to measure. They usually come with everything in a single box.
- Individually – You are using a recipe (such as this one) to purchase your ingredients. The recipe can be someone else's or one you made yourself. You buy all of the ingredients (malt, hops, yeast, and anything else) individually. It's very similar to shopping for a dinner recipe at a grocery store.
Which one should you use?
Choose the kit. The kits are proven recipes, they make it easy, and if brewed correctly, they will make very good beer. You will make bigger improvements in your beer if you improve your process, not the kit. The only exception to buying a recipe kit is if you want to make something unusual and there is no kit available for that type of beer. But even then, it's probably smarter to use a kit as the base beer and then add any additional ingredients to that.
Three more reasons to go with a kit:
- You might make a mistake. I still make mistakes when weighing out my ingredients at the homebrew store. “Oops! That was supposed to be 10 oz. of malt not 16 oz. Man my handwriting sucks…”. Since the kits are preassembled, you don't have to worry about making a mistake.
- Reviews. This usually online applies to buying kits online. Companies like Midwest have customer reviews of their kits so you can see what other people think about them. Because everybody brewed the same exact kit, you will get a good idea if you will enjoy the beer or not.
- You're not wasting ingredients. This is another one that applies to buying online. If you're buying malt by itself over a website, you will have to buy it in specific incremements, usually 1/2 lb. But what if you only need 1/4 lb of crystal malt for your beer? It doesn't matter. You'll have to buy the full 1/2 lb and waste 1/4 lb. If you buy a kit, on the other hand, it will come with the 1/4 lb and you won't be charged any extra. In homebrew stores they will usually let you buy whatever amount you want and only charge you for that amount.
So there you have it. A kit really is the best way to get started in homebrewing. Pick one up from your homebrew supply shop of choice (whether local or online) and if you need help deciding what recipe to brew, don't forget to download our guide.