Homebrewing Gear: Basic or Deluxe?

I’ve finally saved up enough money from teaching knitting and doing freelance bookkeeping to start shopping for homebrew gear. I have $290 to play with right now. The question is… Is that enough money to get the gear I want or do I have to keep saving?

My goal is to minimize the number of times I need to upgrade my equipment. I know up front that I want to do all-grain brewing, so the gear I start with needs to have that capability. I’m also concerned with minimizing the amount of heavy lifting I need to do. My back and I have a history of issues and I certainly don’t want to aggravate anything.

Based on the input I got from my brewing brother-in-law, I shouldn’t skimp on the brew kettle. It’s a waste of money to buy a cheap one. I also need to get enough gear to be able to do two-stage fermentation, so I can promptly move from extract brewing to all-grain brewing.

The more I looked at the various equipment options, the more I was enticed by the cool equipment that makes brewing easier. The Fermenator started making more sense. It replaces the two carboys and does primary and secondary fermentation in one place. The cost of that is only $550. I remember in my previous research coming across a tiered brewing setup with propane heat plates on the tiers that simplifies the brewing process. It uses gravity to move the liquid from one vessel to the next. That was probably about the same cost. Add a $250 brew kettle, and the other bits a pieces I would need to get as well, and I could have a pretty nifty setup for only $1,500. I would just need to save a bit more money.

Then logic and reality kicked in. What if I spent all that money and decided brewing wasn’t for me? That’s a pretty expensive couple of cases of beer. And what about the book I’m writing? I wouldn’t be able to explain first-hand the various equipment options if I started on the Rolls Royce version of homebrewing equipment. I needed to start on a more fundamental level for the sake of my writing project, my finances, and the lack-of-storage-space issue in our home.

Oh well, it was a nice dream. My husband said that if I got enough cool equipment, I could brew beer like “Captain Kirk” and sit back in my command chair and tell “Sulu” what to do.

Now that I’ve carried my mental purchasing to the extreme, it’s time to pull back and get realistic. I’ll be starting a bit more basic and I’ll be able to start sooner, since I don’t have to save up another $1,200 before I can start brewing. I’m still getting a cool brew kettle though!

-Jenne Hiigel

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