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Homebrew Dad's 2015 Homebrewing Gift Guide

Posted by homebrewdad on 11/25/2015 at 09:52:58 AM

Last year, perhaps my most popular post (aside from the one describing the disaster of having my beer reviewed by a pro brewer) was my gift idea guide. With Black Friday just around the corner - and the Christmas shopping season in full swing - I figured that it was time to do an updated gift guide for 2015. As with last year, I'm not trying to be all things to all people; you won't see me hawking Blichmann kettles, for instance, due to the simple fact that I have never used one (nor do I know anyone who has). Instead, I'm limiting my suggestions to items that I have personal experience with.

Full disclosure: many of the links in this article include affiliate codes that benefit In no case will you pay anything aside from the normal prices, but will receive a commission. Obviously, I very much appreciate you using these links, but if you prefer to not do so, feel free to Google the products I mention.

1. For the Brand New Brewer

If you are considering helping a loved one get into homebrewing, don't be tempted by those Mr. Beer kits at the mall. Sure, they are cheap to pick up, and easy to use, but they are pretty restrictive and lack a lot of the features that will likely be sought after the first brew or two. Instead, get them a quality starter kit ($90) that includes everything they will need aside from a large pot, and will continue to be useful to them for a long, long time.

2. The Best Brew Bag Money Can Buy

Earlier this year, I agreed to review the Brew Bag. I'm a die hard three tier brewer who hasn't had good luck with BIAB, but the Brew Bag also offers bags for use as filters in a typical cooler setup. I feel in love with this "brew in a bag in a cooler" setup; stuck sparges are all but impossible, efficiency is increased, cleanup is a breeze. I even removed the braid from my cooler, and now only use the Brew Bag to filter; I seriously cannot recommend this product strongly enough. Price depends on bag size, typically runs $30-$45.

Incidentally, use the coupon code Brew United 10% Off to get 10% off of any order at the Brew Bag.

3. A Good Digital Thermometer

This item made the list last year, and it easily makes a return here. Most homebrewers start with a floating glass thermometer that came with their kit, but these things are notoriously inaccurate, and are slow to read.

The Cadillac of digital probe thermometers is the ThermoWorks Thermapen. I've had mine for almost three years, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. It is insanely accurate, and reads in about three seconds. It is also quite pricey, running just under a hundred dollars.

However, this year, I ended up reviewing two offerings by Lavatools - the Javelin PRO and the normal Javelin. The Javelin PRO can stand toe to toe with the Thermapen, being ever so slightly slower to read and ever so slightly less accurate - at half the price ($49.99). For a budget conscious alternative, consider the normal Javelin, which is likewise only slightly slower (say, a second or so) to read than the Thermapen, and is almost as accurate (well within one degree F) - and the normal Javelin is an absolute steal at a mere $24.99.

4. Get Accurate Weights

There are many times where brewers need to weigh various ingredients. A digital scale, then, is a nigh-necessity... and can be had really affordably.

I personally employ two different scales. The first is this EatSmart precision digital kitchen scale ($20). With a maximum capacity of eleven pounds, this scale is accurate to the gram (or .05 ounce), and is perfect for measuring out hops and priming sugar.

The other scale I use religiously is my American Weigh digital scale ($9). This one is amazingly precise - accurate to .01 gram. While it has a low maximum capacity (100 grams), the precision makes is perfect for measuring my water salt additions.

5. Custom Woodwork

At some point, a great many brewers elect to get into kegging. One excellent way to personalize the setup is through the use of custom tap handles. These come in many different styles, from those that are simply fancy pieces of wood, to those that include magnetic chalkboard-painted signs to allow the brewer to indicate exactly what is on that tap at a given time, to truly custom pieces of art designed specifically for the brewer. Consider reaching out to Half Yankee Workshop or Hannison Woodworks, both of whom sponsored this year's BrewUnited Challenge, and both of which have made some brewers really happy with custom handles.

Custom tap handles often start at around $40 or so, with the prices going up depending on the features desired and the work involved. Additionally, both of the linked vendors above sell custom magnetic bottle openers - hang these on a wall or refrigerator, and the bottle caps are automatically trapped by rare earth magnets embedded in the wood. At around $50, these also make superb gifts.

6. Beersmith

As far as I'm concerned, there is no better brewing software on the planet than Beersmith. Want to play "what if" and tweak a recipe? No problem. Want to scale a recipe up or down? No problem. Want to see what impact different mash temperatures, different yeast strains, different hopping schedules will have on your beer? Beersmith has you covered. The $28 list price is easily some of the best money I've ever spent in brewing... and as of the time of this post, the Amazon link I use above has it for a mere $24.

7. Chill Out

Another perennial favorite is the suggestion of a quality immersion chiller. Unlike plate chillers, counterflow chillers, etc, immersion chillers are super easy to clean and maintain. The best such product on the market, in my opinion, is the Hydra from JaDeD Brewing. Even with a less than optimal hose setup at my house, using warm Alabama ground water, I can typically chill five and a half gallons of boiling wort to pitching temperatures in under six minutes.

However, the Hydra is not cheap - the price tag is $155. For a budget conscious alternative, consider a serviceable standard immersion chiller for around $50, which will still get your beer chilled in fifteen minutes or so. Note that if you are not using a garden hose to run your chiller, you'll probably need to pick up an adapter for your kitchen faucet ($5).

8. Better Tubing

This is another absolute favorite product of mine. The typical homebrewing kit comes with some vinyl tubing, which does the job... but vinyl can be a pain in the neck. It coils up, it fairly rigid, it can kink pretty easily, and truly sanitizing it is a challenge.

Silicone tubing, on the other hand, is ultra flexible, has no memory, doesn't kink, and can be boiled to assure complete sanitation (it's usually rated for up to ~500 degrees F). for most homebrewing applications, you'll want 3/8" ID tubing, though some people may use 1/2" ID. Either way, silicone is more expensive than vinyl - you can expect to pay $2-$3 foot for it - but it lasts so much longer, and is so much easier to use.

9. Keep some Records

There are those who love the idea of an organized written log of their brewing activities. Aside from a spiral notebook, there aren't a ton of good options out there... and a plain old notebook isn't exactly sexy.

I recently had the chance to try out the Brewers' Ledger ($18), and it is pretty darned cool. The books are attractive, and each brew is given four well-organized pages for ingredients, process notes, and more. There are far worse gift ideas out there!

10. Extra Fermentors

I'm sounding like a broken record, but this is another repeat item on this year's gift guide. The reason for that is simple - it's a rare brewer who can't find a place for another fermentor. An extra carboy, bucket, or better bottle can always find a home, as it allows the brewer to expand their "pipeline".

With that said, I find that two gallon buckets (with drilled lids) ($16) are a superb gift idea. Why two gallons? Because it allows for easy split batching.

Say, the brewer is already making five gallons of their favorite beer recipe. They would love to experiment with another yeast strain, or try a different dry hopping schedule, or maybe experiment with fruit or coffee added to the beer. However, it can be tough to brew up five gallons of something that you may not love.

A two gallon bucket allows the brewer to simply make a slightly larger batch of their normal recipe, then split off a gallon or so into this smaller bucket. There, they can experiment a bit, and end up with two completely different beers - with little to no extra effort.

11. A Better Kettle

I've mostly focused on smaller ticket items in this guide, but if you are looking for a more grand gesture - and your brewer is perhaps looking to expand - then a new kettle might be just the "wow factor" gift you are looking for.

Most new brewers start with a 5-6 gallon pot, which is fine for extract brewing or smaller batches, but for all grain, one really needs a ten gallon (or larger) kettle.

The 10 gallon AMCYL Brew Kettle ($200) is an excellent choice. This quality stainless kettle comes with a 3 piece ball valve, a tri clad bottom, and is pre-laser etched with measurement markings (eliminating the need to guess how much wort is in the pot). For $23 more, HomeBrewSupply will include a weldless thermometer. This sucker would seriously make someone's Christmas!

However, there are other great choices out there for a lesser price. I personally love my 44 quart Bayou Classic stainless stockpot, which can currently be had for less than $80 (currently $74 with free shipping at Amazon). For an even more budget conscious alternative, you could go with a Winware Professional 40 quart aluminum stockpot for less than $60 (currently $53 with free shipping at Amazon).

12. Go High Tech

Another super fun item I got to review this year was the BeerBug ($200). This nifty device gives real time gravity and temperature readings of your fermenting beer, which you can view either via web browser or mobile app (available for free on both Android and iOS). Yes, a lot of homebrewers are somewhat (to very) obsessive, and being able to keep an eye on your beer from anyone has is a huge draw. The BeerBug certainly pricey, and not the sort of thing that a lot of people would but for themselves. However, it carries a major "cool factor" that would place it solidly into the "wow" category for a Christmas gift.

13. Homebrewing Shirts

So, you are buying for someone who has all sorts of gear, and you don't want to pick up something that they may or may not use. Why not go with a great homebrewing tee shirt?

BrewUnited is currently selling shirts ($16.50), but this sale ends on December 1st, and will be your last chance to pick one up in 2015. Also, you should definitely check out the selection of funny shirts offered by (most shirts are ~$20).

14. Gift Certificates
Don't underestimate the value of a gift certificate. Brewing does cost money every time you do it, and having prepaid ingredients is super nice. A gift certificate from your local homebrewing shop - or from a quality online vendor like HomeBrewSupply - makes brewing "free" for the brewer... which is super nice.

For the first time ever, we are selling BrewUnited tee shirts! Shirts are available in six colors, and in men's and women's sizes. Sale ends on December 1st; don't miss your chance to grab one. Click here for more information.

Please support BrewUnited by using our Amazon affiliate link when doing any shopping there - be it for homebrewing or for your regular shopping!

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Tags for this post: gift, guide, brewing, brewer, homebrewing, homebrewer, Christmas, present

The Cost to Build a Homebrewery - End Game Brewing

Posted by zVulture on 11/24/2015 at 12:37:38 PM


In my previous posts I covered costs to starting a brewery then costs for Mash Tuns, Yeast Starter Equipment, and Kegging. In both I went for the least expensive recommended setup to give others an idea of how much it costs for this hobby. This time I am doing personal research for my own homebrewing setup in time for Black Friday. With my research I intend to move to a two pot and single mash tun setup that will allow me to do the most varieties of brewing processes. No Sparge, Batch Sparge, Fly Sparge, Cold Fly Sparge, Brew in a Bag, Decoction, and whatever else I can imagine.

Notes: The links here are un-affiliated and are there for pricing and ease of use. This is me planning for a build so costs and equipment might need adjustments. Due to the custom nature of this build, I don't see prices of items going on sale on black friday but doing this just in case there is. I am also quite open for suggestions if there are improvements!

It's Pot Time I had an earlier post dedicated to just pots with my research. I initially decided on going with some custom hardware from Colorado Brew Systems as I can get a 20 gallon Boil pot with Tri-clamp fittings, whirlpool port and whirlpool elbow for $330 (without Valves or Thermometer). Note, they are currently moving facilities so ordering is on hold for pots....
[ read more... ]

Tags for this post: equipment, pot, mash tun, sparge, DIY

Reviewing the Brewers' Ledger - Organize Your Brew Logs

Posted by homebrewdad on 11/20/2015 at 11:06:20 AM

A couple of weeks ago, my buddy Marshall (widely known as the great Brulosopher) put me in contact with a gentleman by the name of Tony Pawela. Tony was looking for someone to review his creation, the Brewers' Ledger, but Marshall just had too many irons in the fire to do so himself.

I'll admit that I thought about it for a bit before I volunteered to do the review. The fact of the matter is that I'm a huge fan of Beersmith, and I take pretty meticulous records in it already. Also, my handwriting is pretty poor - okay, my handwriting is downright atrocious - making written notes not exactly my thing. So, to be perfectly honest, I had my doubts as to how useful I would find such a product. That said, Beersmith is pretty clunky in terms of keeping your notes organized, so I figured that the Brewers' Ledger might be worth a look.

Full disclosure: as mentioned above, the Brewers' Ledger was provided to me at no cost, for the specific purpose of having me review it. Links in this page point to Amazon, where the book is self published; these links do include the BrewUnited affiliate code.

With that said, the following review is 100% true and accurate, and is in my own words. Tony Pawela did not suggest any portion of, edit, or even read my review prior to my public post.

The day that my copy...
[ read more... ]

Tags for this post: brewers, ledger, brew, log, notes, book

The Cost to Build a Homebrewery - Upping the Game

Posted by zVulture on 11/12/2015 at 10:10:17 PM


In my last post I covered the costs for getting into the hobby so that new brewers had a better idea of what to expect. To further that and for current brewers alike, this post will be covering optional systems to expand your homebrewing control and/or convenience. The first will be a look into the Mash Tun which is one, but not the only, way of doing all grain brewing. The second being Yeast Starter equipment which will assist in both healthy fermentations and propagation. And the last being getting into Kegging which has made my life easier since the start. Each of these could have a post on their own detailing the processes, benefits and drawbacks but the purpose of this post is Cost. How much will it be to get into each of these? (TL;DR at bottom)

Note:All links are un-affiliated and are provided for proof of prices. The sources for prices used are examples for price points As with my last post, each section will be updated with feedback/tips from the homebrewing community.

Keeping it Hot in a Cooler

Mash Tun is a very simple device with a few items to help make things convenient. At it's core, it's just a container that is large enough to hold the total mash at a desired temperature using Insulation. There are other methods using direct or indirect heating to maintain temperature but those will not be covered here. There are three primary types of Mash...
[ read more... ]

Tags for this post: Costs, hardware, equipment, kegerator, keezer, kegging, mash tun, stir plate, yeast starter

Announcing the Grand Prize Winner of the 2015 BrewUnited Challenge!

Posted by homebrewdad on 11/11/2015 at 12:29:33 PM

Yesterday, we (finally) managed to get the Best of Show judging done with the 2015 BrewUnited Challenge. Of course, this was about nine days after when we had scheduled for it to be done; I am sorry for the delay. By and large, I feel like things ran really smoothly in this competition, but the judge no shows at the Malty Division got us behind schedule. When you combine that with the aggressive calendar for BOS judging (silly me thought that we could easily judge BOS a week after the initial Division judging), I ended up having to scramble for BOS judges. Live and learn; next year, we'll plan a little more cushion into the schedule.

But that's neither here nor there, and I'm sure that nobody really cares about the whys of how things got off.

Yesterday, we had three BJCP judges meet and judge the Best of Show beers (let me give a quick shout out to Alabrew, who was awesome enough to let us judge there). They were super professional and thoughtful during the process, weighing each beer and making their own notes before any discussion was made. Then, they deliberated - and the discussion got a little lively.

Please let me be very clear - all three of the finalist beers were excellent. The judges really enjoyed them all, and had great things to say about them all. But in a round like this, every tiny possible flaw gets examined and tossed around, the...
[ read more... ]

Tags for this post: grand, prize, winner, BrewUnited, challenge, competition, brewing, beer

The Cost to Build a Homebrewery - Getting in the Game

Posted by zVulture on 11/05/2015 at 04:23:17 PM


A friend got interested in homebrewing after all the good beer I was bringing into work each week. He asked me how expensive it is to get into the hobby and unfortunately the answer isn't simple. Each person has a price range and just what they 'expect' is needed to get started. Some brewers start small and build out equipment over time. But what I did recommend was to wait for Black Friday coming up as there will be deals to start even an all grain brewery on the cheap. So, for him and all the other brewers getting into the hobby here is the first post among a few relating to the costs of building out a brewery at home.

Note: Links are unaffiliated. I utilized Amazon, Northern Brewer and Adventures in Brewing as examples for prices. There are great other places to get supplies including local homebrew shops (which avoid shipping delays/costs). Links are mostly provided for ease of use and proof of price for items.

The Starting Line

So in any research it was essential to find out just what was essential to start. The first stage of course being the ability to make beer. This though is going to be dependent on your home's temperature. What at the most minimum you would like to get is:

5 Gallon Pot ($20-$30) Plastic Fermenter ($15) Bottling Bucket ($18) Airlock ($2) [Get 2, backups are nice] ...
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Tags for this post: cost, black friday, brewery, equipment

Reviewing the BeerBug - Wifi Enabled Digital Hydrometer/Thermometer

Posted by homebrewdad on 11/05/2015 at 09:56:52 AM

Back in mid July, I was contacted by a new potential sponsor for the 2015 BrewUnited Challenge - the BeerBug. Now, you should understand that I certainly had no intention of turning down any homebrewing related sponsor - let alone one that was willing to pledge $330 worth of gift certificates (plus some tee shirts) - so I was more than happy to have them involved. After exchanging some emails with Cassie, their marketing director, we also agreed on having me review a BeerBug.

Full disclosure: as mentioned above, the BeerBug was provided to me at no cost, for the specific purpose of having me review it. In addition, parasitX (makers of the BeerBug) are sponsoring the 2015 BrewUnited Challenge by donating the aforementioned gift certificates and tee shirts as prizes. Finally, do note that links to the BeerBug site do include an affiliate code for BrewUnited.

With that said, the following review is 100% true and accurate, and is in my own words. parasitX did not suggest any portion of, edit, or even read my review prior to my public post.

If you're not aware of the product, then you should know that the BeerBug is a nifty little gadget that allows homebrewers to monitor the gravity and temperature of their fermenting beers in real time - either via website or mobile app (available on both iOS and Android) - due to the fact that it is wifi enabled. Those that know me know that while...
[ read more... ]

Tags for this post: beer, bug, beerbug, digital, wifi, hydrometer, gravity, temperature

Winter Seasonal Beer - Gingerbread Milk Stout

Posted by zVulture on 11/02/2015 at 07:51:33 AM


I have been working on a base milk stout recipe that I wanted to use with seasonal flavors. The sweeter base makes for a bed to help out any spice or flavor additions as some can be harsh on their own or seem lacking without the sweetness that gets fermented out. With the holidays coming up and competitions to match it came time to put it to the test. I wanted to avoid pumpkin due to it's popularity and prevalence that wouldn't shine in a competition lineup. Apple Pie is handled better in ciders, Anise Cookies (a family tradition) is a bit too rare for people to understand...but what about Gingerbread?

Sugar, Spice and everything Nice - Chocolate dipped Anise Seed Cookies & More!

The Recipe Note: This recipe is over complicated right now and I am working to simplify it. Still, it tastes amazing so it has been worth the trouble.

Type: All Grain
Style: 2015 - 30C. Winter Seasonal Beer
OG: 1.064
FG: 1.027
Alcohol: ~4.9%
IBU: 32
Batch Vol: 5.50 gal
Bottling Vol: 5.00 gal
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72%

Amount Name Type Addition %Bill/IBU 5 lb US 2-Row Grain Mash 37% 3 lbs Munich Malt Grain Mash 22% 1 lb Caramel 120L Grain Mash 7.4% 1 lb Flaked Oats Grain Mash 7.4% 1 lb Flaked Rye Grain Mash 7.4% 0.5 lb (8oz) Chocolate Malt Grain Mash...
[ read more... ]

Tags for this post: Gingerbread, Spice, Spice Beer, Winter, Holiday, Milk Stout

Announcing the Divisional Round Winners of the 2015 BrewUnited Challenge!

Posted by homebrewdad on 10/30/2015 at 11:55:16 AM

When I first tossed around the idea of this competition, there were some naysayers. I was warned that organizing a competition would be a lot of work, that it would be difficult, that it would be a pain. Then, as the idea evolved into the eventual form - and even after we first announced - the pushback, if anything, got stronger. Why use this format? Why be so restrictive? Why use these grains? Why not allow other hops? Why go with these styles? Didn't I understand that flaked wheat was a stupid, devilish requirement, that it was impossible to make a decent IPA - let alone a drinkable Kolsch - with even a single grain of C60, that there was no way that someone could produce anything but a drain pour of a Strong Scotch Ale in such a timeframe, that you just can't make style X, Y, or Z without ingredient A or with the inclusion of ingredient B?

But I really believed in the concept of forcing brewers to rely on skill and technique to overcome a restrictive set of ingredients in the pursuit of brewing great beer - even if it took them out of their comfort zones to do so. I'll admit, I took a lot of pleasure in discovering that I was far from alone in finding this to be a fun concept; we ended up with sponsored prize donations of over four thousand, seven hundred dollars in retail value, and we exceeded our registration...
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Tags for this post: beer, competition, brewing, challenge, winner, winners, prizes

Project & Blog Status Update

Posted by zVulture on 10/15/2015 at 12:38:40 PM


Hey all, I have been busy the past two weeks as I have been working on upgrading the biggest piece of my brewing home. Hitting the limits in how much I can do in a condo, timing couldn't have been better for me to move up to a full house. Beyond trying to handle cleaning and organizing, I have also been brewing for multiple competitions as well as the barrel project which I will be posting details on along with a short blerb for each in this post.

Gingerbread Milk Stout

One beer for three competitions, though only one with awards, seems like a good bit of efficiency to me. I had two 'holiday/winter' beer competitions as well as one 'dark beer' competition. Combining them together I went on to modify my Milk Stout recipe to something less common than Pumpkin or Apple Pie. So I came up with the idea of Gingerbread as it seemed the spices would go well with the roast and malt flavors. This is done fermenting so the post will be up sooner than later.

Citrus IPA Part of the Reddit competition I am doing two beers for, the first one is an American IPA. While having access to a stupid amount of both amazing and terrible IPA's from living in San Diego, I wanted to try my hand at it in order to learn more about hops and other yeasts I haven't touched. This is my second go at an IPA,...
[ read more... ]

Tags for this post: Dunkelweizen, Barrel, IPA, Milk Stout, Holiday

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