How to Use Home Brewing Equipment
Home brewing is a rewarding hobby that many beer enthusiasts eagerly pursue. The brewing process does take some time, but it can be measured in weeks, rather than months or years that it takes to make wine. Another thing the brewing process requires is home brewing equipment, primarily a kettle, a carboy, a hydrometer, a bottling wand, and bottles. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is the short version of the re-usable equipment an aspiring home brewer needs, as opposed to the ingredients for each batch of beer which are consumed.
A kettle (or pot, if you prefer) is the first piece of home brewing equipment you will need, as it is where the brewing process starts. In the kettle is where the wort is made. Wort is the brewing term for the liquid result of boiling barley, hops, and other grains at the beginning of beer making. The resulting wort is what has the sugars which will ferment to create the alcohol content of beer.
In home brewing, that fermentation process occurs inside of glass carboys, which are large glass containers. Most home brewing recipes operate from a 5 gallon base, and so the best type of carboy to invest in is a 5 or 6 gallon container. The hot wort is added to some cold water in the carboy. The cold water exists to ensure that the carboy doesn't shatter from the addition of just-boiling water. Once the wort is added, the resulting mixture must be cooled until it is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This is done so that when yeast is added, the mixture will activate the yeast instead of simply killing off the living organism.
Once the yeast is added, the first bout of waiting begins. The carboy is sealed with an airlock that will allow carbon dioxide to leave the container, but will not allow other gasses from the environment to enter. The first fermentation process takes approximately two weeks to complete, and it is monitored with the help of a hydrometer.
A hydrometer is a device which measures the specific gravity of a liquid. Specific gravity is the relative density of a liquid when compared to pure water. A hydrometer looks much like a thermometer with a metal weight at the bottom. It floats in liquid, and the level of the surface of the liquid is where the specific gravity of that liquid lies, much like the mercury level in a thermometer indicates the current temperature. The specific gravity of beer will decrease throughout the fermentation process as heavy sugars are converted into lighter alcohol. Once the specific gravity level of the beer remains steady for several consecutive days, it is time to bottle the beer.
Bottling is the part of the brewing process where additional sugar is added to the mixture to rekindle fermentation, and then the resulting liquid is sealed into bottles. In some cases, the entire batch of beer can be sealed into a keg, but far more often, home brewers opt to bottle their beer instead. The bottling process is the second time in brewing that beer is actually handled by the brewer. Once bottled, the beer is allowed to carbonate for several weeks.
The fermentation process of transferring sugar into alcohol releases carbon dioxide. In an open system, this carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. However, if the system is closed off, the carbon dioxide dissolves into the existing liquid. This process increases the atmospheric pressure of the closed system. Once this pressure is released by opening the bottle, the carbon dioxide comes out of solution in the form of bubbles, or the foamy head of a beer. Macro-breweries often artificially add CO2 to their beers, but home brewers generally allow the gas to form by fermentation.