Online stores, local home brew shops, and event expos are cool – don’t get me wrong – and a lot of people are honest, but at the end of the day, they have a fundamental imperative to say “yes, you should buy that.” Even if you don’t need it. Sometimes the science of brewing takes backseat to the sale of brewing. It happens all the time.
I think you know that. This is obvious. You’re not stupid. However, what about all these wonderful published books on brewing, by experts in the field? Like Mastering Homebrew, Wisdom for Home Brewers, and many more (check you local library). Are they trying to sell you stuff? Well, frankly, as I read these books, now that I’m more knowledgeable, sometimes I wonder. Why are they telling me to buy so much crap? Why do they recommend all these non-essential procedures as if they are essential? They seem overbearing.
On top of that, brewers, writers, podcasters, and bloggers, I imagine, have sponsors that could compromise the honest truth about brewing. And what is the honest truth? That you don’t need much stuff, that it doesn’t take that much time or work, and that frankly it’s hard to ruin a batch of beer if you stick to the basics. I appreciate nerdy brewers and all their gadgets and intricate processes; but for the rest of us, let’s downplay the non-essentials and focus on the essentials.
In my perfect world, beginning homebrewers would be given the following advice about how to start. First, beer is made by soaking barley in hot water, then boiling with hops, then fermented with yeast, then bottled with sugar. Immediately they understand the process. I would say a clean environment is pretty important, and that temperature matters (155ish for mashing, 70ish for fermenting).
Then I would say the easiest way to make beer at home is called extract brewing and it’s enormously expensive. No thanks? Okay, good. Let’s move on. Do you really want to be a homebrewer, or do you want to test it out and see if you like it? If they really want to make beer at home, but they didn’t want to spend $200 dollars, I would tell them about stove-top, small batch, partial mash brewing, using mostly equipment they already have. If they wanted to jump into brewing and cut through all the bullshit, I would say the next easiest way is Single Vessel Brew in a Bag (i.e. One Pot Brewing). The next easiest way would be Brew in a Bag with two vessels (one for mashing and boiling, another for fermenting and bottling).
Next I would introduce the benefits of a fermentation chamber, which is optional but convenient. After that, if they really wanted to go crazy, I would talk about a traditional 3 vessel system, and kegging. I would refer them to someone else for that.
In summary, I would tell them that making good beer is not hard, but takes a little work, and depends mostly on your budget.