The basic equipment you'll need to brew your own beer:
Two vats that can hold at least 5 gallons each. One of these vats must be airtight. If you don't want to buy the vats you can use a couple of old Arrowhead water bottles and cork one. These bottles will be referred to as the Primary Fermentation Vessel (PFV) and the Priming Vessel.
An airlock. Basically a small device which you can push through a hole in the PFV so that CO2 can escape but air can't get in.
A large pot to boil stuff in. The 3 gallon size is ideal, but a two gallon pot will do.
A siphon hose.
Two siphon tubes. (Hard plastic, one for each end of the hose.)
A bottle capper.
Bottles. Twist off bottles will not work. Coors or Bud longneck bar bottles work the best. Or you can ask Spikes to save you a few cases. It's kind of cool to have a fridge full of "imports". If you use Grolsh-type bottles you'll have to get new rubber washers to maintain an adequate seal. (I don't recommend Grolsh-type bottles.)
A bottle scrubbing brush.
A cheesecloth straining bag.
A large stainless steel stirring spoon.
Not necessary, but very nice: a bottle washing valve. This is a brass valve & tube combo that fits over the nozzle on your sink. The tube part points up at an angle. You turn the hot water on, place a bottle over the tube, and push down. A jet of water shoots up the bottle and cleans it out fairly well. You should still scrub and bleach your bottles though.
And of course, whatever supplies you need to make a particular recipe. Malt, sugar, hops, etc. More on recipes later.
On cleaning your equipment and bottles:
To keep your beer from getting contaminated it is very important that you thoroughly clean all of your bottles, vats, etc. with bleach and hot water before brewing. Do not use soap. Soap leaves a film which destroys carbonation and ruins the taste of beer, no matter how much you rinse afterwards.
For vats: scrub them out with hot water, then fill them with hot water, add a cup of bleach, and let them sit for about ten minutes. You can toss in siphon hoses, airlocks, vat lids, and anything else you want to clean at this point. After ten minutes, dump out the water and bleach mixture and rinse everything with more hot water. Allow everything to air dry. The vats should be cleaned before and after each use.
For bottles: Rinse them with hot water a few times and then scrub them out with a bottle scrubber. Hold each bottle up to a 100W bulb and look through the opening to check for scum. This is especially important if the bottles have been sitting for a few weeks growing mold. After the bottles are cleaned sterilize them in bleach as described above, then rinse.
The Basic Process For Making Beer
In a large cooking pot boil about 1-1/2 gallons of water. Add to the water your malt extract, corn sugar (dextrose), and bittering hops. (The hops that you add at the beginning of the boil will make your beer bitter, the hops that you add at the end of a boil makes your beer aromatic.) Boil the whole mixture for at least 30 minutes.
While you're boiling the wort (that's what the mixture of malt, hops, and sugar is called) fill up your primary fermentation vessel (PFV) with enough cold water so that when you pour in the wort you will have the proper final amount of beer. That is, if you're making six gallons, use 4-1/2 gallons of cold water. If you're making 5, use 3-1/2.
When you're done boiling the wort, pour it into the PFV. Seal the PFV and allow it to cool for several hours, perhaps even overnight. After it's cooled, sprinkle a package of brewer's yeast on the top of the brew, allow it to sit for ten minutes, and then stir it in. Reseal the PFV and push the airlock into place.
Within 24 hours the mix will start to ferment. The yeast is reacting with the sugar and malt and producing alcohol and CO2. The CO2 will escape through the airlock (a process called outgassing), without letting any air in. This is important, since air can contaminate and ruin a perfectly good batch of brew.
After 7-10 days the outgassing will stop since most of the yeast will be dead. Wait about 2-3 days after the last of the CO2 comes out, then you're ready to prime and bottle.
Priming and Bottling
OK, your vat is done outgassing, so what you have is several gallons of flat, unaged beer. If you look in the vat you'll see some scum floating on the top of the mix as well as a THICK layer of goo on the bottom of the vat. You do NOT want to drink the goo, it's worse than dorm food.
So what you do is siphon off the beer and leave the goo behind. It's no problem if you've got a siphon hose where the bottom of the tube is sealed and the drain hole is an inch up the side of the tube. So carefully siphon the mix into another container which we'll call the priming vessel.
Once the mix is in the priming vessel it's ready to be primed and bottled. Add a cup of dextrose and a teaspoon of brewer's gelatin for every 5 to 6-1/2 gallons of brew that you have. You may want to boil the dextrose and gelatin in a pint of water before adding it, it dissolves easier that way.
After priming the beer IMMEDIATELY siphon the mix into bottles and cap them. Set the bottles in a dark place and let them age. In 14 days the beer will be "drinkable". After 4 weeks it will be "good". In six weeks the beer will be "prime".
The reason for the priming step is this: beer is enhanced by carbonation. You don't want to drink flat beer do you? When you siphon the beer into the priming vessel there will still be some live yeast suspended in the liquid. When you add additional dextrose the yeast that's left reacts with it and produces additional CO2. However, this CO2 can't escape since the beer has been bottled, so it carbonates the beer instead. This is also why you must be very careful when adding the priming sugar since if you add too much the bottles will explode. Oh yes, the gelatin helps to settle any suspended particles in the beer so that it won't be murky or smell like yeast.
This is my favorite recipe for beer. I call it Reprobate Dark, because it's beyond redemption. You can hold a glass of this stuff up to a 100W bulb and no light will shine through, even around the edges.
Malt - 3lbs. of Brewmaster Aussie Dried Malt Extract Dark Crystal Malt - 1lb. Black Patented Malt - ground
Corn Sugar - 5 cups for brewing, 1 cup for priming
Hops - 2oz. Northern Brewer for bittering, 2oz. for aroma
Yeast - 1 pkt. (7gm) Old Danish Ale Yeast
Water - 5 gallons of SLO tap
Gelatin - 1 tsp. of brewer's gelatin
Boil a gallon of water and add the malts, sugar, and bittering hops. (If you buy whole crystal malt, grind it with a coffee grinder first.) Boil the mix for 25 minutes, add the aromatic hops, and then boil for another 5 minutes. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth bag into the primary fermentation vessel. Add enough water to bring the total yield to 5 gallons. Allow the mix to cool overnight. Sprinkle the yeast on top, wait ten minutes, stir it in. Seal the vat and put the airlock in place.
This recipe outgasses for a long time. When it's done outgassing prime it with a cup of dextrose and a teaspoon of brewer's gelatin. Bottle it and wait at least three weeks before drinking, six weeks for a really great taste.
Here's a recipe for making Traditional Ale:
3.3 lbs. (Highlander) Traditional Ale malt extract syrup
6-1/4 cups of corn sugar
1 packet of top fermenting ale yeast
1 oz. Cascade hops
2 cups of uncrushed crystal malt
1 tsp. brewer's gelatine
1. Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil in a large pot. After the water has come to a boil, turn off the heat. Add the malt extract, 5 cups of corn sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Stir in the hops and the crystal malt