Brewing fresh, tasty beer at home is easier than ever thanks to innovative equipment designed for small batch craft brewing. This guide will explore the key equipment needed for a home brewery and provide recommendations on the best setups for brewing 5-10 gallon batches of delicious homemade beer.
Overview of Home Brewing Equipment
Home beer brewing requires some essential equipment to handle critical brewing stages like mashing, lautering, boiling, fermenting, bottling and kegging. Here is an overview of the basic gear:
Table 1. Core Brewing Equipment
|Brew Kettle||Heating mash and boiling wort|
|Mashtun||Steeping grains in hot water for sugar extraction|
|Hot Liquor Tank||Heating brewing water|
|Wort Chiller||Quick cooling boiled wort before fermentation|
|Fermenter||Fermenting wort into beer|
|Airlock||Allows CO2 out while keeping airborne infections out|
|Bottling Bucket||Mixing beer with priming sugar before bottling|
|Bottles||Store carbonated beer|
|Kegs||Serve draft beer|
|Racking Equipment||Transferring beer between vessels|
|Thermometer||Monitoring mash and boil temperatures|
|Hydrometer||Measuring beer’s specific gravity|
|Sanitizer||Cleaning and sanitizing equipment|
Additional helpful gear includes a wort aerator, funnel, caps, labels, tubing, valves, filters, and a cleaning system like a keg washer. Brewers also need ingredients like malt, hops, yeast and additions.
With this foundation of equipment, homebrewers can produce excellent craft beer on a 5-10 gallon scale. Now let’s explore recommendations and options for setting up your brewhouse.
The Brew Kettle – Heating Mash and Boiling Wort
The brew kettle is the heart of any brewery. This vessel heats up water for mashing in grains to convert their starches to fermentable sugars. It also boils the sugary wort after lautering to sanitize it and extract hop flavors.
Table 2. Brew Kettle Options
|Stock Pot||5-20 gal||Stainless Steel||No||$50-150|
|Brew-in-a-Bag Kettle||5-10 gal||Stainless Steel||No||$100-200|
|Electric Brew-in-a-Bag||5-10 gal||Stainless Steel||Yes||$150-300|
|Gas Kettle||10-15 gal||Stainless Steel||No||$200-400|
|Electric Kettle||5-15 gal||Stainless Steel||Yes||$200-500|
For 5 gallon batches, a 10 gallon stainless steel pot works well for full volume boils. Stockpots are inexpensive but require a heat source like a propane or electric stove.
All-in-one electric kettles have built-in heating elements. These are convenient but pricier. Indirect heating is gentler than direct fire.
Larger 15 gallon kettles allow bigger batches with less boilover risk. Go electric for indoor use or gas for outdoor brewing flexibility.
The Mash Tun – Steeping Grains for Sugar Extraction
A mash tun soaked grains in hot water from the kettle to convert their starches to fermentable sugars.
Table 3. Mash Tun Options
|Brew Bag||5-10 gal||Nylon||$15-30|
|Cooler Tun||10-20 gal||Plastic||$50-100|
|Stainless Tun||10-15 gal||Stainless Steel||$150-300|
The simplest option is a fine mesh brew bag that steeps grains in the brew kettle. This brew-in-a-bag method needs no separate mash tun.
Plastic cooler tuns fitted with a spigot offer inexpensive stainless steel-like performance. They hold temperature but lack direct heating.
Insulated stainless steel mash tuns have built-in thermometers and heating elements for step mashing precision. They allow sparging but are more expensive.
The Hot Liquor Tank – Heating Brewing Water
A hot liquor tank heats up brewing water for mashing and sparging grains. This can be done directly in the brew kettle for 5 gallon batches.
For faster heating or brewing multiple batches, a separate hot liquor tank is useful.
Table 4. Hot Liquor Tank Options
|Brew Kettle||5-20 gal||Stainless Steel||Stovetop, propane, electric||$50-500|
|Electric HLT||5-20 gal||Stainless Steel||Built-in electric||$150-400|
|Propane Tank||10-30 gal||Stainless Steel||External propane burner||$200-500|
Doing double duty, the brew kettle can heat strike and sparge water and then be used for mashing and boiling.
Dedicated electric HLTs have fast internal heating elements while propane tanks allow heating anywhere with a burner.
Wort Chiller – Quick Cooling Before Fermentation
A wort chiller quickly cools boiled wort down to pitching temperature before adding yeast. This prevents off-flavors from extended hot side exposure.
Table 5. Wort Chiller Types
|Type||Cooling Method||Time to Chill 5 gals||Price|
|Ice Bath||Ice cubes in water||60 min||$10|
|Immersion Chiller||Coils with cold tap water running through||15-30 min||$50-100|
|Counterflow Chiller||Cold water and wort running opposite ways through coils||5-10 min||$100-200|
|Plate Chiller||Cold water and wort running through parallel plates||1-5 min||$150-300|
While slow, an ice bath is inexpensive using freezer ice.
Immersion chillers are the most common choice, rapidly cooling the wort with running tap water.
Counterflow chillers work even faster thanks to efficient heat exchange.
Plate chillers are the gold standard for rapid chilling down to pitching temps.
The Fermenter – Fermenting Wort into Beer
The fermenter provides an environment for yeast to ferment wort sugars into alcohol and CO2. This vessel should have a wide opening for cleaning and adding yeast.
Table 6. Fermenter Options
|Glass Carboy||3-6.5 gal||Glass||$20-45|
|Plastic Bucket||3.5-7 gal||PET Plastic||$10-30|
|Stainless Steel||3-7 gal||Stainless Steel||$100-200|
|Conical Fermenter||3.5-7 gal||Plastic or Stainless||$150-500|
Inexpensive glass carboys and plastic buckets work well for most ales. Carboys allow seeing fermentation activity.
Stainless steel offers durability and can be chilled, while conicals simplify transferring and harvesting yeast.
Smaller 3-5 gallon fermenters are easiest for home use. Buckets need minimum headspace unlike narrow carboys.
Airlock – Keeping Air Out While Letting CO2 Out
An airlock allows carbon dioxide from fermentation to escape the fermenter while keeping airborne infections out.
Table 7. Airlock Options
|Three Piece Airlock||Plastic||$1-3|
|One-way CO2 Escape Valve||Plastic||$3-6|
|Blowoff Tube||Vinyl Tubing||$1-2|
Three-piece and S-style airlocks work well for most beers, allowing gas to bubble out through sanitizer.
One-way escape valves avoid suckback and evaporation, while blowoff tubes control very active fermentation.
Bottling Bucket – Mixing in Priming Sugar
A bottling bucket mixes beer with priming sugar evenly before bottling to ensure proper carbonation. It has a spigot for easy filling.
Table 8. Bottling Bucket Choices
|PET Plastic||5-7 gal||PET Plastic||Yes||$10-20|
|Stainless Steel||5-7 gal||Stainless Steel||Yes||$50-100|
|Auto-Siphon||1-5 gal||Plastic and Tubing||No||$10-20|
Food-grade plastic buckets work well for most homebrew bottling runs.
Stainless steel offers a more robust and sanitary option but at a premium.
Bottling with an auto-siphon avoids oxidation but mixing in priming sugar is trickier.
5-7 gallon bottling buckets provide room for actively foaming beer. Mark volume levels.
Bottles – Storing Carbonated Beer
Beer bottles store carbonated beer while keeping oxygen exposure low for shelf stability. Reusable glass bottles are the norm.
Table 9. Beer Bottle Types
|Type||Volume||Material||Price per case|
|Amber Swing-top||12-16 oz||Glass||$15-25|
|Amber Pry-off||12 oz||Glass||$10-15|
|Clear Pry-off||12 oz||Glass||$10-15|
|Amber Screw top||12 oz||Glass||$10-20|
|Clear Screw top||12 oz||Glass||$10-20|
Amber swing-top bottles are convenient and eco-friendly but expensive up front.
Amber pry-off bottles block light exposure. Reusable commercial 12 oz bottles work well.
Clear pry-off bottles allow seeing beer color but permit light exposure.
Screw top bottles seal reliably during aging but plastic tops can impart flavors.
Consider bottling some beers in 22 oz bomber sizes for more impressive gifting.
Kegs – Serving Draft Beer
Kegs store and dispense finished beer under pressure for draft beer enjoyment. They require a bit more gear but pour beautifully.
Table 10. Homebrew Keg Options
|Corny Keg||5 gal||Stainless Steel||$40-70|
|Mini Keg||2.5 gal||Stainless Steel||$100-140|
|Poly Pin||3-5 gal||PET Plastic||$50-70|
|Stainless Keg||3-5 gal||Stainless Steel||$150-200|
Reconditioned corny kegs are the most popular and affordable option. Clean well before use.
Mini kegs like those from Blichmann hold a couple growlers worth for small batches.
Plastic poly pin kegs are lightweight and easy to ship but canPick up odors.
New stainless kegs avoid issues with used soda kegs but cost more.
For home use, 2.5-5 gallon kegs provide good volumes. Larger volumes invite foamy pours.
Racking Equipment – Transferring Beer
Racking gear moves beer cleanly between fermenter, aging tank, bottling bucket, and keg with minimal oxygen exposure.
Table 11. Racking Equipment Options
|Stainless Steel Siphon||Stainless Steel||$20-40|
|Plastic Tubing||Plastic||$0.25-1 per foot|
|Silicone Tubing||Silicone||$1-2 per foot|
|Plastic Ball Lock Disconnects||Plastic||$2-4 each|
|Stainless Quick Disconnects||Stainless Steel||$10-20 each|
An auto-siphon simplifies starting gravity-fed transfers with tubing.
Stainless steel siphons avoid plastic flavors but can be hard to fully sanitize.
Plastic tubing works but should be replaced once it picks up flavors. Silicone tubing lasts longer before absorbing odors.
Quick disconnects make transferring to kegs quick and mess-free. Prioritize stainless over plastic.
Thermometer – Monitoring Temperatures
A thermometer ensures hitting proper mash, boil, and fermentation temperatures for quality beer. Digital ones read fastest.
Table 12. Thermometer Options
|Bi-metal Dial||+/- 3°F||$3-10|
|Instant-Read Digital||+/- 1°F||$10-20|
|Wireless Digital||+/- 1°F||$40-100|
Bi-metal dial thermometers work but can be slow and unreliable. Calibrate often.
Instant-read digitals give quick, accurate readings useful for mashing and chilling.
Wireless digitals monitor ferm temps conveniently but are expensive overkill for most.
Look for a thermometer that can read both mash and boil ranges accurately.
Hydrometer – Measuring Beer Gravity
A hydrometer measures wort and beer density as specific gravity, letting brewers calculate ABV. Temperature corrections are needed.
Table 13. Hydrometer Types
Basic glass hydrometers cover the full gravity range at reasonable cost.
Triple scale hydrometers also show Brix and potential ABV for simplicity.
Refractometers use only a few drops but need adjustment for final gravity.
Look for a hydrometer marked in 0.002 gravity increments or better accuracy.
Sanitizer – Cleaning Equipment
Sanitizer removes bacteria and wild yeast from equipment to avoid beer infections. No rinse options are quickest.
Table 14. Sanitizer Options
|Star San||Phosphoric Acid||Slight Acid||$1-2 per oz|
|IO Star||Phosphoric Acid||Minimal||$1-2 per oz|
|PBW||Sodium Percarbonate||Light||$5-15 per lb|
|OxiClean||Sodium Percarbonate||Light||$2-8 per lb|
|Bleach||Sodium Hypochlorite||Strong Chlorine||$1-5 per gallon|
No-rinse brewery acids like Star San and IO Star work excellently but smell acidic.
Alkaline PBW and OxiClean clean and sanitize with less odor, needing a rinse after soaking.
Cheap bleach sanitizes very well when properly diluted but needs thorough rinsing.
Additional Handy Gear
Beyond the core equipment, here are some other helpful items for brewing operations:
- Wort aerator – Aerates cooled wort to support yeast growth
- Funnel – Mess-free pouring into carboys, kegs, and bottles
- Bottle caps – Seal beer bottles air-tight
- Bottle capper – Secure caps onto bottles
- Bottle labels – Identify beer contents
- Tubing – Food-grade vinyl or silicone transfer tubing
- Grain mill – Freshly crack malted grains for optimal extraction
- pH meter – Monitor mash pH for ideal enzyme activity
- Kegging parts – Faucets, shanks, hoses, regulators and gauges
- Keg/carboy washer – Clean interior of vessels with sprayball
- Pure yeast cultures – Consistent fermentation performance
- Filter – Clarify final beer appearace
Recommended Beginner Brewery Setups
Here are some recommended equipment selections for those getting started with homebrewing:
5 Gallon Extract Beer Starter Setup
- 5-8 gallon boiling kettle
- 6.5 gallon glass carboy fermenter
- Auto-siphoning equipment
- Funnel, tubing, airlock and stopper
- Sanitizer, thermometer, hydrometer
- Bottling bucket, bottles, caps, capper
5 Gallon All Grain Intermediate Setup
- 10-12 gallon stainless kettle
- 5 gallon round cooler mash tun
- Wort chiller like an immersion chiller
- 6.5 glass carboy fermenter or PET bucket
- Drilled stopper, airlock, tubing, racking cane
- Bottling bucket, bottles, caps, capper
- Thermometer, hydrometer, sanitizer
5 Gallon Advanced All Grain Setup
- 15+ gallon stainless steel kettle
- 10 gallon insulated stainless mash tun
- 15+ gallon stainless steel hot liquor tank
- Plate chiller or counterflow chiller
- 7 gallon stainless steel conical fermenter
- Stainless steel corny kegs
- All stainless steel valves, fittings, disconnects
- Upgraded conical fermenter with temperature control
- Kegging system with faucets, shanks and regulator
- Oxygenation system
- High quality yeast lab cultures
- Advanced filtration system
Recommended Brewing System Upgrades
As you advance in the hobby, here are some upgrades to consider:
- Chill faster with a counterflow or plate chiller
- Ferment under pressure in stainless steel
- Control fermentation temperature for clean profile
- Oxygenate wort for healthier yeast
- Use a kegging system for perfectly carbonated pours
- Harvest and wash yeast for saving money
- Create yeast starters for vigor and consistency
- Upgrade burners for faster heating of liquor and wort
- Add pumps for moving fluids instead of siphons
- Install permanent taps and faucets for serving
- Automate the brewing system for precision
- Filter beer to remove haze particles
- Build or buy a brew sculpture for display
- Scale up the system size for larger batches
Q: What are the absolute necessities for homebrewing?
A: At minimum you need a kettle for boiling, a fermentation vessel, some tubing, sanitizer, bottles, caps, and ingredients to make beer. For all-grain, a mash tun is also essential.
Q: What are the best kettles for home brewing?
A: Stainless steel kettles are best. Go with at least 8 gallons for 5 gallon batches. Larger is better to avoid boil overs. Induction-ready steel works with countertop units.
Q: Can I use brew in a bag instead of a mash tun?
A: Yes, the brew in a bag method lets you mash in your kettle. You’ll miss out on sparging benefits though.
Q: Is glass or stainless better for fermenters?
A: Both work well. Glass lets you see activity but scratches easily. Stainless is more durable but pricier. PET plastic is fine too.
Q: What is the best sanitizer for cleaning equipment?
A: No-rinse phosphoric acid options like Star San work great. Bleach is cheap but needs rinsing. PBW is also popular.
Q: Is a secondary fermentation vessel necessary?
A: Not always. Two weeks in the primary is usually enough, then bottle or keg. Aging in a secondary can improve some styles like sours though.
Q: Which is better – bottling vs kegging?
A: Kegging avoids bottling time and gives draft convenience. But bottling enables cellar aging. Many brewers do both kegs for drinking and bottles for aging.
Q: What are the best fermentation temperatures?
A: Ales ferment best at 60-72°F. Lagers and cold hybrids work at 45-55°F. Temp control is great for consistency.
Q: Is distilled or filtered water better for brewing?
A: Dechlorinated tap water is fine in most areas. Adjustments can be made to match beer styles. Distilled lacks minerals.
Q: How long do opened ingredients last?
A: Grains stay fresh for months but lose vibrancy over time. Hops degrade quickly. Yeast is best fresh. Brew sooner than later.