Homebrewing requires a few pieces of specialized equipment in order to do it properly. Luckily, most of the equipment is easy to find at your local homebrewing supple store or online, and the rest can be made at home relatively cheaply.
All of my equipment cost me about $100. Alternatively you could just buy a homebrewing kit, which should come with everything you need. Or if you don’t want to commit to that level of investment, then try a UBrew first. However, a well made homebrew is far superior to most UBrews.
The biggest difference between using a homebrewing kit versus making your own kit is the size of the batch.
In general, most homebrewers brew around 20L of beer at a time, since it is quite time consuming. It is also often a social activity, so you will want to be able to split your final bottles of beer 2-3-4 ways.
Homebrewing kits tend to make smaller batches of less than 10L.
Boiling Pot: This pot will decided the size of the batch of beer that you can brew. For large batches of beer consider getting a canning pot as they are fairly cheap.
Beer bottles and caps: The best way to get beer bottles is to save them up from your recycling. You can use plastic bottles with screw lids, swing-top bottles, or regular beer bottles. If you use regular beer bottles then you will need to buy bottle caps and rent/buy a bottle capper.
Carboy and Airlock: This is very important if you are serious about making alcoholic ferments. It is worth investing in a few airlocks because you can also use them for other types of ferments as well. An airlock allows the CO2 to escape, and maintains a sterile fermenting environment for the duration of a ferment. In general a cylindrical airlock is easier to clean than a S-shaped airlock but either will work. You just need to make sure that your airlock fits snugly into the mouth of your fermentation jug. In my case I use 5 liter jugs that I got from buying apple juice. If you want to make large batches of wine or cider you may want to invest in large carboys.
Siphon and Tubes: These are food grade tubes that you need to move liquid between vessels. Handy for filtering out the sediment and bottling. I recommend getting an auto-siphon because it makes it easy to fill the bottles.
These items are handy if you plan on making beer frequently. Some of the items are also useful for other types of ferments, like making cheese.
Mash Tun: If you are doing whole grain brewing (which is basically how you make really good beer) then you will need to keep your grain warm for 60-90 minutes to activate the enzymes that will convert the starches to simple sugars. We made our own mash-tun using a cooler. You can find instructions here. For smaller batches you could use a fermentation chamber (also useful for making yogurt, tempeh and cheese).
Here’s a close up of the spigot, which is really the only required replacement for this DIY mash tun.
Hydrometer: This measures the approximate alcohol levels of your beer, by comparing the amount of sugar in your mixture before fermenting, and after fermenting. The level of alcohol is assumed by the decrease in the sugar levels. It can help you determine when enough sugars have been consumed and your beverage is ready for bottling. Here’s my post on how to use a hydrometer.
Wort Chiller: If you are brewing 20L of beer, it can take a REALLY long time to cool down. (Overnight, if you are putting your boiling pot in a bathtub of water and ice packs). Taking a long time to cool down increases the risk of contamination, so it is best to cool your wort down as quickly as possible. A copper wort chiller hooks up to your sink and allows you to pass cold water through a copper pipe which is submerged in the pot of proto-beer.