Today we look at 10 tips for brewing better beer. These are things I wish I knew when I started homebrewing but had to learn the hard way. Enjoy!
- Use High Quality, Fresh Ingredients – Fresh ingredients make better homebrew. If you started with dry yeast, move up to liquid yeast. If you are an extract brewer, look for fresh extract rather than a can that is several years old. Store liquid yeast in the refrigerator, grains in a cool dry place, and hops in the freezer. Hops, dry malt, yeast, liquid malt and crushed grains all have a limited shelf life and must be used quickly. Crushed grains, dry malt and liquid malt will oxidize over time.
- Do your Homework – Designing great beer is one part science and one part art. Why guess on the science part? Switching to brewing software like BeerSmith can make a difference in your brewing as it gives you the opportunity to calculate the color, bitterness and original gravity up front to match your brewing style. As I brewed more, I started reading top brewing books, engaging in discussion forums and browsing the internet for brewing resources. All of these sources, combined with experience and experimentation dramatically impacted my brewing style and consistency in a search for brewing perfection.
- Keep It Sterile – Anything that touches your beer after it has started cooling must be sanitized using any of the popular sanitizing solutions (bleach, iodophor, etc). The period immediately after you cool your beer is particularly critical as bacteria and other infections are most likely to take hold before the yeast has started fermentation.
- Cool the Wort Quickly – Cooling your beer quickly will increase the fallout of proteins and tannins that are bad for your beer and will also reduce the chance of infection. An immersion wort chiller is a relatively inexpensive investment that will improve the clarity and quality of your beer. Cooling is particularly important for full batch boils.
- Boil for 60-90 Minutes – Boiling your wort performs several important functions. It sterilizes your wort, vaporizes many undesirable compounds, releases bittering oils from the hops and coagulates proteins and tannins from the grains so they can fall out during cooling. To achieve all of these noble goals you need to boil for at least 60 minutes, and for lighter styles of beers a longer boil of 90 minutes is desirable.
- Control Fermentation Temperature – Though few brewers have dedicated fermentation refrigerators, there are simple methods you can use to maintain a constant temperature for ales during fermentation. The best technique I’ve seen is to pick a cool, dry area in your home and then wrap the fermentor in wet towels and place a fan in front of it. Wet the towels every 12 hours or so, and you should get a steady fermentation temperature in the 66-68F range. Most brewing shops sell stick-on thermometers that can be attached to your fermentation vessel to monitor the temperature.
- Switch to a Full Batch Boil – Boiling all of your wort will benefit to your beer. If you are only boiling 2-3 gallons of a 5 gallon batch, then you are not getting the full benefits of a 60-90 minute boil. The purchase of a 7-12 gallon brew pot and (highly recommended) outdoor propane burner (which will make the spouse happy as you now brew outside) are great intermediate steps for moving to all-grain brewing and the full boils will improve your beer.
- Use Glass Fermenters – Glass carboys (or stainless) fermenters offer significant advantages over the typical plastic bucket. First they are much easier to clean and sterilize. Second, glass (or stainless) provides a 100% oxygen barrier, where plastic buckets are porous and can leak oxygen if stored for long periods. Third, plastic fermenters often have very poor seals around the top of the bucket and can leak in both directions making it difficult to determine when fermentation has actually completed. A 5 gallon glass carboy will do the job better, and is available at a very reasonable price from most stores.
- Make a Yeast Starter – While pitching directly from a tube or packet of liquid yeast is OK, your beer will ferment better if you make a yeast starter first. Boil up a small amount of dried malt extract in a quart of water with 1/4 oz of hops. Cool it well and then pitch your yeast into it 2-3 days before you brew. Install some foil or an airlock over it and place it in a cool dark location. When brew day comes, pitching your starter will result in a quicker start and less risk of infection or off flavors.
- Make Long Term Purchases – You may have started brewing with an off-the-shelf kit, but if you enjoy brewing then you are best off making long term purchases rather than a series of short term purchases. For example, early on I bought a 3 gallon pot, then a 5 gallon pot, then an 8 gallon enamel pot and finally a 9 gallon stainless. It would have been much cheaper to jump to the 9 gallon stainless after the 3 gallon pot. Similarly I’ve had several sizes of immersion chillers, finally settling on a two stage 3/8″ diameter copper coil. If you instead make long term purchases (a good pot, a good chiller, glass carboys, a nice mash tun/cooler) you will save a lot of money in the long run.
BeerSmith Brewing Software – Take the guesswork out of brewing