Spiral Galaxy Robust Porter

Learn to Homebrew Day 2014

IMG_7639Today is Learn to Hombrew Day, promoted by the American Homebrewer’s Association. If I wasn’t so lazy, I would have had a beer brewed for this and documented my steps and had some amazing (just trust me on this) pics and vids of the process. Since I’m lazy, I’m going to take the lazy way out and share some lessons and tools I’ve learned over about 10 batches of homebrew.

Lesson 1 – Consistency is your friend

From equipment to process to temperatures, being consistent is probably the most important thing to focus on when getting started brewing. Consistency is always fighting with New Equipment. Consistency is your OCD friend. New Equipment is your ADHD friend. Getting them to play nicely together is a challenge.So metal

When you first start out you have the basics to make beer. As you learn more and come to find what works and doesn’t work, you’ll inevitably add, remove, and change equipment. Every time you do, Consistency gets pissed (definitely in the American sense and most likely in the English sense).

Once you get to a point where New Equipment decides maybe you should take a break from each other Consistency will still be there waiting anxiously. She’ll help you brew better beer by having to focus on things like:

  • Recording every step of your recipe
  • Recording tasting notes
  • Recording as much data as you can
  • Documenting and following your process
  • Keeping everything in one system (see below for some tools for this)

Lesson 2 – Drinking during brew day impairs judgement

Hard truth. Turns out alcohol goes right to our friend Consistency’s head and brings out her alter ego, Variation. Variation will cause you to do things that hurt Consistency like:

  • Forget to take temperature readings
  • Forget to add specialty or late addition malts
  • Forget your wort is going to boil over if you don’t watch it (or better, use Fermcap)
  • Forget or mistime a hop additions
  • Forget to sanitize something
  • Forget your water additions
  • Forget to pitch your yeast
  • Forget to oxygenate your wort
  • Any just about any thing else that could reduce your chance of success

So, what do you do? Either don’t drink until you are done or limit yourself. Drinking a 11% Imperial Stout is a bad idea. Trust me.

Lesson 3 – Control fermentation temperature

Consistency is constantly harping on this, and with good reason. All other things being equal (which was Consistency’s yearbook quote), getting a control on fermentation temp will ensure quality beer. The early phases of fermentation are an orgy of biological and chemical magic and like all orgies it creates heat. If your fermentation temp rises too much you can get undesired or off flavors, depending on the yeast and temperature and what flavors are desired for the style of beer.

There are a few options for taming temp, ranging from simple and cheap to more complex and expensive. Invest the time and/or money to use one of the following:

  • Swamp cooler
  • Cool Brewing or other insulated bag with ice packs/frozen water bottles
  • Temp-controlled fridge/keezer
  • Temp-controlled fermenter

Even though you may have a spot for your fermenter with a constant temperature, holding the temp of your fermenting wort constant is the key. Can you make good and even great beer without doing this? Yes. Can you make consistently great beer? Unlikely.

Lesson 4 – Time is your friend

Time tells Consistency to RDWHAHB. Don’t try to rush things. This includes:

  • Your brew day
  • Fermentation time
  • Bottle or keg conditioning time
  • Giving up on a batch too soon

Some off flavors will mellow after time. Some beers will get better the longer they are conditioned. However, there are a few areas where you want to do things quickly: chilling your wort and drinking highly-hopped beers. Chilling your wort quickly will reduce the chance of off-flavors. Drinking your IPAs sooner than later will ensure you get the most out of your aroma hops.

Lesson 5 – Keep learning

As you brew more, learn more. Keep an eye on new equipment and techniques and keep a balance between keeping New Equipment and Consistency happy. Learn the science of beer so you know why things like temperature and time at various points in the process matter (or don’t). Experiment once you have your process down.

Resources

A non-exhaustive list.

Brewing Software/Tools

Forums/Community Sites

Books

Note: Amazon affiliate links which help me support my beer habit.

RDWHAHB

Brewing is fun and easy. The tips above should help you dial things in and hopefully spark ideas about what to brew next or get you started in the first place. Cheers!

New York City Beer Week 2014: Feb 21 to Mar 2

New York City Beer Week 2014You can view the full schedule of events at the NYC Brewers Guild site. Some of my choices:

  • Saturday 2/22 - Urban Oyster’s NYC brewery tour – starts at Paulaner Brau Haus: Tour 4 NYC breweries for beer, knowledge, food and fun. Tickets.
  • Monday, 2/24 7pm - Bacon Nation Beer Dinner with Peter Kaminsky & Wandering Star Brewing – Jimmy’s No. 43: Because, bacon. A five-course beer dinner with bacon. Special guests include Chris Post and Alex Hall of Wandering Star, and featured beers also from Rockaway and Rushing Duck. Tickets.
  • Tuesday, 2/25 8pm - Cuzday – 508 GastrobreweryBecause 508 is great and Chris Cuzme is a nice guy (and great brewer) head to 508 for a special Cuzday with a series of collaborative beers on all six taps between brewer Chris Cuzme and local homebrewers. The six beers were brewed with Brooklyn Homebrew, Bitter & Esters, Pour Standards, The NYC Homebrewers Guild, The Brooklyn Brewsers and Brooklyn Brewshop. Cuzme performs on saxophone from 8 pm – 10 pm. Pay as you go.
  • Wednesday, 2/26 6:30pm – 8 pm - Books on Tap: The Craft of Writing about Craft Beer – The StrandYou’ve always wanted to drink beer in The Strand and this is your chance. Oh, also, you’ll get to hear about writing about craft beer from NYC’s best craft beer authors including Jeremy Cowan (proprietor of Shmaltz), Josh Bernstein (The Complete Beer Course and proprietor of many great Homebrew Tours), and John Hall (The American Craft Beer Cookbook). No tickets required, but space is likely limited.
  • Sunday, 3/3 12pm – 3pm - Closing Beer Brunch – Houston Hall: If you want to see a bunch of hungover brewers and beer fans in a huge beer hall that used to be an automotive garage, then this is for you. No tickets required from what I could tell.

Autographed Copies of The Complete Beer Course on Sale

So you’re sitting around coming down from the shopping high that is Cyber Monday and wanting one last fix, right? Yeah, that’s right, I know you are. So, what you should do is get yourself a signed copy of Josh Bernstein’s The Complete Beer Course.

The Complete Beer Course

The Complete Beer Course by Joshua M. Bernstein.
Photo credit: Christopher J. Scott

Why? As Josh puts it:

[...] a portion of every sale is earmarked for diapers for my daughter. She has an insatiable Huggies demand.

If that’s not enough (and it should be because what are you, some sort of monster that doesn’t like cute babies?) it is a great way to learn about beer, regardless of your level of knowledge. Don’t know the first thing about craft beer? You’ll learn so much that your friends will consider you the beer geek/douche in no time. Can’t remember the difference between a gose and a gueuze? You’ll be reminded and probably even learn something you didn’t know. Sounds like a win to me.

Disclaimer: Josh is not only a fine author but a fine friend.