Today 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.
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.
A non-exhaustive list.
- Brewer’s Friend (see the Tools section even if you don’t use it for recipes)
- Simple BIAB Calculator
- Bru’n Water
- Grain substitution chart
- The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Fourth Edition: Fully Revised and Updated
- How to Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right The First Time
- Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew
- Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation (Brewing Elements Series)
- Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers (Brewing Elements)
- Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse
- For The Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops (Brewing Elements)
- Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink
- The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes
- American Sour Beers
- The Oxford Companion to Beer
Note: Amazon affiliate links which help me support my beer habit.
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!