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.


A non-exhaustive list.

Brewing Software/Tools

Forums/Community Sites


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!


Fermented Tees

Fermented Tees is a new source for homebrew and craft beer t-shirts. They offered to send me one of their shirts for review so I chose the Add More Hops homebrew shirt.

Add More Hops

The graphic is screen printed on a Gildan 100% cotton shirt and is a bit more green to my eye than the photo on their product page. With NYC Craft Beer Week approaching, I’m looking forward to wearing this soon.

Check out fermentedtees.com for this and other t-shirts and even a wrench bottle opener.

Manhattan Home Brew Tour Review

A couple weekends ago, I heard about a Manhattan homebrew tour going on as part of NY Craft Beer Week. With a description like this, how could I resist going?

On this intimate homebrew tour, you and 25 strangers—soon to become drinking buddies and friends—will venture inside the homes of three of the city’s finest amateur brewers. Part voyeuristic excursion, part bar crawl, part educational class, the brewers will display their set-ups, discuss their craft and, most importantly, open up their stash of superlative beer.

In his welcome email organizer Josh Bernstein notes “There will be lots of beer today, so I heartily recommend eating a sizable breakfast/lunch”. With three stops and at least four beers to sample per stop with multiple samples per beer for most beers, having an entire pizza for lunch turned out to be a good idea.

Tommy Furnari pouring his Woman Scorned bitterThe first stop was at Tommy Furnari’s apartment where he poured an English bitter, a pale ale, a Bavarian hefeweizen, and a nut brown. All were delicious and there was some great conversation, questions, and knowledge sharing going on with the other homebrewers on the tour. Tommy was fairly new to brewing and did a great job on all his beers despite what, even by Manhattan standards, is a small kitchen.

Chris Weik pouring his Saison du FreedomNext up was Chris Weik who is a friend of Tommy’s and got him started in brewing. Chris has been brewing for about four years and recently was named the Whole Foods Bowery Beer Room and Kelso of Brooklyn Homebrew Hero for his Saison du Stiff (RB) recipe. We tasted two saisons–including Saison du Stiff–a porter, a pumpkin ale he bottled last year and a bottling from the original Saison du Stiff.

The final stop was Rich Buceta’s. Rich is in the process of opening up a brewery, SingleCut Beersmiths. In the mean time, he’s brewing an assload of awesome beer in his apartment. Rich had a tasting menu that spanned pages with about twenty brews on it. His fridge was a force to be reckoned with. We were able to sample the beers he is planning on launching with as well as anything else he had brewed up. He was more than gracious and kept pouring beers until late into the night and gave some of us there at the end beer of our choice to go.

This was a really fun tour. Josh was a knowledgeable and personable guide and Tommy, Chris, and Rich were all great hosts that are brewing some excellent beer. If you’re in Manhattan or Brooklyn after Josh takes a break from recent tours and GABF–where he’ll be debuting his new book Brewed Awakening–you should go on a tour.

View all the pictures from the Manhattan home brew tour.