Tips for the Beer Enthusiast Wanting to Start Brewing Their Own
Brewing beer became an interest for me when I finally moved away from Coors light and Budweiser and had a taste of what else the beer world had to offer.
I thought wow these are so much better than “The Silver Bullet,” how has this been hiding from me for so long!
So I started to do some research to find there are so many different types of beer, so many different types of hops and malts, and what seems like an endless combination of what could be created.
It wasn’t until many years later that I pulled the trigger and bought my first homebrew setup. Through a ton of research and asking friends who were accomplished brewers, I had the information I needed to make a purchase.
I ended up buying a system from a homebrewer looking to upgrade to a more advanced system, I highly recommend this as you will save money and the person you are buying from has worked the kinks out.
If you do not have this option the following tips will help you make an educated purchase, brewing errors to avoid, and have you on the way to brewing your own beer.
Step one, you are going to need a boil kettle. This is where you will add your barley, malts, and hops into a boiling water to make your wort, the building block of beer.
Most kits you buy will have at least a 5-gallon (20 Quart) pot to boil your ingredients. I highly recommend getting something larger. When adding the ingredients into a boiling pot of water there will be an increase in the activity in the water and can cause a boil over.
I have done this and it leaves a disgusting sticky mess and ruins your kitchen. I recommend getting at least an 8 gallon pot for several reasons.
One, as mentioned above in case of the overactive boil it has the extra space so you do not have to worry about a boil over.
Two, most recipes are written around having a 5 gallon yield so unless you are wanting to make 2 batches to get the 5 gallon end result you will need more space.
Three, it will give you room to expand your setup as your skills grow and you look to move onto more complex brews. Another note, do your research here too and do not buy a cheap kettle, they can leak and not be designed to handle high heat for long periods of time, and stay away from Aluminum, stainless steel is a must.
There are many reasons for this, but you can find that during your own research.
Another must have is a good thermometer. Temperature control is one of the most important things to be careful of throughout the entire brewing process.
The temperature you do everything at from a mash to the fermentation will determine how a beer tastes and you cannot get a good feel for temp without a good thermometer. I personally use a Thermapen.
Sanitation is probably the most important thing you need to watch for during your brew. There are bacteria and wild yeasts everywhere in the air and if enough of this gets into your post boil wort, expect strange flavors and an undrinkable beer.
Many brewers have gone onto non-scrub sanitizers such as Star-san, which can be sprayed on a surface and left there with no scrubbing needed.
Other miscellaneous items that are important, a hydrometer, an Erlenmeyer flask, some sort of timer, and a notebook. The notebook is where you will, obviously, take notes and track the nuances of the beer.
As you track the recipes and tweaks you make to them, you will be able to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and how you can apply these to other recipes and figure out where to improve.
This is where the timer and hydrometer come in handy. A hydrometer measures the sugar levels of the wort, the sugar levels are important because it will give you an idea of how much alcohol will be in the beer which effects the taste massively.
Usually during a boil I will take at least 5 readings from the hydrometer: one preboil, then at the 45, 30, 15, and 0 minute marks. By monitoring these you can see where you need to be by the end of the boil to replicate the end results of the previous boil of a recipe to attain the same results.
Timing is key here too because if you aren’t taking readings at the same time you really won’t know where you are or what adjustments need to be made.
Finally, the Erlenmeyer flask, this will be used to making a yeast starter. As you know yeast is what takes the sugars in your wort and turns it into alcohol, the most important part of the beer! I mean what’s the point of having a non-alcoholic beer.
Yeast can be expensive and finding fresh, healthy yeast can be hard. A yeast starter is essentially a small batch of beer designed to grow one pack of yeast into 2, 3, or even more.
This will save money and ensure you have fresh and active yeast which will help to ensure you get the best results from your brew.
Going along with the yeast, it is always important to have fresh ingredients, you wouldn’t expect a chef to make a great meal with frozen ingredients and brewing is no different.
Using purified water or at least carbon filtered water will greatly increase the quality of the taste. Any impurities in the water will be noticeable in the beer.
I once used a garden hose to fill the rest of my water needs and believe it or not, my beer tasted like you were drinking it from a hose so be aware of everything that could affect the taste as it probably will.
Another great practice every master brewer knows is their boil off rate, or the amount of water you lose while at full boil.
To determine your boil off rate, fill your kettle with 3-5 gallons making sure you know the exact amount, and then boil for 60 minutes.
Turn the burner off and measure the remaining water left in the kettle, the difference between what you started with and what remains will be your boil off rate.
When starting to boil your wort you will need to factor in your boil off rate to ensure you end with the correct volume of wort before fermentation.
Finally, to go along with temperature, once your boil is done you must cool the wort off to room temperature before adding the yeast.
Too high of a temperature can kill the yeast or make it behave differently than you want and create unwanted results. Remember, yeast is a living organism and needs a comfortable environment for it to thrive.