As I approach my second year of brewing I felt it would be good to crack open one of my milk stouts and reflect on 5 lessons i’ve learnt throughout the year that I think if you were able to follow these suggestions, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be able to produce some kickass beer.
I’m not going to go into it this too much as i’m sure way too many brewers have already told you about the importance of cleaning and for that reason I was reluctant to put this into the 7 tips but it wouldn’t do anyone any favours if i didn’t.
I can remember my first brew day and i was so worried about an infected beer that I must have washed my fermenter and paddle about 5 times. About 15 brews on, thankfully i’ve not had an infected beer once and you can pretty much ensure you do to by following these simple steps.
Clean anything that’s going to touch the beer with a recommend solution from a local home-brew shop. Each solution is designed with a specific water type and so for me in the uk, my home-brew shop suggests I use a specific cleaner that’ll work with the water I plan to brew with. If in doubt, get some star san, you can’t go wrong.
Let it soak for 15 minutes. You can save time by cleaning some items whilst your mashing or boiling. I know some people will argue that you don’t need to let it soak but that’s what I do and it works for me.
Clean your equipment straight after you’ve used it. Too many time’s i’ve left the cleaning for the next day and I don’t think i’ve ever been rewarded by doing that.
Finally, if you’re going to throw other ingredients in such as fruit or peal, i like to soak them in some vodka or whiskey depending on the beer style. This will help reduce infection.
There are so many beer styles out there and even within some of those styles there are many ways to make a beer your own. Whilst it might be tempting to try making different beers all the time there’s nothing like refining a recipe and creating a beer that your friends will be able to tell it’s yours.
I’ll let you into some of my recipe secrets, I have about 6 beers i’m currently working on and all of them are based on another recipe I know that I’m happy with. For example, I have a beer called ‘Galan’ which is a Centennial IPA that I am really happy with and so I know the grain bill works, for with all my news IPA’s i will generally start with the same grain bill and make any adjustments I need. I don’t think i have any beers that use the exact grain bill but I will always use that as my starter.
My first couple of brews were extract kits, i threw in the ingredients that came in the box and some water, gave it a good stir and two weeks later I had great beer. The only thing i ever needed to note down was the gravity readings. As I said above, you should work on perfecting a few recipes but you replicate a beer if you don't have a log of what you did. So, I made this beautiful grapefruit IPA a few months back and whilst I have a good idea the amount of hops and grain I used, i foolishly made no notes about the amount of grapefruit juice and peal I threw into the boil and in the fermentation vessel.
Another advantage by keeping a log is the amount of learning you’re going to go through especially as a beginner. I remember becoming frustrated that I couldn’t hit my original gravity target and i explained my brewing process with my friend and he highlighted that I might want to adjust my mashing schedule a little and low and behold, I was hitting my targets.
Right, i’ll keep the science to a minimum, i promise. Yeast is a thing of beauty, without it this website/ app wouldn’t exist. Yeast is relatively robust, but there are some things we can do that can kill it off or limit it’s capability.
I was brewing a golden ale a few months back and busted my guts through the mash to make sure I got all the sugars from the grain so that the yeast would create a beer at around 4.5%. However, rather than waiting for the wort to cool down to my desired yeast pitching temperature (23 degrees C/ 73 F ) I decided to pitch my yeast at 35 C / 95 F (it was 1am when I did this) which unfortunately resulted in a sluggish yeast and my beer came in at 3.0% (1.5% below my target).
I have a simple rule, find a yeast that works for you and stick to it. Some experienced home brewers might disagree with me but if you speak to any of the big breweries out their they will normally only carry a few different strains of yeast. I personally have two yeasts that I use, I use US-05 for all of my ales and then for any lagers i use Saflager 23. Each strain of yeast will result in a different beer, you might get a crisper finish with one yeast and get more of a fruit flavour in another yeast. Play around and find the yeast that works for you and your style of beers.
I’ll put my hand up right now and say that I really struggled to be patient. I’m the kinda guy that would pay the extra money to get something i brought tomorrow and once i’ve committed to something I want it immediately and whilst that’s not a problem normally, not having patience when it comes to brewing unfortunately can result in some sub-par beers.
I should start off by saying that the skills and knowledge are going to take some time to wrestle with, but with perseverance you’ll get there. Whilst you can buy as many books or the most expensive equipment out there but it doesn’t guarantee awesome beer, if you don’t spend some time to practice, learn and experiment, you’ll only going to waste your time and money.
It can be frustrating when you get a beer that you’re not happy with, especially when spent a day brewing and then waiting another 14 days before you can even bottle or throw it into a keg. Try not to be disheartened, drink the beer with some friends and ask them their opinions of the beer and use that experience to improve on the beer.
Give these ago and let me know how you get on but know you’re going to make mistakes but use them as a learning experience and you will keep developing your beers.
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