Beginning Homebrew Advice
- Cheshire_Cat May 11, 2010 09:22 AM
So yesterday I made my first batch of homebrew, an American Brown Ale. Everything seemed to go ok so I am keeping my fingers crossed.
I thought I would reach out and ask what advice can you give to a beginning homebrewer? I read about 1/2 of How to Brew by Palmer (which is great btw) but like any hobby each person has their own style or way of doing things. So what is some wisdom you could share that may not be in a book? One of the areas I know was important is sanitation, I struggled with this area. Not so much in getting stuff sanitized but making sure that stuff stays sanitized.
The first piece of advice I can give you is to find a brewing partner, ideally someone who is understanding, enthusiastic and who knows more about the process than you do. A friend of mine really helped me understand the process when I was first starting out. Once I started working with novices, I found that explaining certain concepts helped me to understand them better.
The second piece of advice I will give you is that no one goes to college to learn how to brew beer. My second batch was all-grain and kegged. My fourth beer was lagered and turned out fantastic. Don't let anyone tell you that you have to follow a certain path or stick to specific styles before you get ambitious. You don't. If you have the desire and a few extra bucks, you can set yourself up to brew top quality beers in no time.
Third; brew what you like. If there is a style that is hard for you to find or a particular beer that you want and can't get anymore, brew it. I find that helps me to not only keep my focus but also to gauge my abilities as a brewer.
Oh, last piece of advice; after you brew, clean up right away. That's where the partner comes in handy. It is a real pain cleaning after the fact.
As a beginner homebrewer there are a couple of key points you need to pay attention to and not take any shortcuts - even though they will be suggested to you by others, shop owners, yeast manufacturers, etc. who want the process to seem as easy as possible to you.
1) sanitation - remember, you don't have to sanitize everything, just whatever touches the wort/beer after the boil. Get a good no rinse sanitizer like iodophor or starsan - don't mess around with bleach based sanitizers. Just follow the directions - no need to be overly anal about it either - especially if you follow the next point carefully.
2) Pitching the proper amount of yeast for the size and gravity of wort you have. That means making a starter with all white labs tubes, and all wyeast smack packs except for the Activator - which is good for 5 gals. up to around an OG of ~1.060. My advice for a beginner is to seek out and use (for quite a few batches until you get some success/confidence to branch out) Fermentis US-05 dry yeast. A very forgiving yeast that works well in a range of temps - and is likely to give you a "clean" beer. Its cheaper and no need to mess around with starters. One package is good up to ~1.060 in 5 gals. of wort.
3) Oxygenation/aeration of wort when yeast is added. You don't want to splash wort while it is hot, but after cooling and before fermentation it is not only ok, but necessary for healthy yeast. Can be as easy as splashing the wort as you fill your fermentation bucket/carboy, and/or rocking it back and forth for a few minutes after its in your vessel.
4) Maintaining proper fermentation temperature for the yeast being used. Generally for ales - that's in the 64-72 F range. Keep in mind that temperature of the wort will rise with fermentation and that the temperature of fermenting wort will be a few degrees above ambient temps. Stick on thermometers are reported to be accurate enough. With US-05 - best results imo are around 66F. If you need to drop temps a few degrees, keep a wet towel around your fermentation vessel - direct a fan on it if necessary and keep the towel wet. An electric blanket works to keep temps up in cooler months.
5) Recipe formulation. In the beginning you should probably stick to kits and known recipes that have been proven to be good. You may be tempted to go it your own way by adding ingredients you think are a good idea - most likely they won't be ;-) or you need some experience to finesse them, but you will ignore my advice here just like everyone does (including myself) and find out for yourself. My advice is to start simple with pale ales, ipas, porters, stouts, red ale, and get some confindence/knowledge/success (and drinkable beer in bottles) under your belt before attempting more advanced yeasts/ingredients. You will become a better brewer quicker than those who brew a different style with a different yeast everytime.
Seriously, one of the best tips I have is to keep a spray bottle of Starsan solution handy on brew day. Makes it real easy just to do an on-the-spot spray of anything and everything you even think might need to be sanitized.
I also second LStaff's rec of US-05. Clean, easy-to-pitch, a real all-around performer that's suitable for just about any ale. Just pitch after you bring your wort down to ~65F and try to keep it in that range during fermentation. If you pay attention to sanitation and temps, it's hard to make bad beer.
And of course, Relax, Don't Worry, Have a Home Brew!
Ernie Diamond has it right... and I'll add my 3 cents worth....
1-- Sanitation is job #1...if you do everything right but are lax about sanitation, your efforts could be for naught (or at the very least, not taste as good as it potentially could).
2-- Once you have some kit batches or tested recipes under your belt to get the hang of brewing, you can branch out and brew what_you_like ... and unless you enter your beer into competitions for judging, don't let anyone lecture you on beer being "to style" . Outside of entering contests, none of that matters. Just make good beer.
3-- Brew often. It'll get easier, and the beer will get better and better as you become familiar with the procedures. It's absolutely possible to make beer that's as good as or, with experience, measurably better than any commercial beer (including the micros) ...and you'll _always_ be bummed out when you draw the last pint or empty the last bottle of a successful brew.
re: The Professor
Adding to suggestion 3. BF and I are new brewers. For our first batch we decided to brew a Russian Imperial Stout. Didn't realize until after bottling that it would greatly improve with time and that it would be months before we could drink it. So while waiting we brewed a batch of Scotch Ale that we could drink earlier. So my suggestion is to either time it like we did and have two home brews going at once, or if you are in a rush to taste your first home brew don't choose a Russian Imperial to start.
And having a partner really helps. My BF works in lab all day so he handles the sanitation and heavy lifting. I do all our cooking so I handle the ingredients and mixing.
Finally, start collecting bottles now. We ended up having to buy a couple boxes of bottles because we were unable to collect enough in time for our second bottling.
Relax and have a home brew
A tip; There are certain types of bottles which cannot be returned. Bars therefore throw these away or recycle them, rather than returning them for a deposit. If you have a local or a bartender that likes you, ask about this.
My local supplied me with CASES of Magners Pint Bottles since they were essentially worthless. In return, I brought them my batches of beers and ciders to try.
Ask your local bartender if you can have the bottles they must recycle. You may be surprised at the answer.
re: Ernie Diamond
"There are certain types of bottles which cannot be returned."
Isn't that 99+% bottles, at this point in the US? (It is according to the Beer Institute which lists "Refillable bottles" at 0% in the Brewers Almanac http://www.beerinstitute.org/statisti... pg. 12 "National Package Mix").
The only brewery I've seen still using the traditional deposit returnable/refillable bottle is Straub in PA. and, in the immediate Pottsville area only, Yuengling. The Lion just ran it last ones a few months back. There may be one or two pre-craft mid-West brewers still using them but most, like BMC, have dropped the package. Even in the mandatory deposit states, those bottles are "no returns" and recycled, not re-used.
This is one thing I see alot of these days - thanks to the popularity of strong/extreme beers - and Sam Caligione's Extreme Brewing book targeted towards beginners isn't helping matters.
Making high alcohol beer on your first batch (or first ten) imo is akin to trying to run a 5k race when you haven't even learned to walk yet.
Hope it works out for you though.
Right on all counts. I've seen this trend too, even among the so called 'craft' brewers.
In any case, I hope too that it works out for the OP (even though RIS type beers are traditionally aged for a year or more before consuming). But I do always say 'brew what you like' and 'drink it when you feel it's ready'....but still, it makes a lot more sense to start simpler and get to know the process first. After all, even Picasso was trained in the 'naturalist' school of art before he embraced the avant-garde and abstract.
It worked out great. When we bought our brew kit the person at the store suggested starting with a kit stout because the recipes are more forgiven and clarity isn't as much of an issue. I've loved RIS since I started drinking it years ago, and I figured it would be more interesting to make the RIS than the Guinness inspired stout or the chocolate flavored stout that they had.
We let it age 4 months before starting to drink it. We have set aside some bottles to continue aging.
Follow LStaff's checklist to a T and you'll be fine. On brew days I'm the "partner" and my husband's the mad scientist doing all the measuring and gravity checks. We keep a giant bucket of StarSan solution in the kitchen with us and anything from spoons, wort chiller tubing to our hands gets dunked in it constantly. It's good that you're going into homebrewing knowing how important sanitation is and that you can never be too careful. I had a bottle of maple oatmeal stout explode in my face upon opening, and we've been extra careful since that batch!
But do try dry yeast first. The activators can drive you nuts by worrying if they've "puffed" enough until you've brewed with them a few times.
On a side note, if this is something you think you'd like to make a regular hobby, there's nothing quite like keg fermentation and having cold beer on tap in your house/garage, or in our case, on the back porch. We bought a chest freezer off craig's list and my husband rigged it to a refrigerator rather than freezer temp. Now two weeks after brew day we have perfect, ice cold beer every time :)
Palmer's book is excellent, as is Papazian's. And I particularly like the recipe ideas in Mosher's "Radical Brewing." Good luck and have fun with it :)