Tips On How To Brew Beer Better

The first purchase I made for homebrewing, comprised of a book. Before I even started thinking about brewing beer, I first read Charlie Papazian’s book “The Joy of Homebrewing”. When I look back, I now realize that only some of the value to me made sense the first time I read the book. Since then I have read the novel over and over again, and each time something new “clicks”. At the same time, Papazian’s encouraging and passionate style is extremely rewarding.

If you are in search of other reading material, John Palmer’s “How to Brew” and Randy Mosher’s “Radical Brewing” are also fantastic books regardless of how much experience you have when it comes to brewing beer.

However, there are a few things that you won’t find in these books, that I feel could be extremely beneficial to the starter homebrewer. Or, they may be telling you in these books, but for certain reasons, it hasn’t sunk in yet. Here are 10 pieces of useful advice, and the links to various other articles of interest.

Invest In A Bigger Kettle

Similar to many other homebrewers, the first important purchase I made was a Starter Equipment Kit. Once you have this type of equipment, all you will need is the ingredients and the kettle and you will be rearing to go. My first kettle was a 5-gallon stainless steel container for $35. Big mistake. It took me only 2 weeks, before changing it out to a 7.5-gallon kettle for $75. If you are planning to pursue all-grain brewing and you want to reduce the chances of your kettle boiling over, I suggest going for a larger kettle from the start. This will also help you to save your money over time. Find out more about how to choose your brew kettle.

Wort Chillers Are A Worthwhile Investment

The best method to lower the chances of your brew becoming contaminated involves chilling your wort very quickly, which will drop the temperature out of the dangerous range where bacteria likes to thrive. Most of the starter homebrewers do this by using a bath of ice to submerge their brew kettle in a bathtub or large tub. Depending on how much ice you have bought (an added expense), this usually takes anything from 40 minutes to over one hour.

To eliminate hassles, save a lot of time, and lower the risks of contamination, invest in a good-quality wort chiller. They come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, but the coiled immersion chillers are the most popular. These immersion chillers typically cost between $50 to $70 and can usually chill 5-gallons of wort in under 20 minutes. All that you need to do is to attach your cold-water source to your immersion chiller, adding your chiller to the kettle for the remaining 10 minutes of the boil so that the brew is sanitized. From here, turn your water on after the kettle is removed from its heat source.

The immersion chiller will do the rest. It is also easy to keep clean once you have completed chilling the wort. You can also choose a plate chiller, but these cost a lot more and are complex to use. Here is more information on different types of wort chillers, how to make a wort chiller, and different ways to cool wort.

Invest In A Bigger Auto-Siphon

When you transfer from your kettle to the main fermentor or when you are racking to a keg, an auto-siphon will become your main tool. Many of the starter brewing setups will include a 5/16″ auto-siphon. These tools cost around $10 if you purchase them separately, but if you are prepared to spend $4 more, rather get a 1/2″ racking cane. This is going to save you a lot of time moving the liquid from one vessel to the next. It was not until the 40th homebrew batch that I decided to move to a bigger size. This is something I could have benefited from the first batch. And if you get good enough at brewing beer maybe one day you can step up to the big leagues and build a brewery that has an ABS brew system.

Make Your Yeast Starter

When asking experienced homebrewers about the top-rated things they have achieved to make better beer, the most common answer I have heard is to pay closer attention to your yeast and to make sure your starter is strong.

Whether you decide to use a smack pack, a dry yeast package, or tubes of yeast, yeast starters are one of the best ways to ensure the fermentation cycle is getting a good start. It will only take you around 20 minutes and will significantly improve the likelihood of achieving an active and strong primary-fermentation stage. This will also lower the chance for contamination because as the sugar converts to alcohol, the process occurs more rapidly since the yeast is plentiful and healthy. Find out all you need to know about how to make yeast starters.

Oxygenate The Wort

Once the hot stage is finished and the wort is cold (chilled), there will be minimal oxygen left. Yeast needs oxygen to get the fermentation process going. You can use different methods to get oxygen into your wort. Adding water from a tap will add oxygen, but this will dilute the wort, reducing the flavor and ABV of the beer. I use an aeration stone (similar to the ones used in aquariums) or invest in a good-quality oxygenation kit. The oxygenation kits cost around $50, while the aeration stones start at around $35. Trust me, your brew will taste much better for it.

Do Use A Mummy Bag Mash

Investing in a Mush Tum-n might seem like an expensive investment, especially when you are starting. Some of the homebrewers are under the impression they can brew all-grain brews without this product. Well, they are wrong! If you own a good-quality sleeping bag, you can do the mash in a brew kettle (with the heat off), followed by wrapping the kettle in your sleeping bag for at least 60 minutes. The temperature will hold very well. Check on it after 15 minutes and add a bit of boiling water if the temperature needs to come up a bit.

If you have done your first boil on a stovetop and the mixture boiled over, you are well aware of what a mess it is to clean up. While it would be great to stop boil-overs altogether, it is pretty unlikely. However, a bit of preparation can save you a lot of mess later on. You can remove the burners from your stovetop and use an aluminum foil layer over the stove, allowing the burners to break through the layer of foil. If the kettle does boil over, remove your burners and then dispose of the soiled foil. If you have a propane burner and you are brewing in your garage, on your patio, or driveway. This method can also work for you, helping to prevent stains and an unhappy spouse.

We hope you enjoyed reading these useful tips and that you feel more confident about your homebrewing journey.

Storing Beer

Beer has changed over there years from buying the beer and drinking it on the spot to having massively flavored beers that need time to age for all the flavors to come into fruition. Avery Brewing Company out Boulder, Co. is a prime example of a brewery that makes very powerful beer that can be aged for 1 to 25 years. Must you age big massive beers? Of course not! However, by aging beer you’ll be drinking the beverage the brewers intended upon.

Beer does not have the shelf life of wine and that should be noted. While certain wines can be aged for 20 to 40 years, beer typically becomes oxidized (oxygen has now affected the flavor of the beer negatively) quite quickly. The average shelf life of a basic beer (5 – 6% alcohol by volume -abv-) has no more than 6 to 8 months. The higher the abv the longer you can age a beer. Some beers can be aged up to 25 years and still taste amazing! These same beers after 2 to 5 years start to take on the flavors intended by the brewers; these beers are meant to be aged! Some brewers have no idea what will come of their beer down the road while others have a very good idea; this is half the fun of aging beer.

Beer should be stored upright, not on the side of the bottle such as wine. There are several reasons behind it I’ll touch on just a few. One is yeast. Yeast settles at the bottom of bottles and by laying a bottle on its side, two things happen: A yeast ring (or watermark) will happen against the side of the bottle making it very difficult to control the yeast as you pour the beer. Beer bottles have their humidity (inside) that will allow the cork not to dry out (even after 10+ years!) so there is no need for the beer to touch the cork to prevent drying out. Remember corks are no sponges and are almost impermeable to water so having the beer touch the cork does nothing for the beer. Always store your beer upright!

The most convenient place to store your beer would be a refrigerator. A fridge has ample space to hold enough beer as well as forcing you to keep the beer upright. As much as I would love to say go out and get a self-contained – temperature-controlled unit for aging your beer, they almost always force the bottles on their sides; they are meant for wine, not beer. With the long-term aging of beers (years) a fridge is not ideal. A fridge is meant to keep food dry and drying out the cork will become an issue. For beers, you wish to age for longer than a year a cellar is much more appropriate. A caller will be in a room with temperature control and humidified and away from sunlight and environmental changes. This is the most ideal space to age beer long-term.

Another thing to note about aging beer is light. Natural sunlight (UV) will destroy your beer. It will lead to what the industry refers to as “sunky or sunk’d beer”. While there is no danger in drinking a sunk’d beer why in the world would you want to? While cans can impart different flavors to beer (it’s aluminum mind you), glass imparts no flavors and is ideal for most beer. While cans allow for zero light to get through (never having skunk’d beer) bottles on the other hand have to worry about light. Having bottles in the fridge unexposed to light will ensure a beer that can fully age. If you are very worried about light wrap the bottle in a brown paperback. Brewdogs from Scotland wrap their high-end beer (32% and 41% abv running $85 – $100 a bottle) in brown paper bags from the brewery to where the beer has been allocated to ensure zero exposure to light.

Make sure when buying beer you buy two bottles of each type. One for drinking and one to come back to in a year or more to see the age difference of the bottle. If you’re buying a limited release that can be very highly allocated and beyond difficult to track down, buy more than just two bottles; get 6! That will give you one to drink now and 5 more to age that you can open every year to enjoy and see the difference in beer.

Lastly know that the hardest thing to control when aging beer is yourself. You will almost always have a little voice creep in your head saying “drink me”. Don’t listen to him. It’s so difficult to have this amazing bottle of beer sitting in your fridge with only one purpose, to be drunk. To age beer is to feel as if you’re doing something wrong! You’re going against every grain of willpower not to drink this beer. It’s very similar to knowing where your loved ones hid your Christmas presents and not peaking. Master the ability not to touch a beer you’re aging and you’ll have come quite farther than most anyone else in the world of beer.

Tasting Beer Like a Professional

You’ve given your beer a good swirl and some great sniffs and you have an idea of what’s in store. Now chances are you have a virgin palate and that’s a great thing. You will be tasting a lot of beer from this point on (you’re going to keep throwing amazing beer parties right?) and with that, you’re going to come across a lot of flavors that may seem familiar. Do not be shy in calling them out! If the beer tastes like a green jolly rancher then say so! If it tastes like a cupcake or caramel or even toffee don’t be shy! There is no wrong answer when it comes to flavors of beer so don’t be afraid to say what you think it tastes like. On that note, as you drink, some flavors might come across as familiar or even foreign and you won’t know what you tasting; don’t worry this is common. By tasting more and more beer you’ll get down certain flavors as they come.

So how do you taste beer? Well after you give your beer a good sniff take a sip. You’ll want to take in just under a mouthful and swirl it around your mouth. Feel how the beer weighs on your palate. Is it heavy, soft, weak, thick, or rich? Swallow. Does the finish linger, is it fleeting, is it flavorful, is it boozy, is it dry, is it sweet?

When tasting beer you’ll want to look for the four senses your palate will pick up. Bitter, sour, salty, or sweet. Sweet is on the front of the tongue, salty on the front sides, sour on the backsides, and bitter on the back of the tongue. Each time you sip a beer you want to try to pinpoint one of these flavors, not all, just one. The first sip should be to take in the entire beer; each sip after should be to break down the flavors of the beer specifically.

You want to narrow what you perceive so you can pinpoint each flavor versus trying to take it all in at once. After you have found each flavor point, relax; now you can sit back and enjoy the beer. Don’t be afraid to talk about the beer with everyone else. Get their perspectives of what they taste and share yours. It’s a party, isn’t it?

Let’s take a moment and talk about palate cleansing. This is the key if you’re going to taste a fair amount of beer. First, keep some water on hand and sip it between beers to cleanse the flavors and start fresh. Have bread or crackers, they will reduce your palate to neutral and allow you to begin fresh. Having ginger (think the sliced ginger you get with sushi) on hand will work for cleansing as well.

Brewing Equipment Kits Improve Your Home Brew Experience

Brewing equipment kits tend to suffer from a reputation they don’t deserve. Many home brewers simply assume that they produce boring beer that’s lackluster at best and completely undrinkable at worst. Others feel that all-in-one brewing equipment kits are only for beginners and have nothing to offer the more seasoned home brewer. However, nothing could be further from the truth!

Today’s ready-made brew kits are better and more comprehensive than ever before. Not only do they continue to be favorites with brewers just starting, but seasoned veterans are finding out just how versatile they are for their own needs as well.

  1. Brewing equipment kits are convenient.

The modern homebrewer is typically very busy. He or she just doesn’t have a lot of extra time to spend fine-tuning every detail of their home brewing routine, but they certainly don’t want to cut any corners when it comes to quality either. Thankfully, more and more of today’s top names in homebrew supply (such as the famous Cooper’s) are coming up with premium brew kit options that are capable of producing palate-pleasing beer to suit even the most discriminating beer lover. They shave hours off your prep time and days off of your actual brewing time as well, meaning you get to enjoy your beer that much more quickly and easily.

  1. Brewing equipment kits are affordable.

The other commodity modern homebrewers simply don’t have enough of in these trying times is disposable cash. Many can’t afford to spend a fortune on homebrew equipment and others simply don’t want to. However, today’s all-in-one kits offer would-be beer makers everything they need in one simple package. They’re a great way to get started or inject novelty and ease of use into an established homebrew routine. They make great gifts as well.

  1. Brewing equipment kits offer incredible variety.

Gone are the days when choosing a prepared beer-making kit meant settling for only being able to make one generic, lackluster type of beer. Today’s brewing equipment kits now allow you to create every sort of beer you can think of in the comfort of your own home, including stout, lager, ale, and a wide selection of beers from around the world.

  1. Brewing equipment kits offer impeccable quality.

Today’s beer lover isn’t just getting more frugal as economic times get tougher. He’s also getting more discriminating and is unwilling to settle for less just because he’s on a budget. Today’s cutting-edge brewing breakthroughs mean he doesn’t have to! Top names like Cooper’s have been producing brewing equipment kits for years that are capable of producing homebrew of the very highest quality that consumers can be proud to drink and to serve to their friends to boot.

Whether you just got the idea to get into home brewing yesterday or have been making your beer at home for 20 years, you owe it to yourself to see why all-in-one brew kits are all the rage these days. You’re guaranteed to wind up wondering where they’ve been all your life!

Sonoma Valley Hops Festival

The ninth annual “Sonoma Valley Hops” was held at the Sacramento Institute for History and Art on Saturday. This was the first topic we wrote about here on the Times Union “Beer Pong” blog, so this event has some sentimental value to me. It’s basically a little beer festival held within the AIHA, but also an educational symposium as there are several presentations held throughout the day. It’s a unique format to say the least, we mean, how often do you get to drink beer in a museum?

We are not going to recap each presentation this year since they were essentially the same as those from 2013 (though Bob Cranfeld and Alan Soften’s talk about the Sacramento Ale Project was the best by far). We thought we’d just do a photo gallery this time around. Enjoy!