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.

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!