Today we are going to discuss 10 tips that can help you brew better beer. These are things I wish I had known when I first started brewing at home, but instead had to learn through trial and error. Enjoy!
1. Use High-Quality, Fresh Ingredients
Fresh ingredients are key to making great homebrew. If you’ve been using dry yeast, consider upgrading to liquid yeast. If you brew with extract, try to find fresh extract rather than using a can that has been sitting on the shelf for years. Store your liquid yeast in the refrigerator, grains in a cool and dry place, and hops in the freezer. Remember that hops, dry malt, yeast, liquid malt, and crushed grains all have a limited shelf life and should be used quickly. Crushed grains, dry malt, and liquid malt will oxidize over time.
2. Do Your Homework
Brewing great beer is part science and part art. Why leave the science part to chance? Using brewing software can make a big difference in your brewing process. It allows you to calculate the color, bitterness, and original gravity upfront, so you can match your brewing style. As I brewed more, I started reading top brewing books, participating in discussion forums, and exploring online brewing resources. All of these sources, combined with experience and experimentation, greatly influenced my brewing style and consistency, as I strived for brewing perfection.
3. Keep it Sterile
Anything that comes into contact with your beer after it has cooled down must be properly sanitized using popular sanitizing solutions like bleach or iodophor. The period immediately after cooling your beer is crucial, as this is when bacteria and other contaminants are most likely to take hold before the yeast starts fermenting.
4. Cool the Wort Quickly
Rapidly cooling your beer has several benefits. It helps proteins and tannins that are harmful to your beer settle out, and it reduces the risk of infection. Investing in an immersion wort chiller is a relatively inexpensive way to improve the clarity and quality of your beer. This is especially important when brewing full batch boils.
5. Boil for 60-90 Minutes
Boiling your wort serves several important purposes. It sterilizes the wort, evaporates undesirable compounds, releases bittering oils from hops, and causes proteins and tannins from grains to coagulate, allowing them to settle out during cooling. To achieve all of these goals, you should boil for at least 60 minutes. For lighter beer styles, a longer boil of 90 minutes is recommended.
6. Control Fermentation Temperature
While not all brewers have dedicated fermentation refrigerators, there are simple methods you can use to maintain a consistent temperature for ale fermentation. One effective technique is to find a cool and dry area in your home, wrap the fermentor in wet towels, and place a fan in front of it. Wet the towels every 12 hours or so, and you should be able to achieve a steady fermentation temperature in the range of 66-68°F (19-20°C). Most brewing shops sell stick-on thermometers that can be attached to your fermentation vessel to monitor the temperature.
7. Switch to a Full Batch Boil
Boiling the entire volume of your wort brings significant benefits to your beer. If you are only boiling 2-3 gallons of a 5-gallon batch, you’re not maximizing the advantages of a 60-90 minute boil. Investing in a 7-12 gallon brew pot and an outdoor propane burner (which will keep your spouse happy since you’ll be brewing outside) are great steps towards transitioning to all-grain brewing. Full boils will greatly improve your beer.
8. Use Glass Fermenters
Glass carboys (or stainless steel fermenters) offer many advantages over typical plastic buckets. They are easier to clean and sterilize. Glass or stainless steel provides a 100% oxygen barrier, while plastic buckets are porous and can leak oxygen if stored for long periods. Additionally, plastic fermenters often have poor seals around the top, which can allow leaks in both directions and make it difficult to determine when fermentation has actually finished. A 5-gallon glass carboy is a better option, and they are available at a reasonable price in most stores.
9. Make a Yeast Starter
While pitching yeast directly from a tube or packet is acceptable, your beer will ferment better if you make a yeast starter first. Boil a small amount of dried malt extract in a quart of water with 1/4 oz of hops. Cool it down and then pitch your yeast into it 2-3 days before you plan to brew. Cover it with foil or use an airlock and place it in a cool, dark location. When brew day arrives, pitching your starter will result in a quicker start to fermentation and reduce the risk of infection or off-flavors.
10. Make Long-Term Purchases
You might have started brewing with a basic kit, but if you enjoy brewing, it’s best to make long-term purchases instead of buying things piecemeal. For example, instead of buying a 3-gallon pot, then a 5-gallon pot, and so on, it would have been more cost-effective to jump straight to a 9-gallon stainless pot. The same goes for immersion chillers—instead of buying multiple sizes, settle on a good two-stage 3/8″ diameter copper coil. By making long-term purchases like investing in a good pot, chiller, glass carboys, and a nice mash tun or cooler, you will save a lot of money in the long run.
I hope you find these tips helpful for your brewing endeavors!