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Old 03-23-2008, 10:58 AM   #1
rickk
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Default Getting started: advice from the experienced

I thought I'd make a call out the the experience brewers out there: In speaking to a new brewer, what in your experience would you say are the most important factors in consistently brewing good beer? What are the most commonly overlooked factors? The simplest remedies to bad practices? Any common home brewing myths that you have clearly demonstrated to be untrue?

I don't mean to be cynical, but home brewing is an amateur hobby and therefore a new brewer will undoubtedly find lots of BAD advice. I believe that this most often comes from brewers who repeat things they have heard or read, but they forget to mention that they have not tested it themselves. Moreover, even in the standard published books, it is difficult for the new brewer to discern what is *truly* important; some factors are completely negligible compared to others, but the new brewer cannot know the difference.

What I hope to be different about this post is that I only want to see replies from those who consider themselves to be very experienced, and who can consistently brew great beers. PLEASE do not repeat some BS that is not in your experience just because it was in a book you read. If it is in a book, then say so, but this is for the new brewers who have already read the usual starter books (Palmer, Papazian, etc.).

Tell us your experience level and why you are giving your advice (e.g. did you do a controlled experiment yourself?).

Here is my first bit of advice to the new brewer, which is the only advice I can rightfully give at my experience level (I'm only about 15 batches in):

Recognize that home brewing is for most is just an amateur hobby. As such, you will need to question every source of information you find. Tasting several beers from another brewer is a good way (I'd argue it is the only way...) to gauge whether or not their advice is sound. If they brew fantastic beer, their advice is almost certainly not bad, although they still might suggest an unnecessary step (e.g. the yeast starter they *insist* on might not be necessary, though it certainly does not hurt). Even the advice from your best source needs to be tested; it should only be the starting point for *your own* experiments (e.g. split your next batch three ways and ferment at different temperatures; overheat some of your steeping grains and taste it; split a batch and see if a yeast starter makes a real difference; shake the hell out of one of your bottles before capping it, don't even bother sanitizing six of your bottles, and leave some crud in one of them; brew two batches at a time, changing only one ingredient between the two). With controlled experiments you can quickly find out what is BS and what is not. You will be surprised at what you find.

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Old 03-23-2008, 12:23 PM   #2
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Always take good notes.

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Old 03-23-2008, 01:32 PM   #3
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If you have any obsessive / compulsive traits they will be both a blessing and a curse.

Sure, you'll be meticulous about processes and details and probably take great notes and be able to reproduce incredible beer. But the next minute you'll forget why you are really homebrewing and you'll be dropping $2000 - $5000 on brew stands, mash tuns, larger kettles, looking for a 2nd wife, apologizing to your dog, enter hop addicts anonymous....

and eventually you will realize it was all worth it after you remember to...

"Relax and have a homebrew" - Thanks Charlie...wouldn't change a thing.

[I would give some sage advice, but for only brewing about 3-4 years, I'm a novice compared to the experts on here.] I guess my one bit of advice is to thank all the people that will undoubted help you out along the life of this hobby.

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Old 03-23-2008, 01:46 PM   #4
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The one thing I've learned is that if you give the process a half a chance, you will make great beers. This, I think, is why you can get so much conflicting advice - because no matter what you do, you will probably get a great beer at the end.

This thread: http://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?t=54362

...has some great thoughts that are right on topic for your question.

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Old 03-23-2008, 01:58 PM   #5
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Mod - merge threads?

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Old 03-23-2008, 02:19 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rickk
In speaking to a new brewer, what in your experience would you say are the most important factors in consistently brewing good beer? What are the most commonly overlooked factors?
Although not the 'sexy' side of making beer, sanitation and fermentation control are probably the two most important but often under-appreciated aspects of brewing. The role of sanitation is obvious, but short-cuts should never be taken (try a modern, no-rinse sanitizer if you want to save some time, instead). Fermentation is the real key to making good beer, IMHO. It starts with pitching an appropriately large and healthy batch of yeast into well-oxygenated wort at the correct temperature. It is also imperative that the fermenting beer be maintained at appropriate temperatures (which varies based on the beer style and yeast strain).

You can make decent beer without worrying too much about these items, but it is impossible to make outstanding beer unless you understand, appreciate, and master each of these fully, IMO. Once you have these basics down, THEN it is an appropriate time to experiment with different techniques, recipe formulation, etc.
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Old 03-23-2008, 02:30 PM   #7
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Don't sweat everything at once. Get yourself set up and make small improvements in your equipment and techniques to improve your process. If you do too many changes at once, you won't know which change had the effect you wanted (didn't want). Not only that, you'll drive yourself crazy trying to fix everything at once. First, make beer. Then make really good beer. Then make really good beer as cheaply as possible.

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Old 03-23-2008, 03:44 PM   #8
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I understand your desire to get proven advice from very analytical brewers but there are going to be people that make great beer DESPITE breaking some traditional rules. You have to wonder then, are they making great beers because they break the rules in some cases or are they just getting lucky?

What about the people who make great beers by following the lead of someone else but never questioned the process or performed any controlled experiments?
Is their advice any less valid because they can't quite explain the whys?

Brewing is pretty involved in and of itself and all published experimentation in our ranks always encourages a lot of criticism. Although all scientific claims should be criticized, you'll find very few people willing to test and repeat them because it's a lot of work.

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Old 03-23-2008, 06:18 PM   #9
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There's a big difference between personal preferences masked as advice and actually tried and true wisdom to be found here and everywhere. All it takes is common sense to know the dofference.

For example people who prefer kegging or AG may tell you their opinions on the matter, and sometimes that my sound like advice...but it's really just their opinions....Like weather to go to secondary or straight to bottle, or glass vs plastic, or idoophor vs starsan....It's informed opinion based on experience...we listen, but ultimately we make up our own minds...hopefully by getting as much info as possible...

But there is a lot of tried and true wisdom here as well...Practical info and tips that we know works.... for example that fermentation takes 24 to 72 hours to start, or airlock bubbling is not a sign of fermentation- The hydrometer is the only way to tell...that's not opinion...that's plain fact.

If you look at a thread, like the stone cold thread or the all to frequent (and often the same problem) "help me, is my beer ruined?" threads and you see several people saying the same thing, you can be best assured that they're not giving their opinion...the posters are stating fact...

If you look at nearly all the "is my beer ruined" or "My beer tastes funny, is it infected?" threads, you'll notice that the OP's of those thread all did the same thing...they tasted/opened the beer too soon (either after being bottled for a few days or 2 weeks) then they start a panic thread...and we all jump in and say the same thing, that 3 weeks is the absolute minimum time that it takes for a beer to carb fully and condition...That's not just opinion, or BS...it's the truth, beer has it's own agenda...And if the OP had looked at the Stone cold noob thread or any of the OTHER panic threads first, it would have saved them time or agravation...and saved us from having to repeat ourselves...

I guess what I'm saying is, you don't have to re-invent the wheel with your thread...the info's already here...if more than one person here says it's true, or more than one thread corraborates the other, then you can trust it....

You just have to separate the wheat from the chaff....the personal opinions, from the ACTUAL wisdom.

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Old 03-23-2008, 09:26 PM   #10
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So the advice thus far is:

** Take good notes on each batch.

** Fermentation temperature control is paramount. If ambient temperature is not in the appropriate range, then find some way to control it. This can be simple/inexpensive with a $15 heating pad or a bucket and some ice, and some creativity.

** Aeration is important (has anyone actually done side-by-side comparisons?), so don't forget to agitate your wort before fermenting. This is a trivial thing to do, so no excuses for not doing it.

** Never take shortcuts in sanitization for obvious reasons.

** Some advice might sound conflicting only because the person giving the advice uses a completely different system than you do. The brewer who gave you the "BS" advice might surprise you with the excellent beers they brew.

** It is possible to make great beer without doing the experiments yourself-- certainly the experiments can be avoided if you replicate the process of someone who you *know* brews great beer, and use the same ingredients, water, etc.? In fact, this is probably the best place to start.

Thanks for the input.

Any other important points that new brewers should be aware of? I was just looking to get a nice list of the important points that are sometimes obscured in the beginner books. I could have saved a few batches early on if I had known the dramatic effect that temperature has on the final product, for instance.

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