Feedback Score: 0 reviews
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Philadelphia, Philadelphia PA
Liked 5 Times on 5 Posts
I wish I knew then what I know now....
First a disclaimer. I have been home brewing for about 1 year. I started with extract, moved into partial mash, and am on batch 4 of all grain. All in all, I have brewed 50 odd gallons with extract/partial mash and 20 gallons in all grain. I have not had to dump a single batch and 95% of the time I have been really pleased, if not surprised, with what I was able to produced (my friends too!). This is definitely one of the most enjoyable and rewarding hobbies I have ever had.. So, while I am not an expert and do not profess to be one... I started a mental list a while back of things I learned along the way and finally got around to putting them down.
Hopefully, we can get a good thread going for our newer members, I did a couple searches and didn't find anything similar to this.
1) Before you jump in, get a book, heck get several books. Read them, understand the process and the basic science behind brewing beer. If you prefer simple approach, start with The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charles Papazian. If you prefer a more technical book, start with How to Brew, by John Palmer. If you prefer a very technical book, I enjoyed Brewing by Michael Lewis and Tom Young.
2) Join a local home brew club, bring a couple 6ers of your favorite brew. Ask if you can join one of them in a brewing session and see their setup. Nothing beats hands on experience or a mentor. You’ll find most people are more than willing to help you get started and share what they have learned.
3) When in doubt, search the appropriate forums here, use a single word to increase the relevancy of the results, I use google to search for entire phrases with better results.... If nothing else, then post a question and you’ll likely get some great advice within a few minutes.
4) Get to know your options for your Local Home Brew Shop (LHBS). Some are great, some are not so great… Stop in, check out the shop, get to know the owner, ask some questions… I have two in my area and frequent both for different reasons.
5) No matter how much you rationalize this, you are NOT saving money. This is a hobby and like all hobbies, it has a cost. The cost of the basic equipment alone would take dozens of brew sessions to recoup the cost, while not even factoring in the time commitment. Do it because you love beer and want to know more about how it is made.
1) You can purchase a basic extract equipment kit from several retailers on line or from your LHBS. The LHBS will usually be more expensive than a on-line retailer, but factor in shipping and it may come out the same. Alternatively, you can piece it together yourself if you have the time and save a few more $.
2) I would recommend that one start with extract, then try partial mash, before you make the leap into all grain. 1) it is cheaper and you will be out less $ in equipment if the hobby doesn’t take root and 2) you will gain valuable experience along the way.
3) Two must haves in any setup : 1) Wort Chiller – you can let your wort chill overnight or in an ice bath, both do work with good results. However, you are increasing your chances of infection. 2) Secondary Fermenter – Technically, we typically do not do a secondary fermentation. Simply put, this is another vessel in which you can transfer your beer into and leave behind trub, hot break, hops, yeast cake, etc that will create off flavors. This was the single best thing I did, which improved the quality and clarity of my beer. Sanitize and transfer 5-7 days after your initial yeast pitch, or when the bubbles from your airlock have slowed to every 30-60 seconds. I prefer stainless, glass, and plastic in that order for my fermenters, but better bottles and food grade plastic pales work just as well. However, over time they can scratch, which provides great spots for bacteria to evade your sanitization efforts.
4) Airlock – this is only to keep out unwanted bacteria and wild yeast, it cannot tell you if fermentation is complete. DO NOT TRUST THE BUBBLES (or lack thereof)!
5) Hydrometer – Measure gravity often, it is the key to understanding where you are in the brewing process… If you are doing a full boil extract beer, I would measure gravity before you start adding hops. If you are doing a partial boil, measure it as you add increments (e.g., ½ - 1 gal) of your top off water. Nothing is worse than a thin beer! If you are post-boil, discard the sample and DO NOT add it back. Hydrometers are fragile and often inaccurate. Calibrate it with distilled water and never put it in boiling wort. I prefer a refractometer.
6) Refreactometer – Uses a fraction of the wort a hydrometer does, often much more accurate, and you can pick up one off eBay for the same price as a hydrometer.
7) When you get new equipment, do a test run with it before you use it for real. For example, I picked up a pump and a plate chiller. I practiced moving water around before I used it in a brew session.
1) Kits are a great way to start. For example, Brewer’s Best makes very simple, easy to read and understand, and provides a list of ALL the ingredients; they usually run $35-45. Some on-line retailers and LHBS sell kits, but will not tell you the ingredients because it is “proprietary”.
2) Start a brew log. Either write everything down, follow the provided directions, or use some software (BeerSmith, Beer Tools Pro, etc.). Document any deviations or corrections. This is the best way to identify ways to improve over time or figure out what you did wrong.
3) Give yourself enough time and don’t start brewing at 8pm at night (I did once and finished at 2am). For extract, from sanitization to clean-up, it would take about 3 hours for me based on my setup. For all grain, this went up to 5-6 hours.
4) For partial mash or all grain, do not start your hops cycle as soon as you reach your boil. Measure your gravity, you may need to boil down a bit to hit your pre-boil gravity target. This will help ensure you end closer to your target gravity without impacting your hops utilization, at the sacrifice of little volume and maybe a darker color (maillard reaction) and some carmelization.
5) For All Grain: Group buys are a GREAT way to cut your ingredient costs by ½! I am now brewing beer for less than $5 a gallon!
6) Boiling removes all oxygen from your wort. As most off flavors are generated during the lag phase (1st phase) of yeast growth, it is important to keep them happy. To do this, you should aerate your wort after it has chilled... If you add oxygen while it is still hot or even warm (100+) you will oxidate your beer, causing off flavors (mostly old cardboard taste). To oxygenate you can do three things: 1) shake or roll it for a few minutes in the carboy 2) Use a aquarium pump, hepa filter, and aeration stone for 15 min or 3) pure oxygen and a aeration stone for 1-2 min.
Most importantly, have fun…
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity...