Some Notes For The Motivated Beginner Brewer

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So you want to make some beer, huh?
You might be about to, or may have already, taken the plunge and purchased some basic equipment and perhaps a beer ingredient kit. Good for you! Welcome to the world of home brewing, and to what may very well, become an all-consuming hobby.
Talk to most home brewers, and you will hear a similar story: "I've always liked beer, and I wanted to try and make it, as it seemed pretty simple." This statement is pretty much true, especially when starting out using ingredient kits. You get all the ingredients and the step-by-step instructions. All you need is some basic equipment: a big pot, a fermenting bucket, a bottling bucket, some tubing, bottles, caps, a capper, and perhaps a bottle filler. Voila, beer!

Get Brewing With Some Essential Gear

Now if you enjoyed that first beer brewing experience, you will probably try it this way again... and maybe again. At the same time, you will be researching about ways to perfect the craft. THAT, my brewing friend, is where things get interesting.
Making my first batch, a clone kit called "Irish Stout", was fun and turned out to be delicious. My next was the same kit, to which I added cocoa and coffee, based on some HomeBrewTalk forum reading. Again, GREAT, and this got me thinking about developing my own recipes - why not?

Understand Which Ingredients Work Best
My first self-made recipe was a mocha java stout made using the "partial mash" technique (a combination of malt extracts and malted grains). It came out great, leading me to the inevitable next step... all-grain brewing.
My desire to brew an all grain recipe sent me on my way to become a better brewer (and set in motion a chain of purchases that made my wife a bit nervous). But I digress; this is an article for beginning brewers, and so I will give you words to live by here.
You will be nervous making the first and second batches, even from kits. Just relax, 'it ain't rocket science'. Once you master this, you will probably want to brew using all-grain recipes (especially if you enjoy cooking- but that's for another article), and you should. It is easy, and only requires a few new equipment items, such as a mash tun and an extra pot. Maybe a turkey fryer. Whaaaaat? Keep reading.
You are going to hear strange foreign words for some of the equipment, but soon those words will make sense and become part of your vocabulary. My point is, don't let that worry you. For example, a mash tun is a vessel used to hold your grain and hot water at a set temperature for a set amount of time. Most commonly, this is a cooler with a strainer and valve at the bottom for draining.
Oh, and remember I mentioned purchases? I was consumed with buying equipment (or parts to DIY my own equipment), when, just as I was told I probably would, I got tired of bottling. Hellooooo Craigslist? I needed a chest freezer, a temperature controller (get used to the term "STC 1000 build"), and old soda kegs with tap lines! Wait, I need a Co2 tank and gas regulator too!
In short, to quote Charles Papazian (Google if you don't recognize): "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew".

Experiment And Refine Your Brewing Process
It will take a little while before you are the next Eberhard Anheuser, so get the basics nailed down first - maybe a simple SMASH recipe.
As you continue your journey, you will can keep it as simple or as complex as you want. For instance, you might agonize over your water chemistry (or not), or study the alpha and beta values of a certain hop variety to choose for your recipe. Don't go there yet. The KISS principle applies here: Keep It Simple, Stupid!

The Goal Is To Make Beer And Have Fun Doing It
This is as much of a hobby for folks who just want to make homebrew as it is for folks who are like detail-obsessed mad scientists, or folks who want to enter beer in competitions.

Saving Notes From Each Brewday Is Very Helpful
Make it fun, keep learning, and you will have a very rewarding hobby.
Oh, and get ready to spend some cash when you really catch the beer bug....


I've kept a brew log since my first brew. Of course, the amount of information for each batch has grown as I've learned how to better measure and control my processes. I also have an appendix in which I list specific lessons learned, such as 'Dissolve dry extract in room temperature water before adding to boil pot' or 'Make sure all valves are closed until you specifically want them open.'
Actually, that last one is on there a couple of times.
Same here - I now look back at my notes from when I first started and they are pretty much useless compared to what I do now, but you certainly have to start somewhere. Now I am measuring and taking notes of every possible thing (water mineral additions, mash pH, pre-boil gravity, etc.), and I have noticed much better consistency in the quality of my beers.
Brew log not only helps with notes and tips but also keeps me in stride. I didn't use once after using it every time and my brew day was all over the place, granted my buddy came to help and brought beer but that's another lessoned learned that day.
Everyone talking about brew logs... I keep my instructions when I buy kits, and now that I am doing a little bit of all-grain, I am using to track my brew sessions. That said, I'm not sure I have a picture of what a really good brew-log looks like. Are there any examples out there? Preferably of the computer kind, I don't like paper.
KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid, is a great moto to brew by. I like to take a ground up approach with my beers. Start basic (SMaSH) and then perfect by tweaking variables. That's how I'm working on achieving a great Kolsch and it's been working well so far!
Nice little writeup. I totally agree with the KISS principal.
The terminology and descriptions can be a bit daunting at first. Once you get past that language-barrier, all it takes really is some time, some common-sense and a few pieces of cooking gear
So far I have brewed two one gallon micro-brews, and my first extract 5 gallon batch is in bottles but needs at least another week to condition. I also have another one gallon micro fermenting. So far I have not taken any real notes beyond date and time I started. My reason for this is that I want to concentrate on the kit instructions and to keep the process fun and not too scientific at least not yet. I want to learn the process and make a few mistakes and get all the equipment together before I start taking detailed notes. I recently scored a 5.2 cubic inch chest freezer that is now a fermentation chamber. I really want to do all grain brewing but I need to get a mash tun before I can do that. This all started a couple of months ago on a whim so I am a little reluctant to make it seem too much like work at this stage. Not saying taking detailed notes is a bad thing, i'm sure I will be doing that soon, just not yet!
@horaceunit - you can BIAB (Brew In A Bag) with only the equipment you have now plus a paint strainer bag. BIAB is the easiest way to get into all grain, once you start you may decide that there is no reason to get into 3 vessel at all.
My first brew was an octoberfest, followed right away with an irish stout. I use a log patterned from Charlie Papazian's book, but with more free-text. I am not much of a journaler, but as I look back it is interesting to see how I have progressed ( at least in my mind). Good article.
This appears to be a book, printed on former trees :0) SPOD doesn't like paper. Did I miss something on Drew's site?
I might just pick up a copy of the book though, I like.
Good article and some nice points.
I might be the odd man out on this note thing, not saying i dont track things and keep info but i have found my note taking has decreased through the years.
I think part of that was starting on paper, switching to computer, then back to paper. The software i was using for years just stopped being supported and after a cpu change i couldn't get an unlock code.
I am now using another program but all the change over the years (irt notes) still has trying to figure out what's the best way for me and instead of worrying about it i just roll with it and figure i will come up with something sooner or later.
So, for now I do keep notes, just not as detailed as i used to.
At this point I take notes mainly as a method of learning what I am doing right or wrong. I don't have the ability/equipment to solidly replicate anything yet.
I find it interesting everyone is talking about taking notes, but there is no mention of it in the entire article, only a picture at the end, with a photo comment, as well as using it for the cover photo.
Not saying anything good/bad about the article, just funny how much people focus on images.
A picture IS worth a thousand words (or 667 in this case).
Thanks for the kind comments everyone- this was my first article. As for the note taking, mine are now mostly printouts from BeerSmith, with notes later about final gravity and taste/color, etc., in case I want to tweak something on another brew batch.
@xandersaml I got a little trigger happy and posted that before I read his whole comment. That's how excited I am about Drew's book :)
FYI, a second kettle is not needed, even without doing BIAB. I don't use a second kettle to allgrain brew. I heat my sparging water in my kettle, go a few degrees higher than I want (maybe 175F to 1800F if I want to sparge with 170F) and then put it into a large cooler (I don't transfer until I am absolutely ready to sparge). The cooler will absorb a little heat and then I am pretty much at my desired 170F. Then, I can start lautering into my kettle from my lauter/mash tun, heating my wart as it drains, already on the burner. On a side note, I don't fire the burner until I have lautered at least a few quarts. I don't want to caramelize any of my precious wart. I hope this helps! Using the large cooler is much cheaper than buying a second stainless kettle! Though I am sure I'll get a second one soon enough...