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Brewing Tips & FAQ

Being an active member of three different homebrew clubs, I have a chance to talk with a lot of different brewers at different stages of their brewing evolution.  I really enjoy talking with the guys that are just getting started, because I feel like I can save them time and effort by not necessarily doing the things that were considered necessary several years ago.  You'll find a lot of my hints stem from my being somewhat lazy and not doing any steps or taking time to do things that I don't deem necessary.  These are all based off my personal experience, so don't take them as gospel.  Do your own experimenting and see what works for you.  Here are a few helpful tips I end up talking with people about the most:

General Brewing

Don't Transfer to Secondary

Buckets are Awesome

Use Liquid Yeast!

Temperature Control

Water Treatment

Clear Beer with Gelatin

All-Grain Brewing

Shorten Your Mash Time

Batch Sparge!

Buy a Refractometer

Multi-Tasking

 

Extract Brewing

Late Extract Addition

Boil Big

 

General Brewing Tips

Don't Transfer Your Beer to Secondary (Unless you need/want to*)

For most beers, you really don't need to transfer to a secondary fermenter.  I just leave my beers in primary for a few (3-5) weeks until I've got a few to keg and then I take care of them all at once.  Since I keg, a little bit of sediment really isn't an issue if I happen to transfer some yeast and/or trub over.  I could see a somewhat valid argument for people who are bottling, but even then, they're already transferring into a bottling bucket (typically), so that will reduce the amount of trub transferred.  I brew way too much beer to have to fiddle with transferring them all into secondary fermenters.

* About the only time I transfer a beer into secondary is if I'm planning on dry-hopping, oaking, or adding fruit and/or spices.  This allows me to rack the beer on top of whatever I'm flavoring with to get everything well integrated.  Other than that, all my beer goes straight from primary to keg.

 

Buckets are Awesome

I really never wanted to use glass fermenters.  They're heavy, easily breakable, and a general pain in the ass.  You never read about someone severing tendons in the hands/arms or requiring stitches when they break a plastic bucket.  I have several plastic buckets that I've been using for years without any issues.  When the bucket starts getting stained or a little old, I'll either start using it for my sour ales or repurpose it for grain or other things.  The old argument was that plastic was oxygen-permeable whereas glass was not.  I've never experienced oxidation in any of my beers, even ones that have been in primary for over 3 months.  It's just not that big of an issue.  And if you're worried about it, go with better bottles or big mouth bubblers.  On the rare occasion that I transfer a beer to a secondary fermenter, I use a 5 gallon better bottle.  They have roughly the same properties of glass, but won't break as easily.  Here are a few options that should fit your needs:

 

        

 

Use Liquid Yeast!

**UPDATE 2/27/2017 - The overall quality and variety of dry yeast continues to improve. Since I brew mostly American ales, I typically use Fermentis US-05, but I have experimented with their different specialty strains, along with dried varieties from Lallemand & Mangrove Jack with great results. That being said, liquid yeast strains still have an edge over dried versions for the sheer number of different variety available.**

 

Don't get me wrong, I've used my fair share of dry yeast over the years.  In fact, I still use US-05 a ton for my American-style ales and some higher-gravity beers when I'm too lazy to make a starter.  But if you're looking to make an authentic beer like a German weizen or Belgian Dark Strong for example, liquid yeast is the best way to go to get the proper flavor profiles.  Dry yeast has come a long way over the years, and by far my favorites are the Fermentis products, but they've only been able to get a few different yeast strains to survive the freeze-drying process.  With liquid yeast, you have a huge variety of strains to choose from (See Jamil's list for what yeast strain came from what brewery HERE).  The only downside to using liquid yeast is that you should make a starter if you're brewing anything over a starting gravity of 1.040 or so.  I suppose the cost would be another downside, but that's why I Save & Reuse my yeast.

 

      

 

Temperature Control

Temperature Control is one of the most important aspects of brewing.  A lot of people don't pay close enough attention to what temperature they're fermenting at which can cause some pretty major off-flavors in the finished beer.  First off, get one of those temperature stickers for each one of your fermenters.  This will give you a rough estimate of what temperature your beer's fermenting at.  Second, remember that fermentation generates heat, so if the room you have your beer in is at 68 degrees, your beer will probably climb into the lower to mid 70's at the peak of fermentation.  This is where a temperature controlled Fermentation Fridge or Freezer comes in handy, especially in the summer.  I set my temperature-controlled freezer to around 60 for all my standard ales which allows me to ferment around 65-68 degrees.  This produces very low esters and fruity flavors.  If I'm doing a Belgian or other more yeast-driven beers, I may increase the temp by a few degrees to get into the low 70's.  It just depends on the beers.  Here are a few links to temperature controllers that will make this process much more accurate:

 

        

 

Water Treatment

The major thing I want to stress here is removing any chlorine and/or chloramine from your water before you brew.  This can be done with whole-house filters, but requires you to filter cold and slow to get the desired results.  I prefer to take a simpler approach.  Since I like starting with hot water when I brew, I just treat my water with campden tablets that you can pick up from any homebrew store.  One tablet will treat up to 20 gallons of water, so for my typical all-grain batch, I will use 1/4 a tablet in my mash water and 1/4 in my sparge water.  Just cut the tablet in half and then half again and crush it up.  This is supposed to clean up both chlorine and chloramine from your water.

 

The only other way I treat my water is when I'm brewing darker beers like stouts and porters.  My water is fairly soft, and without treating the water for darker beers, I've found there to be some sharp acrid notes due to what I'm guessing are PH issues.  Everyone's water is different, but for my water, I'll usually add about 1 tsp of both chalk and baking soda to my mash in order to harden up the water a bit.  If this is something you'd like to play with, I would suggest contacting the water lab for your area and see if you can get the necessary information from them.  Or, you could send a sample of your water in to Ward Labs or the various other water testing places listed in the average homebrew magazine.  They will give you the numbers that are important to brewing, and then you can plug that into brewing software like Beersmith or Pro Mash.  Like I mentioned, everyone's water is different, so don't just start adding stuff to your water randomly.

 

Clear Beer with Gelatin

If you want really clear beer without too much effort, then gelatin is the method for you.  I still use Irish moss during the boil in my beers, but fining with gelatin is an extra step if you really want brilliantly clear beer.  Think beer competition or just showing off to your friends.  I have only tried this method with kegged beer, but I would guess you could try something similar with your beer while it's in the primary or secondary before you bottle.  I've tried to include a few guesses below of how the process would work for bottling.

  1. Brew & ferment your beer as normal.

  2. Transfer to a keg and store in either your kegerator or a fridge/freezer that is set to around 32-34 degrees.

    • Bottling Option - I would suggest transferring to secondary and then put your secondary into a fridge/freezer as above.

  3. Wait a day or two for your beer to chill to serving temperature.

  4. Boil 1/2 cup water in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring cup.

  5. Add 1 tsp of food-grade gelatin to the boiling liquid and whisk to combine.

  6. Add the gelatin mixture (hot is fine) to the keg, re-pressurize, and shake thoroughly to combine.

    • Bottling Option - Either stir shake your carboy (BE CAREFUL) to combine.

  7. Force carbonate and get ready for brilliantly clear beer - NOTE: your first pour may be a little "gunky" from the material that the gelatin dropped out of solution.

   

 

Extract Brewing Tips

Late Extract Addition

This is a great way to reduce over-caramelization of your wort and will also lighten color in your pale beers and increase hop utilization.  This is especially important in IPA's and other hoppy beers.  The method basically involves adding about 1/3 of your extract at the beginning of the boil and the rest for the last 15 minutes in order to sanitize it.  Doing a Google search will bring up several great tutorials and more in-depth explanations like this Beersmith Article.

 

Boil Big

By that, I mean boil as much liquid as you can fit in your pot without boiling over.  Ideally, you would want to boil the full volume wort for your 5-gallon batch and use a wort chiller to cool it down.  I know most beginning homebrewers are brewing on their stove, so this usually isn't an option at first.  The more liquid you boil, the less over-caramelization you'll have and the higher hop utilization.

 

All-Grain Brewing Tips

Shorten Your Mash Time

With the malt being so highly-modified these days, I've found that for average beers, I can get away with doing a much shorter mash than the traditional 60 minutes.  Typically, I usually do about a 30 minute mash and haven't seen a difference in % efficiency or the flavor of the finished beer.  Now, if you want a more fermentable  wort or are brewing a lager for instance, than you may want to stick with the 60 minute mash.

 

Batch Sparge, Batch Sparge, Batch Sparge!!!

I don't think I would have ever switched to all-grain if it wasn't for batch sparging.  The fly-sparge process just seemed like an overly complicated babysitting gig, and I wasn't up for that.  Batch sparging is basically collecting your wort in two equal amounts.  You add sparge water to your mash until you have roughly half your pre-boil volume left, then stir & grain completely.  Next, add the remainder of your sparge water, stir, and drain.  It's that simple!  No messing around trying to get the flow of water to match the outflow of wort or worrying about mash PH.  Plus, it's so much faster.  I've never done a fly-sparge, and I never plan to.  Check out the American Homebrew Association (AHA) page on batch sparging HERE for more information and some videos that show you the process more in-depth.

 

       

 

Buy a Refractometer

Refractometers are a great tool for all-grain brewers.  They allow you to easily check the gravity of your runnings and also take a pre-boil gravity measurement without having to cool down a sample to use with a hydrometer.  You can purchase one from your local homebrew store, but I've found that Amazon has a great model for just under $30 HERE.  These are no different than the ones some homebrew stores sell for over $50.

 

 

Multi-Task

Most people probably already do this, but here are a few tips to speed up your brew day:

  • Weigh and crush your grain while your mash water is heating up

  • Start heating your sparge water 10-15 minutes before the end of your mash

  • Stir your wort as it cools (if using an immersion chiller)

 

 


Contact Information:  MikeYoungHB at gmail.com


 
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