Homebrewers are known for sharing their knowledge with other enthusiasts. Here are a few tips to help make brewing easier and more effective:
- A turkey frying kit is an economical way to get off of the stove. Propane greatly decreases the time needed to get the wort up to boil and the included kettles are usually larger than most brewers start with and large enough to boil five gallons. I’d recommend a Turkey Frying set right off the bat.
- Kegging- it’s worth it…by far. Kegging is much easier, faster, and convenient than bottling. Plus you don’t have to worry about “bottle bombs.” And of course, with forced carbonation, kegging produces bubbly beer within a few hours to a few days. A used chest freezer and an external temperature controller works better than most kegerators.
- Wort cooling- an ice bath works but isn’t ideal, by a long shot. Upgrading to an immersion chiller (or counter-flow or plate both with a pump) cuts that chill time down big time and also reduces the chance of infection.
- Having an extra thermometer, and an extra hydrometer is always smart.
- If using propane invest in an additional tank, same goes for CO2.
- Installing a ball valve with a weld-less kit is an inexpensive upgrade worth doing.
- Pumps make everything easier, particularly all-grain brewing.
- A mesh tube or false bottom in the brew kettle helps to keep trub and hop residue out of the fermenter.
- Like Charlie Papazian -The “Godfather of Homebrewing” says: “Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a homebrew.” This is a fun hobby, let it be fun.
- Clean up as you go and make sure everything is clean before you quit. Cleaning the next day sucks.
- Make sure to track your times and document the beer in a journal.
- Allow plenty of time, you don’t want to feel rushed.
- Ask a friend to help.
- Have a beer or two but don’t overdo it. This is how mistakes happen.
- Try not to splash hot wort, hot-side oxygenation can result in oxygenation.
- Always be conscious of sanitation but don’t stress over it. Usually everything is all right, even with an occasional slip.
- Watch the kettle closely as it nears boil. Be ready with a spray bottle of H2O and the heat control.
- Make sure there is proper ventilation, particularly if using propane.
- Make sure to gently swirl the wort after pitching the yeast. This helps disperse the yeast and oxygenate the wort.
- Watch the liquid level in the airlock, add as necessary.
- Swirling the fermenter every day or two will help keep the yeast in suspension and result in a better fermentation.
- If transferring to a secondary fermenter wait at least a week, two weeks is even better.
- Give the beer at least 17 days in fermenter(s) before bottling/kegging. Many homebrewers are too impatient and package before fermentation is complete. Sweet, under-attenuated beer and potential off-flavors like acetaldehyde and diacytal are more likely to occur if the beer is packaged early.
- Ferment in a cool, dark, place.
- If taking a sample from the fermenter, do not-under any circumstances- every put the sample back in the fermenter.
- Make sure to sanitize well.
- Use a racking cane to transfer beer from fermenter to bottling bucket.
- Closely watch the bottle fill.
- Make sure the priming sugar is mixed in well.
- Sanitize the bottles in dishwasher if possible.
- Cap each bottle right after filling.
- Store bottles in a dark place around 70 degrees F.
- Check carbonation levels after a week or so.
- Rinse each bottle after drinking.
- Sanitize well
- Use a racking cane to transfer from fermenter to keg. Splashing at this point will introduce oxygen and possibly a resulting “wet cardboard” off-flavor.
- Keg lube helps keep the lid gasket from drying out and reduces leakage.
- After filling, purge the keg of oxygen with CO2 by attaching the gas to the keg and opening the valve on top for 20-30.
- Listen for leaks, if there is any question at all check with soapy water. It if bubbles up around an area, this indicates a leak.
- After force carbonating at a higher pressure 15-25 PSI, lower the pressure down to 8-12 for serving.
- Replace or clean serving lines regularly.
- If using picnic taps, clean them periodically by unscrewing the top. Clean the top and the body, if it looks nasty, replace it. Make sure to screw back on tight.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: How long does it take to make beer?
A: About 3-5 hours for extract beers, slightly longer for all-grain brews.
Q: How many days before I can drink it?
A: Many lighter and less hoppy beers can be drank in about three weeks, grain to glass. More complex and hoppy beers can take a little longer.
Q: My airlock isn’t bubbling, should I panic?
A: No. It can take up to 36 hours before bubbles start coming out of the airlock. Make sure the bucket and airlock are properly sealed and that the airlock has the right amount of water/sanitizer. Also gently swirling the bucket a couple of times per day will speed up fermentation. Moving the bucket to a slightly warmer spot also helps.
Q: My last beer tasted funky, what went wrong?
A: Usually off-flavors are the result of poor sanitation or a yeast issue. Make sure to review sanitation procedures, swirl the wort in the bucket after pitching the yeast, and let the beer sit for at least 15 days before bottling.
Q: My last beer tasted sweet. What went wrong?
A: It didn’t ferment out all the way, leaving some residual sugar. Make sure to swirl the bucket after pitching yeast, allow 15 days for fermentation, and check the gravity with a hydrometer to make sure it’s where it should be.
Q: How long should I dry-hop for?
A: Usually 4 days is sufficient, grassy flavors can occur when dry-hops are left in for a week or more. Dry-hopping is more effective if the beer is at fermentation temperature.
Q: At what temperature should I pitch the yeast?
A: Anything below 80 degrees is OK for most ales. We recommend pitching at 75 degrees F.
Q: What temperature should I ferment ales at?
A: Generally, 64-72 degrees F. The beer will taste cleaner at the lower range and fruitier at the higher end.
Q: Can I use bleach to sanitize?
A: You can but we don’t recommend it. Bleach is wonderful at killing microorganisms but can leave a Band-Aid like off-flavor or taste “bleachy.” Try Star-San or other beer friendly food-grade sanitizers for peace of mind.