1. Know What You Are Brewing, and Keep it Simple
I put this tip first since this is the one that most brewers ignore. You can’t really get to where you are going if you don’t have a vision of your end goal. Yet I often see early all grain brewers throwing everything but the kitchen sink into their beer somehow thinking that more ingredients will make their beer better. Professional brewers, however, make great beer with a small inventory of ingredients.
I’m a big fan of having an objective, and then only using the minimum number of ingredients needed to reach that objective. For instance, you can make a killer IPA with nothing but pale malt in the grain bill. Porters don’t require 20 specialty grains – often one or two will achieve the color, body and flavor you want. Similarly why have five hop additions when you can achieve the same (or often better) with just a single bittering hop and single steeped/whirlpool hop addition? Know what your objective is and simplify ruthlessly until you achieve it.
2. Know How and When to Use Certain Hop Techniques
When you switch to all grain brewing, its also time to step up your knowledge about hop techniques. For example you are now in a position to fully exploit techniques like First Wort Hopping and Steeped/Whirlpool hops which can give you great flavor if you know when to use them. Also you can experiment with varying bittering additions – so you get the right balance of flavor. Boil too long and you can get a grassy off flavor, boil too short and you may not get the bitterness or hop aroma you want.
Dry hops also come into play. Recent research indicates that shorter dry hop times may be better, and in fact many commercial brewers have moved to dry hopping for as little as 24-48 hours with good results.
3. Understand the Grains You are Using
All grain brewing opens up a world of new grain possibilities to the home brewer. You are no longer limited to just pale, amber and dark extract – you can now use any base grain you want, mix base grains and also use any flavoring grains you want. All grain brewing is powerful, but also dangerous. If you don’t really understand what using Munich or Smoked malt as a base does to the beer, you risk creating a monster. Use them correctly, however, and you may have a masterpiece.
So where do you start? I always tell all grain brewers to start with the BJCP or GABF beer style guides. Though not comprehensive or even definitive on all styles, they do provide some reasonable guidelines for brewing a good Pale Ale, or Bock, or just about any of the most popular styles. They also have typical ingredients which provides a place to start.
After that – do some basic research. Look at books like Daniels Designing Great Beers, or Brewing Classic Styles (Amazon affiliate links). Check recipe sights like BeerSmithRecipes.com to see what other brewers are using, or look for articles about beer styles online. Also consider SMASH brewing to learn more about what different ingredients taste like in isolation.
4. Make a Yeast Starter for Liquid Yeast
Moving to all grain also involves stepping up your ingredients. For the discerning brewer, this often means brewing with high quality liquid yeast vials or smack packs. While you can certainly get away with hydrating quality dry yeast, most liquid yeast batches will benefit from a yeast starter. An average commercial vial of yeast contains about 100 billion cells when it is brand new, and degrades about 20% per month. The ideal pitch rate for a 5 gallon (19 liter) average batch of beer is in the range of 150 billion cells, and twice that for a lager.
Calculating the actual number of cells and size of starter needed can be done with my software or any of several online tools, but a simple 1-2 liter yeast starter made a few days before brewing will reduce the lag time when your yeast is pitched and result in a cleaner fermentation with fewer off flavors.
5. Run the Numbers Up Front
Yes, you can make beer without ever touching a piece of software or a calculator, but your beer will be better if you take the time to match the recipe to your equipment and estimate key aspects of your beer. This includes at a minimum knowing the estimated original gravity, color, bitterness in IBUs and alcohol by volume for your beer.
Obviously I sell the BeerSmith software package to help you with this, but even if you decide not to use BeerSmith – use a spreadsheet, online tool or even your hand calculator to do these estimates and compare them to the target beer style you are brewing. Knowing up front that your beer may be too dark, or too malty or too bitter will save you a lot of wasted time and wasted beer.
Those are my second five tips. If you missed the first five tips they are linked here. If you have some tips of your own feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing.
Related Beer Brewing Articles from BeerSmith:
- SMaSH Brewing – Single Malt and Single Hop Beers
- Converting All Grain Recipes to Malt Extract
- Ten Top Tips for Home Brewing Beer
- Storing and Preserving Your Beer Ingredients
- Ten BeerSmith 2 Brewing Software Tips
- Five Critical Tools for Beer Recipe Design
- Diastatic Power and Mashing your Beer
- Storing Your Beer Brewing Hops, Grains and Yeast
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