Ten Tips Everyone Needs to Know Before They Brew Their Own Beer

by Brad Smith on December 8, 2015 · 10 comments

Beer MugsBefore you take on the challenge of making craft beers at home, you should get as much information as you can. The internet is filled with various tips and ideas on how to make beer. But to help you get started quickly, we have compiled this concise list of expert tips that will help you to avoid many beginner pitfalls and achieve fairly good results from your initial attempt at brewing your own beer.

Editors Note: This is a guest post from Tony Bod. Tony is a passionate blogger, freelance writer and a regular contributor to several blogs. He loves reading news and sharing unique articles through his contents. When Tony is not working, he enjoys music, camping and spending time with his family.

1. Do Adequate Research

Do your homework before you begin the craft beer making hobby. From the onset, you should be aware that brewing good beer is partly an art and a science. To learn the science of brewing, you should read top brewing books, consult with accomplished craft brewers and use some of the great brewing resources online including discussion forums, brewing blogs, and software. Thereafter, you can master the art of brewing by focusing on creating one specific kind of beer with a distinct flavour and tweaking the recipe and ingredients till you achieve perfection.

2. Maintain Exceptional Sanitation

Pay great attention to sanitation and sterilisation throughout the brewing process. You won’t want to discover a bug, bacteria or dirt in the beer you’ve spent several days brewing. Sanitation and sterilisation starts before you begin the brewing process and continues until you finally cap the bottles. The most critical stage for sterilisation is immediately after you cool the wort. Since the yeast has not started fermenting, contamination from bacteria is more likely at this stage.

3. Work With Fresh Top-Quality Ingredients

You can only get a great home brew from fresh, high quality ingredients. For instance, liquid yeast will help you produce better beer than dry yeast. During extract brewing, it is better to use a fresh extract instead of one that has been packaged for several years. To keep your beer ingredients fresh, store your liquid yeast in your refrigerator and your hops in the freezer. Bear in mind that crushed grains, liquid malt, yeast, dry malt and hops must be used early because of oxidation and short shelf life.

4. Boil Your Wort for At Least One Hour

You should boil the wort in a single batch for between 60 and 90 minutes. It will cause tannins and proteins to coagulate from grains, make the hops release bitter oils, vaporise several unwanted compounds, and sterilise the wort before cooling. If you are not making a dark beer, you should boil the wort for close to 90 minutes.

5. Cool The Wort Rapidly

One way to minimise the occurrence of contamination in your beer is to chill the wort as rapidly as you can. Thus, you will quickly reduce the temperature of the wort from the range that bacteria enjoys. Initially, you may follow the common practice of submerging your brewing kettle in ice in a bath tub. But this could take as long as 40 minutes depending on the quantity of ice in the bath. That is why it is advisable to emulate the top microbreweries and invest in a wort chiller that can cool about 5 gallons of beer within 20 minutes.

6. Try Brewing Dark Beers First

No matter what your best type of beer is, you should start by making dark beers like stouts and dark ales. For example, a significant number of the best Australian craft beers are dark ales. These dark beers will allow you to cover up a lot of your initial mistakes because of their rich flavour profile. It is important to strive to achieve success early so that you won’t get discouraged and give up on your new hobby. Usually, your first few attempts at making dark ales will not be a total flop, so you will be motivated to keep trying till you achieve perfection.

7. Work With a Glass Fermenter

Many popular home brewing kits come with plastic fermenters because the manufacturers want to sell relatively cheap kits quickly. However, you should switch to a glass fermenter as soon as you can. Glass fermenters are easier to clean. They are not porous like plastic, so they offer a better shield against oxidation during fermentation.

8. Regulate the Temperature During Fermentation

To brew craft beers successfully, you need to be able to monitor and regulate the fermentation temperature. One of the best methods of doing this is to select a cool and dry part of your home, wrap wet towels around the fermenter and put a standing fan before it. Every 12 hours, soak the towels in cold water to keep them wet and re-wrap them round the fermenter. You can attach a stick-on thermometer to the fermenter to monitor its temperature.

9. Purchase Brewing Tools for the Long Term

Your first attempts at making craft beers at home may be done with a home brewing kit. But subsequently, you should make sure you buy your brewing tools with long term expansion in mind. For instance, if you start with a 3-gallon pot, and you feel you should buy a bigger one, go for a 9-gallon pot instead of a 5-gallon pot. You will also save a lot of money by investing early in a good chiller, a large pot, and a glass fermentation vessel.

10. Keep Good Brewing Records

Maintain a good brew log for every brewing session whether it is a simple or complex recipe. Write down the recipe, ingredients and outcome. This will enable you to quickly modify a recipe till you achieve perfection. You can refer to your records at any time and check what you did. Preferably, you should assign a code to each beer you make and use a permanent marker to write it on the cap. Then in your brew log, you can write the code and give a brief description of the beer.

Finally, you need to be specific and be able to focus on what you want early. Before you start, spend some time deciding on how you want your beer to look and taste. You may also pre-determine its colour and alcohol content. If you apply the tips given above, you will soon join the league of the great microbreweries who brew unique craft beers with exceptional flavour.

Thanks to Tony Bod for providing this guest post. Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. You can grab a trial version of BeerSmith from BeerSmith.com. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Rosler December 8, 2015 at 2:26 pm

I’m curious about number 7 – work with a glass fermenter. While I’ve only been brewing a few years and don’t claim to be an expert by any means, I would expect that doing a primary fermentation in a bucket shouldn’t be a big deal around oxidation since you’re not keeping the beer in there very long. Also, I’ve been using better bottle carboys rather than glass carboys and I’d think those would be fine too not just for short stints, but even longer ones when I lager. Finally, there are stainless steel fermenters that are used that I would expect are more than adequate since this is what are used at breweries. Maybe the title should be more like “upgrade your bucket fermenter”

Matt December 8, 2015 at 2:38 pm

Liquid yeast produces better beer than dry? No.

Plastic fermenters are just fine and I started with a pale ale that turned out great.

Grobi December 8, 2015 at 3:31 pm

1, 6 and 10: seconded!
9: that depends on what you know and plan. if you know you want and need a 5 gallon pot, buy one!
2, 3, 4 and 5: Cargo cult!
8: WTF? temp “regulation” by a wet T-shirt?
7: Plain dangerous, even for experienced homebrewers. Not at all necessary except for demanding beers like IPAs AND you know how to avoid oxygen in all other steps.

Sorry, those tips are rubbish

Herb Meowing December 8, 2015 at 9:01 pm

Simply too many misconceptions in this piece to address separately.

“… liquid yeast will help you produce better beer than dry yeast.” (seriously?)
” … chill the wort as rapidly as you can … ” (so much for whirl-pooling / hop stands)
” … crushed grains … yeast, dry malt and hops must be used early because of oxidation and short shelf life.” (sigh)
” … If you are not making a dark beer, you should boil the wort for close to 90 minutes.” (nonsense)
” Work With a Glass Fermenter ” (speechless)
” One of the best methods of [regulating fermentation temperature] is to select a cool and dry part of your home, wrap wet towels around the fermenter … ” (apparently the definition of ‘best’ has changed)
” … you should make sure you buy your brewing tools with long term expansion in mind.” (b/c every single solitary home brewer wants to brew large batch sizes)

Todd P December 9, 2015 at 3:49 am

I agree with most of the article but disagree regarding plastic fermenters and what to brew first as a beginner.
I have used Better bottles and The Vintage Shops PET carboys and have never had a problem. For a beginner I would urge them to go that route instead of glass if for nothing else the cost and the ease at which they can be cleaned. Oxidation is a non point if you refer to Better Bottles website in regard to oxygen permutation with PET carboys as well as the safety factor. Plastic will not shatter if dropped.
As for brewing Darker beers first I lean more in the direction of what do you like as opposed to what some may say is easier to brew. What if you aren’t a fan of Stouts or Porters but like Witbiers do that, if you prefer IPAs go that route. That advice to brew dark beers first may turn that person off to getting into the hobby all together so by all means brew what you like.
Just my 2 cents worth anyway on these tips.

Russell January 2, 2016 at 7:35 pm

I completely disagree with the glass fermenter tip. There is no reason that a beginner should try to switch to glass as soon as possible. I have been brewing for 3 years now, and my only glass fermenter has proven to be nothing more than a hassle. Sure, I use it, but only because I don’t have as many Better Bottles as I want.

I’m terrified that it will break every time I move it. I have seen so many pictures online of people who drop their fermenters and end up in the hospital. This is never the case with PET. Not to mention that they can break if your wort is too hot when you put it in the fermenter (an easy mistake for some novice brewers to make).

I also use my Better Bottles for sour and long term fermentations without any issues. You just have to keep them clean, but that’s not really an issue if you take your time. If you are really worried about cleaning, then just get a Big Mouth Bubbler or something similar. Glass is nice, but really just a novelty.

Jeff January 30, 2016 at 2:57 pm

Temperature control across the board is very important. Mash temperatures are going to effect ABV and flavor outcomes similarly to not staying at the perfect fermentation temperature. Back when I was brewing in coolers, on a cold Illinois day, I mashed in about 5 degrees under temperature due to time spent doughing the grains and dropped the brew efficiency down to under 50%, lowering the final ABV a full 2%. Next to sanitation, temperature control could have easily been a viable option for the number 2 slot. Happy Brewing!

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