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Meta: Trying to learn how to brew beer at home? We have sixteen tips to help you with the process.
Alcohol has been a part of the human experience for centuries, and it’s come in many forms along the way. One of the essential drinks that we can experience is beer, and there’s no shortage of brands out there, each with their tastes, brews, and other differences. It can be easy to discover something new if you look for it—or you could decide to brew your beer at home.
For those that do choose to take the homebrewing route, it can be tricky to get your bearings. Even once you’ve figured out the process of how to brew beer, practice is still necessary to get the flavor you may want to achieve. Whether you’re new to the homebrewing scene or you’re someone who’s looking for tips and tricks to advance your game, read on!
Tip #1. Don’t be afraid to do your research.
Brewing beer at home is a skill, and making a quality brew requires a decent amount of trial and error at times. Thankfully, you aren’t alone in your journey, and others have trodden the path before you. Between books, internet resources, and other sources of how-tos, there’s a lot of ground out there to cover.
While it may seem obvious to research before you set up your brewing station (after all, you’re reading this article, aren’t you?), it can also be tricky for everything to stick in one go. Don’t be afraid to look over your go-to research materials more than once, especially after you’ve gotten some practice in. You never know what new piece of advice will jump out at you.
Some books we recommend:
- “How to Brew” by John Palmer
- “Designing Great Beers” by Ray Daniels
- “Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation” by Jamil Zainesheff
Tip #2: Keep your equipment clean.
Brewing companies have to follow strict regulations so that they can sell their products to the market; your home doesn’t have nearly as restrictions on when and where you can prep food, let alone beer. So that you don’t accidentally ruin a batch or cause some illness, you’ll always need to clean up your brewing equipment thoroughly between uses.
The cooling process is one of the times where your beer is most susceptible to contamination, so you’ll want to pay extra attention to your chiller and wort. The easier it is to clean your equipment, the less risk you’ll have of missing a spot as you tidy up.
Tip #3: If you’re a beginner, start simple.
One of the biggest draws of homebrewing is that you have the chance to try out flavors you might not be able to find in a store. Unfortunately, that aspect can also be a drawback for beginners, as more elaborate recipes provide so many more steps where things can go wrong. Thankfully, the solution to this potential pitfall is simple.
In the same way that you’d start small when beginning a new exercise routine, you can get into brewing the basics. Porter, amber ale, and pale ale are all simple options that let you get a feel for the process, as well as giving you an easier time of picking out where you might have made a mistake if the taste isn’t like you imagined. Once you get your footing, you can then start to experiment with more complex flavors!
Tip #4: Use a hops bag to keep your hops separated.
Alright, a quick brewing terminology crash course for those who are just getting into the world of beer. First up, “wort” is the word used to refer to the starter liquid for beer, which will ultimately ferment into the final product of alcohol. “Hops” refers to the additional ingredients (often plants) that help give beers their distinct flavors.
As you continue to homebrew, you’ll likely be seeing these words a lot, mainly as you review recipes and instructions. A critical step is to remove the hops from the wort before the fermentation process. Naturally, you can use a mesh or filter to sift out the hops, but that can take time, especially with bigger brews, and you may miss some pieces in the process.
If you want to skip the hassle entirely, you can purchase a hops bag as part of your brewing equipment. Almost like how a tea bag allows for the leaves to help brew in boiling water without leaving any behind in the cup, a hops bag will do the same, allowing you to remove them with ease.
Tip #5: Use fresh, high-quality ingredients.
When first learning how to brew beer, it can be alright to focus on the process above all else so that you can get your bearings. As you start to progress as a brewer, though, you’ll likely find that you want to get the most out of your beer. One of the best and simplest ways to do so is to use only high-quality and fresh ingredients. You’ll appreciate the better results you’ll get too.
Freshness is a critical factor, mainly since so many ingredients used in beer have limited shelf lives, such as your hops, yeast, crushed grains, and both dry and liquid malt. Parts to upgrade on include using liquid yeast over dry, and fresh extract over preserved ones. Proper storage can boost your flavor, with grains in a cool, dry place, yeast in the fridge, and hops in the freezer.
Tip #6: Fully plan.
It’s safe to say that most of us have had a moment in our lives where we became excited about something, rushed headlong into it, then realized we were missing something important halfway through the process. That risk is certainly there when it comes to homebrewing beer, but it’s possible to prevent it so long as you plan.
Whether you’re trying out a new recipe or are setting up for a routine brewing process, we recommend always checking that you have the right amount of ingredients (and that they haven’t expired beforehand). It’s also possible for new brews to include some piece of equipment you don’t have yet, so read carefully over the instructions before you start.
The more you practice the habit of planning out your brews in the early stages, the better you’ll be at it later on—and the smoother your whole brewing process will go, too.
Tip #7: Invest in a bigger kettle.
For those who think that they may only want to try out brewing their beer at home once or twice, you may not want to spend too much money equipment from the get-go. We can empathize with that, seeing as you need a lot of different pieces to make successful homebrew. Even so, it can be in your better interest to at least purchase a kettle that’s slightly bigger than what you think you need.
All-grain brewing methods benefit from having a bigger kettle on your side, plus more room means that you won’t have to worry about everything boiling over as you heat it, which is a mess all on its own. Additionally, purchasing a bigger kettle can save you money in the long run, instead of dropping extra cash on upgrading after a few times. A 7.5-gallon pot has plenty of room without being too excessive.
Tip #8: Learn the proper way to prep your yeast.
Yeast is one of the essential ingredients for beer, as it helps with the fermentation phase, which will ultimately result in your beer’s distinct flavor. The challenge is that it’s easy to mishandle your yeast, which will then impact the entire brewing process. To help your yeast do the best possible job that it can for your beer:
- Don’t let yeast stay in the fridge for months unused
- Check that your fermenter is easy to clean
- Provide yeast with the proper amount of oxygen and nutrients
- Invest in oxygenation equipment
Many parts of the brewing process require your attention, but correct yeast prep will make a world of difference in the end product.
Tip #9: Boil your wort long enough.
No matter what type of beer you’re making, boiling your wort is part of the process. This critical stage helps sterilize your beer, makes it possible for proteins and tannins to fall out of the grains during cooling, and enables you to get the full benefit of your hops. So how long do you actually need to boil your wort to have the full benefits of this process?
The minimum amount of boiling time will be an hour, but it’s also acceptable to go longer than that. Higher boiling time is actually better for lighter styles of beer, which benefit from a full hour and a half of boil time. You should be able to check this time in whatever recipe you’re using—and you should follow it.
If you plan on making larger batches of beer, it’ll also be a benefit to use a full batch boiling process. This way you can know that all your wort has gone through the same chemical process, creating a more unified flavor (and part of why we encourage you to get a bigger size kettle than you think you’ll need)!
Tip #10: Chill your wort as quickly as possible.
In a couple of other tips, we’ve mentioned that proper cleaning of your equipment is essential to prevent bacteria from forming in your beer—but that’s not the only way that your brew can be at risk. Any time that your wort is at temperatures above eight degrees Fahrenheit, there’s a chance of infection by bacteria or wild yeast.
Thankfully, as you boil your wort, any dangerous bacteria will die in the process. The real issue is in the time between boiling and cooling down your wort, which is where the temperature hits the danger zone. The faster you get your brew out of the danger zone, the better and safer it will be.
For many beginner brewers, this process will involve moving their brew container into an ice bath, whether that’s in the sink or the tub. To help chill the wort quicker, you can use a clean and sanitized spoon to gently stir it, allowing the warmer parts in the middle to come into contact with the sides of the container, which are up against the ice bath. Be careful to avoid splashing the ice water into the wort.
For those who’ve had a few brewing processes under their belts and have decided that they want to continue making their beer at home, it’s worth the investment into an immersion chiller, which will make it much easier to get your wort to a safe temperature.
Tip #11: Try whirlpooling to remove sediment from your wort.
No matter what brewing techniques you use, you’ll end up with some sediment left over in your wort. Your goal is then to remove as much as you can before you move to the fermentation stage, which will help the end product look more transparent and have a better mouthfeel as you drink it.
There are plenty of options for removing sediment, but no matter which method you use, this will take place after you’ve cooled your wort to a safe temperature, as discussed in the tip above. The idea of whirlpooling is that, by stirring the wort enough to make a small vortex, the wort will become drawn to the bottom of the pot by the resulting force, making it easier to keep it out of the fermenter.
You’ll need a sanitized spoon to start with, and it’s safer to use a different one than if you used a spoon to help cool down your wort faster. You should stir the brew gently, with just enough force to make a small whirlpool, but not so quickly or hard enough that the wort starts to splash. After you’ve gotten the vortex started, you can pull out the spoon, close the lid, and wait about ten minutes.
As the whirlpool settles, you should be able to see that your wort is more transparent than before. You can then start to slowly pour the beer from the kettle and into the fermenter. So long as you are gentle, you shouldn’t disturb the sentiment at the bottom of the pot.
Tip #12: Try making your yeast starters.
Yes, we’ve talked about yeast before on this list, but we can’t stress its importance in making homemade brew enough. When you’re first starting, it makes sense to use pre-bought yeast starters, as there’s so much else you need to learn. However, as you adapt to the overall process, you may find an interest in making your ingredients from scratch.
Especially as you get into making bigger brews, the cost of pre-bought yeast starters can add up over time. By making your own, you’re not only saving money, but you’re also ensuring that your yeast is at the right point in its cycle to help make a delicious homemade brew.
Admittedly, if you go the homemade yeast route, you’ll need to give it at least a day after the initial fermentation to continue reproducing before it goes into your brew. Even so, the extra work can be well worth it for the results.
Tip #13: Learn the appropriate fermentation temperature.
After you’ve done the work of preparing your wort and cleaning it out of any sediment, the next stage is fermentation, where the yeast does the hard work of making alcohol. Like chilling your wort, this step is all about maintaining the appropriate temperature for the yeast to thrive while once again avoiding a range that allows for bacteria to form.
Unlike the safe zone of what you want to cool your wort down to, there isn’t one single temperature that will work best for fermentation since each strain of yeast will perform best at different levels. If you’re using a premade yeast, then the manufacturer will likely include a recommended temperature, be it on the package or their brand’s website.
In general, temperatures between sixty-three and sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit tend to work the best. Going cooler than that runs the risk of incomplete fermentation, so you want to be careful. Temperatures on the warmer side can also impact the overall flavor, usually making it harsher than what is appealing to most palates.
Once you find the optimal temperature for your yeast, you should work to maintain that temperature by placing your brew into a cool place that won’t fluctuate much throughout the day. Don’t feel surprised if you notice that your wort is a few degrees warmer than the area around it, as fermentation does slightly increase the temperature.
Tip #14: Take notes on your process.
When learning how to brew beer at home, you have numerous resources at your disposal. Like we mentioned before, ongoing research can remind you of things that you may have forgotten or even missed the first time around. There’s nothing wrong with that; a lot goes into creating an exceptional batch of homebrew, and it can be challenging to keep track of everything.
As such, notes can be one of your most significant resources. After all, personal experience is where you’ll start to get a handle on brewing beer at home, no matter how much research you do beforehand. If you want to take advantage of that experience, recording how the process went in some way or another will give you valuable research to look on later.
Want to have a handwritten record of what you’ve tried so far? Pick a notebook that you can keep in the kitchen or with the rest of the brewing gear. If you’re into bullet journaling, turn your brewing adventures into a collection. If you don’t want to bother with handwriting, it’s also acceptable to make a digital copy, so long as you have an organized system of notes.
We recommend at least mentioning what recipes you’re trying, ideas for what you want to learn more about, tips that worked for you, the result when it came to flavor—and almost anything else connected to your brewing. In the end, you’ll have a record to refer to as you further refine your skills and start to enter the experiment phase.
Tip #15: Find and join your local homebrew organization.
Other homebrewers can be a wealth of information, but you don’t have to only rely on the online community. While the internet can be an excellent resource, the physical distance between you and others means that you don’t always have someone in the know who is close by enough to try out your beer in person.
Naturally, you can look to your friends and family to be taste testers, but they may not have the knowledge you need to continue to improve yourself. Thankfully, homebrew clubs and organizations exist, and they can give you a convenient place to talk with others who are into the experience of making their beer at home. What better help could you possibly want?
Tip #16: Don’t be afraid to keep trying.
Though we’ve covered a lot in this article, there’s still plenty more that you can learn about the homebrewing process (after all, there are entire books about these subjects after all). Even though research can provide you with the solid foundation that you need to get off on the right foot, it’s the act of doing that will ultimately yield the best results.
Most likely, you may hit a point where homebrewing becomes frustrating; maybe you’ve struck out on trying a new recipe, or you can’t figure out what makes something click. The key is to keep trying, whether it’s trying to perfect your distinct flavor or digging into a new recipe.
Yes, it’s hard work, and, yes, it can take time. But the more effort you put into it, the better your brew will get—and there’s not a sweeter reward than that.