Tips for the new home brewer
I like to think that brewing is in my blood. My father is a baker so experimenting with yeast has been his lifelong passion. I love it, too. Yeast is alchemy. You’re not always in control of it and that’s what makes it exciting.
Before I started brewing beer, I had these romantic ideas of what it would be like. I had visions of a brewer as this semi-mystical character, half magician and half mad scientist, creating delicious potions and brews in a dimly lit basement. Little did I know. I soon discovered that brewing is more about careful sanitation and temperature control than magic.
But the constant challenges of home-brewing are what hooked me right away. I like having control over the whole process, knowing that the ingredients that go into my beers are 100% natural and maybe even organic. And the learning process has been an adventure. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way and I’ve learned from every single one of them. So I thought I’d launch my home-brewer’s blog with a few tips for brand new home-brewers, or anyone who’s considering getting into it. Here are my three top tips for the brand new home-brewer.
1. Keep it simple. Don't try to brew everything when you’re just starting out. Stick with one recipe and learn how to do it well before you start experimenting with all sorts of different mashes. This is a mistake I made. After I’d brewed one batch, I suddenly wanted to do Belgian Doubles, which are much more complicated to make. I didn't even understand the fundamentals of brewing and here I was trying to make all these different styles of beer. I quickly learned that just brewing a decent ale, which is probably the simplest beer to make, was enough of a challenge to keep me plenty busy for a quite a while. Brewing is like a controlled science experiment in the beginning. You want to learn and create repeatable results. I probably brewed five batches of ale before I took a sip and thought to myself "hey, this is pretty good." But I had a lot to learn, even then. And I still do!
2. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. The biggest problem I had at the beginning was with batch contamination. For me, learning to brew was 80% about learning proper sanitation. It's paramount to producing a beer that doesn't have any off flavours or any sort of infection. It’s the inglorious part of brewing but it's really important. From sanitizing your yeast packet before you cut it with sanitized scissors, to using sanitized or gloved hands, keep it all as clean as possible if you want a decent brew.
3. Keep an eye on your temperatures. One thing that I've discovered is that fermentation temperatures are almost more important than how well your brew day goes. Quite often, once we get the brew into our fermenter, it's really easy to forget about it. We say “oh it's in the fermenter, it's fermenting, it's fine." But the ester flavours that you can get from having the fermentation temperature just a few degrees too warm aren’t desirable. This is another reason to pay attention to tip number 1 and keep it simple. Ales are fermented at room temperature and most of us have a place where we can ferment at around 67 or 68 degrees.
I hope these tips are helpful for those of you who are just considering getting into brewing. Let me say that, for me, climbing the steep learning curve was totally worth it. That first taste of a decent beer that you’ve brewed yourself from start to finish is hugely satisfying. I’ve gotten to a place now where I can brew a decent beer. That said, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. And that’s what keeps me interested.
Thanks for reading and happy brewing!