This was one of our first posts here on the SCBS blog, but it is a good one, and with all the new brewers out there that just got a brew kit for Christmas, it is a great time to blow the dust off of it and put it at the top of the blog once again. Here are a dozen things that can help the new home brewer when starting out. These are common issues that can easily be avoided and help make a better beer.
12. Using 5 ounces priming sugar
Your Local Home Brew Store (LHBS) will often sell pre packaged priming sugar for bottling, which is just what you want for a five gallon batch for most beers (1oz/gallon). However, many batches of beer may start as five gallons, but after transferring the beer off the yeast cake, evaporation, samples you take, and any spills that may happen, the final bottling volume of beer may be considerably less than this. If the full 5oz of priming sugar is used, this can create an overly carbonated bottle of beer that could potentially just spew out foam when opened or poured.
10. Squeezing the bag after steeping
Steeping grain is something you can do to greatly improve an extract only beer. Most ingredient kits are built with a healthy amount of steeping grain and a muslin bag (sock) to hold it all (1-3 pounds). After steeping the bag of grain in some warm water you should pull it out and discard it. However, it is a natural tendency to want to squeeze this bag of grainy goodness to get all the sweet liquid from it, but this is not a good idea. There is a bitterness (and not the good kind you get from hops) that reside in the barley husk, that can be very noticeable in your final beer.
9.Starting with a complicated beerIt is true, that for many beers the brewing process is very similar, but as a beginner it is easy to get excited and want to go for a complex and high alcohol beer such as an Imperial Stout, Belgian Tripel or Double IPA. These beers can have extra steps or ingredients, or just a bunch of hop additions to keep track of, but the biggest reason not to start with one is time. Big beers need time to age properly and you don’t want to wait 3-6 months to find out you did something wrong. Worse, if you only have one equipment kit, you will be taking up space in your secondary fermenter for three months and not brewing more beer. Start with some beers that will be done in a month or so, if for no other reason than to fill the fridge before you start aging your 10% monster brew.
8. Not following the recipe/Just following the recipe/worrying too much
Some people get stuck doing exactly what the instructions say which leads to some anxiety when the inevitable problem/situation happens that forces them off that course. Others throw caution to the wind and start adding a bunch of extras like 50% more extract or hops than the recipe calls for. Both of these extremes will produce beer, but brewing should both be fun and produce good beer. Getting too worked up about getting everything just right can reduce the amount of fun you have while you are getting into a new hobby, and throwing your beer out of any recognizable style can possibly make the beer something you don’t want to drink. So don’t worry while you are brewing your first beer, just have fun while trying to brew a recipe that is tried and true so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.
7. Not removing brew pot from heat
You will probably have a boil-over eventually, but there is a really easy way to help keep this from happening. If you remove your kettle from the heat source before you add your extract the slower thermal change will help keep this from happening (at least less violently). There is also the added benefit of not scorching your Liquid Extract as you add it, since there won’t be a direct heat source on it as sits on the bottom of the pot before you get it stirred up and in solution.
6. Not aerating the wort adequately
To make it simple, your yeast needs only a couple of things to sustain a healthy start to fermentation; sugar and oxygen. The only time you should intentionally add Oxygen to your beer is when you are adding (pitching) your yeast. Feel free to shake, aggressively pour, or slosh your wort (unfermented beer) at this point in time, as this will introduce the Oxygen that your yeast needs to reproduce at a healthy rate.
5. Wrong temps
Temperature control is what making beer is all about. It is a little less critical in an extract/grain kit, but controlling the temperature at every stage of brewing is what leads to consistent results and minimal off flavors. Just as a rule of thumb for ales; 155°F (Steeping), Aggressive boil, 70°F (pitching yeast), then 60-70°F (fermentation).
4. Not keeping records
This might not seem as important as some of the other things, but if you don’t keep notes of - what you used in your recipe, how much yeast you added, and what temperature you fermented at and for how long, you could find yourself wishing that you had down the road. These are just some of the notes you need to record per batch so you can dial in your recipe for the best beer the world has ever seen, make the same beer over again... or heaven forbid, help you sort out what went wrong.
Many municipal water supplies have a good water profile for making beer. Hard water can be good for some beers, soft can be good for others, but chlorine (or the more stubborn form, chloramine) is not good for any beer. Depending on the amount you get in your finished beer it can lead to a plastic or even band-aid taste, which can be very unpleasant. Using fresh spring water is ideal, but you can also treat your water with campden (metabisulfite) to help the chlorine “gas-out”. Just one campden tablet can treat up to 20 gallons of water.
2. Incorrect pitch rate
Adding yeast to your cooled down wort (pitching) is pretty straightforward, but adding the correct amount is a really easy way to reduce “off flavors”, and unfortunately this is commonly overlooked by the home brewer. There are benefits to having a quick start to your fermentation, and adding correct amount of yeast cells to your batch can make that happen. Your LHBS can give you the long explanation on how to calculate the correct pitch rate, but for a 5 gallon batch of beer over 5% alcohol, you will benefit from either one packet of dry yeast, or two packs (or vials) of liquid yeast. You will need even more than this for even higher alcohol beers, or any lagers.
1. Cleanser vs Sanitizer
Back in the old days of the 1990s and earlier, home brewers would use soap to clean and either iodine or bleach to sanitize, but this combination was hard to deal with and replaced worrying about bacteria to worrying about off flavors from soaps and chemicals. These days home brewers have access to products made specifically for their hobby, but starting out you may get these items confused. First use a cleanser to clean any organic matter from your equipment such as One Step, or PBW (both brands are cleansers designed for brewing). These products contain what is essentially dry hydrogen peroxide and while some people even use them as sanitizers, they tend to leave a film so rinsing is recommended, and once you rinse something, you are assuming the water you used for rinsing is free of microorganisms. This is where sanitizer comes in. Products like StarSan and iodophor are no rinse sanitizers that will not harm your beer. However, you can’t sanitize something if it isn’t first cleaned, so clean with a cleanser then sanitize with a sanitizer, and you will greatly minimize the potential for a ruined beer. Some may call this over kill, but it is a small price to pay to avoid dumping 5 gallons of precious beer down the drain.