10 Tips to Brewing Better Beer

To the experienced brewer, these should come off as common sense. But, it’s also easy to forget some of these when you are juggling hop additions, equipment malfunctions and other brew day distractions, such as chasing kids or dogs away from 7 gallons of boiling hot liquids.

1. Start with fresh ingredients. This may sound pretty lame, but you’d be surprised how long some of that liquid malt extract sits around in your local home brew shop. Online vendors like Adventures in Home brewing, Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies have a high turnaround on ingredients, with some of them receiving shipments each week. If you are an all-grain brewer and buy your grain pre-crushed, try to use them the week you receive them. If you cannot brew right away, store the crushed grain in a refrigerator, where they will keep for a few weeks. drivingschoolintoronto

2. Use a yeast starter and use the correct amount of yeast. First, make sure you refrigerate your yeast when it arrives – whether it is dry or liquid. Dry yeast isn’t as sensitive as liquid, but if you don’t plan on using it right away, refrigerate it. If you order online during the summer, ask the home brew store to pack your liquid yeast in an ice pack. If you plan on brewing a high-gravity beer such as a Double IPA, or an Imperial Stout, don’t just throw the contents of the smack pack or the vial in the wort – that tiny amount of yeast will become stressed and your beer will not complete fermentation. You need lots of yeast for a big beer! Check MrMalty.com for the correct amount of yeast to pitch for the beer that you are brewing and then make a yeast starter. A yeast starter is basically a smaller amount of un-hopped wort that you add your yeast to in order to let your yeast be fruitful and multiply!

3. Assemble all the materials you’ll need BEFORE you start brewing. Nothing is worse than scrambling around looking for ingredients or equipment during your brew day. It makes it very easy to forget to add certain ingredients or miss-time them. I write down each step of my brew day and the equipment/ingredients that I’ll need for each step. Then, before I start my mash, I lay everything out that I’ll need on the bed in the bedroom next to the door to the patio where I brew. This way, nothing will become contaminated by outdoor bugs or even airborne grain particles. It will be there waiting for me to use. Check your equipment, too. Are any of your valves leaking? Is that new mash tun manifold operational? It’s never fun sticking your hands into a 160F grain bed in order to reassemble your manifold. Or realizing that the leak around your ball valve that you forgot about is not leaking enough to lose pints from your batch. temp-mail

4. Check your water. Rule of thumb is: If it doesn’t taste good, then it won’t make good beer. Also, if you are an all-grain brewer, check your pH. If your mash water is too alkaline, you won’t achieve proper starch conversion. A product such as Five Star’s 5.2 pH Stabilizer will guarantee that your mash water will be the optimum pH for conversion. It is relatively inexpensive for the degree of confidence it will give you. Just don’t go overboard, adding too much will lend a chalky, minerally or salty taste to your finished beer. If you want to use tap water, contact your water company, they will be happy to mail you a complete water profile for your community. You can then adjust for Cloramine and other chemical levels in your water. Campden tablets are also a cheap way to adjust your water.

5. Mash at the correct temperature. This is usually the culprit to new all-grain brewers who complain that their beer is too watery or too sweet for the style. You should be mashing between 140-160F. The closer to 140F you mash, the dryer (less sweet) and thinner (watery) your finished beer will be. Lower mash temps result in more fermentables being produced – giving the yeast more to chew on. Higher mash temps will allow the conversion of longer chain sugars (harder to ferment) resulting in a sweeter beer. The yeast has a harder time converting these long-chain sugars, so more of them will remain in your beer for the long-haul. Depending on which style of beer you want to brew will dictate your mash temperature.

6. Clean all your equipment thoroughly before and after use. Take the extra time to clean up after you brew. It will make your brew day so much easier. Rinse the break and hop materials off of your immersion chiller. Get all the grain out of your mash tun. Wash your brew kettle and your stirring spoon. It’s easy to be tired after a 6-8 hour brew session. Take the extra 20-30 mins. to clean up after yourself. Your beer and your wife/girlfriend/significant other will be glad, too.

7. Check your gravity 20 mins. before your boil ends. Adjust hop schedule accordingly. I don’t know how many times I’ve finished brewing and had way too much wort that was low gravity or too little that was too high that I had to dilute. Get a refractometer and check your gravity. If you do it 20 mins. before the boil ends, you can keep your late hop additions where they need to be. Nothing like flaming out and then seeing that your gravity is off and you need to continue boiling to reach your desired gravity. For beers that aren’t hoppy this isn’t as much of a problem. But who needs to be scrambling around in the last few minutes of boil time anyway?

8. Cool your wort quickly. As I mentioned previously, once your wort drops below 170F, bacteria and wild yeast like to jump in your beer. Well, maybe not that dramatically, but just the same – invest in a wort chiller – either immersion or counterflow and use it to get your wort to yeast pitching temperatures (around 70F) as quickly as possible (under 20-30 mins is ideal). In the summer this is a bit harder using tap water (depending on where you live). Look into a pre-chiller or use a pump to recirculate icy cold water. The quicker you can get your wort chilled and into your fermenter, the less likely you are to introduce bacteria into your beer.


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