The Beginner Brewer

Monday, 17 October 2016

Scum, Beer & Villainy: Episode I

Good news: Our first episode of the podcast has just dropped!

Check it out here:

(For slower connections check out: This Link)

In this episode Matt and I chat about Saissons, review Citizen's Winter Porter, and talk about our favorite science-fiction movies. We also feature some primo SA indie Ska music by Fridge Poetry.

If you have any suggestions or beers you'd like us to review in future episodes, please let us know in the comments section!


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Citizen Pacifist Winter Porter

(440ml, Bottled, 6 % ABV)

Before the Pour

Marcel's view: Nice label. Really stands out from the crowd. And the best part? It's got a really nice texture. Mmm. Feel that textured paper. Definitely a favorite look and feel. But the name seems a bit, well, passive? Also: I'd like to see some more info on the beer and the brewery.

Matt's view: Solid, consistent branding. Quite like the dagger and shield motif. Bottle itself is a bit samey though. Agreed on the name. Curious choice given how full-bodied this beer turns out to be. Lack of copy about the beer is a bit of a bummer.

In the Glass

Marcel's view: Oh wow. Immediate coffee and vanilla on the nose. Quite a bit of vanilla, actually. Taste is subtle cocoa, followed by some roasted notes, then more vanilla in the aftertaste. Very smooth, very warming. Not acrid or overly bitter like some porters. Even if you don't like porters as a rule, this one might persuade you otherwise.

Matt's view: Sweet, caramel aromas. Chocolate on the nose. Smooth bitterness in the mouth. Solid coffee and chocolate in the taste. Full, warming mouth-feel. Not a lot of vanilla, but tasty nonetheless. 

Will it go to Mars?

If we could only take one beer with us to Mars, would this one be in the cargo hold?

Marcel: Yip. Bring it with. Mars has only one season: cold.

Matt: Mmm. Maybe. A bit too heavy for me.

The Scores



Final Verdict

A really tasty, solid winter warmer that would also do very nicely on a summer's day for that matter. No flaws, nothing forced or overdone. 

Imagine the love child of a really good beer and a really good chocolate brownie. Yum!

A Guide to the Scores


More about Citizen's Beers: Visit their website

Monday, 10 October 2016

New Beer Reviews: Coming soon

Here on Beginnerbrewer we're going to be mixing things up a bit with our beer reviews. A couple of things are set to change:

  • For one, I'm no longer running my own craft brewery, so I feel that I'm allowed to review beer again without conflict of interest. Yay!
  • The beer reviews will be based on our podcast's review section. So if you want the full version, listen to the podcast. The condensed version will be on the blog under the review section. But really, you should read the one and listen to the other!
  • You'll notice that reviews will now feature two (and sometimes more) people's opinions on a beer. Good one!
  • The review point system has changed. It's now even more unscientific! See below for more detail. We wanted to keep things simple and fun. So if you're looking for a full, exhaustive (i.e. yawn-inducing) BJCP rating, look elsewhere. To be honest though, we'll be reviewing things that go beyond just the BJCP essentials, like branding.

Bad / Flawed beer

When we find a flawed beer, we'll institute the following procedure:
  1. First, we'll get some more samples from different sources to confirm the problem's origin (brewery or outlet)
  2. Then, we'll contact the brewer and see how they respond--maybe they want to give us another sample, and we think everyone deserves a second chance. Right?
  3. Finally, good or bad, we'll post the review.

Why are we doing this? 

Simple. We don't want to damage breweries or brewers who are trying their best. But we also feel obliged to warn you, dear readers, of bad beer out there. After all, this stuff ain't cheap. And, as I've argued elsewhere, reviewing bad beer is ultimately good for the industry as a whole.

The New Rating System

Friday, 7 October 2016

Your Guide to Off-flavors: Volume 2

Last time, we looked at some of the most common off-flavors that might creep into your homebrew (or beer you've just bought at the local for that matter).

In today's post, we continue our journey of foul flavors. Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

Off-Flavor #4: Acetaldehyde

This off-flavor will remind you of green apple, apple puree, or freshly cut Granny Smith apples. This is another substance that is present in all beer: yeast produces it during fermentation. 

But in high concentrations, it is always considered a flaw. 

Remember, we're making beer here, so apple flavors are generally not ideal!

How to stop it

Acetaldehyde can be formed by bacteria, so check your sanitizing processes. Especially in the cold-side of you brewery, i.e. the chiller, fermenters, transfer hoses and tubes, etc.

Occasionally, this green-apple monster can be created by aeration during bottling. So make sure you fill your bottles (or kegs) from the bottom up, and fill slowly! To be super-sure, purge your bottles and kegs with some CO2 before filling them.

Off-Flavor #5: Oxidized

Good for packaging, sucks as a flavor
Oxygen is important in the brewing process. Yeast needs the stuff, just like us, to remain healthy. But good old O2 comes with it's own shadowy side. When introduced during mashing or bottling, it can ruin beer. 

Damn you oxygen and all your noble gas buddies!

You'll know your beer's been oxidized if it tastes one-dimensional and smells like wet paper, cardboard, or that old library scent. Sometimes, it can even taste like white pepper, but not in a good way.

How to stop it

Oxygen can creep into beer when you don't bottle correctly, so ensure that you bottle nice and slowly. Purge your bottles or kegs with CO2. Make sure that your racking equipment doesn't have tears or holes that can let air in during transfer. Don't whisk sugar into your bottling bucket, stir it very, very gently or not at all.

Also, you may not be getting a good seal on your keg or crown caps, so check those as well along with your capper.

Exposure to light can also lead to problems, so make sure you're using brown bottles and not storing your beer in UV light. Generally, poor storage of beer can often lead to oxidization problems. 

Off-Flavor #6: Ethyl Hexanoate

Ethyl Hexanoate is another natural product of fermentation, and can, in certain concentrations, be acceptable in a host of different styles of beer.

It's flavors and aromas are fruity, dried apple, slight aniseed, slight perfume, or somewhat floral. 

In high concentrations, it can make you beer taste more like a cheap apple cider than beer. The horror!

How to stop it

Esters like Ethyl Hexanoate are tied up in the fermentation of beer. Yeast health, pitching rates, fermentation temperatures, and available oxygen are all important when you want to eliminate this off-flavor.

Make sure you yeast has a healthy environment to grow in. Aerate your wort before pitching yeast and if you're brewing high gravity beers, add some yeast nutrients in the boil to help those little buggers out.

A common cause is overly high fermentation temperatures. Because homebrewers often struggle with temperature control, especially in the warmer months of the year, this can be a real pain. Try to maintain a steady fermentation temperature of between 16 and 18 degrees C for ale yeasts and see if that does the trick.

That's it for off-flavors for now! We'll no doubt be looking into them again some time soon, but for now, leave comments if you detect any other nasty surprises in your homebrew and I'll happily assist!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Your Guide to Off-flavors: Volume 1

Off-flavors. We've all had them. Come on. I know you've had them. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Well, maybe a little.

Knowing about off-flavors is really, really important for homebrewers though. Here's why:

  • It can help you diagnose where / why things went wrong in your brew
  • It will make you a better judge of beer
  • It will help you brew more drinkable, award-winning beer
  • It will make you more attractive and sexy
Okay, so maybe not that last one.

I'd add another, non-homebrewing, reason to know your off-flavors, though: Beer education. 

With more and more craft beer flooding the market, it behooves craft beer lovers to develop their palates (I've written about this one in another post as well). Good craft beers and the brewers who make them should be rewarded with improved sales.

Bad beer should be punished with decreased sales and probably a good old slap across the face. Knowing off flavors helps you do that--good one! Oh, and please don't buy the malarkey of "It's craft beer, so it's supposed to taste like your granny's armpit." No. It's not.

In this first of two posts, I'll discuss the most common off-flavors homebrewers (and craft lovers) are likely to encounter. Here we go!

Off-Flavor #1: Diacetyl

Butter. Yummy. Maybe not in beer though..
Think butterscotch. Buttered toast. Heavy, sugary butter. If your beer smells and tastes like any of these, its probably got an unhealthy dose of Diacetyl. This bad-boy is a by-product of normal fermentation as well as, in certain instances, bacterial infection.

Diacetyl can be a desirable flavor in some styles of ales and stouts, especially those produced in the English style. But too much Diacetyl in even these beers would be considered a flaw. Which is bad.

How to stop it

Since Diacetyl forms during fermentation, you've got to look into that phase of the brewing proceess to prevent it. The thing about Diacetyl is that it forms naturally when yeast ferments wort, but is then scrubbed out again later, if you've ensured the following:
  • Healthy yeast growth: For yeast to remove Diacetyl, you've got to make sure that these wonderful little beings are happy. That means you've got to make sure you've pitched enough yeast, that you've aerated your wort before pitching, and that you haven't killed your yeast by pitching it into too hot or too cold wort. Got that? Also:
  • Don't ferment too hot: Controlling fermentation temperatures is a vital component of brewing really good beer. Keep your fermentation temp steady during primary fermentation. For ales, try aim for 16-18 degrees Celcius. For lagers, around 12-15 degrees Celcius should do it.
  • Do a Diacetyl rest: Pro brewers who want to prevent Diacetyl in their beers tend to do a Diacetyl rest around Day 5 and 6 of fermentation. It's pretty simple: raise the temperature of your fermentation by a couple of degrees, around 18-20 degrees Celcius. Keep it there for a day or two.
    What's happening here is the heat re-activates dormant yeast cells and encourages them to absorb Diacetyl. After the rest, you can do your normal cold conditioning at lower temperatures.
  • Keep things clean: Diacetyl can also be produced by various bacteria. Damn those bastards. So do make sure to keep things clean, especially once your wort has been chilled and you're ready to add yeast. Go take a look at my post on sanitation to refresh your memory. It's good for you. Promise.

Off-Flavor #2: Phenolic

Cloves. A little goes a long way.
Think cloves, medicinal, and at high concentrations, that weird Band-Aid smell. No, not Bob Geldof--the bandages, smart-ass. 

Phenolic compounds can form throughout the brewing cycle and by a variety of culprits, so figuring out what went wrong can be more difficult.

Like Diacetyl, Phenols can be desirable in certain beers. Yeasts used to produce Wheat beers, Witbiers, Saissons, and most Belgian styles all have a touch of the phenolic in them.

When controlled, it should add a nice flavor of cloves and spice to the beer. But just a touch, mind you.

If your beer smells like a MASH surgery, it's not okay. Here's what you do:

How to stop it

  • Check your water: High levels of Chlorine compounds (chloramine) in your brewing water can cause very phenolic, medicinal off-flavors. Use a Chlorine filter or boil your water before use.
  • Don't use bleach: Given how many high-quality, built-for-purpose sanitizers there are nowadays for homebrewers, using bleach just because it's cheap is insane. What are you, the Grinch? Avoid bleach, because its residue can cause off-flavors in your beer. Okay?
  • Keep things clean: Yep, you guessed it. Proper sanitation, especially post-wort cooling, can go a long way in preventing most bacteria from spoiling your beer. Phenolic off-flavors are often produced by wild yeast strains and bacteria. So keep it clean, folks.
  • Bottle carefully: Wild yeast infections like phenolic compounds like creeping in during the botling phase of brewing. So remember to keep things extra-special clean and sanitary during bottling.
  • Mash temperatures: Less common, but worth checking, is phenolic compound formation due to low mash temperatures. If you're brewing all-grain, check if your mash temperatures aren't a bit low (45-55 degrees C). That can contribute to the formation of phenolic precursors in your wort.

Off-Flavor #3: DMS

Tomato beer anybody? No.
Think creamed corn, tomato stew, cooked vegetables. None of these tastes or aromas belong in beer. They're always bad. Always.

DMS, or as it's mom refers to it, Dimethyl Sulfide, resides, like a viper in the grass, inside of most malts. Once you heat up malts during mashing and boiling, DMS starts to form. Bummer.

How to stop it

  • Wort time: Unlike Hammer-time, you should try to collect your wort from mashing at a reasonable pace without letting it sit around for too long.

    If you're using Brew-In-A-Bag (BIAB), that's usually not a problem. But for brewers who use converted coolers, it can be. So collect wort slowly, but not at a pace that will allow you to read War and Peace in one sitting.
  • Full Boil: Make sure that you achieve a full, rolling, boil. I've spoken about this in previous posts, so go check it out. DMS is blown off by vigorous boils, so get rid of those suckers! Also, don't cover your kettle during the boil. Allow DMS to escape. It wants to be free.
  • Limit chill time: I'm talking about Netflix and chill here. Just kidding. Chill down your boiled wort as quickly as you can afford to. Use a wort chiller. Use prayer. Whatever it takes, just make it quick, okay?
  • Good, strong fermentation: A vigorous fermentation can really help to scrub out DMS through the CO2 that naturally forms during this phase of brewing. Make sure you've pitched good, healthy yeast, aerate your wort, and pitched the yeast at the right temperature. If you're brewing a high gravity beer, make sure to use yeast nutrients in the boil to help things along.
Next time, I'll cover some more off-flavors. Now go brew some better beer.


Picture Credits: 
Butter by Taryn (CC BY 2.0)
Cloves by anuandraj (CC BY 2.0)
Tomato by photon_de (CC BY 2.0)

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Open Letter to All South African Beer Bloggers and Reviewers

I love beer. Always have. From the first taste of my Dad’s Black Label to having a Trappist Triple, beer has woven its seduction into my bones and into my heart. It made me want to brew my own beer more than ten years ago. It made me start this blog. It made me start Hate City Brewing Company.

When the Craft beer revolution hit SA shores, I was right there, cheering along with all of you. I thought, “Yes! Now is the time for good beer!” It was a special time. Once, a beer enthusiast considered finding a Portuguese lager in their local liquor store a very special thing. Now we’re spoiled for choice.

Enough with the nostalgia. 

I’m worried about the future of South African craft beer. And here’s why. 

There’s still too many flawed beers out there on the shelves of restaurants, pubs, and liquor stores. Too much DMS, too many band-aid beers. It’s not okay. It’s not “craft” if a beer is cloudy, tastes like old nappies, and smells like a sewer grate. That’s crap beer, folks.

I fully realize and own the irony and scary tension of me, a craft brewer, saying such things.

Craft brewers shouldn’t review fellow craft brewers. But I think I have earned the right to review beer reviewers. You, dear critics of craft, have the power to make this beautiful craft revolution of ours keep on revolting against the faceless, bland, corporate swill produced by the macros of this world.

Make no mistake. It’s super-horrible to receive a bad review about your beer. I know. But that’s the only way to improve. Craftspeople do ultimately appreciate the interest, even if it’s negative. That’s the way of progress.

But you have a lot of power, dear reviewers.

The average craft consumer will listen to you. They will take you seriously. This is what the craft movement needs. It’s painful, yes. But necessary. Craft is about quality. It’s about prioritizing taste and artisan craft above all else. 

So here’s the rub: If you follow an “Everybody get’s a prize” philosophy, if you refuse to post bad reviews, if you don’t educate yourselves in what an off-flavor is and tastes like, well, you’re doing a tremendous disservice to the craft beer movement in this country.

You really are.

The reason is very simple. 

Once someone tries a craft beer, and pays far more for it than the average macro, and that beer doesn’t taste great, they are very likely to turn away from craft. They are likely to conclude that this is just another hipster trend, another ploy by marketing folk to divest them of their hard-earned cash.

And if enough people think like that, the craft movement will die. I really think it will.

So please save us from ourselves. Post bad reviews. Name and shame (even if that name is my own and that shame is mine to bear).

You will be doing the right thing.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Couple of Questions: Homebrewing FAQ

So after a long hiatus, mostly thanks to working on my craft brewery: Hate City Brewing Company, I'm back!

My apologies for the long wait, and my thanks to everyone who has still read through the blog anyway!

Today's post is a collection of questions I've fielded throughout the last few years teaching in the Beer Keg's beer school, where we show homebrewers how to make awesome beer at home.

So let's get started!

1. I've recently opened a homebrew after bottle conditioning, and beer came shooting out, pretty much emptying the entire bottle. The beer doesn't really taste off. What went wrong?

When your beer empties itself almost entirely, the likely culprit is a wild yeast infection. Some strains of wild yeasts can ferment even complex sugars that brewing yeasts can't. 

The result?

Your beer becomes hyper-carbonated and once you open it, wants to escape at all costs! Also, if you taste carefully, you'll note that the beer tastes bland, very dry, and has almost no body. All symptoms of having (usually) non-fermentable sugars removed from the brew.

The cure?

Look carefully at your bottling practices. This type of infection usually happens during bottling (the horror...), so review your bottling methods. Some pointers:
  • Sterilize everything that touches the beer. Including bottle caps and the siphoning tube
  • Ban pets from the room you're using to bottle--their fur harbors wild yeast.
  • Try to keep air flow to a minimum: wild yeast floats on the air, especially if you've got a big garden or live near agricultural areas.

2. I'm using Beersmith (or similar software) and am brewing full grain recipes. I almost never hit my pre-boil gravity, even though I've tried to improve mash efficiency through raking, mash-outs, etc. What now?

Remember that mash efficiency is not a competition. 

Commercial brewers need to worry about extracting the maximum from their mash, because we're using large quantities of expensive malts and can't afford to lose money on an inefficient mash. Homebrewers aren't as restricted.

So don't sweat it if your mash efficiency hovers around 60-70%. Adjust the settings in your software to accommodate for that and use a bit more grain. And hit your numbers every time!

3. My beer is very cloudy, even though the style calls for crystal clarity. What's wrong?

This is a complex problem. Clear beer is definitely a joy to behold (unless you're brewing a style, like a Witbier, that is supposed to be cloudy). I am a strong believer that if you use the right technique in brewing, you generally don't have to filter or overly-fine your beer to achieve clarity. Here are a few pointers to clear beer:

Clear Beer: What a wonderful thing..
  1. Make sure that your grains are not milled too finely (If you're doing a full grain brew).
  2. Maintain a full, rolling boil for at least 60 minutes.
  3. Use Irish Moss at 10 minutes (5-10ml per 20 litre batch).
  4. Create a whirlpool to collect the trub in the centre of the kettle.
  5. Cool the wort rapidly (less than 30 minutes to pitching temperature)
  6. Cold condition your beer at 5C for at least 2-3 days before bottling
If you follow these five steps, you will have clear, beautiful beer. Promise.

4. I'm thinking of starting a microbrewery in South Africa. What are the requirements/things to keep in mind?

Since I've embarked on starting my own craft brewery, I've gotten this question a lot. Unlike many other countries such as the States, South Africa is still struggling to become small business friendly, so starting a craft brewery can be a tough proposition, but here are a few of the things I've picked up so far in my own journey:

  • MOST IMPORTANT: Please learn how to brew properly! The Craft Beer movement is a wonderous thing. I can honestly say that with a few exceptions, most craft brewers are incredibly decent people who will help their fellow brewers even if it puts them out or costs them money. The secret is: We are not really in competition with each other. In fact, the few d-bag brewers out there are distinguished in that they think there is a competition going on. The only real competition for Craft beer is: Bad Craft Beer. If you start a craft brewery and brew shit beer, you're hurting all of us, and that's not cool. I really cannot emphasize this enough. Craft beer in South Africa is growing, but so is the number of quick-to-capitalize-on-the-trend breweries. Not all of them produce quality, and that endangers the entire Craft movement. 
  • SECOND MOST IMPORTANT: Have an idea of how to sell your beer. As unfair as it sounds, beer, even really, really good beer, does not sell itself. It turns out that almost nothing sells itself. You've got to move from being a competent brewer to being a competent marketer and salesperson of your beer. If you don't like all that "marketing malarkey," then you probably should stick to homebrewing.
  • Premises: In SA, microbreweries may only be housed on properties that are zoned for industrial or agricultural use. There are exceptions for brewpubs, but then you will be constrained in how much beer you can distribute outside your brewpub.
  • Licencing: You'll need a micro-manufacturing licence, health & safety certification, and a zoning certificate to register your business, plus a few other ones like SARS registration for excise. My advice: speak to a craft brewery that's gone through the process, and resist the temptation to get a lawyer involved unless you really, really cannot get any joy. There are lawyers who advertise expertise in getting liquor licences, but in my experience, they are often less than impressive, which is  a bummer.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Small-batch Recipe: IPA

In a previous post, we discussed the equipment you'd need for small batch experiments, and with hope, you've tried a few batches already. If you're a hop head like me, you're going to have to try and brew an IPA, so today's post covers a reliable recipe for this super-hoppy beer. Enjoy!

Humulone-Head IPA

For a 3 liter extract batch (that's a 6-pack of 440ml bottles) you will need:


5 liters of H2O.

Extract and Specialty Grains

485g Dried Malt Extract
32g Caramunich I (50 SRM) Malt (steep at 65-70C for 30 minutes)
21 g Carared or similar (20 SRM) Caramel malt (steep at 65-70C for 30 minutes)


3g of Apollo @ 60 minutes
3g of Warrior @ 10 minutes
4g of Cascade @ 1 minute
4g of Warrior: Dry hop for 7 days before bottling.


A third of a packet of US-05 dried yeast (or similar American yeast)


A third of a teaspoon of Irish Moss @ 10 minutes.

For a 3 liter full-grain version:

You will need:
708g of Pale 2-row Malt
69g of Caramunich I (50 SRM) Malt
45g of Carared or similar (20 SRM) Caramel malt 

Use the same hops, Irish Moss, and yeast.

Mash Schedule (using the BIAB method):

Get your water to 72 C, then add the grains to achieve 66.7 C.

Mash the grains at this temperature for 75 minutes, then mash out at 75 C for 10 minutes and lift the bag. 
Do not squeeze the bag.

Your pre-boil gravity should be close to 1.036. Boil for 60 minutes.

Fermentation & Bottling

Ferment at 16-18C for 2 weeks. 
Bottle with 18g of dextrose or keg for 2.5 vols.

Technical Notes

Pre-boil Gravity: 1.036
OG (Original Gravity): 1.060
FG (Final Gravity): 1.014
ABV (Alcohol): 6.0%
IBUs (Bitterness Units): 65

Some Experiments to Try:

Small-batch brewing can be an excellent opportunity for the homebrewer to experiment. Here are some suggestions for this recipe:
  • Hops: Substitute the Warrior with a different hop, I recommend Centennial, EKG, Amarillo, or Chinook
  • Sugars: Try adding some Maple Syrup (about 60g) in the boil for a dry finish and wooded taste.
  • Other Flavors: Try adding some honey in the primary fermentation (50g) or chuck some juniper berries into the boil at 10 minutes (a handful should do).


Sunday, 6 April 2014

3 Beer Books for Non-Brewers

Homebrewers are a passionate lot (some would say obsessive), and often want to share our love for beer with friends and family.

So, apart from handing over your latest masterpiece in a tall pint glass, what about gifts that can be given to help others understand this wonderful hobby (i.e. obsession)?

Today's post looks at three books that homebrewers can safely hand to their non-brewing friends and loved ones without risking a puzzled look.

Brewing up a Business: Adventures in Beer

The author, Sam Calagione, is the owner and mad beer genius behind Dogfish Head Breweries, famous for their 60 minute IPA and recreating ancient brews from around the world. He's also written some kick-ass how-to books for homebrewers.

In this book, Sam takes a bit of a departure from that and talks business. More specifically, he takes the reader on an entertaining and occasionally revolutionary journey through his craft business model. 

If your non-brewing friend or significant other has an interest in business, guerrilla marketing, or just plain fascinating autobiography, this book is a great read.

The Brewmaster's Table

Garrett Oliver is the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery in NYC, and also a leading authority on food and beer pairings. Apart from authoring this book, he's also the editor for the Oxford Companion of Beer.

The Brewmaster's Table is a fantastic read for anybody who can be described as a "foodie" or is passionate about a good meal (accompanied by good beer, of course).

I'd also recommend Oliver's book to my fellow homebrewers--He is a very, very knowledgeable brewer, and his insights into different styles of beer are incredibly useful for getting your homebrew's flavours just right.

African Brew

Lucy Corne is without a doubt one of South Africa's true craft beer heroes. In this book, she journeys across South Africa, sampling craft beer, chatting to brewers, and sharing some great beer-friendly and beer-infused recipes (sounds like hard work, that).

This is a must-have for anybody who is interested or passionate about the craft revolution currently sweeping South Africa. A solid, well written tome with lovely photography and mouthwatering food (and beer) porn. Get it.

Friday, 28 March 2014

3 Tips for Better Beer

My apologies for not posting in a while--alas, starting a craft brewery is somewhat time intensive! More on that development in future posts.

But today, we're going to cover three very important things to keep in mind when making your own beer. They all improve flavour, stability, and the general health of you homebrew--enjoy!

Tip #1: Full Volume Boil.

I've mentioned this step in previous posts, but it bears repeating: unless you boil the full volume of wort you will not gain the advantages that it brings.
A full, rolling boil

And the advantages are many:
  • Full volume, rolling boils utilize hops more fully, and ensures a nice, rounded hop flavour
  • Full volume boils ensure that proteins responsible for haze are fully broken up, resulting in nice, clear beer
  • The full volume boil is essential for blowing off compounds naturally found in malt that produce off-flavours, like DMS.
  • A rolling boil ensures that no oxygen can enter the beer at this stage, helping with flavour profile and stability

Tip #2: Re-hydrate Dry Yeast

Properly re-hydrated yeast
Dried yeast is a popular choice with homebrewers--it’s easy to handle, lasts for a long time, and is relatively cheap. But dried yeast is not as lively as its liquid cousin. To help it along, and ensure that your yeast starts to replicate quickly, you should re-hydrate it.

It’s simple and will ensure that you have a good, strong fermentation that out-competes any potential nasties that may have crept into the brew:

  • Take the yeast out of the fridge and allow it to get to room temperature
  • Measure your room temperature by putting a thermometer in a glass of tap water
  • Clean and santitise a mason jar. Clean and santise the outside of the yeast packet and the scissors you’ll be using to open the packet.
  • Pitch the yeast into 150ml of sanitised water (I use a freshly opened bottle of mineral water)
  • Close the mason jar with a clean and sanitised lid
  • Let the yeast diffuse naturally for about 20 minutes
  • Then, swirl the jar gently every five minutes or so for another 20 minutes. The re-hydrated yeast will now be a nice, even-coloured cream, ready to pitch.
  • Make sure that you pitch the yeast into the wort when the wort has chilled to within 5 degrees Celsius of the yeast (the re-hydrated yeast will be at room temperature—which you measured earlier). Rather pitch into a warmer temperature, so if your yeast is at 20 degrees, then pitch into wort that is at 25 degrees, to avoid yeast shock.

Tip #3: Fermentation Control

The Fermenter: Strange things are happening inside

The fermentation phase of brewing is often perceived as a hands-off process by most homebrewers. Once you’ve pitched your yeast and placed your fermenter in a suitable spot, it’s all up to time and the gods. But this is where most of the flavours (and off-flavours) of beer are produced. So some careful control is necessary.

The main contributor to the flavour profile of your beer during fermentation will come from three things: Oxygen, competition, and temperature:

  • Oxygen: Yeast needs oxygen to function properly, so make sure that you’ve introduced enough of the gas into your wort before pitching (either by shaking the fermenter, whisking it, or using an aeration stone).

    • Once fermentation is going, you want to keep oxygen away from the developing beer—this is usually not a problem during primary fermentation, but if you’re going to rack your beer into another vessel for secondary fermentation, oxygenation is a real risk. My recommendation: don’t bother with secondary fermentation in another vessel—just use the one your beer is already in. If you are going to use another fermenter, fill it with CO2 first, or lacking that, fill from the bottom up. Slowly.

  • Competition: Yeast has evolved, through natural and artificial selection, to be very adept at fermenting out wort. But there are bacteria and wild strains of yeast that are also pretty good at working within the fermentation cycle. First off, you need to try and limit the unformed beer’s exposure to these harmful critters, and you do that by following the basics of good sanitisation (see my article on it here). Here are some additional points to keep in mind:

    • Make sure the fermenter does not have deep scratches inside where bugs can hide. If it does, you need to invest in a new one
    • Ditto for rubber grommets, gaskets, and airlocks in your fermenter lid. Check them periodically for tears, gouges, and places that can harbour nasties. Rather spend a few bucks buying new ones than stubbornly ruining your beer by being a cheap skate.
    • Make sure that you fill the airlock with sterile liquid. I prefer vodka, because unlike sterilisers, it doesn’t lose its potency, and if some of it ends up in the beer, it won’t affect its flavour

  • Temperature: Controlling the temperature of the fermentation is always a challenge for homebrewers, and unfortunately, it’s also one of the most important factors influencing the final product. This is a very wide generalisation, but most ales ferment really well at around 16-18 degrees Celcius. This temperature, depending on the yeast used, tends to produce minimal off-flavours while still allowing the tasty esters ales are known for to develop. There are exceptions though:

    • For Saisson yeasts, ferment at higher temperatures, from 22 C to 27 C works well
    • For Belgian ale yeasts, higher temperatures from 25 – 30 C work well.
    • For lager yeasts, your fermentation temp will be far lower, from 11-15 C.

  • As for controlling the temperature, the best possible option is to get an old fridge or freezer and bypass the thermostat with an external thermostat (digital or analog). You can get these from most homebrew supply shops. Put your fermenter in the fridge, adjust the temp to the desired range, and Bob’s your uncle!

    • Another option is to measure the ambient temperature in various rooms in your house, as well as in cupboards, etc. Make notes and track seasonal changes. That way, you’ll know which places are more suitable than others for different fermentation schedules.
    • In summer, you can cool down your fermenter by placing it in a large container with water, and periodically placing frozen bottles of water in the container
    • In winter, you can warm up a fermentation by using a heater in the room (costly), or wrapping the fermenter in a blanket or thermal cover (cheaper)

Hope you enjoyed the tips! Let me know about your homebrew experiences by posting a comment or question below, or connect with me via Facebook. I always answer any question, even if it takes a while. Happy brewing!

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