The Beginner Brewer: Basic Brewing Techniques Part II: 5 Steps to Better Beer

Friday, 3 August 2012

Basic Brewing Techniques Part II: 5 Steps to Better Beer

In my previous post on basic brewing technique, I talked about the importance of keeping things clean. Today, I'm discussing 5 key techniques that if mastered, will make your homebrewing more enjoyable and your beer far tastier!

1. A Full Wort Boil

While you can get by with boiling only part of your wort when using extracts or kits, it's not ideal. A full wort boil is far better. What it means is simply to boil the full volume of beer that you will ultimately put in the fermenter.

For a 19 litre batch, that translates into about 22-23 litres, depending on how vigorous the boil is. Boiling the total volume has several benefits:

    Corn: Good on cob, bad in beer
  • It gets rid of DMS. DMS (Dimethyl Sulphide) is contained within malt and evaporates as the wort is boiled. It can give beer a cooked corn or vegetable taste; both rather unpleasant.  Boiling all of the wort for 60 minutes reduces DMS, providing you can cool down your wort quickly enough (see point 2 below)
  • It releases the full flavour profile of the hops. Hops need to be boiled and agitated for a while to release all the oils that give your beer that lovely hoppy flavour. A full wort boil does that far better than a partial boil.

2. Cool down rapidly

If you don't cool down your wort quickly enough, it can re-introduce all the DMS you've boiled off, which is just not cool (sorry). Also, cooling the wort rapidly creates a cold break, which is essential for creating a nice, clear beer. Removing the proteins that come out of a cold break also keeps the beer fresher for longer: always a good thing!

To rapidly cool down 19 litres of boiling liquid is not easy. Two relatively affordable ways to do it though are:

Salty Ice: A brewer's friend

  • A really cold ice bath. Get a medium sized galvanised metal bathtub, fill it with several packets of ice, water and salt. You now have an incredibly effective ice bath. 
This will chill your wort in about 30-40 minutes, but can be a bit of a pain. Make sure that you cover your brew-pot with a sanitised lid, and don't let any of the salty water into the beer!

3. Don't guess: Measure!

Measure things already!
Brewing is both an art and a science. The science part is often neglected by homebrewers though, with predictable results.

If you don't have one already, invest in a good kitchen scale for weighing your ingredients properly.

Use thermometers and hydrometers to measure the gravity of your wort, the right time to pitch your yeast, and when to bottle your beer.

Guesswork is just not going to cut it.

4. Rehydrate dry yeast

When using dry yeasts, it's a very good practise to rehydrate them for at least 30 minutes in sterile water at about 20-25 degrees C.

When pitching, make sure the wort is within 5 degrees C of the rehydrated yeast to avoid shocking the yeast into a slumber (not good).

5. Aerate properly.

Before pitching your yeast, aerate the wort by either rocking the fermenter back and forth for a few minutes, or use a sterile stainless steel aeration stone and aquarium pump setup with a carbon filter.

Using this system, you will need to aerate your wort for at least 20-30 minutes, longer for higher gravity beers.

Want more tips for improving your beer? Check out five more steps to better beer!

Next Time: It's time to brew! If you've been following this blog, you now have all the info and equipment needed for your first brew.

In the next entry, I'll give you a simple, yet tasty recipe for your first beer.


{picture credits: Corn: cammyclaudia; Ice: ksuyin; Scale: Stefano Costanzo} 

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