The Beginner Brewer: 3 Things Homebrewers can learn from Chefs

Sunday, 3 February 2013

3 Things Homebrewers can learn from Chefs

If you're into craft beer, chances are that you're also pretty fond of good food. Over the past few years, I've really come to appreciate the clever, often very subtle things good cooks and chefs do to make food taste really, really good. Here are three principles, derived from cooking, that homebrewers can learn from.

Oh, and happy 2013, Btw!

1. Prep time = Important time

This dude can improve your homebrew. Promise
If you've read some of my earlier posts on brewing techniques, you'll know that brewing is a multi-step process. Good chefs spend a lot of time preparing their kitchens for the final event of making the dish. Homebrewers can avoid lots of frustration by doing the same.

Spending a little bit of extra time in preparing your brew station can save a lot of time down the line. Here's a few checklist items for pre-brew day:
  • Prepare your yeast starter (if you're using liquid yeast)
  • Do some basic cleaning of equipment such as fermenters and kettles
  • Measure your ingredients to make sure that you've got everything the recipe requires
  • Check that you've got enough LPG for your burner
On brew-day, prep involves placing your ingredients, equipment and other items in order of their use, making sure that you've got a sanitation station set up and ready to go, and last but not least, checking one more time that you've got all your ingredients.

2. Use interesting sugars

I like beers that finish quite dry, and one way of achieving this is to add some form of sugar into the recipe. Sugars also lend alcohol boost to the brew, and can lend different, subtle tastes to the final product. 

In cooking too, sugars are often used to add flavor or balance to dishes. Few good chefs however, would just settle for your average refined, white sugar.


Homebrewers don't have to settle for the run-of-the-mill sweet stuff either (also, regular refined sucrose can add unwanted, 'cider-like' flavors to beer).

Using more interesting sugars can add equally interesting notes to your brews. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Inverted sugar syrup
  • Brown sugars, like Demerara
  • Belgian Candy sugars
  • Molasses and Treacle
  • Honey
  • Maple Syrup
  • Palm sugar

3. Use complimenting and contrasting flavors

Fans of Thai cooking will know about the principle of using sour, sweet, salty and bitter tastes together to create that unmistakable Thai flavor.

Homebrewers may not want to add too much (or any) salt to their brews any time soon, but the basic principle has a lot of merit. 

For instance, if you're making a very malty, very dark ale, the primary flavors are likely going to be sweet malt, chocolate, coffee and bread-like. What goes well with these flavors? If the primary note is chocolate, you may want to explore that old classic: chocolate and chili.

Or if coffee is the main note, then why not add something that plays well with the bean, like some caramel malts or interesting sugars? For that matter, why not add the ultimate compliment: some actual coffee?

Hope you enjoyed this post--here's to a fantastic brew year!

Next time

Some of you may know that I've recently embarked on becoming a commercial craft brewer. In upcoming posts, I'll share this journey towards my own microbrewery with you, just in case the project swallows me whole and I'm never seen again!

 I'll also take a look at a great little craft beer that hails from South Africa's own hop growers region.


{picture credits: chef  by lina menazzi; sugar cubes by howz}

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