The Beginner Brewer: 3 Tips for Better Beer

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!



2 comments:

  1. Great post! thanks for the info...what do you find best for the boil? using gas or electric? what do you use for mashing? or are you doing a brew in a bag method?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Warren! For achieving a really nice, full rolling boil, I've found that you can't really beat high pressure gas burners (I discuss these here: http://www.beginnerbrewer.com/2012/06/buying-brewing-stuff-part-i.html).

      As for mashing, I really enjoy BIAB, but good results are also possible with a modified cooler mash tun with copper manifold. For simplicity though, BIAB is the way to go.

      Delete

What's on your mind?