The Beginner Brewer: A Couple of Questions: Homebrewing FAQ

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.

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