Sanitation Tips for Homebrew Beer

January 11th, 2009

Microbrewing can be one of the most engaging and satisfying hobbies to take up. Cultivating the right flavors, strength, and style over a matter of weeks or months can make the final product all that more satisfying. But one of the most important things you should take into account before you dive into your home brew operation is proper sanitation.

It’s the yeast that cultivates the flavor, but from the moment your initial product dips below half-boiling point, you’ll have to deal with all manner of bacteria that can potentially infect your brew.

Knowing how and what to sanitize–especially if you’re a beginner–can save you weeks of frustration. First, you’ll want to be sure that absolutely everything that comes into contact with your home brew has been properly sanitized.

That means sterilizing your bottles, rungs, chillers, spoons, any racking equipment, and last but not least, your hands. You’ll want to submerge all your equipment in a chemical solution–usually bleach or hydrogen peroxide, both of which are highly effective and readily available.

It is also possible to sanitize by heat, but this is not recommended for most equipment aside from bottle caps. Heat is by far the riskier method of sanitation and is not nearly as effective as a chemical agent. You’ll also want to invest in a sturdy wire brush and some Oxy-Clean. The latter can be extremely useful for cleaning and scrubbing off old labels until they look like new again.

If the bottles are new, be sure to sanitize and then rinse them thoroughly with cold water. This last step is important–you don’t want a bleach aftertaste lingering in your prize home brew! Lastly, be sure to use common sense and remember that the first rule is it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Spice Up Homebrew Beer

January 10th, 2009

Choosing spice for homebrew beer depends on how well the spice marries with the flavor of the homebrew beer. Wanton dosing of spices into beer without consideration of how the spice will enhance the flavor wastes ingredients and hours of work producing a fine homebrew beer. This is also true of adding flavorings to your homebrew beer. If the flavors don’t produce a drinkable product, it loses value.

Spices for homebrew beer range from the exotic like cardamom to the more traditional like nutmeg or cinnamon. Many untried spices are perfectly suited for homebrew beer such as lemongrass with its hint of lemon or the sophisticated juniper berries so classic to homebrew European beer. Some spices added to homebrew beer are an acquired taste. For instance, star anise adds a licorice flavor while chili fits the fancy of those who love anything with a Tex-Mex taste.

Another in this league is cumin. Cumin should be used sparingly in beer as it has a tendency to flatten the genuine beer flavor. Cumin is a spice that in small dashes add a singularly identifiable flavor to anything. While cocoa isn’t a spice, combined with chili powder in a small dose, it adds color and flavor. The two should be blended well before adding to a homebrew beer. Sour salt as a spice added to a homebrew beer in small amounts grants a slightly lemony bitter salt taste.

If the homebrew beer is delicate in flavor, adding spices can upgrade the quality and flavor. Plan in advance the type of final homebrew beer that will result by adding spices. For stronger flavored homebrew beer, spices should be barely evident and alter the flavor almost imperceptibly. Go for a creative homebrew beer by adding spices with a more obvious style. The result will bring smiles to those it’s shared with.

The Top 7 Homebrew Beer Books

January 8th, 2009

I always recommend to homebrew beginners that they go out and buy a guide to brewing beer at home. It gives you tips and advice that starter kits don’t as well as enable you to start making your favorite styles and flavors instantly.

As you can imagine there are hundreds and hundreds of homebrewing books out there and it can be near impossible to pick one out of the crowd. For this reason I have listed the top 7 best selling homebrew books on Amazon.

This does not mean that they are the most informative or the education - they are simply the most popular.

  1. How to Brew - Everything You Need to Know to Brew Beer Right the First Time by John J Palmer.
  2. The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charles Papazian
  3. Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles by Ray Daniels
  4. Clone Brews: Homebrew Recipes for 150 Commercial Beers by Tess Szamatulski and Mark Szamatulski
  5. The Beer Book by Sam Calagione and Tim Hampson
  6. Homebrewing For Dummies by Marty Nachel
  7. Ultimate Beer by Michael Jackson

I can honestly recommend any of these books as a starter. Before you start brewing you really need to understand what is actually going on and why you do certain things.

Interview - Fermentarium’s DJ

January 7th, 2009

DJ operates one of the most popular homebrewing websites, Fermentarium, and has provided his own view of 5 basic homebrewing questions. His tips and advice are really worth reading:

1) When did you start brewing your own beer and why?

I started when I was in college.  There was a liquor store in Boston which happened to have beer kits on the shelf.  It was a pain finding someone who could buy alcohol for you, so making my own beer seemed like a natural solution.  There was no age requirement for beer supplies at the time.  The beer kits were the extract in a can variety.  The first beer was ok, the second beer never carbonated in the bottle, and the third beer grew far more than yeast.  It was much later I learned more about sanitation and proper brewing techniques.
2) What advice would you give to homebrew beginners?

Relax.  If you can find someone to watch brew beer, do that first.  You’ll see the person make mistakes, skip steps from the book, and possibly do something a book guarantees will produce poor results.  What you will find is the beer will still turn out decent.  Sure you’ll need to work on the parts your friend glossed over to produce great beer, you’ll find the beer he did produce is still better than you’d expect.  I’ve had disaster brewing days, where the beer still turned out great.  Watching someone else brew beer takes the fear factor out of brewing, you’ll worry less and you’ll enjoy it much more.

3) What is the best tip to improve your beer that you have ever been given?

Create a yeast starter.  When you create a starter, the fermentation starts quicker, ends sooner, and produces a better tasting beer.  Starters also reduce the chances for infection since your starter should easily outcompete any other micro organisms.  The yeast really make the beer, maybe more than any other “ingredient”, so if you give your beer the best yeast possible your beer will turn out much better.
4) What is your favorite commercial beer?

Paulaner Märzen.  For a larger brewery beer, it’s a great session beer with good flavor.  The beer is a smooth red lager, with a hint of sweetness.  It’s the original Oktoberfest beer, and I always have a case on hand.
5) What is your favorite style of beer?

Märzen.  I really like the maltier beers. It takes more time and effort since it’s a lager,but the results are always worth it.  I usually make a few kegs for the annual Oktoberfest party in my neighborhood.

Interview - Beer Utopia’s Chris

January 7th, 2009

Chris, also known as Beer Utopia’s Czar of Zymurgy is a big homebrew enthusiast and has agreed to answer five questions to help everyone with their beer making projects:

1) When did you start brewing your own beer and why?
I started brewing less than a year ago. Honestly, I started brewing because we had just launched Beer Utopia and it gave me something to write about.I started with zero knowledge but approached it like an experiment. I’ve always been a do-it-yourself person so I wasn’t afraid to give it a try. I used the Internet for research and blogged about my home brewing experiences, good and bad. It was intriguing to me to learn how my favorite drink was made.

2) What advice would you give to homebrew beginners?
I would give two pieces of advice to beginners:
a) Write everything down. Keep a precise record of everything during the brewing process from the boil to bottling. If you keep detailed notes you can replicate success and troubleshoot problems.
b) Get involved with a brew club. Most cities have active brew clubs so seek them out and get involved. In my opinion, brewing with others or at least talking to other brewers is the best way to learn the art of brewing. If you can’t find a brew club, get involved in an online home brew community. The American Homebrewers Association is the granddaddy of brew groups but there are dozens of others out there on the ‘net.

3) What is the best tip to improve your beer that you have ever been given?
The best tip I’ve been given is to use a yeast starter instead of pitching the yeast directly into the wort. Creating a starter before you start brewing insures that you have healthy, active yeast when it comes time to pitch. Your fermentation will be faster and more vigorous and you don’t have to worry about an incomplete or stuck fermentation. On a related note, use liquid yeast rather than dry. It costs more but is worth it.

4) What is your favorite commercial beer?
My favorite commercial beer is usually the one in my hand. We are truly lucky that there is an abundance of exceptional craft beer available now so it’s hard to pick a favorite. I like Sam Adams a lot. I’ve heard people say that all of their beer tastes the same but I like the taste so it works for me. I also really like Flying Dogs beers, and I’m not just saying that because they are a Beer Utopia advertiser. They really push the envelope of craft beer and produce consistently awesome brews.

5) What is your favorite style of beer?

Before I started brewing my own I would have said my favorite style was a stout. Now that I have a little more discerning palette, I would say my favorite style depends on the occasion and time of year. I am enjoying all of the winter ales that are available right now but in the summer, a crisp amber ale or lager is great. My appreciation for the complexities of hops has grown as I have experimented with different hops varieties in my recipes so I like sweet, malty beers less than I used to. Overall, I like beers that have a complex flavor profile regardless of their style.

Interview - Blog About Beer’s Luke

January 6th, 2009

Luke runs the popular A Blog About Beer website and has agreed to share some great tips with everyone.

1) When did you start brewing your own beer and why?

I started brewing in 2005 when my roommate at the time and I decided to split the cost of a homebrew kit. I had gone on my first brewery tour shortly before that (at Sam Adams in Boston, MA) and was just getting into beer. My brother had been brewing for years and, when he heard that I bought a kit, sent me his war-torn copy of Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. Needless to say, the rest is history.
2) What advice would you give to homebrew beginners?

Sanitize EVERYTHING. Serious clean all of your equipment as much as you can and then clean it some more. As I was told when I was just starting out - absolutely the only germs you want in the carboy are the ones you put there yourself. If you keep things clean, your beer may not be an award winner but at least it’ll be drinkable. And that sure beats flushing 5 gallons of rotten beer down the drain!
3) What is the best tip to improve your beer that you have ever been given?

Definitely the cleanliness tip I mentioned above. But other than that - don’t rush things. And that applies from the start to the finish of the brewing process. If you rush things along the way you’ll end up making a mistake, so take your time. That applies to the aging at the end of the process, too. Every first-time brewer wants to dive right in and taste the fruits of their labor as soon as possible (hell, every seasoned brewer does, too. If you’re not excited to taste your beer than what’s the point?!) but if you can wait just a little while longer for the beer to age and the flavors to mellow and blend, you’ll be that much more pleased with the results.
4) What is your favorite commercial beer?

Haha don’t you know better than to ask that?! There’s no way to pick just one - and that’s what makes beers fun. Of course there are beers I like more than others, and breweries I really admire (and breweries I’m really sick of) and styles I prefer but it’s impossible to pick just one beer. And, if you do so, you’re really doing yourself a disservice by cutting yourself off now before you try hundreds more beers. and then hundreds more after that. Why settle for a “favorite” now?
5) What is your favorite style of beer?

I definitely try and drink very seasonally - i.e. lighter, “summerier” beers in the summer; “winter warmers” in the cold months, etc. etc. There’s a reason that seasonal styles got to be seasonal styles - that’s when they taste the best! But, if you were to take the seasons out of the equation, I prefer darker beers mostly - browns, stouts and porters especially.

Interview - Fermentedly Challenged’s Chipper Dave

January 6th, 2009
There are a lot of homebrew beer blogs out there as well as other online resources, and if you know where to look then you should be able to find some real gems of knowledge. Chipper Dave is the author of Fermentedly Challenged, and has agreed to answer a few questions on the topic of homebrewing. I hope you enjoy it:

1) When did you start brewing your own beer and why?

When I think back to how I started homebrewing I have to go back to Loveland, Colorado in 1998.  A co-worker of mine in a side business had invited me over to his house for a business meeting.  When the meeting was over he offered me a beer.  I didn’t realize it at the time but this was no store bought beer, it was a homebrewed beer.  After I had sampled a bit of it, he asked me what I thought of it.  I said it was real good and asked him what it was.  When he told me that he had brewed it I could hardly believe it.  My interest was then peaked.  He told me all about how he had made this beer and how easy it was for anyone to do it.   That’s all the motivation I needed. It was about 2 weeks later that I found a local homebrew store and bought myself a starter kit.   I bought a couple of homebrew books and read them cover to cover.  Then I set out to brew my 1st batch - an amber ale.  And 4 weeks later I sampled one of my beers.  Wow. It wasn’t bad at all.  I loved it.

2) What advice would you give to homebrew beginners?

I have a few pieces of advice. First, read as much as you can about homebrewing before you brew. There are some great books out there on the subject and the more you find out about it before hand the better off your beer will be.  I can recommend either Charlie Papazian’s “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” or John Palmer’s “How to Brew”.  Both are excellent references.
Second, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of cleanliness and sanitization.  It you take some simple precautions, you can avoid some nasty surprises later on. It’s not enough to just rinse out your brew kettle, fermenter or beer bottles.  You’ve got to ensure all surfaces are thoroughly cleaned, then you need to take the extra step to sanitize the surfaces.  There are some simple commercial sanitization products out there like Star San and all homebrew stores will keep plenty in stock.
Lastly, learning to brew is a lot like learning to golf.  It’s something that you can practice the rest your whole life and still have fun learning something new each time.  It’s amazing just how many different ways there are to brew beer. Have fun and experiment, you might just surprise yourself.

3)  What is the best tip to improve your beer that you have ever been given?

Besides cleanliness, I’ve found that sometimes it’s best not to open your newly bottled beers too early. It’s not easy to let your beer sit for weeks before drinking one.  It can takes several weeks to properly bottle condition a homebrew and in some cases more than a month or more depending on the style.  Opening a bottle too early can result in flat beer or a beer that wasn’t quite done converting the remaining sugars to alcohol.  But if you’ve got the patience to let a beer sit for a while, more often than not it will end up tasting a lot better.  It’s tough to wait.  But if you don’t believe it, open one up a week after bottling and taste.  Then wait another week or two and try it again.  You’ll taste a difference.  And to make it taste even better, pour it into a nice clean beer glass.

4) What is your favorite commercial beer?

Now this is really an unfair question.  There is absolutely no way to narrow down a choice to just one or two commercial beers as my favorite.  During 2008, I must have sampled nearly 200 different commercial beers.  And while I enjoyed almost every one of them, I couldn’t possibly pick just one that I enjoyed the most.  What makes sampling beer so much fun is knowing that you can probably spend your entire life trying a new beer each time and die knowing that you’ve never tried them all.  So how can I really have a favorite?

5) What is your favorite style of beer?

OK, now this is an easier question to answer.  Unlike the previous question, I can probably narrow down my favorite styles down to just a few types.  I’m a big fan of the darker brews, particularly this time of year.  I really enjoy a good porter or stout and even the stronger imperial versions of each.  I enjoy them more during the colder months of the year but have been known to sip one on even the hottest days of the summer.

Using a Hydrometer to Help with Homebrewing

January 5th, 2009

A hydrometer measures the weight, or gravity, of a liquid in relation to the weight of water. This is useful in the brewing of beer because the hydrometer will float higher in a liquid with sugar dissolved in it and lower in a liquid like alcohol. Since yeasts converts sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol during the brewing process, you can calculate how much alcohol resulted by knowing the amount of sugar you started and ended with.

A good first step for using the hydrometer is to sanitize everything involved and then to place the test cylinder on a flat surface. Then take a sample of beer or wine. If using wine, make sure that it does not contain any particles because they will affect the reading.

Next, fill a jar with enough of the beer or wine to make the hydrometer begin to float. Slowly lower the hydrometer into the test jar, making sure to spin the hydrometer as you release it. This prevents bubbles from sticking to the bottom of the hydrometer, which can affect the reading.

You should also make sure that the hydrometer is floating freely and not touching the sides. Take the reading from the bottom of the curve of the liquid, also called the meniscus. It is important to note that hydrometers are generally calibrated to give readings at 59-60 degrees, and any difference can lead to some error in the readings.

Why You Should Keep a Homebrew Beer Journal

January 3rd, 2009

One of the most common questions I ever get asked by a newcomer to homebrewing is ‘What went wrong…?”

There is no one answer to this question, as it could be any number of reaons. Think back to when you first started the brew, any concerns you had during the bottling process and you will realize that all of this happened over a month ago and you can’t really remember any clear information.

  • Was it a really hot week?
  • Was the hydrometer reading unusual?
  • Did you slacken off in the cleaning process?
  • How much sugar did you put in?
  • How long did you leave it in bottles for?

All of these questions could be the answer to your problems and you really need to be able to answer them.

I recommend to any homebrew beginners that they start a Homebrew Beer Journal which keeps a track of all the information you need as well as a ranking of your favourite brews. Over a year long period you could brew dozens of different beers, each with their own problems, solutions, flavours and different characteristics.

At the end of the year I suggest that you read over your journal, look back at your favourite brews and try them again. More often than not they will taste just as good if not better than they did the first time you brewed them.

How to Homebrew Lager

January 1st, 2009

Thinking about brewing your own beer? The american govt. says that you can. In 1979, President Carter signed a law making it legal to brew your own beer for private consumption. It is legal to give your beer to family or friends but you may not sell it.

The beer brewing process is as follows: making wort, fermentation, conditioning, packaging and consumption. The easiest way to brew your own beer is to buy a kit and follow the instructions. These kits contain everything you need to make great beer. You can buy different kits that will allow you to make different kinds of beer, depending if you want a pale ale or a dark beer.

There is a supply list you will need in order to brew your own beer. A fermentor with airlocks or lids. A bottling bucket, a brew pot, a bottle filler attatched to plastic tubing, a capper, hydrometer and jar, siphon tubing, racking cane and an auto-siphon. Some other items you will need or will be helpful are: melt resistant spoon, tongs, funnels, scale, turkey baster, bottles and caps, a wort chiller and a burner, if you do not want to do it on your stovetop. Sterialize all of your equiptment before you use it.

Lager is distinguished from ale by the yeast you use. The yeast used in a lager is fermented at lower temperatures for longer periods of time. Lagers have less fruitiness and spiciness than ales. They are also one of the world’s most alcoholic beers.

The hops you use add flavor to the beer. The main selection of hops used for a lager generally: Hallertau, Tettnanger, lubelski or stripselspalt. The properties of hops change with each growing area and season. Some of the major hop producing areas are: the Pacific Northwest, Germany and England. Always use fresh hops when brewing your beer. They should be green, not brown or yellow. Do not use cheesy smelling hops as this tells you they are past their prime.

The main malts used are: pilsner, vienna or munich with caramel malts added to improve sweetness and head retention.

After the lager is made, you will need to store it in a cool, dry place for at least three weeks before you drink it.