A friend recently asked me to write up 10 or so rules for new home brewers. Things that I’ve learnt along the way that you could learn from. So, to borrow a joke from my wife:
Things That I’ve Learnt Along The Way That You Could Learn From
- Start Brewing: Don’t over think it. I read books, listened to countless podcasts, trawled internet forums all before I’d made 2 beers. You learn by doing and the best way to scare yourself out of the hobby is to overwhelm yourself with the bazillion ideas out there. There will come a time for that but the beginning of your brewing journey is not it. Brewing is incredibly complex but the actual process can be very easy. Get some sugar, add it to water, boil it, spice it with hops, add some yeast and you’ll end up with beer. Simple.
- Start Drinking Really Good Beer: If you don’t already drink craft beer, then you should start now. If you’re on the mass market lagers then you’ve set the bar incredibly low. If you’re trying to make Tooheys New or Bud Light, you’ll never do it. Those beers are incredibly hard to make and if you happen to achieve a perfect result, you probably could have bought the product for a lot less money and effort. Go out, find your local brewery and start drinking some really good beer. It will give you a tonne of ideas and show you just how great beer can really be.
- Do It With Friends: It’s about the journey, not the destination. Well, the destination is rad when you get there but your first beer probably won’t be that good however if you’ve made it with friends, you’ll have someone to drink it with and you’ll have had a shared experience and great time along the way.
- Use Your Imagination: Brewing is, in my opinion, first a foremost a creative pursuit. You need to balance your creativity with a fair amount of technical prowess, but I think the best beers begin with an idea. So before you go and read a million text books or google yourself to death, come up with a great idea and work backwards from there. My favourite brewer is a poet, every beer he makes has a story and so every beer he makes is special, even if it doesn’t turn out perfect.
- Skip Kits And Go Straight To Partials: You can easily make beer buy buying a Coopers kit or equivalent, pouring in to a fermenter, adding water, then yeast and boom, you’ve got beer. This is typically the first place people start but I think you should go straight to partials. It’s easy, buy a big pot (25 litres+) and this is the only extra piece of equipment you need. A “partial” is simply adding your Coopers kit to the big pot, adding water and boiling. This big difference is you get to add your own fresh hops to the boiling wort and you also get to steep some speciality grains (specialty grains are what give beer flavour, colour and complexity – a stout is dark thanks to specialty grains, a pale ale is golden because of specialty grains, a red ale is red because…. you get the point). The biggest difference is you get to be more creative and have more control over the final product. Think of it like this: A kit brew is a jar of pasta sauce. A partial brew is tinned tomatoes, add your own garlic, pepper, salt, herbs etc. Go buy Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione. It’s all about this kind of brewing.
- Be Clean. Be As Clean As You Possibly Can Be: The first thing that’s going to ruin your beer is bacteria or wild yeast. You’ll hear people gabbing on about this at every point in your journey but it’s the most important thing. Before you worry about recipes or anything else, clean and sanitise. Don’t skip any step or think that it will be OK if you dropped that bottle cap on the floor because it won’t be. Don’t put your finger in anything cold and whatever you do don’t touch the chilled wort with anything that hasn’t been sanitised. Your beer may not grow mould on it but the flavour may come up bad or sour or acidic. Or it might grow mould on it.
- Temperature Control Matters: When fermenting, temperature really matters. If you don’t have a fermentation chamber like a converted fridge or something, the fermenting beer needs to be kept somewhere where the temperature is stable. Centre of your house in a cupboard or under ground (don’t dig a hole and put it in there). Do the best you can but make sure it’s dark and as stable as you can get it.
- Be Patient: When you brew your first beer you’ll want to bottle it and drink it after a week. Don’t. Trust me when I tell you that brewing is a pursuit that just can’t be rushed. The more time you give the yeast to do it’s job, the better your beer will be and the more rewarding that first pint will be. If you think the ferment has finished, give it another week just to be sure.
- Taste Your Beer: At as many stages as you can without contaminating, taste the beer. Get to know the flavours, the different stages, what young beer tastes like, fresh beer, yeast, you name it. It will improve your senses and you’ll be a better brewer for it. Also taste all your ingredients all the time. really get to know the source material.
- Be Methodical, Take Notes: Assuming you want to get better with each brew, you should be methodical in your process and take lots of notes. If nothing else, when you make the perfect beer you’ll know how to do it again.
And lastly, some resources:
Aussie Homebrewer (To meet heaps of people that know varying amounts about brewing)
The Brewing Network (has a wealth of free podcasts. Maybe the internets best resrouce)
Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione (The first book I got. I still use it).
How To Brew by John Palmer (A-Z of brewing, the new bible)
Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher (This is great for the creative stuff. Puts you in the mood to break some rules and make some beer)