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The Beer Fox

The Beer Fox

June 16 2014

Homebrew Tips for New Brewers

I should have seen it coming. The Table of Contents reminded me of the American Dictionary of Slang, with names like “Ooh La La, Saison,” “Bitchin’ Belgian White,” “Feels Like the First Time,” and “Jammin’ Jamaican Jingered Ale.”

Beer may be a spiritual experience for some, but it is a sense of fun and friendship that has bestowed upon beer an enduring place in culture for thousands of years. A sense of the mysterious floats around the brewpot, while the artist closes her eyes to envision the aromas and flavors of the most provocative ale she might conjure up.

This is the joy of homebrewing. If you have ever entertained the idea of joining the thousands of alchemists who “brew their own,” today is the day to begin. Why today? Because there is no point in delaying the inevitable. Brewing is fun.

Experienced homebrewers have opinions as diverse as there are people. One person’s SOP (standard-operating-procedure) may be another’s snake-water, so don’t take it too seriously until you have done your own share of experimentation. Bear in mind, that although you may be following the “recipe for success,” your particular interpretation and style will differ from the next person, and your brews will still come out differently.

Here are a few tips for the newcomer to homebrewing:

  • The best way to get started is by aligning yourself with other home brewers, watching what they do, and asking for advice and support when you begin to brew. Books are great (you will need some for reference), but there is the added benefit of actual experience when working with others. Joining a Homebrew Club puts you at a great advantage. http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/community/clubs/find-a-homebrew-club/ has a club registry where you can find your nearest homebrew club.
  • Find a source of brewing supplies – a local brew shop, mail order, internet supplier, or homebrew club. Homebrew Clubs often order supplies directly at a discount, so you may be able to find some savings there.
  • Invest in a few homebrewing books as a supplement to your fellow support-team of brewers.

Some Beer Fox recommendations:

The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian – The best book on the general subject of brewing. This is known as “the Bible” in homebrew circles, suitable for the novice, yet thorough for the expert. Its factual information is presented in a light-hearted, easy-to-follow format.

How to Brew by John Palmer – Comprehensive book which started out online and grew into a valuable resource that gives all the details with photos, charts, and formulae that can get you brewing in a flash.

Dave Miller's Homebrewing Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Make Great-Tasting Beer by David G. Miller – More detailed information than the Papazian book, for your next step in the brewing experience.

Homebrewing for Dummies by Marty Nachel – Includes advancements made in homebrewing

Homebrewing Volume I by Al Korzonas – Also comprehensive reference including latest advanced methods of homebrewing

The Homebrewer’s Recipe Guide by Patrick Higgins, Maura Kate Kilgore, and Paul Hertlein – over 175 original beer recipes with delightful names (such as those in the beginning of this article) and easy-to-understand tips from master brewers.

  • Avoid homebrew books written in the U.K. These can be misleading or confusing for the beginner brewer, may specify ingredients not commonly found in the U.S., and may give advice based on British cultural preferences for sweet malty beers (such as using an over-abundance of sugar).
  • After you have observed a brewing session or two, buy a kit ($35-60). My recommendation is one with a 5 gallon glass carboy (it should include a short length of plastic hose for the “blow-by” and a funnel), as well as a plastic pail. Do not get a kit that already has the yeast included. You will want to know how fresh the yeast is, and the yeast included in a kit may have been sitting on a shelf for quite some time. Liquid yeast generally works more effectively.
  • Other useful equipment that is not usually included in a kit is a thermometer and a hydrometer.
  • You may want to get a “hopped malt extract” for simplicity the first time. If you want to use regular malt extract, get 2 ounces of fresh hops or 2 ounces of pellets for your 5-gallon brew.
  • If you use “hopped malt extract,” boiling time is decreased.
  • Assure that all equipment is scrupulously clean (sanitized and well-rinsed) to prevent that lovely “pond water” flavor. Sanitize with 1 teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of warm water. Also keep in mind that soap residue reduces the head retention of finished beer. Rinse all equipment thoroughly.
  • Use plastic fermenters only if they’re “food grade.”
  • Do not pour hot wort directly into the carboy without water in it. This could crack the glass of the carboy.
  • Watch for boil-overs. They are quite messy and are avoidable if you are vigilant.
  • “Start the yeast” – Sanitize a bottle, mix 2 teaspoons corn sugar with ½ cup 80-degree water and add the yeast. Cover with a fermentation lock and let it sit while the wort cools. By the time the wort cools, the “starter” should be fermenting. You will observe bubbles perking through the fermentation lock. Pitch it into the cooled wort.
  • Pale Ales are better brewed with hard water, while Belgians, Pilsners or Hefes enjoy greater success using soft water. Adjust water with added sulfates, such as gypsum or Epsom salts, if you need harder water; use distilled water for recipes that require a softer water.
  • Relax! Be Happy! Brewing is inexpensive. If you make a batch of pond scum by accident, it will make great fertilizer for the garden.
  • Highly recommended source of information on a continuous basis is: rec.crafts.brewing newsgroup in google groups.
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