You’ve successfully brewed your first batch of homebrew. You followed the instructions in the kit line by line, and waited the recommended 30 days.
The time comes to get your beautiful craft creation into the bottle, and you wait an additional 2 weeks. Finished beer goes into the fridge, and chills to the proper serving temp.
You pop open that first brewed beer, pour it into the glass, and HOLY CRAP it carbonated! With fizzy bubbles bursting you go in for the first taste and it’s…
Those first couple of batches of homebrew tend to be on the ok side whether the beer is slightly under attenuated, or you notice some off flavors. That’s where The Brewer’s Life comes in.
5 Tips to Seriously Improve Your Homebrew
1. Make a Yeast Starter
You might feel like this is advanced, but honestly making a yeast starter shouldn’t be intimidating. There’s a little cost buying the bit of gear needed, but having a healthy pitch of yeast goes a long way. You may be wondering…
What is a yeast starter?
A yeast starter is essentially a propagation of yeast.
- You take 2L of wort made from dry malt extract.
- Cool it just like you would a 5 gallon batch.
- Aerate the wort.
- Pitch your yeast.
- The 2L batch ferments.
- The yeast are able to build up their numbers closer to 200 billion — which is more appropriate for a 5 gallon 1.054 gravity beer — as opposed to your original 100 billion that most manufacturers sell.
- Once fermentation is complete you allow the yeast to settle naturally, or by chilling the sample.
- Pour off the excess liquid — it doesn’t taste good — and pitch your room temp yeast into your 5 gallon wort.
The higher yeast cell count leads to a cleaner, faster, and more vigorous fermentation of your final beer allowing better attenuation and less off flavors.
This is definitely a simplification, so for more information check out our How to Make a 1 Liter Yeast Starter video tutorial.
2. Aerate Your Wort Properly When Before You Pitch Yeast
This is honestly something I unknowingly messed up for years. Yes, you can simply pour your wort back and forth between the kettle and fermenter 10 times, and get oxygen into the liquid. However, it doesn’t get much oxygen mixed in, and you expose your wort to a contamination risk.
How do you properly oxygenate/aerate your wort?
Get yourself one of these bad boys:
Oxygen wands don’t look like much, but they are incredibly important for proper fermentation. All you need aside from the wand kit is an O2 tank from Lowes or Home Depot. They look like this:
- Hook the tank up to the regulator.
- Sanitize the oxygen wand since it will be going into cooled wort.
- Turn on the regulator.
- Aerate the wort for 60 seconds while you gently stir the wand around the fermentation vessel.
- Turn off the regulator.
- Remove the wand from the wort.
That’s all there is to it, and the results are amazing. My lag times to visible fermentation are always less than 24 hrs, and the airlock chirps like crazy… almost too crazy.
3. Control Your Fermentation Temperature
Fermentation temp dictates how your yeast behaves, and what compounds the yeast wants to release into the beer. The standard ale temps we shoot for are 65℉ -72℉. However, just hitting that spectrum is half the battle. For real repeatable control you need to regulate the temps.
The best way to do this is with a temperature controller.
The temperature controller has two female plugins: one labeled Heating and one labeled Cooling. You need to plug your refrigerator into cooling, and you can plug a heat mat into heating. (heat mat pictured below)
The temperature controller has a probe that can be placed into a thermowell that is installed on your fermentor. This will tell the controller what the actual temp of your brewing beer is. When the wort gets too cold, the heating mat wrapped around the fermentor turns on. The mat runs until the beer is back up to temp. When the wort gets too hot the fridge kicks in to bring the temp back down.
It’s great being able to hit the fermentation temp you want, but the real power comes from being able to raise and lower the fermentation temperature. This lets you make the yeast perform specific temperature related tasks. Here’s the basic run down:
- Start fermentation at 65℉ and leave it there for the first 4 days of fermentation.
- Raise the temperature no more than 2℉ each day for 3 days
- Raise the fermentation temp to 72℉ for the rest of fermentation.
What’s the point of stepping up the temperature?
You start at 65℉ for the first part of the fermentation in order to control the yeast growth. When yeast grows too quickly it creates more compounds and off flavors. Raising the temp 2℉ over a period of time prevents too much stress on yeast with a drastic temperature change, and helps keep fermentation active. Finally, the 72℉ fermentation temp increases the yeasts ability to finish cleaning up all of the off flavors and byproducts left in your beer.
The growth phase is complete after about 4 days, so you don’t really run the risk of creating things like esters at the higher temp. You’ll also have a better chance of your yeast staying active to fully attenuate your beer.
This process sounds complex, but I promise it’s really not and is 100% worth the extra effort. Plus, it’s fun and gives you an activity to keep you away from popping open the fermentation vessel to see how the beer is doing.
4. Water Chemistry and Mash PH
Don’t worry I’m not asking you to break out your science book, and start balancing chemical equations. However, you should start paying attention to your brewing water because beer happens to be primarily made out of…
Here are some steps you can take to improve your water chemistry:
Get Your Water Analyzed So You Know How to Adjust It
This actually isn’t as hard as you’d think, plus you need know what kind of water you’re working with. I send all of my tap water off to Ward Labs whenever I move into a new home. They have a Brewer’s Kit you can purchase in order to do this.
You’ll get a kit in the mail, fill the vial with your tap water, and send it back. Once the analysis is complete you’ll get a PDF in your inbox. Plug that data into things like EZ Water Calculator and you’ll be able to calculate acid or salt additions.
Get a the Chlorine Out of Your Water
Yeast hates chlorine, and it can interact with the hops to create some astringent flavors. I use a simple RV inline water filter off a sink tap to filter out my chlorine.
This is the exact water filter I use, and I’ve only gotten great results. My fermentations are healthy, and I can’t taste any astringency.
Add Brewing Salts Where Appropriate
This tip really ties into the whole getting your water analyzed thing. You can’t adjust your water when you don’t know what’s in it. Once you do know, you can add things like calcium carbonate or gypsum to start influencing the mash ph and the malt vs. hoppy taste perception of your beer. Yeast also loves calcium so getting that calcium carbonate to an appropriate level really aids with fermentation. My biggest tip here is that you shouldn’t adjust your water if you don’t know what’s in it. Get your water tested, and start dabbling with EZ Water Calculator.
Nailing Down Your Mash PH
Mash PH is important because the acidity or hardness of your water greatly influences the conversion of starches into readily available sugars during the mash. We typically shoot for a range of 5.2 – 5.8. I’m a big advocate of getting down close to 5.2 and my efficiencies are typically high for a homebrew system.
You might be wondering how you measure PH. It’s actually pretty easy once you get a PH Meter.
The pictured meter is a Milwaukee MW102 and comes with calibration fluids. This model can be a little pricey, but the ease of use and accuracy is fantastic. All you need to do is follow the instructions to calibrate the meter. Wait 15 minutes after your dough in. Then submerge the electrode and temperature probe in the mash. I tested the PH at room temp and mash temp with the results being within .1 of one another.
You can also use a PH Meter for sour beers to determine when you want to cease the souring process. That’s pretty handy when conducting a kettle sour, and wanting to know when you need to start boiling the soured wort.
5. Proper Sanitation and Cleaning
I know this is pretty much the lamest tip ever because it gets drilled into everyone so much. However, it’s genuinely a high priority step. If your beer gets contaminated with something you don’t want the beer will suffer.
- Always use a cleanser first. PBW works great for that, but you can use unscented soap as long as you rinse well. Cleansers break up grime and contaminants.
- Follow the cleanser with a sanitizer. This is where you need to use StarSan. Allow the solution to remain in contact with the surface for 45 seconds in order to kill off the remaining bacteria left over from the cleanse.
It’s that easy folks. If you put in the love and precaution up front you reap the rewards at the end.
You might have noticed that just about every tip has something to do with taking care of your yeast. The yeast are the magic behind taking your recipe, and making it into something special. If you scratch their back, they’ll scratch yours.
I also understand that some of these concepts may seem daunting or beyond a beginners scope. However, these tips were some of the biggest game changers in my brewing. Properly implementing even one of these tips will significantly improve your homebrewing game.
Thanks again for checking out The Brewer’s Life 5 Tips to Seriously Improve Your Homebrew. As always be sure to check out our other great articles, and subscribe in the sidebar to receive a heads up when we post new articles.
Keep on Brewin’