The following are 21 homebrewing tips for the beginner and advanced brewer alike. Fueled by the popularity of the craft beer industry homebrewing is becoming one of the fastest-growing hobbies worldwide. It is a lot of fun with many opportunities to meet and interact with other brewers from around the world. Learning how to make good-tasting beer is simply a matter of taking the time to study new techniques and applying what you learn as you go.
This post is broken down into two sections, the first section is tips for beginners just starting out and intermediate brewers who are looking to improve on their beer-making skills. The second section is advanced homebrew tips that will provide you with strategies to take your brewing skills to the next level.
The art of learning how to make good beer is simply a process of learning and applying what you learn, documenting the results, and rinsing and repeating. Before long you will be making top-quality beer, so let’s get into it…
Homebrewing Tips for Beginners
1. Don’t Over Complicate It
If you have followed this blog or my youtube videos for any time at all you would know that one of my main focuses is keeping the beer-making process as simple as possible. I find many of the books and online blogs overcomplicate it tremendously.
I believe that some of the “experts” even do so on purpose, in what appears to be an attempt at raising their self-importance by presenting a “look at me I am a master brewer” image. One of the problems with this is that it turns people away from this hobby, they get discouraged because they think they need to do all of these advanced brewing techniques in order to make beer that they will enjoy. Which is simply not correct.
The fact is that making good beer is not hard, humans have been doing it very successfully for thousands of years without all of the fancy equipment and techniques that we have available to us now. Some of the best beer I have ever had was brewed by people out of their garages using very simple brewing techniques on very basic equipment.
Now do not misunderstand me, absolutely strive to improve your brewing skills as you progress. Learn from your mistakes, make adjustments as you go, and definitely improve your skills by learning from other brewers. But when starting out just relax, don’t overcomplicate it, just have fun. If you follow the basics I promise you that you are going to make some great tasting beer and have a good time doing so.
2. Start at The First Stage of Homebrewing
There are different stages or difficulty levels when it comes to homebrewing. The first is malt extract brewing, followed by partial mash and then all-grain. Each stage has additional steps involved as well as costs and equipment.
Most people want to jump right into all-grain brewing, however, one of my biggest tips for people considering getting into homebrewing is to start at the first stage which is making beer with malt extract kits. These kits are a great introduction to this hobby. They teach you the basic principles of how to make beer such as the importance of sanitation, pitching yeast, fermenting, and bottling.
It is relatively inexpensive to start at this level and the equipment you purchase you can use at the other two stages which allows you to slowly accumulate all of the equipment you will eventually require when you get to the all-grain brewing stage instead of having to purchase it all at once. This allows you to learn as you go while keeping costs to a minimum and you get to make some good-tasting beer in the process.
3. Start Kegging as Soon as You Can
Now you might think this is a contradiction to my tip of keeping it simple, it is not. One of the most tedious and time-consuming aspects of making beer is bottling. Having to clean and sanitize each bottle, mix your beer with priming sugar, and then fill each bottle individually takes a significant amount of time and effort. The solution is to move to kegging your beer as soon as you can afford to do so. It will significantly cut down on the amount of time and work involved.
Kegging will also allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labor much sooner. When you bottle beer it takes a good 2 – 3 weeks to have a fully carbonated beer, whereas when you keg you can get good carbonation in 2 days. Once you have beer on tap you will never look back.
Having said this I actually do enjoy a naturally carbonated beer in a bottle. So what I will do is brew enough beer with each batch to be able to fill 2-3 bottles of beer on top of the keg. This way I get the best of both worlds, beer on tap and the odd treat of a naturally carbonated bottle of beer.
4. Learn to Have Patience
A novice brewing mistake that we all have made is to be in a rush to go from grain to glass. It is human nature to want to get everything as fast as possible and the beer we make is no exception. Unfortunately, this desire for speed has a detrimental effect on the quality of the homebrew you make.
Beer does better with time, young beer has a green taste to it, when you drink it you can tell that it was not allowed to condition properly. Let your beer sit in the fermenter for at least 2 weeks, cold crash it for 2-3 days, and if you are bottling it let it bottle condition for at least another 2-3 weeks. The improvement in taste and clarity will be significant if you do.
5. Don’t Spend a Fortune Starting Out
One of the reasons I recommend in tip #2 to start at the first stage is that the cost of homebrewing equipment can add up and become quite expensive. By starting at the first stage you slowly accumulate the equipment you will need when you graduate to all-grain brewing.
However, at all stages of the brewing process, there are economical ways of sourcing equipment. You do not have to go for the brewing setups that have the most bells and whistles. Some of the best all grain beer I have ever made was with what is referred to as a BIAB or brew in a bag system, which is simply a kettle with a grain bag. Very inexpensive, but highly effective at making great-tasting homebrew.
Start where your budget permits you too and then slowly add more pieces of equipment as you go if you want to but never feel you have to. I know homebrewers who have been brewing for years on the BIAB systems and have no intentions of ever doing anything else because they have no need to, they enjoy brewing on that system and it makes great beer.
6. Join Social Media Groups
Besides experience, one of the fastest ways I improved my brewing skills was by joining social media homebrewing groups and learning from the other members of those groups. People in this hobby love to talk about it and share their wisdom and knowledge with other brewers. There are some really great communities you can become a part of, doing so will shorten your learning curve significantly. Here is a FB community I learned a lot from.
7. Read Beer Making Books
There are a ton of great homebrewing books out there. Books that will help you at all stages of the brewing process as well as provide you with some proven recipes you can try. “How to Brew” by John Palmer is probably the most popular, however, there are some other really good ones as well.
My top 3 would be John’s plus “Home Brew Beer” by Greg Hughes and the “Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by Charlie Papazian.
The key to anything in life is to never think you have learned it all. Always strive to be learning that next bit of information, you never know when you will discover that next nugget that will improve your beer brewing skills even more.
8. Make Friends with Craft Brewers
With the recent popularity of craft beers in recent years and the subsequent rise in the number of craft breweries, every town in North America has at least one if not many more. There are 3 in the little community I live in.
Go in for a pint or two, sit at the bar, and in no time I can promise you that you will be able to strike up a conversation with the brewer. Guess what they love to talk about? Brewing and they are a wealth of knowledge on the subject. I got to know the brewers at all 3 of the breweries in my area and I learned a ton about brewing just from talking to them.
9. Pay Attention to Cleaning & Sanitizing
When I was first just thinking about getting into homebrewing I remember mentioning it to a friend of mine. He told me not to bother because he had tried it and although his first batch of beer turned out pretty good the next couple of batches he made were terrible.
Thankfully I did not pay attention to his advice. However, in later years thinking back on that conversation I know exactly why his first batch was good and the others were not. With his first batch, his equipment was brand new and as a result, was clean and probably relatively sanitized. His problem was that for subsequent batches he did not clean or sanitize his gear and bottles before and after properly.
The number one cause of infections and resulting off-flavors in your homebrew is improper cleaning and sanitizing. There are many shortcuts you can take when making beer, cleaning and sanitizing properly are not one of them. Pay very close attention to this tip; it will be the difference between enjoying a batch of beer and having to dump it down the drain.
10. Brew Darker Beers First
Want to make a beer from the start that will be delicious and have people believing you have been homebrewing for a long time? Brew darker beers starting out. The reason for this is they hide any mistakes better than a lighter beer.
The specialty grains you use have stronger flavors and aromas with these styles of beers which overpower any potential off-flavors created by any mistakes you might have made. The same can be said for very hoppy beers. Many a bad IPA has been saved by simply loading up on the dry hops.
11. Don’t Overcomplicate Your Recipes
This is another mistake I see many novice brewers make, they figure they need to add as many specialty grains and different types of hops to their recipes as they can get away with. They throw everything but the kitchen sink at it. I was guilty of this same mistake. Simple in the majority of cases is better.
To become a good brewer you need to learn what each of your ingredients brings to the table. What flavors, aromas, and mouthfeel does it impart to your beer. Start out slow and get to know what each grain and hop brings to your recipe. Brew up some SMaSH beers which stands for Single Malt and Single Hop. It is a great way to get to know your ingredients.
12. Invest In a Wort Chiller
It is ok starting out to use the ice bath method to cool your wort down to yeast pitching temperature however look to transition as soon as you can too using a wort chiller. Cooling your wort as quickly as you can, getting it into the fermenter, and pitching your yeast ensures that you do not get an infection. There are many options when it comes to wort chillers, one of the more popular and less expensive is the immersion wort chiller. Alternatively, you can explore using the “no chill” method. It also works great and is very inexpensive to get set up for.
13. Use a Blow-Off Tube
If you are going to brew a high gravity beer, which means a beer that has a higher amount of fermentable sugars to be converted into alcohol resulting in a beer with a high ABV then be sure to rig up a blow-off tube instead of using your airlock.
High gravity beers can have a very vigorous fermentation resulting in the airlock getting all jammed up and overflowing resulting in a big mess. A blow-off tube will prevent this from happening.
14. Document Your Brew Day
There is nothing worse than brewing up a beer that you absolutely love and not having documented what you did during brew day and as a result, never being able to duplicate it again. Get a brew day journal and take notes of everything that you do so that you can either duplicate it the next time you want to brew it or tweak it in order to modify or improve it.
15. Only Change One Element of Your Recipe at a Time
Another great tip which is along the same lines as the last is when you want to make modifications to your homebrew recipe only make one change at a time. By making more than one you will not truly know which change brought what to the beer.
Make a change and document how the beer turned out. You can really fine-tune and make the perfect beer to your liking by changing one element at a time and referring back to your notes on the last time you brewed it.
16. Have an Extra Yeast Sachet Ready
Always have extra yeast on hand. Sometimes a fermentation will simply not take off for whatever reason and you will need to pitch the second sachet of yeast into it to save it. Nothing worse than having to run to the local homebrew store trying to source out the yeast you need in order to save your batch of beer.
Advanced Homebrew Tips
17. Create a Yeast Starter
One of the secrets to success in homebrewing is to have a healthy fermentation. One that will convert as many of the residual sugars over to alcohol and CO2 as possible as well as getting off to a fast start in order to reduce the chances of an infection occurring. These two things will occur successfully if the yeast is healthy and there are lots of them.
Creating a yeast starter is an excellent way to make sure your fermentation gets started fast. It is a simple thing to do and will only take around 20 minutes. This is especially important if you are going to be making a big beer that has a high gravity.
18. Learn How to Ferment Under Pressure
Although this is an advanced homebrewing tip it is not that difficult of a technique to do and it has a lot of advantages. Fermenting under pressure is where you will ferment your beer in a self-contained fermenter that does not allow the CO2 that would typically escape out of the airlock to do so.
This advanced technique prevents exposure to oxygen, allows you to ferment much faster, significantly reduces the chances of off-flavors, improves the hop flavor and aroma, allows for larger batches and you can ferment, carbonate, and serve from the fermenter. All of this means you save money and time and produce better-tasting homebrew.
19. Start Doing Closed Transfers
A similar tactic to fermenting under pressure, closed transfers allow you to transfer under pressure from your fermenter to your keg or bottles. You use C02 to push your beer out of the fermenter through liquid tubes directly into the keg or bottles. This prevents exposure to oxygen which reduces the chances of contamination that could result in off-flavors and infections. All of the craft breweries transfer under pressure for this reason.
20. Enter a Competition
Here is a tip that will really increase your homebrewing skills. Commit to entering your beer into a beer judging competition. The first thing this will do is make you fine-tune your beer-making skills by ensuring you are entering the best beer you have ever made.
The second thing it is going to do is allow your beer to be critiqued by judges who are skilled in knowing how beer is supposed to look, smell, taste, and feel. They will be able to provide you with a critique of how your beer is meeting the criteria for the style you are making.
Thirdly you are going to get around other experienced homebrewers who have a wealth of knowledge and you will learn new techniques to improve your beer.
21. Learn Water Chemistry
Prior to opening my brewpub I did not pay a whole lot of attention to water chemistry or adjusting my brewing water to match the water that the beer I was brewing required in order to truly be considered the style of beer I was making. For example, some water requires hard water, while others are soft, etc. You can adjust any water as required by adding different salts and minerals.
The Guys I brewed with were experts at this and they taught me very quickly how to do this and there is no question doing so improved the quality of my beer. It is an advanced tip because there is a bit of a learning curve with it, but it does not take long to figure out and the improvement it makes to your homebrew is well worth it.
There you have it my friend I trust you enjoyed these homebrewing tips. If you have any questions on any of them let us know in the comment section and feel free to add any tips of your own!
Now go get your brew awnn…
Cheers, Big Robb is Out!