Tips for Amateur Homebrewers

January 7, 2014

I got a great question from @mattmeis after posting about my excitement over the Brooklyn Brewshop kit about what tips I would offer a hypothetical first-time brewer. I’m in an interesting spot because I know a bit after two batches, but I’m also not going to be on the homebrew forums debating specfic gravity. Mostly because I don’t know what that is. Hopefully this awesomely awkward in-between stage of experience is relatable.

Calm Down

You’re making beer as a hobby. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in this spot in life, you’re probably doing pretty well all things considered. Just enjoy the process. Beer is surprisingly resilient so as long as you’re not putting out cigarettes in your wort, you’ll likely be ok.

There’s a phrase I hear pretty often on the homebrewing subreddit that didn’t make sense until I tried brewing: Relax Don’t Worry, Have a Home Brew.

Controlling Temperatures

One of the things I had issues with the first time around was keeping my mashing temperatures (the first part of the brew where you heat the grains in hot water) in check. I felt like I had to keep the pot on the heat constantly and had a really high mashing temperature as a result. The second time around, I alternated between turning off the heat, taking the pot completely off the heating element, and putting it back on the heating element at about medium low. When the mash got to about 154°, I’d take it off the heat until it got to about 148°. I also added about a cup of cold water at the beginning when my mash was way overheated and it worked like a charm. So much water will boil out that you can add more if you need help maintaining the temperature range.

I also didn’t really know what a “low boil” was. It’s apparently just enough heat to keep the liquid from churning on it’s own, if you see bubbles, lower the heat. Knowing this helped keep the wort from reducing too much and ended up leaving almost exactly a gallon left at the end.

Upgrade Equipment Based on Experience

Before my second brew, I got a larger funnel, a larger strainer, and a 2 gallon bucket for my sanitizing solution. The reason I knew that I knew I needed those things was that I went through the pain of not having them the first time around. I’ve been hesitant to get into homebrewing for fear of spending $200 on stuff I end up using once, so I’ve resolved to only buy things that I know I need or that will significanly reduce the effort required.

I really hope the above offers some good pointers to anyone looking to try out homebrewing. It’s been a great escape for me to do something non-technical that results in beer. Grab a recipe that seems like something you’d actually want to drink and let me know how it goes!