Getting started as a homebrewer can be a daunting task with so many things to learn about the process and the tools. Then, once started, customers often ask me what next step they should take to brewing better beer. Well, after thinking of the many questions I’ve received at Texas Brewing Inc., I came up with a list of what I think would be the best progression for your brewing journey. This isn’t an ordered list, but more a collection of tips. It is in my best interest to help homebrewers brew the best beer possible and I feel that following these steps WILL help you get the best out of your beer brewing experience.
Buy A 10 Gallon Brew Kettle
I think most brewers start out with a kit like our Deluxe home brewing kit and a simple kettle. Our kit is aimed at being a perfect starting point that gives you the tools that you can utilize for years to come. But with the kit, you will also need a pot to boil in. Most homebrewers opt for a 5 gallon stainless steel brew kettle that they can use on their stove to brew a partial boil extract beer. Well, I feel that there are advantages and disadvantages to a kettle of this size. The advantage is that it's very inexpensive in your initial purchase and makes getting into homebrew less painful to your wallet. It also helps when chilling your beer because you have less volume and you can easily chill your beer with an Ice bath or by adding cold bottled spring water to bring your wort down to pitching temperature. But, I feel that this is where the advantages end. In fact, a major problem with extract brewing is that most people over boil their extract mix and scorch the wort. This immediately causes two problems that can dampen a the spirits of a newer brewer: the beer turns out darker and sweeter than you intended. The results aren’t what you expected. But there is a simple solution! Instead of a 5 gallon kettle, your first kettle purchase should be a bigger kettle like our 10 gallon kettle. It will allow you to move immediately to full volume boil with every batch, which allows for less possibility of scorching AND gives you better isomerization of your hop additions. Plus, with a larger kettle, you will be able to utilize it for all grain when you take the next step in your brewing experience. So, go a little larger and end up with a tool that has a lot more to offer.
Invest in the Best Equipment Kit for your Budget
When you purchase your initial brewing equipment kit, get the best set of tools you can afford. First of all, most of the combined equipment kits on the market offer a great savings over buying the pieces individually. So when you make the right investment in the first place, you will save a lot of money and have more of what you need from the start. Second, in our experience we’ve seen that the more people start out with better equipment, the more they stick with the hobby and the brew more often. At a minimum, I would suggest our 1002 Deluxe homebrewing kit with a pot and a wort chiller. If you can, invest in the Super Deluxe kit with the 10 gallon kettle and burner for an even better combination of tools and value to get your brewing going strong from the start.
Water Is Important
I think one common mistake beginning homebrewers make is the water they use because it can cause you to brew a bad beer even when everything else is in place. Water that comes out of your sink at home has chlorine (or chloramines) in it to inhibit bacterial growth. This presents a problem in home brewed beer. The problem is that when yeast consume these compounds, they produce a plastic-like phenol that you will smell and taste in your finished beer. The best way to describe the flavor is like you just took a drink of water from a hot garden hose. Do you really want your hard work to result in that just because of the water you used? But there are a few ways to resolve the problem:
1) Buy bottled spring drinking water. Not distilled or RO water. The yeast need the minerals in bottled spring water or filtered water for reproduction.
2) Use 1 Camden tablet per 5 gallons of unfiltered water. However, a problem with this method is that it adds sulfites to your beer , to which some people are sensitive.
3) My personal preferred method—use a carbon block filter and housing to filter your treated city water. Like the ones we sell here at Texas Brewing. They have a long life and you will be able to brew a lot of beer over that lifetime. But you might want to make sure you have good water coming out of your faucets for brewing some styles of beer because not all treated water has equal mineral content.
Use Dry Yeast OR Plan to Make a Starter
In my opinion, the absolute only advantage liquid yeast gives you is more flavor selection. With dry yeast you get more yeast cells, less cost and overall, less hassle. You simply sanitize and pitch the pack (or two, depending on your starting gravity). However, if you have a beer that needs a specific liquid yeast, you must do a starter. There is typically not enough yeast in the liquid yeast packs to get the best results from your efforts. In addition, dry yeast only needs 1-2 PPM of oxygen and liquid requires 10-12 PPM, so for the best results you will need to invest in an Oxygenation system. You can get 1-2 PPM of O2 by agitating and splashing the wort in your fermenter, but it still isn’t at the same level of straight oxygenation with a diffusion stone. For making starters, I suggest investing in a stir plate and erlenmeyer flask. You can get more yeast cells with less volume of starter wort. If you would like to know more about starters, see our blog here.
Controlled Fermentation Temperature
If you listen to our podcast Come and Brew it Radio you will know that temperature control is regularly brought up as one of the most important elements of making great beer. And it’s true, some sort of temperature control will be the best overall bang for the buck for improving your beer quality. I would suggest something like a Johnson controller and a cheap dorm fridge or chest freezer. This will allow you to keep your fermentation temperatures constant and cool for ales. it will also allow for lagering. Without temperature control, the issue you face is the possibility of producing fusel alcohols and more esters due to the warmer fermentation. The most common advice for ale fermentation is to keep your beer below 75F. But keep in mind that heat is produced during fermentation, so even though your house may be 75F, you beer may be as hot as 85F. Our suggestion is to ferment ales between 65-68F and lagers between 48-55F, which will typically require a controlled fermentation chamber.