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Home Brewing Tips and Techniques

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Webby... writing my last email I just thought of this. I category for tips and techniques would be neat.

Either way, I wanted to pass on some things I have learned, so perhaps some newbies could learn from what has been passed on to me.

1. Always check your OG (Original Gravity) before starting the fermentation. It doesn't have to be exact on the number, but as long as you know it was 1.042 or 1.044 (not just 1.0 fourty something), if you have a stuck fermentation, or it is done in 2 days, you have something to start with. Also, if you don't have an OG, but record your FG (Final Gravity), there is no way to tell your alcohol content, there is nothing to start with!

2. OG and SG (Starting Gravity), and FG and TG (Terminal Gravity) are the same thing. Took me a long time to find that one out.

3. For those who have not used a hydrometer yet, to estimate your alcohol after fermentation is complete, take the OG, subtract FG, and multiply by .129, which is the ABV. If you don't multiply, you get the ABW. Just about every brewer uses ABV. Example: OG = 1.054, FG = 1.012 = 0.42 (or 4.2 ABW), but take .42 x 129 = 5.4% ABV.

4. Almost every plastic container that has HDPE 2 on it is food grade plastic. 100% of them? No, but the majority are. I use paint buckets for some of mine. Dirt cheap. Make sure the arrows stamped on the bottom show HDPE 2. If in doubt, you can ask someone who works where you are buying from. These are generally much cheaper than buying from the homebrew shop.

5. Dry hopping adds some floral character to the beer. You can either dry hop in your secondary or in the keg. Add between 1/4 and 1 oz of whatever hop in a grain bag (do not let them get loose) and leave them for about 1 week. This is strictly for aroma. Some claim it gives a grassy smell. I have never noticed that. But you will get a nice flower aroma from your brew. It's great!

6. Ever had a hazy beer? If you are from the Pacific Northwest and ever tried McMenamins Ruby Ale (raspberry), one of the signatures is the haze. Doesn't change the taste. They get that from boiling the fruit for 5-15 minutes. Some people have told me its the yeast, but its not. If you want a neat special effect, boil your fruit for a few minutes, cool it, and pour into secondary, then rack your beer over that. You get a nice pectin haze. If you want clear beer, skip this.

7. A cheaper alternative (well, usually) to Straight A cleaner is electrasol. Generic brands are usually a few bucks for several pounds. It's not perfect, but I used it for months with no problem. Just be sure to really scrub and then sanitize. However, Straight A is still one of the best.

8. Star San, while not a real cheap sanitizer, can be used over and over. It only takes a fraction of an once to sanitize. I have sanitized a carboy with a few drops of this and a cup of water, just swish it around for about 30 seconds. Don't worry about the foam. It's food grade. If you keep a sanitizing bucket around and fill it with 1 oz Star San and 4-5 gallons water, that will last for months. Just keep it covered with a lid or plastic bag. Reuse this until it gets real cloudy. Excellent product.

9. For those paying top dollar for liquid yeast, learn to make starters. They are VERY easy to make, they save you money, and stretch your yeast. I have a shelf in my fridge dedicated to yeast slurry in several mason jars. You can reuse it about 5 times, but some people go longer! And it can sit in the fridge dormant for many, many months.

10. Always keep brew logs! Even if you are using a kit. I once made an excellent hefeweizen, but didn't take any notes. A went back to the brew shop but didn't know what yeast I used. With notes, if you make a mistake, you will know what to change. I don't remember what ingredients I used for a batch 2 months ago.

11. ALWAYS throw a towel or shirt over carboys, even if the sun isn't out right away. It only takes a few minutes for sunlight to kill your beer. It's not worth it. Take it from someone who knows.

12. Try different things in your beer. Add some spices. I've read of people using syrups. There are no hard and fast rules. Some of the greatest beers I have tried broke the rules. Just because it sounds sick doesn't mean it will be.


 

You read my mind - I was about to start this very thread and see if we can't come up with a total of 101 tips for home brewers...

I have only one tip to add at this time:

  • When using an airlock, don't use just water - use vodka.  This will kill any bugs that try to get in and it is already sanitized.  Plus, if you get some in your beer, its just a little extra bonus
 

13. When making a fruit beer AND using real fruit, not extract, it is highly recommended that you add it to your secondary. Whether whole, blended, or crushed. Frozen or not doesn't matter, it will definitely thaw out in the week it will be in there. You can add it to primary, but during fermentation some of the flavor and scent will escape due to co2 leaving the airlock. Also, USE A BLOW OFF TUBE! I guarantee you will clog your airlock and blow it off. I once had an airlock blow 3 feet from the fermenter because I forgot to use a blow off tube.

14. Save your yeast slurry at the bottom of your primary and put it in a mason jar. Put some masking tape on it and label the type of yeast, date of storage, and how many uses it has had. This is going to save you money in the future so you won't be buying yeast every trip the store.

15. Split your batches, whether 5 or 10 gallons. Use 2 types of yeast. You can get radically different flavors from the exact same beer with 2 different yeast strains. Take notes on the differences as you try them. Excellent way to experiement with yeast.

16. If you have a problem with boil overs, put a few layers of tin foil over your stove. My last place was so bad it took me 4 hours to clean the stove and it sucked. Save yourself this problem!

17. A good way to help keep carboys (and even buckets) cool for proper fermentation temperatures in the summer is to wrap them in a wet shirt or towel. Not necessarily dripping wet, but well damped. Then put a fan on high and blow the air over your fermenters. For those without air conditioning, it's the poor mans method, but I have read over and over it works really good.

18. Put your carboys into a black plastic trash bag and tie it shut at the top, this way not only do you keep the sunlight out, but if the beer blows out, it stays in the bag.

19. Keep a squirt bottle with some Star San and water mixed nearby. If you find yourself changing airlocks or often in need of some quick santization, and you are tired of constantly walking over to your cleaning buckets, this can be very handy!

20. If you brew several beers at once, you already know this, but it is a good idea to put some masking tape on your fermenter with the ale name, OG, and date you put it in there. Busy people can forget these things, so when you come back days later, you know exactly what it is. This is especially important if you have 6 beers going at once.

 

I think I've read that if you put your fruit in the freezer prior to adding it to the secondary it can increase the flavor imparted.  This is because putting the fruit in the freezer breaks down the cell walls and allows more juice to flow, the same reason you don't want to put yeast in the freezer without adding glycol.

 

Brewbie wrote:

I think I've read that if you put your fruit in the freezer prior to adding it to the secondary it can increase the flavor imparted.  This is because putting the fruit in the freezer breaks down the cell walls and allows more juice to flow, the same reason you don't want to put yeast in the freezer without adding glycol.

That certainly makes sense - I have noticed that with all the frozen fruits we keep in our deep freezer...

 

21. A good way to aerate your wort is with a fish tank air pump. The smallest ones usually run about $6 at Walmart or any discount store. You also need 4-6 feet of tubing and an airstone. While racking your wort into your bucket or carboy, drop the airstone in there and let it go until done racking. You will get a LOT of foam, but that's fine, the yeast needs air to breathe.

22. Buy bulk hops as much as possible. You might not need a full pound of cascade or hallatauer hops, but quantity is always best. Buying hops online is usually cheaper, even with shipping.

23. Try adding different hops at different intervals. Not just 60 and 5 minutes. The longer hops boil, the more bittering properties, around 15-30 minutes is flavoring, and 5 or less is aroma. However, if you just want some bitterness, try 45 minutes. Just because a recipe calls for cascade at 60 minutes, try it at 45 or even 30. It won't be as bitter, but you might like it. Also, try multiple hops at once. Some winter warmers use several bittering hops.

24. There are multiple ways to increase your OG and get more alcohol. More grains, more fermentable sugars like corn sugar (dextrose), or adding DME (dry malt extract).

25. Invest in an egg timer if you don't have one. Most people don't stand around waiting for a 60 minute boil. These come in especially handy if you go all grain.

 

I was talking to a friend last night - he had collected hundreds of Grolsch bottles from a local bar.  Most bars are throwing away things like that (if they have Grolsch bottles) - why not ask if you can have some?

 

If you purchase hops in bulk, how do you keep it fresh?  Obviously, you can put it in some kind of airtight container in the fridge. Beyond that, how do you keep it fresh enough to hang around until the next time you brew something that calls for that type of hops?
What are the best containers to use?
I am also concerned about the sterility of something I have exposed.  Once I open a package of hops, if there is any left, I only use it for bittering hops.  Because if they have been contaminated in any way, then a 60 minute boil will take care of it.
What do others think?

 

number 10 is crucial - you need to keep notes of EVERYTHING.  every little detail.  even a brew that seems like it isnt working how you expected, might condition into something amazing.  if you kept notes, you can reproduce it, or tweak it.  if you didnt keep careful notes, then you might not be able to clone it.

that, and label everything religously.  just keep some type of tape/sticker/label and a marker (make sure it wont wash off with water) in your homebrew "toolbelt".  label ingredients, fermenters, yeasts, bottles, kegs, cases...

 

Car Boy wrote:

If you purchase hops in bulk, how do you keep it fresh?  Obviously, you can put it in some kind of airtight container in the fridge. Beyond that, how do you keep it fresh enough to hang around until the next time you brew something that calls for that type of hops?
What are the best containers to use?
I am also concerned about the sterility of something I have exposed.  Once I open a package of hops, if there is any left, I only use it for bittering hops.  Because if they have been contaminated in any way, then a 60 minute boil will take care of it.
What do others think?

I don't really buy in bulk, but I buy 4-8 ozs sometimes. I just keep mine in the fridge. Nothing fancy.

Some of my hops have been sitting in the refrigerator for MONTHS and I still use them. I probably wouldn't go for years, but I have no problem letting them sit for 6+ months. I keep the package sealed as best I can, but other than that, I don't do anything special.

 

Hops drop alpha with time. Normaly, whats stated on the package is time of harvest alpha and thats not what you really get when you get it home. Storing hops in you fridge is a real good idea. Vac pac is better and frozen is even better. Even with this, 6 months down the road and you can figure if you started with a 5% alpha you now have closer to 4%.  I've spent 25 years processing and packaging hops and the alpha loss rate is pretty large for some varieties and a little less for others but still a good amount of loss in 6 months for any variety and type of storage.

 

I have done that many of times and it has made my secondary taste so much better than when I didn't do it. So that statement is very true.

 

This thread is a great idea, and there have been lots of good suggestions on actual brewing.  For those of you who may be like me and have a spouse who is not into beer and doesn't appreciate brewing, I would recommend trying to move your brewing operation from the kitchen to outside or maybe the garage.  This has made my brewing life much easier, as I don't get hasseled about clean up or the smells (which I love and she hates).

 

Here are some suggestions I have given to new brewers who want to save money buying supplies.

Ask bakeries or delis for their plastic buckets. Obviously they are food grade. Stay away from pickle buckets though. They are just about impossible to get rid of the smell. Also, almost any bucket with HDPE 2 stamped on it should be food grade, including paint buckets! Just because you found it in the paint section doesn't mean you can't use it for other things.

Reuse your yeast. If you spent around $7 on a smack pack, you will definitely save money this way. You will need some DME, which typically costs around $5 for a pound (maybe less), but you only need a cup or so to make a starter. Buy a dozen or so mason jars. Don't get them used unless you know exactly what was in them. You can find jars at second hand stores, but there is no way to tell what they were used for. Could have been chemicals. So buy new unless you know.

If you make a fruit beer, using extract is considerably cheaper, unless you have free fruit. Be aware that not all extracts are equal. Cellar Pro makes a good extract. I've had off brands that taste absolutely horrible. Nothing beats real fruit if you can afford it though.

Buy scales or cooking pots second hand if possible. Stainless steel is really hard to find used.

That's all I have right now.

 

Extra Fermentors (5 gallon food grade plastic buckets) can be found in bulk from restaurants.
Harvested Yeast can be stored in the freezer IF you mix it up as a 15% glycol solution.
College Campuses, especially the recycle centers, are a great place to find lots and lots of beer bottles.

 

This thread died about 2 months ago, but I wanted to add more tips that I came up with.

- Blow off tubes get gunked up pretty easily. I use to let mine sit in the cleaning bucket overnight, but the crap inside rarely disolves. I now use my bottle brush! My blow off tubes are 1" in diameter, and the bottle brush fits inside perfectly to clean the crap out. Works like a charm.

- After you clean out your carboy OR fermenting bucket, stuff some cotton or take some clean tissue paper and tape it over the top. That will keep anything out of it and you can store it for months, then open it up, and immediately use it.

- Never leave stored hops out in the open. Refridgerate or freeze them. They will loose some of their flavor over a number of months, but keep them in a cool dry place.

- This should be obvious, but always feel free to hack up and modify recipes. Too often I see people use an exact recipe and say "it this sucks", well, there was never a law passed saying you can't change it to your liking. Change the hops, or the amount, switch a grain or two. My best amber ale was a copy of another, but I didn't like the crystal malt or hops, so I bumped up the lovibond of the crystal and swapped most of the hops. I loved the end result, and so did about a dozen others.

- Search craigslist, garage sales, or otherwise for used brewing equipment. I am amazed at how cheap people sell their equipment for. Last year I saw some great hardware sold on craigslist for CHEAP! The guy was getting out of brewing and had hundreds of dollars worth of parts, and was selling it for half price or less. Another thing, check for carboys! Every homebrew shop I have gone to wants at least $20 (usually more) for these. Check craigslist (or anywhere) for glass water jugs. It doesn't matter how old it is. I have seen these sold for under $10.

 

A few more tips:

- I covered this before, and someone else repeated what I said, but I will say it again: TAKES NOTES ON EVERY YOU DO! You can get a cheap 80 page notebook at Walmart (or such) for $1 or so. Come to think of it, the Dollar Stores carry these too. Whether you use extract or all grain, take good notes! What were the EXACT ingredients? How much did you use? What amount of water? Hops? Temperatures? OG? FG? Yeast? I guarantee that if you DON'T take good solid notes, at some point you will make a recipe that turns out excellent, but you will have no notes, so you can't duplicate it. This is a critical step. Easy to keep and maintain. In fact, my brew log doubles as a mouse pad!

- Don't be afraid to try a non-standard yeast with your beer. Just because the recipe called for an English ale, try an ESB or yeast instead. As a prime example, Widmer Brothers in Portland uses an altbier yeast for their flagship hefeweizen ale. It has no banana glove like the original Bavarian or German version. Yet this is their most popular beer. Always experiment.

- Nylons (new obviously) bought in a pack for 99 cents can be great for hops. After the boil, just throw it away! I have seen quite a few people do this. Personally, I just throw mine loosely into the kettle. But with nylons, there is no worry of contamination since your wort is boiling, and there is no grain bag to clean afterwards, you just throw it away! Be warned: you might not want to buy dozens of packs of nylons if your a guy, as you might appear to be a cross dresser at the store. But then again, what you do in your private life is your business.

- For those of you having difficulty with siphoning beer like I did, seriously look into the Auto Siphon. Most homebrew shops have or can get this. Mine cost about $12. I LOVE IT! The device is roughly 2 ft long, with an inside racking cane. You usually have to buy 3/8" tube additional, but my homebrew shop only charged 40 cents a foot. I needed 4' worth. For roughly $15 I got the siphon and 4' of food grade tubing. These are excellent! You can start a siphon immediately.

- Don't waste your time buying bottles (assuming you don't keg). Ask friends, family, or neighbors for their bottles. Sure, some might be nasty, but I doubt all are. I used to ask people at work for a 6 pack or 12 pack of empty bottles in exchange for FREE BEER, but I get to keep the bottles. One guy gave me 2 cases worth!! They were mostly twist off, which is not the best, but they are free! In fact, 90% of my bottles were given to me in exchange for some free beer. You get the bottles back and can keep reusing them. What a deal!

- Invest in a backup hydrometer. They are made of very thin glass and can break easily. I have already done that once. They tend to cost about $7.

- If you are using blow off tubes, you need something to put the end of the tube in, which contains water (nothing else) to seal the fermenter. You can use a bucket, measuring cup, really just about anything. What I did was went to a second hand store and bought a small bathroom style plastic garbage can. Cleaned it out real well. I dump about 2 gallons of water in it, and I have had 4 or more fermenters all using it at once. Cost me about $2. Works like a champ!

- Don't be afraid to try new spices in beer. Some of the best I've ever had were those that sounded the most disgusting. Ever heard of PEPPER BEER? I have it once. Ok I hated it, but it was popular at the brewery. Ginger, cinnamon, orange, lemon, pumpkin, corrinder, lime, licorice, and so forth. Just because it sounds nasty doesn't mean it will be.

- This has been stated before, but let your hydrometer be your guide for fermentation! Some yeasts can be done in 3 days, others still ferment after 10 days. So the recipe said it should be done in 5 days but it appears to be done in 2? Use your hydrometer to check. Just because there is no activity in the airlock (or blow off tube) does not mean it is done. Also, a recipe is a general guide. My OG and FG never match up exactly. As long as you are close, that is fine.

 

Brewbie wrote:

Extra Fermentors (5 gallon food grade plastic buckets) can be found in bulk from restaurants.
Harvested Yeast can be stored in the freezer IF you mix it up as a 15% glycol solution.
College Campuses, especially the recycle centers, are a great place to find lots and lots of beer bottles.

Actually, it is 15% glycerine, not glycol. The most common type of glycol, ethylene, is toxic to the human body and should never be ingested.

If you take 15% of glycerine and 85% yeast, you can freeze that, but not regular glycol.

 

Well, I don't know about the rest of you, I learned something.

 

Has anyone frozen their trub without mixing it with glycerine?  Does this kill the yeast?  After my first batch I dumped the trub into a sanitized mason jar and popped it into the freezer as I knew it woul dbe weeks mefore my next brew.  Just wondering if I should purchase more yeast when I get supplies for my next brew, there are no close brew stores to me, and I don't want to get caught with dead yeast.

 

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