Tricks of the Trade for Making Great Beer



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Assembling the equipment and the ingredients to make beer is a cut and dried operation.  The process of making beer at home isn't really a mystery.  That is one of the reasons that home brewing has become so popular.  Because you can get set up to brew beer at home with a relatively low investment in equipment and ingredients, it's easy to get started on making your own beer.  And when you finish that first batch and it is stored away to be sampled in a few weeks, the excitement that you soon will be drinking your own beer is a unique feeling and one you want to repeat often.

Once you have confirmed that you can indeed make beer, the next question comes up is - can you make GOOD beer?   When you tasted that first batch, you were pretty excited because it really was beer.  But you may have noticed some aspects of the beer you would like to improve.  The beer may have been too bitter or have too strong a hops flavor.  The clarity of the beer may have been imperfect or you could see stuff floating around in your beer. 

But these flaws are acceptable at first because they drive you to want to become a better beer maker.  You want your beer to be so flavorful and enjoyable to drink that your guests say its as good or better than store bought beer and that it even lives up to the quality at the local beer pub.  That’s a tall order but part of the fun of brewing beer at home is to strive for those goals.  To get there, some of the tricks that the old pros of home brewing know will help a lot.  Some of their wisdom can help you move from a rookie beer maker into the ranks of people and actually know what they are doing.

Most recipes for making beer at home call for making a batch of five gallons of beer.  That's a lot of beer.  So sometimes home brewers try to cut the batch to make less beer.  It's done with good intent.  It's hard to store five gallons of beer.  And if you don't drink your own beer up pretty fast (or give it away), the beer can go stale or bad which is hard to see watch happen to "your" beer.   But old pros tell us don't cut the batch and go ahead and make beer up five gallons at a time.  You need that quantity to get the full value out of the brewing process.  And it's hard to adjust the recipes for a smaller batch which means that there is a good chance you will end up with a beer that does not have the right balance of malt, hops and yeast.  The outcome can be a beer that is difficult or impossible to drink and it all gets thrown out.  Better to make five gallons of good beer than three gallons of undrinkable brew.

The more you study and learn about beer making, the better you will become at home brewing.  Don't just go from the instructions that come with the equipment.  Sink your teeth into learning all you can.  The beer you make will benefit from the homework you do.  And you will have more fun too.

Just as it's not advisable to cut the size of any batch of home made beer you produce, also avoid cutting corners in terms of time or clean up.  Sometimes it seems that boiling the beer in progress which is called the "wort" for an hour to an hour and a half seems like a lot.  But the long boiling time helps the ingredients mesh in just the right way.  It also boils off bad elements of the mixture that you don't want in the beer and it brings out the flavors of the malt, the grains and the hops so you are getting the best of those ingredients.  Finally, don’t be worried about being too fussy about cleanliness.  Keeping your boiling pots and fermentation tanks absolutely clean and sterile assures that nothing will get into the beer except that pure wort that you so carefully brewed. So go ahead and be fussy.  The beer you make will be better if you are.



The Many Paths to Great Home Made Beer

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Before you really get oriented to what home brewing is all about, it's easy to think it is a process that is set in stone and there is only one right way to do it.  And it is true that the brewing and fermenting process has some steps that must be followed with some discipline if you wish to enjoy a great home made beer.  But one of the reasons that home brewing is such a passion to many people who enjoy this way of making beer is that there as so many varieties of recipes and styles of making.

You can easily get a feel for what a huge variety there is in ways to brew beer and in recipes for ingredients when you visit your local beer supplies retailer, go to home brewing web sites or sit in at home brewing club meetings in town.  And the great thing about the social side of the home brewing culture is that you will come home with a notebook full of ideas of things you can try on upcoming batches of beer.  The odds are you will have months of ideas to try out and you may never run out of new approaches, blends and recipes to try to make your home made beer interesting and tasty for yourself, your family and your friends.

For that first time home brewing recruit, one of the best ways to help him have the fun of making beer at home without so much investment and mess that will come in due time is to go with a home brewing kit or machine.  Beer making machines literally take all of the thinking and planning and risk out of trying out home brewing to see if you want to make the investment in a full set up.  The machine comes with a full set of ingredients for one batch of beer and the equipment is automated so the novice home brewer can make the beer and move it through the fermentation and aging process and know the fun of having real home made beer a few weeks later. 

Similarly kits simply the process of buying and using the equipment and ingredients to get started in home brewing.  Unlike the beer making machine which is used once and discarded, the beer maker's kit gives you the basic equipment which will be the beginning of your collection of the tools of a beer maker to be used over and over many times.  But the kit provides the ingredients and the instructions to make the process of learning to make your own beer easy and fun to learn.

Even for seasoned home beer makers, there are variations on the home brewing method that will give you more flexibility and range of choices that will affect how unique your beer will be.  But each may have a greater investment of work and effort to use effectively so it's worth getting familiar with them in advance so you know your investment of time and effort and what you might expect with a new brewing method.

Probably the most common brewing method most amateur brewer's use and the one that is taught in most home brewing guides is the extract method.  And even though it is well known, because you are truly brewing beer yourself as opposed to using a kit or a machine, you can alter the consistencies and flavors of your beer and get a wonderful brew each time you use this approach.

You can settle on the extract method for a long time or perhaps use it exclusively for your brewing career and get great  beers with it every time.  But if you want a greater challenge and the possibility for even more unique beers as a result, you can explore the Mini-Mash method and the Full Mash Brew styles of home brewing.  Each is more complex and takes longer to finish the brewing process.  But they also give you a lot of flexibility and even more ability to make your own beer unique and distinctive.

It's up to you where to start in your beer brewing hobby and the paths you take.  You can explore new approaches through networking with other brewers.  But you will never get bored brewing beer at home because the variety of methods and ingredients are virtually limitless.



The Heart of a Brewmeister


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In any big area of focus and specialization, there are those who go on to greatness in that passion and those who only go so far, lose interest or get discouraged and quit.  We see that in sports, business and art to name just a few areas.  So it makes sense that the hobby of making beer at home will be subject to the same laws.  Many people get interested in how to make beer at home, buy the equipment and may go as far as to make a batch or two of beer.  But then after a while they lose the persistence to getting really good at making beer and they give up.

But in this very popular and growing field of home brewing, there are a few who go on to greatness as makers of fine beers at home.  It's from this group that you commonly see the finest of home brewing being produced and the beers that consistently win prizes at home brewing contests that are held each year.  And it is from this group that you most often see amateur beer makers make the leap over to begin selling their beer commercially and maybe go on to owning their own beer pub in town and realizing an entirely new career doing what they love to do, making beer all the time.

Those that reach that level of success have the heart of a true Brewmeister and they exhibit all the traits of someone who is destined to create some wonderful and delicious beers.  So what characteristics are in the personality of someone who can push on to that level of success brewing beer?  It's helpful to think this through to see if perhaps you have the heart of a true Brewmeister as well.

Someone who will succeed at brewing beer has a high attention to detail.  At first, you have to learn the ropes of making beer by following the instructions that come with your beer kit or equipment and learn all you can about the step by step process of making a very basic batch of good tasting beer.  The future Brewmeister wants to learn the basics and get them down very well so his foundation is strong once the time comes to innovate and use some brewing creativity to make some truly new and interesting blends. 

The Brewmeister also is a virtual fanatic about cleanliness and sanitation.  Most often when you taste home made beer that is flawed, it comes from lack of attention to sanitizing the preparation equipment and maintaining an almost operating room level quality of sanitation throughout the brewing process.  To the one who is a Brewmeister through and through, there is not such thing as "good enough" when it comes to how clean his beer brewing facilities are.  Only perfectly sanitary is good enough.

Another basic personality trait in a person who is devoted to making only the finest of quality beer is patience.  This patience shows itself in a number of ways.  It shows itself in the willingness to shop without tiring to get the finest ingredients for the next batch of beer he makes.  It shows itself in the willingness to only buy enough materials for one batch and then go out and buy a completely new set of materials each time just to make sure his ingredients are perfectly fresh.

Above all the true Brewmeister will wait as long as it takes for that beer to go through the weeks of fermentation and aging. And if he takes that beer out after a cycle is done and tastes it and it isn't up to his high standards, he can wait another month or two or more until it reaches a level of high quality that will be acceptable to anyone who drinks the beer he makes.

Finally that one Brewmeister in a hundred who goes on to greatness in making the best beer imaginable from a home brewing setting is impossible to discourage.  The idea of giving up because one batch of beer didn’t come out right or something else introduced a set back to the effort is out of the question.  It is that kind of persistence combined with patience, attention to detail and creativity that is the perfect personality blend that makes  a great Brewmeister who will go on to greatness in this wonderful passion of home brewing.



The Budget Brewmeister



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For a beer lover, one of the most enjoyable hobbies you can pick up is to brew your own beer at home.  Once you get set up with the equipment and basic supplies, it’s a fairly affordable hobby and you will get a lot of entertainment out of going through the brewing and fermentation process.  Then once you start bringing out your own home brewed beer, you get the sense of pride because this beer made entirely by you, not to mention the enjoyment of sucking down that hearty blend that you created yourself.

One of the hold ups that may have kept you from getting into making your own beer may have the cost issue.  If you have ever taken a tour of a brewery and you see the huge machines and storage tanks, it's hard to see how you can do that in your kitchen with just a few simple devices.  But there is an entire home brewing subculture that has risen up based entirely on being able to make beer yourself at relatively low costs.  Its legal, its fun and brewing beer can become a major hobby as well.

All that said, it's true that the initial costs can be pretty intimidating.  The cost of the pots, fermenters and other specialized equipment can run into several hundred dollars.  It's risky to sink that kind of money into a new hobby before you even know if you will enjoy making beer, whether the beer you make will be drinkable or if you will stick with it.  And during a time when we need most of what we earn just to get by, that is a risk that may be holding you back from getting into the hobby of home brewing.

Of course one natural solution is to get your first exposure and training in making beer with someone else's equipment.  Once you start poking around home brewing web sites and places where the equipment and supplies to make beer are sold in town, you can find out about clubs and societies that are full of people who have taken the plunge and are making beer all the time right at home like you want to do. 

These people not only love home brewing, they can become real evangelists for their hobby and with very little encouragement, you can enjoy some Saturdays in their shop or kitchen learning how to brew beer with someone that already knows how.  This kind of experience is priceless because you learn what to look for in equipment and what is essential and what is optional.  You can go through the brewing process and learn a lot about how to make actual beer that is drinkable and what pitfalls to avoid.  Meanwhile, you may not have spent any more money than to buy your new friend lunch or to bring the pretzels for the tasting party when the beer is done.

But then when you are ready to get started, your knowledge of what you really need will pay off big time.  You still don't have to pay top dollar for the equipment to get up and running.  Lots of people get started with making beer and for many reasons, their hobby stops suddenly.  The outcome is that there is a pretty brisk used home brewing equipment market out there.  You can find discounted equipment in new or like new condition out on eBay or Craigslist all the time.  But don't overlook the local sources as those home brewer clubs and associations may have bulletin boards with listings of people who want to sell their equipment.  Pawn shops in the area are another great resource.

Another great way to save money is to go together with a friend and buy the equipment together and split the costs all the way down the line.  This makes brewing beer more fun and social and each of you can have the equipment and supplies home at different times to get to know it and learn to make good beer separately so you can make great beer together.  And who knows, you may get so good at it that you start selling your beer to local pubs.  And when the big bucks come rolling in from that, your investment in learning to brew beer will really look good to you.



Making Your Beer Crystal Clear
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Beer is about a lot more than just a great tasting beverage.   The fact that a culture has grown up around the joy of making and enjoying fine beer testifies how much beer has become part of how our culture works. The drinking of the beverage is only partially about the taste of the brew itself and very much about where you have your beer, what you drink it out of, how the beer looks in the glass and who you are drinking it with.  And while you as a home made beer brewer cannot control many of those factors, you can control the quality and ambiance of the beer you make so it not only tastes great but is visually appealing as well.

If you pour a commercial beer from a bottle or a can, you may not be aware of how much those beer makers put into not just the taste but the affect of other senses have on the beer drinking experience.  The way the beer pours, the aroma as you pour it, the head that wells up in your mug and how the beer looks in the glass all are just as important as the taste itself.  The emphasis the big beer producers put on ascetics is so extreme that they even make the sound the can makes when you "pop a cold one" to be unique because they know that sound alone can prepare you to receive the taste of a great beer drinking experience.

The truth is none of that will change whether the beer itself is of high quality or is good to drink.  But visual appeal matters.  One area of visual appeal that you have some control over when making your own beer at home is clarity.  Clarity simply refers to how the beer looks in the glass.  If you can see through the beer and it is a consistent beige or amber color, that is visually appealing.  But if things are floating around in the beer, even if they are perfectly harmless byproducts of the brewing process, that can diminish how inviting your beer is to enjoy and even diminish how enjoyable the beer is to drink even if the beer itself is of high quality.

A lot of the "stuff" that floats around is beer comes from the yeast that is crucial to the fermentation process that makes beer beer.  Some yeasts are better than others about settling out of the beer during fermentation.  Another source of visible material in the beer comes from what is referred to as non-microbiological particles or NMPs which are a byproduct of the brewing process.  Again, none of these visible materials are harmful to consume nor do they reduce the value of the beer.  They just look bad and hurt the clarity of the beer which is one way beer is measured for quality.

Many of the NMPs are introduced during the initial creation of the wort which is phase one of any brewing operation.  The wort is boiled at a high temperature for a significant enough period of time to cause the proteins in the ingredients to break down and become part of the fluidity of the wort rather than remain in a substance state or a "floc" which remains visible in the finished product.  To avoid this make sure your boil sustains a temperature of 215F for 90 minutes to assure complete processing of the proteins.

Another important brewing step that you can do to reduce visible agents in your beer is to cool the wort very quickly.  By bringing the temperature down rapidly, the clarity is vastly enhanced as is the flavor and overall quality of the beer.  The best way to accomplish such rapid cooling is to move the wort quickly from the brewing process to a very cool environment or using a specialized wort cooler to quickly bring that temperature down and eliminate many of the flocs that might be there if the cooling goes more slowly.

Seeking beer clarity can become a major passion of yours as a home brewer and there is a whole science to using clarifying agents such as Irish Moss to enhance beer clarity without diminishing beer quality or taste.  Learning good techniques for making your beer clear and appealing is just another step in your ongoing quest to become the best amateur beer making possible.  And that is a quest worth pursuing.



You Can't Make Gasoline but You Can Make Beer

 

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In tough economic times, we all look for ways to save money.  With gas prices going up constantly, the prices of everything just goes right on up with them.  Unlike the government, we can't print up money so anything we can do to cut costs without giving up quality of life is a good move.  And if quality of life includes having a nice tasting brew every so often, well then there is definitely something we can do and maybe you are already starting to do that is not only great fun but a very good cost cutting move for you.

The great thing about taking up home brewing that you get three great benefits all in one great hobby.  First you get a new passion in your life that will keep you busy and learning a side of beer making that you never knew could be so fascinating.  Second, you inherit an entire society of fascinating people who are zealots for this hobby and life style of home brewing.  And finally, once you get set up with the equipment and learn the "ropes" of brewing your own beer at home, you can make beer that is 100 times better than anything you can get at the liquor store or in a restaurant.  But you can make it for a tiny percentage of what you would pay for retail beer which is inferior to yours anyway.

The great thing about home brewing that in addition to all these benefits, it really is not difficult to learn how to make great beer right at home.  It will take some effort and a bit of study or coaching to learn how to use the equipment and what ingredients to buy and store.  But because the ingredients are easy and abundant to get, you can set up to make literally gallons of beer for a very small investment.  So on top of great fun, that’s just sensible economics. 

One great way to get some help with this process and make it even more fun is to learn to make beer with a group of friends.  You can split the costs and make it even more economical.  And each of you can and pool your knowledge, your learning and your talents to make each batch of beer better than the last one.  Because the process of brewing involves several steps, you need that patience and understanding of the process to do it right.  And having friends in the process, each one can be watching for steps that need to be taken.  Then when the beer enters the fermentation stage and what you all need is patience not to break into the beer and drink it before its time, you can be a support group to be willing to wait for it because you know how good it will be.

This support group can also be very helpful to be patient if that first batch of beer is not entirely perfect.  But you know there are ways to get better.  So by being faithful with your learning, joining with other beer brewing lovers around your town, you can and will get better quickly.

But the other value of working together with good friends is that you can eventually get a feel for how much beer you will make with each batch and how much each of you will use in a period of time.  Then you can time the brewing sessions so you may even have multiple batches in various stages of completion and coming into use at just the right times so you never have to go to the liquor store again.  You will have taken control of this one part of your economy by making your own beer so it's a cost you can control, unlike gasoline.

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