Top tips for making better beer in 2019!
When we started BrewUK, 10 years ago, the original idea for the site came when we were making some cider from apples in our garden. We’d been home brewing for a couple of years but had never made cider. We could find websites to order the ingredients and websites which told us how to make cider but there wasn’t a website which had both. This seemed crazy as home brewing is so much more than simply buying products. It’s a hobby which requires a lot of information. And BrewUK was born. Our mission was always to not only offer the best selection of equipment and ingredients at the best prices but also to help home brewers of all levels to improve.
Since we started BrewUK, we have continued to improve on our knowledge. This has lead us to not only writing the UK’s best selling home brew book (Home Brew Beer) but also to start a commercial brewery (Dark Revolution) which is rated in the top 100 breweries in the UK.
So with a new year upon us and celebrating our tenth year in business we’ve put together this list of top tips to help you improve your home brewing.
- Use stainless steel FV’s
Yes more expensive then plastic but the investment is well worth it. Not only does it look a more professional but it’s so much easier to ensure the surface is 100% clean and scratch free. The other advantage of stainless steel is that you can get them hot, which ensures that they are clean and sterile before you even sanitise them. If you look after them they will last you a lifetime and should you decide to stop home brewing, second hand stainless steel holds its value very well. There's a great range of affordable options on our website.
- Use a proper cleaning agent
Sterilised dirt is still dirt. Cleaning and sterilising are two separate operations and should always be treated as such. Cleaning agents dissolve grease and debris leaving the surface shiny and stain free. We would always recommend rinsing the vessel first with hot water, then add the cleaner (ideally something like PBW) and using a non scratch scouring pad to clean off all debris. Use rubber gloves to protect your hands from the heat and the cleaning agent. Rinse and inspect that the surface is completely clean. If the vessel has valves/thermowells we would recommend removing them and soaking them separately. If you have the ability to CIP (clean in place) using a sprayball and a pump then this is even better but make sure you thoroughly inspect the effectiveness of this to ensure there is no blind spots. Once you’ve rinsed it’s a good idea to check the run off pH of the water to ensure that all the cleaning agent is rinsed correctly. Your run off pH should be the same as your incoming water pH.
- Keep trying to improve
Home brewing is a journey. A Journey with no end and that’s the most fun bit. Even seasoned pro brewers are still continually learning and improving their methods. Whether this is tweaking a recipe, changing a process or purchasing new equipment. The common goal is continual improvement. A moving goal. Any decent brewer will never be 100% satisfied. There is always room for improvement. Home brewers have the luxury of small batch brewing which means you have the freedom to experiment and change, something that is more difficult the bigger your batch size. Some of the best idea’s in modern brewing have come from home brewing and most of the hippest, modern brewers started as home brewers. It’s a collaborative hobby and we highly recommend contributing to home brew forums, facebook groups and a local club if you have one.
- Ensure good yeast management
Brewers make wort. Yeast make beer. Without yeast we’d have nothing more than a sweet, unfermented liquid. But yeast is a living organism. It needs to be treated as such and taken care of otherwise it won’t perform as you want it to. Make sure you always pitch the correct amount of healthy yeast. If you are reusing yeast then make sure it’s still in it’s prime. Ideally by using a microscope and methylene blue stain. It’s a pretty simple process if you have the equipment, We’re go into that in more detail in a future post or drop us a line and we’ll talk you through it. Get to know your yeast and monitor its performance during fermentation, measuring against previous batches. A tilt hydrometer is a very handy tool to help this, although a hydrometer and pH meter are equally as useful.
- Check VDK before chilling
Diacetyl is probably the most common off flavour found in both commercial and home brew beers. It’s caused by Vicinal Diketones (VDKS) produced by the yeast during fermentation. The yeast will reabsorb these at the end of the fermentation but if you cold crash the beer too early, the yeast will go dormant before they can reduce the VDK. A very simple way to check this is to perform a VDK check. Once terminal gravity has been reached, wait 24 hours then take a small sample of the beer. Split into two and cover, putting one in the fridge. Boil the kettle then pour enough water in a larger vessel to submerge your other sample, which will heat it up. Leave for 15 mins then remove, put cold water in the outer vessel and put both samples in the cold water. Once cooled, smell both samples. If they smell the same then your okay to cool the beer. If the heated one smells of artificial butter or butterscotch then the beer needs more time. Leave for another 24 hours and perform the test again until then smell the same. Depending on the yeast strain it can take a few days. By performing this test you should avoid diacetyl suddenly appearing in your packaged beer.
- Try some different yeast strains
Often brewers look to new hops and grains to experiment with but it should never be overlooked the effect a yeast strain can have on the character of a beer. With hundreds of strains now available and new ones coming out all the time, it’s never been a better time to try out some different options. One group of strains that we’ve been experimenting with in the brewery is Kviek. Originating from Norwiegen Farmhouse brewing, these strains are really versatile, enduring high temps, high gravity and low pH environments. They are great for producing a huge range of styles from hoppy IPA’s, Imperial Stouts and sour beer. Also really useful if you don’t have great temperature control in your fermentations.
- Minimise 02 pickup
This is especially important when producing hop forward beer styles. Oxygen introduced after the initial stages of fermentation has a huge detrimental effect on the freshness of the beer. At every stage after fermentation, Oxygen pickup should be kept to an absolute minimum. This is most crucial if you move the beer to another vessel, including racking to secondary and obviously bottling or kegging. If oxygen is introduced then it will cause the beer to go stale very quickly. This will cause the fresh, bright hop aroma’s to morph into sweet, malty aromas. Oxygen can also cause a colour change as it reacts with compounds in the beer, similar to when you leave a cut piece of apple exposed to air. To avoid and minimise O2 introduction always purge any receiving vessels with Co2 first. If kegging then it’s best practice to push the beer from the FV into the purged keg using co2 which will ensure not 02 is introduced. Bottling is best performed by transferring to a purged keg then using a blichmann beer gun to bottle. If bottle conditioning then purge the bottles with co2 first then transfer the beer as gently as possible. Although the fermentation in bottle conditioning will take up some of the 02, it will not be before some of the effects of oxidation come into force so O2 is still best minimised. This is especially important when producing highly hopped styles like NEIPA.
- Concentrate on your process, keep things simple.
Brewing great beer is so much more than the recipe. If you’ve got good technique and process you will make good beer pretty much whatever recipe you follow. If don’t have good process then you’re beer will be inconsistent not matter what recipe you use. When starting out it’s best to keep things simple so you can gauge your results and work on improvements. This is also important when introducing new equipment. Its the small details which will add up to big improvements. Cleanliness and good yeast health will make the biggest differences.
- Measure pH
Investing in a pH meter need not be mega expensive but can be an invaluable tool, especially if brewing using all grain methods. Not only can it be used to measure your mash pH but also to measure the rinse water run off and also measure pH during fermentation. As the yeast converts the sugars to alcohol and Co2, it will also produce acids which will reduce the pH of the wort. A healthly fermentation should show a significant pH drop before you see a reduction in gravity and therefore is a good indicator that things are progressing well. A pH meter is also essential for sour beers, especially if kettle souring.
- Keg your beer
Kegging your beer is the best way to not only minimise 02 in the finished product but also allows you to get the carbonation correct. Kegs also give you a lot more options for serving and connecting up different tap options. More info on kegging can be found here.
It’s our sole mission to help you make better home brew. It’s what makes us happy and we love hearing from you and helping solve your issues.
There’s lots of ways to do this, via social media, email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or live chat on our website.
Happy new year and here’s to another great year of home brewing!