Top 10 ways to improve your homebrew beer
10. Add specialty grains to your beer to fine tune flavors
If you are brewing extract brews, adding a bit of specialty grains will improve your beer flavor and can give it a better head. The specialty grains also give the beer a bit more depth in flavor. Specialty grains are steeped in hot water, 158F (70C) for 20 to 60 minutes. This creates a “grain tea” that is added to your wort when you start your boil. The grains used for steeping are not part of the mash, because these grains do not require enzymatic conversion.
9. Use a one step sanitizer
If you are not using a one step sanitizer like star san, you should start now. A one step sanitizer sanitizes your fermenter, spoon, or anything else the might come in contact with your wort within minutes. The best part is that the one step sanitizers do not require you to rinse. A one step sanitizer is an odorless and tasteless weak acid, so it will not change the flavor of your beer. Proper sanitary procedures will dramatically reduce the chance for infection, and thus give you a better beer.
8. Full wort boil
A full wort boil is when you boil the full 5 gallons of your wort. If you are creating Belgian Wits or Hefeweizens that are too dark in color, a full wort boil will help you lighten it up. The darker color originates from boiling concentrated wort; the sugars tend to caramelize. The higher concentration also makes it harder for you to extract the bitterness from the hops, since there is less “room” for the hop flavors in the wort. Boiling the full amount will help you create lighter colored beers and extract more hop flavor (better hop utilization).
7. Use a wort chiller
Before you can pitch your yeast, you must cool the wort. Once the wort temperature goes below 140F (60C), your wort is susceptible to bacterial infection. The best protection from bacteria in your beer is your yeast. The yeast will change the pH of your beer and make the conditions harsh for invading bacteria. Unfortunately, you can not add yeast until your beer temperature is around 70F (21C), so the sooner you can get your wort to this temperature the better. A wort chiller can cool boiling hot wort to less than 90F (32C) within minutes. The other advantage of chilling your beer quickly is getting a “cold break”. If you chill your beer quickly enough, the proteins in your beer will form solids. These solids are believed by some brewers to cause off flavors in the beer. Removing these solids will produce a cleaner tasting beer.
6. Keg your beer
If you are still bottling your beer, you should consider kegging. Kegging is much easier than bottling, and it is not expensive in the long run. You can often find good deals on four packs of used kegs for less than $100 USD. The CO2 cylinder, regulator, and a single used keg can be found for around $100 USD. Why would kegging improve your beer? Kegging will produce a more consistent carbonation for your beers. Your beers will also be clearer, and you also do not need to worry about the “yeast sludge” at the bottom of each bottle. This is strictly presentation, but clarity does count for a good looking beer.
5. Use liquid yeast
While dry yeast is much cheaper than liquid yeast, there is far more selection for liquid yeasts. A wider variety can give the brewer more control over the flavor of the beer. Yeast contributes the most flavor to your beer of any ingredient. The drying process can also contaminate your yeast with bacteria. This can cause off-flavors. If you are spending $20-$30 USD on your beer, an extra $5 for liquid yeast is a very small price to pay. If you are cutting costs, the yeast is really not the place to do it.
4. Oxygenate your wort
Oxygen is very important for your yeast in the early stages of fermentation. If your yeast do not get enough oxygen, they will become stressed. Stressed yeast produce off flavors. You want happy yeast. It takes very little effort to stir, splash or vigorously mix your wort before pitching. A siphon sprayer costs $3. There are attachments that connect to your drill to stir your wort for you. Shaking the fermenter before pitching the yeast is free. You really do not have an excuse to not do this. Happy, healthy yeast will ferment faster and produce a cleaner tasting beer.
3. Switch to all-grain brewing
All-grain brewing is much more approachable and easier than you think. Batch sparging has become very popular in the past few years. You can build a complete batch sparging system for around $60-$80 USD. If you have a good 40 quart (10 gallon) cooler you don’t need, you can convert it for $20-$30 USD. All-grain brewing allows you to create more complex tasting beers. It also allows you to create much lighter colored beers, something that is very difficult with extract brewing. You can create excellent extract beers, but all-grain brewing can give you the fine tuning that lets you take your beers to the next level.
2. Use a starter
According to Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, most homebrewers severely under pitch their beer. The popular smack packs claim to have 2.5 billion cells when the package has expanded. If you try to match the commercial pitching rates, you would need 200-400 billion cells for a 5 gallon batch, however the minimum pitching rate recommended for a 5 gallon brew is 20 billion cells. Creating a starter will help you get much closer to the recommended pitching rate and produce a much crisper tasting beer, with fewer off flavors.
1. Try different beers
The best way to determine how your beer should taste is to try different beers. This will give you an idea how the different styles should taste. More importantly, trying different beers will expose you to different styles you might not have tried before. You will find new beers that you like, and will eventually try to make at home. You might even improve on the recipe! Hopefully these tips will help you improve your beer. If you have any tips we missed, let us know in the comments!
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I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!