The modern craft beer movement has swept through American culture.
More and more people are choosing the depth of flavor and local, artisan flair of craft brews over standard corporate beers. With the added interest comes an uptick in entrepreneurs — every year, more people invest in brewing equipment and begin their homebrewing journey.
But the skill of brewing is both an art and a science — it takes precision as well as creativity. Every homebrewer is continually looking for ways to refine and hone their craft, regardless of where they are in their brewing journey.
Whether you are a seasoned homebrewer or are just starting out, we’ve collected 15 of the best tips to help you troubleshoot any problems and recapture inspiration for your homebrewing process.
Tips to Refine Your Brewing Process
No matter how long they have been crafting beer, every brewer needs the occasional spark of inspiration. Wherever you fall on the homebrewing spectrum, try incorporating some of these 15 tips into your brewing for next-level beers.
1. Make Sure You Have the Essentials
As your homebrewing knowledge and experience grow, so does your collection of equipment and accessories — there are always more supplies and new technology to try. However, make sure you have and use these 12 beer brewing essentials for the best, most reliable results.
- Digital scale
- Brew pot or kettle
- Heat source
- Brewing thermometer
- Long spoon or paddle
- Wort chiller
- Siphon and tubing
- Airlock and bung
- Bottles, growlers or a keg
When investing in brewing tools, search for equipment that is easy to inspect and clean. Also look for oxygenation products — you will probably notice a dramatic improvement in your fermentation performance using pure oxygen instead of aerating by hand.
For a comprehensive explanation of each piece of equipment, read our guide to essential brewing supplies.
2. Make a Yeast Starter
Save money and improve the taste of your brew with a homemade yeast starter.
Making a yeast starter is the best way to ensure the fermentation cycle gets a good start with an active fermentation, and it also lowers the chance for contamination.
Pre-made yeast packets aren’t often affordable in large quantities — unless you are brewing a low-gravity ale, you will have to invest a significant amount of money into multiple pre-made packets of yeast starters for a brew.
Instead, plan to make your own. When you make a yeast starter, you are essentially creating a small-scale batch of beer. Just like full brews, yeast starters come with specific steps in the process. Before you begin, make sure to leave yourself enough time to create a yeast starter — you want to give it a good 24 hours to keep reproducing after the first half-hour fermentation period.
3. Keep It Clean
One of the most common pitfalls for homebrewers revolves around sanitation issues, especially during the cooling process. Proper sanitation reduces the chance for infection, producing a better-tasting beer.
Good sanitation is essential for a good brew. One way to reduce the risk of contamination is to use a coiled immersion chiller — designed for easy cleaning, these products can cool your wort without introducing bacteria into the mix.
Another way to increase the sanitation of your brewing process is to invest in a one-step sanitizer. Within minutes, a one-step sanitizer cleans your spoon, fermenter or any other piece of equipment that contacts your wort. One-step sanitizers use tasteless and odorless weak acids to clean your equipment, so they won’t affect the flavor of your brew. Additionally, they don’t require you to rinse your tools at every step, streamlining the cleaning process.
4. Change Your Brewing Location
Boiling over is a disaster for any kitchen, and it’s a common event during the homebrewing process.
If possible, try moving your homebrewing space out of the kitchen. All you need is a propane burner and driveway, garage or patio space to change up your brewing location.
Whenever you switch brewing locations, make sure to take the proper safety precautions. Keep a spray bottle or hose ready when boiling or adding hops to your brew, and at any point after the boil, use lids to quickly cover any exposed or open surfaces. Clean the space with sanitizing agents to reduce the chance of any bacteria entering the brew.
5. Switch to Glass
The debate between plastic and glass is as old as craft brewing.
Each material comes with advantages and disadvantages. Glass vessels are often more expensive than plastic, so many new homebrewers choose to go with the more affordable material. However, if you are looking to improve your brewing process, experiment with glass fermenters.
Glass fermenters are impermeable to oxygen, less prone to scratching and are much easier to clean than plastic models. Switching to glass could increase the sanitation of your brewing process, which will, in turn, improve the taste of your beer.
6. Use a Wort Chiller
When it is time to cool your new brew, make it happen as quickly as you can.
Before you can pitch your yeast, you have to cool the wort. However, once the temperature of your wort drops below 140 degrees Fahrenheit, it is vulnerable to bacterial infection.
Yeast helps protect your brew from bacteria by changing the pH of your beer and creating harsh conditions for any invading pathogens. But unfortunately, you can’t add yeast until the temperature of your brew reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit — the sooner you can get your beer to this temperature, the less likely it is to get contaminated by bacteria.
That is where a wort chiller can help. Within minutes, a wort chiller brings a boiling-hot wort to less than 90 degrees. If you chill the beer quickly enough, the proteins in the brew will form into solids, which are then easy to skim off and remove from the brew. This phenomenon is called a cold break, and it promotes yeast health and a cleaner finished beer.
7. Try a Full Wort Boil
As you gain homebrewing experience, try experimenting with using full wort boils in your brewing. A full wort boil describes the process of boiling the full five gallons of wort, and it comes with a range of benefits.
The dark color of your beer comes from boiling concentrated wort — the sugars tend to caramelize, giving the brew a rich, dark caramel color. Besides creating a dark color, a high wort concentration also makes it more difficult for you to extract any bitterness from the hops.
Boiling the full amount of wort will give your beers a lighter color and extract more flavor from the hops.
8. Aerate Your Wort
Giving yeast oxygen may initially seem counterproductive — yeast is an anaerobic organism, which means it doesn’t need oxygen to produce alcohol.
However, yeast needs oxygen to reproduce. Oxygen synthesizes the materials necessary for yeast to expand the cell walls, allowing it to breed. Especially in the early stages of fermentation, oxygen is vital for your yeast — if it doesn’t get enough oxygen, yeast will become stressed, producing off-flavors and ruining a batch of beer.
To aerate, stir, mix, or splash your wort before pitching. You can do this manually or invest in an aeration system that uses pure oxygen. Whatever method you choose, providing oxygen produces healthy yeast, which in turn ferments faster and produces a clean-tasting beer.
9. Cold Crash Before You Package
One way to improve your process is to cold crash your brew before you package it. Cold crashing significantly brightens your beer, and it only requires gravity and a cold environment.
Roughly 24 hours before you pour your beer into bottles or a keg, move your fermenter to a refrigerator or other cold space. During the winter, you could even use an uninsulated garage or even an outside location, as long as your brew won’t get cold enough to freeze.
The cold temperatures encourage the sediment and yeast to drop out of suspension, an event called flocculation. The exact time it takes for a brew to clear up in the cold depends on the specific beer — some brews only need a couple of days, while others could take up to two weeks to drop bright.
10. Experiment With Different Alcohol Levels
Finding the perfect alcohol level for your brew is often a trial-and-error process — you want it to be light, but not too light.
Stronger, more alcoholic beers carry more flavor, but it’s more difficult to manage higher-gravity fermentations if you are a beginning homebrewer. On the opposite side of the spectrum, going too light leaves less room for error — you can’t hide any flaws.
If you are a beginner, try sticking to a range of 5 to 7 percent ABV. However, if you are further along in your homebrewing journey, you can begin experimenting with different alcohol levels in your brews. Mix it up — a change of ABV might revitalize your beers.
11. Add Specialty Grains
For more experienced homebrewers, specialty grains could add depth and detail to your beers.
If you are brewing extract beers, a few specialty grains will give your brew a better head and improved flavor profile. Steep specialty grains in hot water between 20 and 60 minutes, creating a kind of “grain tea” you can add to your wort when you begin your boil.
Specialty grains add interesting, complex combinations of aromas and flavors, and they take some of the focus off the extract. Using specialty grains is a great way to branch out in your brewing process, especially if you want to explore new types of beers and flavor profiles.
12. Try New Recipes, but Don’t Forget the Basics
Before you branch out into exotic flavor combinations and extracts, make sure you have practiced the differences between malt types and hop varieties — take the time to master clean, classic beers before exploring unusual flavor combinations.
Many new homebrewers feel tempted to combine multiple kinds of grain, hops and other ingredients in their beers. At first, this seems to make sense — many brewers want to create a complex beer with a depth of flavors. However, complex flavors do not necessarily produce excellent brews, especially for beginning homebrewers.
Instead, focus on working with three grains or fewer, with only one to three varieties of hops. This will help you produce clean, shining beers, and it will build a disciplined foundation for future flavor exploration.
13. Explore Barrel Aging
If you are looking to refine your brewing process, give barrel aging a try.
Wood aging gives beer an extra layer of flavor, adding depth and complexity to your brews. Barrels aren’t airtight, so small amounts of oxygen pass through the wood in a process called micro-oxidation. Over time, yeast and bacteria accumulate in the barrels, mixing with other microbes in the beer and creating unique taste profiles.
Wooden barrels add flavor and smooth out the alcohol in high-octane beers, and they can create sophisticated and elegant brews that will set you apart from the competition.
14. Join a Community
Homebrewing is a complicated process, something that takes dedication and consistent practice to perfect. Set yourself up for success by joining a homebrewing community.
Search your area for a homebrewing club or association. Meeting and forming relationships with other brewers is one of the best things you can do to become a better homebrewer. Homebrewing groups give you a place to talk about beer and brewing with like-minded people — often, they will even taste your beers and provide feedback.
While researching on your own is important, you can’t learn everything from books, magazines or the Internet. Surround yourself with fellow homebrewers, especially those who are more experienced than you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and listen to any critiques or suggestions they might give you in return.
Another way to access the homebrewing community is to enter a homebrew competition. Major craft brewing cities hold multiple homebrewing competitions, and they are fantastic places to get help and feedback from the most successful brewers in the business.
15. Use a Digital Hydrometer
One of the best methods to improve your homebrewing is to invest in a digital hydrometer.
The process of manually registering the brew readings of specific temperature, gravity and alcohol percentages is time-consuming and frustrating. Gravity readings, in particular, are imprecise and tedious, and they waste your beer in the process.
A Wi-Fi hydrometer automatically takes readings and transmits data every 20 minutes. It allows you to access your brew data instantly and anywhere, leading to a more consistent brew and efficient brewing process. Digital hydrometers help you create a better homebrewing process. If you are interested in learning more about industry-leading digital hydrometers, let the team at Sensor Share LLC help.
We have dedicated our Brew Perfect product line to helping homebrewers streamline their brewing process. In addition to advanced Wi-Fi technology, our digital hydrometers feature a connected user interface that allows you to compare your process to brewers around the world. With our hydrometers, you can both improve your brewing and join a global community of homebrewers committed to honing their craft.