There's no denying people's love of beer. It's undoubtedly the most popular choice among alcoholic beverages at barbeques, ballparks and all kinds of parties. How much do we love beer? In 2004, the average American drank 81.6 liters, or 2,759 ounces, of beer [source: Kirin Holdings]. That's 230 12-ounce cans or bottles per year! And if that seems like a lot, the beer fest doesn't end there. In fact, the United States is all the way down in 13th place among beer consumption, far behind number one Czech Republic, which downs 156.9 liters, or 5,305 ounces, per person. That's 442 12-ounce cans per year -- more than one a day.
With all that beer-drinking going on, people love to experiment and try different beers, depending on the mood, event or even season. Many even like taking matters into their own hands by brewing batches of their own beer at home. Sound like something you'd like to do?
To be a home brewer, there are dozens of tips to keep in mind -- it's a good idea to do your homework. Do a full-batch boil. Don't leave it too long in the fermenter. Let your fermenter breathe. Make sure there's a proper airlock. Check your gravity. Do a second fermentation stage. Use a glass carboy.
If you're just starting to make your own beer, you might not know what all those terms mean, much less how they'll improve your beer. In this article, you'll learn the top five tips necessary to get started on a life-long love of home beer making. As evidenced above, there are a lot of things to keep in mind when home brewing, but this article will stick with the basics so you can discover how to make the best-tasting beer possible.
To get started, check out the next page to learn about tip number five.
Sanitize and Sterilize
The last thing you want is unsanitary equipment. At best, it can spoil your ingredients and ruin your beer, and at worst it can make whoever drinks your beer ill. Neither really seems like a good option.
To sanitize your equipment, you have a couple of methods to choose from:
First, you can use a chlorine bleach solution [source: Smith]. By diluting common household bleach with water, you have a cheap and effective way to kill bacteria and sterilize your home-brewing equipment. However, there are some drawbacks to using bleach. It's inexpensive, yes, but it's more difficult to use -- you really have to make sure that you rinse and remove it thoroughly before using your equipment again. Any kind of bleach residue can spoil your beer and potentially even be toxic to a person who accidently drinks something with bleach residue.
A better alternative is using iodophor. While a bit more expensive than bleach and a little harder to get (instead of finding it on every laundry aisle, you'll probably have to buy it from a beer-making store or Web site), this sanitizer works very well on home-brewing equipment. Using iodine mixed with a solubilizing agent, this solution can sterilize both your equipment and your bottles [source: Arguello].
Another great advantage of iodophor is that it evaporates and doesn't require rinsing. As long as you use the right proportions as directed, iodophor will sanitize your equipment without requiring the careful rinses of a bleach solution, and you shouldn't taste the difference [source: Arguello].
Read on to discover the next top tip for home brewing.
Establish a Clean and Safe Work Environment
Your equipment isn't the only thing that should be sanitary -- you need to make sure you have a clean, safe working environment, too. If you spill grain, sweep it up. If your wort boils over, wipe it up. Your workspace should always be as clean as possible for your own safety -- after all, would you really want to slip on some spilled wort while you're moving your boiling brew pot?
You should also make sure the boil pot's surrounding area is free of anything that can catch on fire. When wiping up spills, be sure the cloth does not get too close to the heat. You should also take care not to wear any loose clothing for the same reason, as that dangling, un-tucked shirt flap could catch on fire. A great safety tip is to keep a smoke alarm and a fire extinguisher nearby as well. It's best to be prepared for even the worst scenario [source: Gern].
There are also a few tools that can help you have the cleanest and safest workplace possible. For example, it's good to have several heavy-duty potholders and/or oven mitts around to keep your hands safe. Don't even think of using the decorative macramé ones your aunt made you two decades ago. Your hands will appreciate the investment. Your tools and equipment, like spoons, should be non-porous so they can be cleaned properly [source: Gern]. So go for the stainless steel over wood.
If you're keeping everything around your beer safe and clean, you want the beer to be safe and clean too. Read on to learn about tip number three.
Cooling the Wort
You may want to consider an investment toward your long-term beer-making hobby by purchasing an immersion wort chiller because this step is so important. As with the previous two tips, not only is this one focused on safety, but also on taste.
If you want the clearest, best beer possible, you'll need to chill the wort quickly. This reduces the opportunity for infection by decreasing the proteins and tannins that can taint your beer [source: Smith]. Slowly chilled wort can have more dimethyl sulfide, which, in a particularly disgusting combination, can give your beer the taste of creamed corn [source: Gern]. It can also increase the bacteria within your beer, destroying it before the yeast gets to it.
If you're doing a partial boil, or small batch of wort, then you might be able to get away with cooling your wort by putting your brew pot within a sink that's been filled with cold water. You'll need to keep everything constantly in motion to cool the wort to a temperature somewhere under 100 degrees F (38 degrees C) [source: Gern]. If you're doing anything bigger, you're going to need an immersion wort chiller as mentioned above.
Temperatures are critical with home beer making, from the wort to the fermentation temperature. Read on to discover tip number two.
Controlling the Fermentation Temperature
Depending on where and when you're making your beer, you'll need either to bring the temperature up or keep it down. If you're brewing an ale, you'll want the fermentation temperature to be within 60 to 70 degrees F (16-21 degrees C), while lagers call for around 45 degrees F (7 degrees C) [source: Singh].
If you're brewing in the summer, that means cooling it. If you don't have a fermentation refrigerator, you can wrap your fermenter in wet towels under a fan [source: Smith]. You should pick a cool, dry spot -- basements can work well. With this method, however, you will need to keep re-wetting the towels, generally about twice a day. If you're brewing in the winter, you may need to raise your fermentation temperature with some regularity. One solution is using a simple radiator or space heater set to a low temperature [source: Blagger].
You should always have a good thermometer to make sure all the temperatures are within proper levels for both the best-tasting and safest beer. This will help with not only the fermentation temperature, but also in checking your wort temperature if you are cooling it in a sink as explained on the previous page.
What's the top tip for home beer making? Continue reading to find out.
Highest Quality, Freshest Ingredients
For the best results, you should plan to use the highest quality, freshest ingredients you can afford, and use them in a timely fashion. You'll want to avoid corn sugar and cane sugar, except in particular beers that specifically call for them. Otherwise, your beer will have a decidedly cider-like taste to it [source: Gern]. For the rest of your ingredients, stick to fresh when you can. Liquid yeast will give you a better tasting, higher quality beer than dry yeast. If you decide to use extract, find fresh extract instead of canned extract. If you start your home beer making by using a kit, you'll most likely get the cheaper canned and dry ingredients. Once you've experimented with those, when you have to restock, go out and buy the good stuff.
The caveat with all of these fresh ingredients is that you have to use them quickly. Your hops, yeast, malt and grains can go bad quickly, whether they are dry or liquid. These ingredients can even oxidize if not used within a certain time frame [source: Smith]. Premium ingredients lead to a premium-tasting beer.
You now know the top five beer-making tips for creating your very own home brew. So grab some fresh ingredients and equipment and get started. As they say, practice makes perfect. Cheers!
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Arguello, Robert. "Iodophor." Bay Area Mashers. (Accessed 3/28/09) http://www.bayareamashers.org/content/maindocs/iodophor.htm
- Beer Brewing Tips. "Home Brew Ingredients to Make Simple and Tasty Home Brews." (Accessed 3/28/09)http://www.beerbrewingtips.com/home-brew-ingredients.html
- Blagger. "Top 5 tips for successful beer and wine-making." (Accessed 3/28/09) http://www.blagger.co.uk/brewing-winemaking/top-5-tips-for-successful-beer-and-wine-making/
- Brown, Shannon. "Beer Making Tips -- The Affordable to Great Beer." E-Zine articles. (Accessed 3/28/09)http://ezinearticles.com/?Beer-Making-Tips-The-Affordable-to-Great-Beer&id=117041
- Gern. "Gern's Top 5 Best Beer Brewing Tips." March 10, 2009. (Accessed 3/28/09) http://theagencyblog.typepad.com/gern/2009/03/gerns-top-5-best-beer-brewing-tips.html
- Home Beer Brewing Tips. "Home Brewing for Beginners." (Accessed 3/28/09) http://www.beerbrewingtips.com/home-brew-ingredients.html
- Home Brewery. "Making Good Beer." (Accessed 3/28/09) http://www.homebrewery.com/misc/making-good-beer.shtml
- Homebrewers Outpost. "Beer Making Starter Kits." (Accessed 3/28/09) http://www.homebrewers.com/category/aardvarks
- Kirin Holdings. "Per Capita Beer Consumption by Country (2004)." (Accessed 3/28/09) http://www.kirinholdings.co.jp/english/ir/news_release051215_4.html
- LD Carlson Company. "General Brewing Instructions." (Accessed 3/28/09) http://www.ldcarlson.com/brewers/brewing_info.htm
- Singh, Gurpreet. "Tips for Making Beer." My One Source. 2009. (Accessed 3/28/09) http://www.myonesource.com/articles/1839/1/Tips-for-Making-Beer/Page1.html
- Smith, Brad. "Brewing to Lose: 10 Tips for Making Bad Beer." BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. September 14, 2008. (Accessed 3/28/09)http://www.beersmith.com/blog/2008/09/14/brewing-to-lose-10-tips-for-making-bad-beer/
- Smith, Brad. "Ten Top Tips for Home Brewing Beer." BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. September 14, 2008. (Accessed 3/28/09)http://www.beersmith.com/blog/2008/02/16/ten-top-tips-for-home-brewing-beer/