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5 Tips to Improve Your Home Brew

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5 Tips to Improve Your Home Brew!

How many times have you heard, “This beer is great. It doesn’t taste like a home brew!”? Many people can make a good home brew by following simple directions and simple recipes. If you want to take your brew to the next level (that beer that could pass for a commercial brew), take a peak at this article about five ways to improve your beer.

Pitch Rate

Yeast pitching rate (amount of live yeast cells that ferment out your beer) is in my opinion one of the most important factors in making a really good home brew. A great recipe along with sound brewing techniques is not guaranteed to produce a great beer. Under or over pitching yeast into your wort can nullify previous efforts. Pitch rate is important because yeast needs to be in a desierable environment to do their job of producing alcohol without also producing off flavors. Under or over pitching causes yeast cells to become stressed or over worked. Under pitching causes the viable yeast cells that are within the wort to be over worked (each cell has to consume more sugar that it should, i.e stressing out the organism in turn producing undesirable flavors). Over pitching could cause your beer to stall or under attenuate, which would make your beer taste sweeter and cloying.

Mash pH

The pH of a home brewer’s mash is extremely important when considering the efficiency you will get out of the grains that you use. An optimal mash pH is around 5.2. This will allow you to get better conversion to sugar, and in turn, better overall effiency in your brew. Good pH can be achieved by adding chemicals to the mash such as Five Stars pH Stabilizer, which contains a blend of buffers that brings mash and kettle water pH to 5.2. If you do not want to use chemicals to lower pH, you can add a small amount acidulated malt to the grain bill (10% of grain bill max).

Follow BJCP Style Guidlines

BJCP (the Beer Judge Certification Program) is exactly what it sounds like. The BJCP style guidelines can be found at BJCP.org and they are a great way to get started when building a recipe. The guidelines are not a “be-all-end-all” for brewers, but they make for a great jumping off point and give you a good idea of what typical beers in that style are as well as a few clues to what they may contain. For example, you might think “I love hops” and as a result put 100 IBUs into a wheat beer; that beer is going to taste like an IPA instead of a wheat beer since the hop flavors overpower it. If you wanted it to taste like a ‘hoppy wheat beer’ you might have just veered twords the hoppier end of the IBU limit for BJCP wheat beers and avoided the mistake.

Fermentation Temperature Stability

This is a biggie! Uniform temperatures are good for yeast and what is good for yeast is good for your beer. While some strains may enjoy a bit of fluctuation (Belgians in particular) ales ferment best around 68 degrees and lagers primary ferment well around 50. Once you have settled into a temperature it is best not to have your beer in a place where temperatures fluctuate, most people find that basements provide steady teperatures year round and attics are generally terrible in both summer and winter. Keep your beer clear of the sunlight; there are carboy covers and shields available to buy or you could simply cover everything up with a towel or blanket.

Fast Effective Wort Chilling

The main reason we chill the wort is for the yeast. It will die if you pitch too hot, and if you pitch too cold the yeast may get shocked or go dormant. So, getting everything into that 65-75 degree range is important. The other main advantages to chilling your wort rapidly is that once you are below 160 degrees a lot of bacteria can begin to work, so you want to minimize your wort’s access to these off-flavor causing demons. If you are using top-up water you can mix that in to help absorb heat, but transferring too quickly after will not give your beer time to cold-break, and you may end up with hazy bottles. The best methods of chilling typically involve a wort chiller; there are many types but the two most widely available are:1) immersion chillers which you hook up to ground water and allow the chiller to do a heat exchange while the metal is in contact with the wort. These typically take 15-45 minutes depending on type 2) Plate or Counter Flow, where the actual wort travels through the chiller which is hooked to ground water, these tend to chill the wort to near 70 as fast as the wort can flow through them.

Article written by Ben and Nick. Items in red can be purchased at O’Connor’s Home Brew Supply.