by Heath McVeigh
I can still recall when I first starting brewing. It was in my parents kitchen, during my first year of Uni. I was making beer with basically no more help than the advice from the friendly guys at my local home brew shop. In those days Facebook was not a thing and Youtube was yet to be developed. With these resources home brewers now have a depth of knowledge available at the click of a mouse. However, if I could have known three basic rules, golden tenants so to speak which I know now, my beers would have been better, and my mistakes fewer. These rules are for those fresh to cabal, whom are only a few beers in, or on the verge of buying their first fermenter…
Golden Rule No. 1 – Cleanliness
For people who are new to home brewing this can seem tedious. I know when I first started, it was to make beer, not to clean up after my siblings messy scraps from breakfast (choose where you brew wisely). If your brewing area is not clean and sanitised, you tempt the risk of getting bacteria on your equipment. The best tools to combat these micro-sized critters you can have handy on brew day is a spray bottle and a bucket with good quality sanitiser. A myriad of sanitisers can be found online or at your local home brew shop. There are two basic kinds; no rinse high foaming solutions, and no foam must-rinse solutions. I prefer the former as I like to get things done in one hit. Foam can be off-putting, but I have never found any problems with using them at recommended ratios.
When brewing with my friends at home I always start brew day by cleaning my area with hot water and soap, then spraying said area with sanitiser. I get any equipment that I think with be touching the beer and soak them in the bucket of sanitiser readying them for later use. At this stage I always sanitise all my fermenters, hoses, pumps, kettles, taps, bowls, everything. This way I am able to control the environment and create a bacteria-free brew day. I repeat this approach to fending off bacteria on bottling day, too.
If you are not prepared to clean, rinse, clean, sanitise, drain, spray, soak, scrub, you should not act surprised when your beer ends up sitting in your cupboard for months because nobody wants to drink your infected home brew.
Golden Rule No. 2 – Temperature Control
This rule applies at two stages of making beer – first during the mash if all-grain brewing, and second during fermentation.
When mashing your grain it essential to reach the correct temperature and maintain that heat over time. If your temp drops or raises significantly you will not attain the right conversion rates from your grain, effecting overall look, flavour, and alcohol volume. When starting out it is hard to justify spending too much money of primo brewing equipment. However, you can purchase a nice esky, and most home brew shops will charge a small fee to help you drill the right-sized hole and install a tap. The insulation of the esky will help maintain your mash temp with about 1 degree or less. I myself use a digital thermometer and heat the mash with a low flame, turning it on and off accordingly, and agitating the mash constantly to prevent hot spots forming. For ease of process I would suggest starting out with an esky and it can be very easy to cook the grain.
The second important part where temperature control is paramount is during the fermentation. A good fermentation is what will set your beer apart from your buddies’. Yeast, and the flavours they create are very temperamental to temperature. As a home brewer it can be very hard to control temperature during fermentation when starting out. If your temp changes a lot or goes above 25°C, the yeast will be stressed, metabolise the sugars and create off flavours. To find the perfect spot in your house to put your beer during fermentation, take your thermometer to an area of your house or garage where the walls are all internal and there is no sunlight and minimal airflow. Leave your thermometer there and check it periodically to see how the temperature changes over time. If it doesn’t vary too much and doesn’t rise above 25°C you have found your fermentation sweet spot. If it does have wild temperature variation look for another soot in your house. Eventually investing in a dedicated fermentation fridge will not seem like a large burden on your hip pocket when taking into account all the awesome beer you will be making.
Golden Rule No. 3 – Patience
If you are making beer with the expectation of drinking it next weekend with your mates, go buy a slab from your bottle’o. To give a rough outline of timeframe, you will need around 2 weeks for fermentation and then 2-3 weeks of bottle conditioning the beer. One mistake I would make back when I was young and too eager to drink my “finished” product, I would bottle it and then drink it the next day. Little did I know that beer needs time to condition. This period allows the flavours to settle, mellow out, and develop in the way your recipe intended. A little rule I would apply to my beers was that the first one drank would be a sign of how awesome the last one would taste. Now when I brew, I allow for at least for a two week period when I leave the bottled beer in a dark cupboard then transfer them to the fridge for a period of 1-2 weeks for cold conditioning. This waiting allows you to drink and present to your family and friends a beer that is tasting as best as it possibly can, beyond any other mistakes that may have been made in recipe development, on brew day, or during fermentation.
When brewing beer at home, if you keep these three golden rules in mind you will quickly turn your mistakes into successes and start to really hone your hobby into a craft.
For all your home brew equipment and supplies, visit our friends at Home Make It who have two retail stores across Melbourne, and an online shop that delivers nationally.
We’ll be holding our own “Brewing for Beginners” class next month, so click HERE to book your spot
Check out Heath’s recent interview below on 3MP talking all things beer and brewing at The Craft & Co;