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15 tips to help improve your home brewing results

tips to have better home brew results

Whether you've made a few beers with home brews with kits or it's your first time brewing with a kit, there are plenty of  tips to help improve your beer.

Even the professional back yard beer brewing is constantly looking for the best way to improve a recipe, technique and taste.

You should be no different.

Simply following a standard set of beer brewing instructions will result in a OK beer. However, if you implement some of these brewing tips, you will surely get better results both in taste and mouth feel of your beer!

These tips and trick are handy to use even if you are using a kit or going all grain.

Here's the tip list and the explanation behind them follow
  • Keep it clean! - Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitized!
  • Use a beer enhancer to give your beer a stronger body
  • Consider using oak chips
  • Don't put so much sugar in your bottles! 
  • 'Batch Priming' beer to save time when bottling
  • Match the right hops to the right beer
  • Gelatin is a handy fining agent to clear your beer
  • If you pitch your yeast when the wort is hot you will kill the yeast
  • Consider using a blow off to prevent the Krausen going everywhere
  • Increase the alcohol content of your beer by adding more sugars
  • To avoid chill haze, use a copper wort chiller
  • Oxygen is good when preparing the wort, bad when bottling. 
  • Temperature control will have an affect on the quality of your beer both when fermenting and conditioning your beer
  • Get the bigger kettle or pot, in the long run you’ll save money
  • Just because the fermentation bottle has stopped bubbling, that doesn't mean you need to bottle your beer straight away
That all made sense right but you want more detail?

Let's start with a most basic basic.

Keep it clean! - Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitized!


There are many ways of keeping your gear  and today we are going discuss our preferred method of sanitization which is by using sodium percarbonate.

Usually provided in powered form, it is very soluble in water which makes it very handy for quick preparation and an easy soak of your equipment and fermenter. No rinsing is required and it's very easy to order in bulk online.

If you've ever tried to buy sodium percarbonate from a specialist beer brewery shop, you'll know that you can get a small bottle or container of it that will cost you a small fortune.

If you can buy it in bulk from an online supplier, you'll do well to nab some as using it will effectively bring down your cost per brew. 

Use a beer enhancer to give your beer a stronger body



The thing about craft and home brew beer is that is that while there’s so much variety in style and taste but there is one thing they all have in common:

It's the ‘mouth feel’ which makes a beer feel like it has 'body'. A beer with no body is a sad drinking experience.

If you simply brewed malt with sugar you will get a beer but your beer’s mouth feel with be closer to feeling like water. Which is just wrong, as a full bodied beer enhances the drinking experience!

To get an improved mouth feel, many beer brewers follow the simple tip of using an ‘enhancer’ to do exactly what it says it will do – enhance the beer by giving it greater body and mouthfeel.

Consider using oak chips


There's a reason why home brewers brewers seek out new ways to make beer taste better and that's because for them, the old days of getting smashed on Budweiser are over. A great tip for improving beer taste is by aging beer in oak barrels has been a long standing practice for making beer. This is because the characteristics of the wood impart into the beer which can add to the drink-ability of the beer.


But who has oak barrels just casually lying around in the shed?

Homebrewers can use oak chip to replicate aging beer in barrels. 

Using wood chips while conditioning or aging beer your beer can impart a range of aromas to the beer, including floral, vanilla, caramel, or coconut tones.

glass of home brew

To prevent beer gushers:

Don't put so much sugar in your bottles! 


I've learnt this one personally the hard way. If you place too much sugar into your bottles, the yeast will go to town on it as part of the secondary fermentation and produce an excess of CO2.

When that happens, you're on a trip to gusher town.

So, it doesn't matter if you are placing sugar in the individual bottles or priming the whole brew, cut down on that sugar.

My personal rule of thumb is that for a 750 mls bottle, a FLAT tea spoon of sugar is more than enough to get a great level of carbonation.

If you want to employ a quicker method, you could try using carbonation drops. If using those, put two in a 750 mls bottle and one for a 500 mls bottle.

Speaking off adding sugar, let's talk about:

'Batch Priming' beer to save time when bottling


In short, priming the batch is when one adds the entire amount of sugar needed to the fermenter so that when you fill each bottle, you don't need to add sugar as well, it's already in the beer wort. 

It saves you time as you don't need to add sugar to each individual bottle and it also saves you mess as we all know how sugar can end up everywhere when bottling!

This sounds simple right?

It really is. Here's how to do it.

How much sugar do I need to prime a batch or beer?


Batch priming benefits from some simple calculations that can be made to get that sugar just right.

If you're using a kit, you've probably used 23 litres (5 gallons) so the focus is on how much sugar you need to use. 

So first up, different beers need different levels of sugar. Advice from people who have brewed many beers suggests that ales need less sugar than lager style beers.

This is because many drinkers prefer a lager to have more carbonation and ales are quite drinkable with less.

Our analysis of beer brewing forums suggests these are the commonly used amounts of sugars to use for priming for a 23 liter brew.
  • Dextrose (Corn sugar) 3/4 cup or 4 or 5 oz / 95 grams
  • Cane sugar 2/3 cup or 3.8 - 4.8 oz / 86 grams
  • Dry Malt Extract - 130 grams
If you are priming with a different volume of beer, I suggest you try this priming calculator.

What kind of hops should I use with my beer?


using beer hops with homebrewDifferent hop varieties suit different kinds of beer. After hundreds of years developing beer, there are now some well established rules of thumb for what kinds of hops brewers should use. Here's some of the most common hops to beer matches:
  • The English Golding hophas become the signature hops of English ales. The popular Fuggle hop is another popular hop used for ale beer. 
  • Saaz hops are closely aligned with the brewing of lagers, mostly for the delicious aroma that has become associated with the beer. Saaz hops are an excellent choice of hop for the enthusiastic homebrewer.
  • Pilsner beers have become nearly synonymous with the four so called 'noble hops'. These are the hops called Terrnanger, Spalt, Hallertauer and the already mentioned Saaz. As an aside, pilsner beers are known as traditionally coming from the Czech Republic.
  • If you're looking for hops that might help your beer taste a bit like the classic New Zealand beer, Steinlager, you might trying using Green Bullet hops and maybe through in some Pacific Jade and pair it with a Black Rock lager kit.  
  • America, the land of the free beer drinker, has become quite well respected for it's hop production and many new varieties from old favorites have been developed. American hops are recognized and appreciated all around the world for their bold, and often intense flavors they imbue in beer. American hops are often described as being citrus like, however that's a most elementary description. Cascade hops are a very popular choice from the Americas. 
  • Chinook is another popular 'north western' hop.

clearing beer with gelatin

Using gelatin as a fining agent


Basically gelatin acts a fining agent. It combines with the 'leftovers' of the beer brewing process and they fall to the bottom of the fermenter thus clearing the beer.

So how much gelatin should I add to my beer?


Many beer brewers have found that between half and a whole teaspoon per 23 litres or 5 gallons will be a sufficient amount. You will probably get diminishing returns if you use much more.

When and how do I add the gelatin?


You can add it any time after fermentation and word on the street that it actually works best when the beer is quite cool.

The suggest time of addition is to add it a couple of days before you intend to bottle your beer.

A good trick is to dissolve it in a half a glass of hot water. You then open up the fermenter or carboy, add the liquid and then shut the fermenter back up.

For many people, clarity of beer is important to them. If you are making a dark ale, clarity may not be so important to you.

However, finings do remove leftovers that can impinge on the taste of the beer too. The gelatin helps remove the unneeded proteins and polyphenols from the beer.

This next tip is more of what not to do.

If you pitch your yeast when the wort is hot you will kill the yeast


I once absent mindedly pitched my yeast when the wort was too hot, right after mixing the ingredients with boiling water. I knew what I'd done the moment I'd done it but what a waste of yeast!

A genius moment in my beer making career for sure. 

No yeast means no fermentation.

And well, that just sucks right.

Lucky I had a spare packet of good old Safale US-05 and was able to pitch that when my wort was properly cooled. 

Cooling your beer down is not just to assist with removing nasty bugs from your beer and reducing the risk of any infection, it helps with ensuring that your yeast finds itself in a hospitable environment - that is to say if you pitch your yeast too early, you run the risk of killing it (it’s a living microorganism after all). 

So check that the wort is at the right temperature before you pitch. If you are using a kit, the instructions will have a temperature range noted. If you have a plastic fermenting drum, it's quite likely there will be a handy temperature guide stuck to the side which you should use.

As an aside, if you want to get really fancy with cooling your wort, you might want to invest in a wort chiller.

Hydration of the yeast before pitching


how to rehydrate yeast
Hydrating yeast
If you want to be really serious about pitching yeast, you could try the yeast hydration technique.

It's a handy method that many earnest brewers follow so as to hydrate the dry yeast in water before pitching. The reasoning behind this is that it gives the yeast a good chance to get started properly. We are not wholly convinced by our own experience that the is necessary but some brewers seem to do this as a best practice measure. 

How to increase the alcohol content of your beer


The shortest version of this tip is the more sugar you add, the higher your alcohol content. 

The theory is simple.

Beer yeast eats the sugar and that produces more alcohol. Some brewers will use dry malt extract (DME) as their additional sugar source. You could of course just use ordinary home baking sugar. That will contribute to a sweeter beer than DME (indeed historic use of sucrose it's why homebrew got a bad name as over sugared brewed were two sweet).

But it's more complicated than that and adding extra sugar should not be blindly done. 

As a rough guide, an extra  pound or 1/2 kg of DME will add an extra half percent to your beer. 

Doubling that will give you an extra whole percent.

Roughly.

You can add other sweet things too


Maple syruphoney and brown sugar can all be used as well but remember, like jelly beans, they will influence the taste of your beer. 

A big caution to heed is that the more sugar you put in, the more pressure that you place on the yeast. The more alcohol that is produced, the slower the rate at which fermentation occurs.  In such cases a keen player will consider adding more yeast nutrients to the wort which may give the original yeast a new lease of life and extend fermentation.

Too much alcohol may actually end up killing of the yeast. Some yeasts do handle the presence of alcohol better than others so shop around for those advertised as being tough if you are really going to go for it.

You could also add a second round of yeast to your brew if you were keen. You'd want to add the kind of yeast that has a higher alcohol tolerance. We suggest you talk to your local brewshop for advice on what particular yeast will meet your needs in this scenario.

Remember too that the temperature at which your wort ferments will have an affect too. A warm temperature will allow the yeast to chug away quite nicely. A cooler, winter temperature will mean an extra long fermentation time if you have added extra food for the yeast to eat.

In terms of your beer preparation, exposing your wort to an appropriate amount of oxygen will help - make sure everything gets a good stir before you seal your fermenter.

In summary, to increase the alcohol or ABV of your beer you can consider:
  • Adding extra DME, sugar or produce like honey and maple syrup
  • Adding extra to yeast to your initial pitch.
  • Adding extra yeast and yeast nutrients late in the usual fermentation process. 
  • Using a yeast that can handle a high alcohol content
  • Make sure the wort gets invigorated with oxygen
  • Keep good temperature control, don't allow wild fluctuations
 

Try to not release the "Krausen"!


Occasionally brewing conditions mean that the yeast is so active, the krausen behaves like it is a kraken released from the gates of hell and it foams up like a fiery tempest and blows out the airlock, just making a heck of a mess all over your brewing equipment!

These beer explosions typically occur with glass carboys which allow pressure to build.

krausen blow off tubeA solution to krausen 'blow out' is a using a blowoff tube

One simply replaces the standard carboy airlock with the tubing.

The tubing can then release into a bottle, bucket or whatever to help with reducing any blow off mess.

Check out the image to the right for an idea on how to set up the blow off tubing. This example uses a steel tube.

If you're not convinced this tubing is worth the effort, consider this.

A common krausen issue is that the the airlock can get clogged with foam and any added hops. This leads to a strong pressure buildup in the fermenter which when is it great, the barrel lid, bung or airlock blows off, spewing stuff everywhere and making for a very messy and frustrating cleanup.

There's even the potential for damaging your equipment.

We suggest if you have brewing conditions where this has happened more than once, you may wish to consider grabbing some tubing from Amazon!

Chill haze and the 'cold break'


You may have heard of ‘chill haze’. This is a really common cause of beer cloudiness where the wort has been boiled and the cooling process has not generated enough ‘cold break’. 

The cold break is the proteins from the beer that are precipitated to the bottom of the beer by the cold temperature.

Using a copper wort chiller allows for an effective way to get more cold break forming and thus reduces the chance of chill haze in your finished beer.

Cooling and refrigeration


One of the reasons why beer does go cloudy is due to improper refrigeration timings and techniques. 

The process of storing beer is called laagering (sounds like lager eh?). Lagers are lagers because they are best stored cold. Nordic Vikings learned this method years ago when they laagered their beer barrels in cold caves over the winter or something...

Refrigeration of storing beer in a cool place helps to clear beer rapidly. The science behind this is at lower temperatures it is more difficult for the yeast, tannins and proteins in the beer to remain suspended. 

Cold stored beer will also clear much more rapidly than beer stored at a normal room temperature. 

If you intend to laager your beer you must wait until that first round of initial carbonation has occurred. This is usually done at a warmer temperature that required for lagering. If you cool your beer too soon, you run the risk of disrupting the yeast from its secondary fermentation process and carbonation may not occur (or it will be very slow to do so).


Get the bigger kettle or pot, in the long run you’ll save money

For many first time homebrewers, the first purchase is a starter equipment kit. Once they have that, all they need is a brew kettle or pot and ingredients. So they get the cheap, smaller size kettle – and then suddenly they find they want to keep going with beer making and so need to purchase the bigger kettle or brewing pot. 

If you have in inkling you are going to do a bit of brewing, get the 5 or 8 gallon size unit, save the smaller ones for making jam! Big is better for most of your brewing equipment needs.

O is for Oxygen, get that element away from your beer

We mentioned oxygen above as being good for fermentation. This is true. 

But no longer when you are ready to begin fermentation or when bottling your beer.

Once your beer is ready to have the yeast pitched in, this is the last chance for oxygen to be exposed to the beer. Once the yeast is in, the fermenter needs to be properly sealed.

The presence of excess oxygen can result in poor smelling beer.

Allowing the fermenting beer to be exposed to oxygen can allow beer spoiling bugs and organisms such acetobactor to sour your beer by using the oxygen to ferment the alcohol into acetic acid – commonly known as vinegar. Keep your fermenter well sealed!

This has actually never happened to us but if you are following best practice with your beer, then do you best to keep the air away your wort. 

Same goes for bottling – try to avoid getting too many bubbles in the bottle as your pour.

 

The best time to add hops to your beer


Typically the beer wort is boiled with the hops added at crucial moments before it is cooled down to begin the fermentation process. The timings of when to add the hops in the boil can be critical as the different timings can cause the hops to work differently on the beer.

If you are making your own wort (that is you are not using a beer kit) then it's best practice to follow a tried and true recipe, at least as you start out.

If you're at that point, you'll want to understand that the process is sometimes known as the “hop schedule”. A hop schedule will lists the length of time that the hops should be in the boil, not the amount of time you should wait to add the hops.

This allows you to making your timings correctly.

The rough guide is the longer you boil the hops, the more bitterness they will impart. The shorter you boil them, the more flavour will be added. It depends on how you want your beer to benefit from the hops addition.

But what about adding hops to beer kits?


If you are using a simple beer extract kit then you can add the hops when you are preparing the batch of wort. Just throw it with your wort and nature will do the rest.


Some people like to delay adding the hops until a few days later. This is fine, but in our experience of using brewing kits, it makes little difference to the end result in the hop aromas and taste your beer will have. 

Just because the fermentation bottle has stopped bubbling, that doesn't mean you need to bottle your beer straight away


If the bubbles in the airlock have stopped completely, this is not necessarily a sign that the fermentation process has completed. It's quite likely that there's still some fermentation quietly happening in the drum.

So let that play out a bit longer. It could be that you let your beer rest longer than the written instructions that came with your beer kit.

This is because there are still things happening in your beer. The yeast may have consumed all the sugar but additional processes are still occurring - let them because the will make your beer taste better! 


bottling home brew tips

How to properly condition your beer bottles


The short advice is that it's best store your beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning).

The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days.

HOWEVER after that period, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C.

You should then leave the beer for a total minimum of three weeks since bottling date before some well deserved consumption.

You should not easily dismiss this advice about correct temperature storage of your beer. I had an experience last year when in the middle of winter I just bottled the beer and left it in the shed for about a month.

When I when to crack open the first beer, there was no fizz, just cold flat beer.

No fizz on the second or third either!

I thought I had ruined my beer somehow. 'Had fermentation actually occurred'? I wondered. Of course it had. The problem was the cold. I brought the beers inside and left them in the living room. I waited a week for the yeast to warm up and do its thing, and boom I had fizzy beer!

Now what are you waiting for? Take these tips and make great tasting beer!

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