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How to keep track of your home brew records & history


An idea to track beer making history

If you are looking to improve the results of your home brewing, you might like to think about keeping a record of what and how you brew.

If you write down what you did, what you used, when you did it and why you'll have a good basis on which to make an honest assessment about your beer brewing failures and successes.

If you find that you've pulled off a stunner of a beer, you might be able to remember just exactly how you brewed that beer. It could be the difference between remembering that you used a certain kind of hops in your brew or used a 50/ 50 split of them.

Or that you left the spoon in the fermenter.

I just wanted to share how I keep my beer brewing records. I use Google Sheets.

It looks something like this:

Beer brewing record keeping

This is basically an excel sheet that allows me to have a set of handy columns as below:

Date DownBrand of MaltMixed withDate BottledNotesFirst tasteFinal thoughts

Recording the date you got the brew down is hugely important because you need to know how long you've left the brew to ferment. Same for bottling. Has it been 12 days or three weeks? 

I also like to know what brand of kit I used and whether it was an ale or pilsner. And of course, did I use a brew enhancer or just dextrose? 

In my summary notes, I record my first taste experience and also final thoughts.

This is because I usually get stuck into the beer at the three-week mark but over time the beer will mature and take on different characteristics - that serves as a reminder to let the beer 'bottle condition' as much as you be patient for!

The beauty of using Google Sheets to record your beer adventures is that you can download the application to your smartphone.

This means you can quickly add records as you go (maybe you're just hiding in the shed?) and you'll reduce the need to remember to add notes to an exercise book somewhere else later on. 

This is just the way I do it, an exercise book is of course just a fine solution!

Once you are a more experienced brewer you might not need to record so much as you'll know everything.

Or will you? 

Guess who left the spoon in the beer fermenter

Just a week after I wrote the 'I think I've contaminated my beer' post, this classic mistake happened. I'd just bottled a handy Black Rock NZ ale and went to clean the fermenter.

I found this spoon inside:

Spoon left in brew fermenter

My wife and I had been looking for that spoon for weeks!

I'd looked high and low and even behind the dishwasher with clearly no luck, and not even thinking that I had used the spoon to stir the beer wort.

I'm fairly confident the brew will be fine, a taste test proved it tasted like beer! Especially as I was a diligent brewmaster and sterilized everything before brewing.

How to make jelly bean beer

how to make jelly bean beer

Did you know you can use Jelly Beans as the sugar for the secondary fermentation? 

It's an amusing exercise to make Jelly Bean beer. The effect on the beer flavoring is interesting as I found that different coloured jelly beans produce different flavours...

First up I would suggest if you are making a 'fancy' beer where you've paid for a more specialist beer kit and you have a pretty sweet hop combo in mind that you don't try to make jelly bean beer with that particular brew.

This is because the bean will likely over power any hop subtleties you might be going for!

However, if you're doing a run-of-the-mill beer kit then while you are doing your normal bottling routine, you may want to have a crack at making beer with jelly beans.

The jelly bean is a substitute for your normal sugar so acts as the carbonation agent in the 2nd fermentation that occurs during bottle conditioning.

First, a wee caution.

It is very easy to over carbonate with jelly beans!

In my personal experience, you should not put more than three beans in one 750 ml bottle. Any more and you will probably get a classic gusher situation when you open the bottle.

So what are the best colours to use? First up, do not use the black ones if you like green beer that tastes pretty horrid! In my experience, black jelly beans are usually aniseed-based so are not really a complementary flavour for beer.

That said, it hasn't stopped people from adding aniseed to beer...

Instead, for this home brew enthusiast, oranges, reds and yellows seem to be fairly fun flavours to carbonate with. That flavour is a sweet sugary taste - albeit one that doesn't overwhelm the whole beer itself.

Greens, blues and purples will be OK but the colour of your brew might be a bit off-putting! Maybe if you were making an ale rather than a lager then the colour wouldn't be too bad.

So yes, despite what you may have heard, you can successfully make home brew with jelly beans, just add them when doing your bottling.

Your results, however, may vary!

Did hear about the guy that brewed with Mackintosh lollies?

How to easily bottle home brew beer (and condition it)

how to condition beer bottles

How to bottle and condition your home brew beer 

So once you are sure that fermentation is complete and you've let your beer sit for at least a week after the bubbles have stopped coming through the airlock  (or more properly, taken a gravity reading), then you're ready to bottle your homebrew.

Welcome to the big league boys, you're about to bottle beer!

What you need to bottle your beer
  • Enough bottles. If you have done 23 litres of beer then you would need 30 x 750 ml bottles. 
  • Bottle caps
  • A bottle capper
  • sanitizing agent
  • A big bucket receptacle for soaking bottles in
  • Ordinary sugar
  • Strong hands
What kind of bottles should I use for bottling?

You can use plastic or glass.

I use glass so I can recycle and feel good about saving the planet.

If you hate the planet you can use plastic.

The beauty of using plastic bottles is that if they over carbonate due to non complete fermentation or excessive priming sugar they will only split and not explode.

If you've ever seen a beer bottle explode spontaneously, you'll know what a damn mess it makes with glass everywhere!

You should also bear in mind that not all glass bottles are intended to be used for home brewing so may not be strong enough for both the fermentation process and the capping process so choose wisely - maybe even practice on the odd bottle to make sure it won't crack when you do the capping.

It's time to sterilise again

Just like you did when you prepared the beer batch, you are going to need to sterilize the beer bottles.

This is because the second round of fermentation is going to occur and again the yeast needs an opportunity do to its fermentation thing, free of microbes.

It's this secondary fermentation that puts the CO2 in your beer.

So get all your bottles in the receptacle that you are going to soak them in. I use a plastic washing basket that's big enough to hold all the bottles I need.

I then get some sodium percarbonate and add it to a cup of boiling water so it dissolves quickly.

I then add it to the basket and then get the garden hose and fill it up to the brim.

You will need to wrangle your bottles as they will try and float. Push them down with your hands and make sure they are all submerged to they all get the sanitizer in them.

They say you only need a minimum of 10 minutes to let them soak but having been burned before with a contaminate getting into my beer, I make sure there's little chance at the bottling stage. I leave them in to soak for a few hours and in direct sunlight if bottle.

As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

That or run them through the dishwasher on a hot setting. That's what I do a lot of these days.

If all that seems just too difficult, you just get a bucket and fill it with your sterilizing powder.

You can then just dunk the bottles in, give them a quick swirl, drain the water back into the bucket. You can get the water out of the bottle quickly by giving it a couple of flicks of the wrist in a circular motion - the water will swirl out rather than 'bubbling out.

Whatever you do, when you're happy, drain your bottles and place them where you wish to do the bottling.

Filling the beer bottles

There are two ways you can add the sugar to your beer - you can prime the whole batch in one go by siphoning your beer into a second container and add your liquid sugar as you do so or you can add sugar to each bottle individually.

This is our preferred method as in our experience, it's less mucking around, which seems counter-intuitive but there you go.

A benefit of siphoning and then priming the batch is that there will be less sediment in your beer.

No one likes a beer gusher, so that's why I prefer batch priming as there is less chance of me screwing up.

While many beer brewers will suggest that you use a slightly heaped teaspoon of sugar for each bottle. I personally try and do a little less as some of my beers in the past have been over carbonated, due I think to too much sugar.

I like to use a small funnel to add the sugar in - it's quicker and less messy than trying to get the sugar in using just a spoon!

You are then ready to add the beer.

Simply place the bottle under the tap of your drum and you are good to go. Be wary of fast flowing beer.

Fill the bottles at a level that you would normally expect to see for commercial beer. That's about 40 mm from the top. As I understand it, that will assist with optimum secondary fermentation.

If you have a bottling wand, feel free to use it! Place it inside the tap. You'll need to be firm with it and also be aware that they can suddenly fly out with an open tap - meaning you'll lose beer.

So for that reason, I'd never wander away from the drum when there's a bottling valve in play.

It's also capping day!

When you've filled all your bottles it's now time to cap the bottles.

That process should be self-explanatory and relative to the kind of capper you have. The key thing to remember is to check that each cap has made a satisfactory seal.

If you can hear hissing from a bottle, the seal was not done correctly. Remove the cap and try again with a new cap.

I also mark all the seals with a Vivid or Sharpie so that I know what the particular batch is. This is pretty important when you have different batches and different kinds of beers on the go!

You may wish to give the successfully bottles a gentle tip or two to make sure that all the sugar is in the liquid (not stuck on the inside of the beer neck) and has a chance to dissolve.

Bottling beer can be a time consuming exercise so either make sure you can be free from interruptions or you can choose to bottle in small groups e.g. 5- 10 bottles at a time when you have a spare moment. This won't cause any problems.

The best way to store and condition bottled beer

Temperature has a massive effect on beer both in terms of the brewing and condition.

In terms of bottle conditioning, it's best initially to 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 secondary fermentation thing, and boom I had fizzy beer!

Winning.

The longer you wait, the better your beer will be.

Direct sunlight exposure can ruin homebrew


Never store your beer in direct sunlight.

The UV radiation can cause a chemical reaction to occur, making your beer taste awful or be 'skunked'. This particularly occurs for green bottled beer. Brown bottles not so much. Either way, you still need to keep your beers at the correct temperature and leaving them in direct sunlight will screw that up.