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Brew Day Tips & Tricks

Created January 10, 2017
Brew day is finally here. Nervous? I know I was on my first brew. Surely I would find some way screw it up. But take it easy. This isn’t brain surgery. You’re making beer. I’ll quote the great Charlie Papazian, godfather of American home brewing, who says, “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.”

Of course, you probably don’t have any homebrew yet. Hopefully you’ve purchased a selection of fine craft beers to sample. Drinking beer while making beer at home is a time-honored tradition. But be moderate, you’ll want to stay focused on what you’re doing.

Ready to go? Okay, let’s get you through this.

Pre-brew Checklist

Clean Your Equipment – Is all of your gear clean? If not, do that before you begin. Mix up a batch of sanitizer. Remember, cleanliness and sanitation is rule #1.

Assemble Everything You Need – We’re all cooks here, right? Think like a chef; mise en place, everything in its place.

  • Bring all of your equipment together and put it where it’s easy to grab. You don’t want to be running to the basement or garage to grab that missing utensil when the kettle is coming to a boil.
  • Lay out your ingredients. Check to see that everything is there. It may even be helpful to weigh out your hop additions at this point. If you are using one of the foil smack-packs of yeast, smack it now. 

Read the Recipe (All of It) – Guys, I know this is cramping your manhood, but you need to read the instructions all the way to the end. It’s just like cooking; you don’t want to add all of the parsley at the beginning only to discover that most of it should have been sprinkled onto the finished dish.

Let’s Get Brewing

You’ve made it this far, from here the process is pretty simple. Here are a couple of tips that will make it just that much more pleasant.

Use Your Down Time – One of the great things about making beer is the down time. Brewing flows at a leisurely pace as you get a step started and then wait for it to finish. Use the time to re-read the instructions for the next step or stage equipment and ingredients. Or you could just crack open a cold one and read the newspaper or chat with friends.

Don’t Squeeze the Grain Bag – If your recipe has you steeping specialty grains, don’t squeeze the bag. I know, you want to get all of that precious juice out of there, but trust me, it isn’t necessary. You’ll only end up extracting unwanted tannins from the grain that will make your beer astringent.

Turn Off the Heat When You Add the Extract – When the time comes to add your malt extract – either powder or syrup – turn off the heat and stir until it’s dissolved. If you don’t turn off the heat, the extract will burn onto the bottom of the pan giving your beer off-flavors and creating a difficult-to-clean mess in your kettle.

Watch for Boil Overs – Letting the kettle boil over onto the stove will create an even bigger mess. Boil overs happen easily and quickly, so pay attention. The most dangerous periods are just as the pot starts to boil and at hop additions, but they can come at any time. Be ready to reduce the heat if necessary.

Check Your Measurements – Once while teaching a class on home brewing I was trying to manage making beer, drinking beer and teaching the class. Somehow 3 gallons became 16 quarts in my head. Instead of making 5 gallons of 5% alcohol beer, I made six gallons of 4% alcohol beer. Not a disaster, but not what I was aiming for.

Chill Out – To go back to Mr. Papazian, “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” Whatever happens, it will be beer.

After the Brew

Be Patient – Bubbles in the airlock mean your beer is fermenting. You don’t have to check on it every hour (although I know you will). It could take up to 24 hours to see any activity. Don’t fret, it will eventually get going. If you are fermenting your beer in a plastic bucket, avoid the temptation to lift the lid and look inside. That just exposes your beer to potential infection. You don’t want that, do you?

Clean Your Equipment – Wait! Isn’t this where we started? Once again, cleanliness cannot be stressed enough. And there really is nothing worse than getting ready for your next brew and finding a sticky, fuzzy residue in your kettle from the last one.

Follow these coaching tips and in 4 to 6 weeks you’ll be enjoying a frosty homebrew and boasting to your friends, “I made this.”