Read an Excerpt
>Work is work. Play is play. Beer is beer. Homebrew is the best.
The Homebrewers Companion is for beginning, intermediate and advanced homebrewers. Before getting into a somewhat orderly presentation of brewing ingredients, process, equipment and style, this first chapter offers some helpful hints that may make some very significant improvements in the quality of your beer. These choice pearls are noteworthy for their simplicity and effectiveness-you may find that one of them is worth the price you paid for this book. That will make the rest of the book a continuing companion and a bonus, full of resources to help you discover even more ways to brew the kind of beer you want.
AN IMPORTANT REMINDER
Without a doubt the single and most dramatically significant thing that can spoil the taste of your beer is . . . worrying. Remember that whenever you brew or enjoy a glass of beer: Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew. This is the Golden Rule of Homebrewing.
CHOOSING AND USING INGREDIENTS:
Malt, hops, yeast and water-that is what it all boils down to, and boil, you must. Many beer kits do not advise boiling the ingredients with water at all. Others advise boiling for only 10 to 15 minutes. Ignore that advice. Some beginning brewers minimize boiling times in an attempt to simplify or shorten the brewing process. Please don't. By avoiding or reducing boiling times, you are eliminating time to relax and have a homebrew.
Boil your wort for a minimum of 60 minutes. An active and rolling boil will help stabilize the flavor of yourbeer once it has reached its peak. The chemical reactions taking place between hops and malt
THE HOMEBREWER'S COMPANION
during a good rolling boil will help clarify your beer and reduce chill haze (that tasteless haze that forms when you chill your beer). It will also help minimize the possibility of contamination from microorganisms that can detrimentally affect the character of your beer.
A good rolling boil of hops, malt and water is essential for fully utilizing hops and helping to predict bitterness.
In some cases a short or no-boil regime can result in a sweet cornlike flavor and aroma in beer that, when evident, usually detracts from your enjoyment.
It may seem inconsequential to consider your stove as a contributor to your beer's character, but it is. If you use an electric stove and your brewpot is in direct contact with the burner element, then you are scorching malt sugars onto the inside bottom of the pot. Have you noticed that your light ales and light lagers haven't been as light as you anticipated? Perhaps some of your brews have a discernible burnt flavor.
When the hot element of your electric stove (an electric immersion-type heater will also create the same effect) is in direct contact with your pot, it caramelizes sugars during the boil. Caramelizing takes place during any kind of boil, but is exaggerated by the high temperatures of red-hot electric stoves.
There is an easy, simple and inexpensive solution. Buy a wire "trivet" and place it between the pot and the stove coil. You also can fashion a simple triangular trivet from a nonlacquered coat hanger. This will greatly reduce the caramelization of your boiling wort.
SUGAR AND KIT INSTRUCTIONS
Beer kits, packaged in cans with all manner of beer styles to choose from, are a welcome introduction to homebrewing for many. They are simple to use and require minimal processing. They are designed so that they do not intimidate a new homebrewer with overwhelming procedures or concerns. A good beer can be made from many of them.
However, if you want to make better beer or you want to help others improve upon their own kit beers, here's some advice that will result in major improvements in beer flavor.
Whenever a beer kit calls for the addition of sugar in a recipe, substitute light dry malt extract (except where it calls for sugar for The Homebrewer's Companion 17 priming carbonation). You will end up with a beer that tastes like something you would want to pay money for.
CHANGING YOUR YEAST
Have you ever had a fermentation that seems to take forever? Is there a flavor in your beer that is reminiscent of bananas or plastic Band-Aid strips? If so, then change your yeast, especially if you are using dried yeast. Choose a name-brand dried yeast that you or your homebrew supply shop owner trusts to have consistency and a dependable supply. If you are brewing from kit beers and haven't been quite satisfied then avoid using the nameless and labelless yeast package provided with the kit. Yeast strains vary tremendously. Some will produce flavors you don't prefer because they are a particular strain, while others will produce strange plasticlike flavors or long, slow fermentations because of wild yeast contamination of the cultured yeast. When yeast is packaged in a simple white foiled or paper envelope, you never can depend on it. If your results have been inconsistent or consistently frustrating, progress from one name brand of yeast to another until you find one that suits your preference.
ENHANCING YOUR YEAST'S PERFORMANCE
Homebrewers have access to both dried cultures of yeast and active liquid cultures of yeast. Starting your fermentation with a good healthy crop of yeast will certainly help improve the quality of your beer. Rather than simply adding dried yeast directly into the wort, enhance its performance by rehydrating it in hot water (100 degrees
F 138 degrees CJ) for 15 minutes. Use boiled water that has been allowed to cool in a sanitized jar. Cover the jar with a clean unused piece of aluminum foil during the rehydration period.
Can liquid yeast cultures make a positive difference in the quality of your beer? The answer is clearly yes, assuming that you have a clean culture. The quality of most liquid yeast cultures currently
available through homebrew supply stores is excellent. If they are handled properly, they can markedly improve the quality of your beer.
Liquid cultures are more expensive to purchase and require some understanding of how they should be handled. Despite the added risk of anxiety (don't worry), your investment and patience will certainly be rewarded. For beginners, follow the instructions that THE HOMEBREWER'S COMPANION are printed on the package of yeast. Keep in mind that when using liquid cultures, it is essential to thoroughly aerate your wort before introducing active liquid cultures. Not doing so will result in long, sluggish fermentations. Aerate your unfermented wort thoroughly by shaking or agitating your sealed fermenter.
GERMAN STYLES, ENGLISH STYLES,
AMERICAN STYLES. GETTING TO YES
If you're like most homebrewers, you have had quite a variety of beer experiences, both homebrewed and commercially made. Sometimes there is a desire to duplicate a world classic or, more generally, the quality of beer from Germany, Holland, Belgium, England, Canada or even the United States. Specific beer qualities derive from the artful blending of ingredients and the skilled execution of process. There are dozens of important variables that need to be considered.
If you are a malt extract brewer, one of the easiest variables to look at is your choice of malt extract. When brewing German-style beers, use extracts produced in Germany; likewise, if you wish for a more authentic character in your British-style ales, use extracts of British origin. Homebrew supply shops offer varieties of malt extract naturally produced from no fewer than the following countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland and the United States. It would be too Simplistic to attribute all of the final character of your beer to the origin of the malt extract used, but different barley varieties and malting techniques do have an influence on beer's character. Purchasing malt extract made in the same country as the beer you are trying to match will be a step in the right direction.
The same principle holds true for those who brew from grains. It is easier to make an authentic-tasting English-style pale ale when you use English-made pale ale malt. Make German lagers with German malts, Belgian ales with Belgian malt, and American lagers with American lager malt. The proper processing of malts of known origin is but one option towards achieving the finesse many all-grain brewers eventually strive for.
DON'T BLAME IT ON THE MALT
For all-grain brewers or those who utilize a partial mash in their formulations, getting a good yield from grains is an important endeavor. Getting a good yield means getting a fair amount of fermentable sugars and other character-building carbohydrates from the grain. When good yields are not achieved and subsequent original gravities fall below expectations, brewers have a tendency to blame the ingredients and not the process. I've read many all-grain recipes, noting low yields. I have four simple suggestions for helping enhance your yields.
1) Test your efficiency by finely grinding (almost to flour) one pound of malt. Mash at 158 degrees F (70 degrees C) for 30 minutes to yield one gallon of sweet extract. Then follow the same procedure using your ordinary grind of malt. Note the difference in specific gravity. For homebrewing systems the regular grind should produce at least 80 percent of the fine-grind gravity. If yours is less, you should not blame your low yields on the malt, but rather on the nature of your grind.
2) Visit a brewery you have confidence in and ask if you can observe what properly ground malt looks like. There is no substitute for seeing this with your own eyes.
3) For greater extraction and yield, hold the mash at 158 degrees F (70 degrees C) for at least 10 minutes during the final mashing regime.
4) Investigate the hardness and pH of your water. If your pH is in the high 7s or higher and your hardness is more than 100 ppm, the water is responsible for helping reduce your yield. You will need to learn more about water before you can remedy the situation.
Admittedly these are four very simplistic approaches to improving your grain yields. They are meant to produce results with the least amount of hassle or in-depth scientific involvement on your part. At worst they are meant to be inspirational beginning steps towards improved yields. Yes you can. just brew it.
IMPROVE YOUR WATER. IMPROVE YOUR BEER
If you are using a municipal water source, there is one simple thing you can do that can help improve the quality of your beer. Purchase and install a sink-top bacteriostatic activated-carbon water filter. It's simple to install, and you can configure it so that you only use it for water that you consume. Your investment will range from about $50 to $200, but over the long haul it runs about 2 cents per gallon. Unlike boiling, activated charcoal will remove chlorine and chloroamines from your water supply. These chemicals combine with organic compounds to create harsh, undesirable flavors, barely perceptible to some but annoying to others. The advantages of filtering are twofold: It is simple to do and it will markedly improve the taste of your water.
KIT BEERS: SIMPLE FINESSE WITH HOPS
The use of fresh whole or pelletized hops in a knowledgeable manner can immensely improve the quality of your beers. It is relatively inexpensive, and the procedures are virtually worry-free.
Most kit beers are designed to have relatively low bitterness. Many are flavored with hop extract, which contributes bitterness but none of the other often desirable hop characteristics to beer. Along with substituting light dried malt extract for the sugar that many kit instructions call for, adding a small amount of bittering hops will help balance and enhance the flavor. For a 5-gallon (19 l.) batch, a half ounce (14 g.) of low- to medium-bitter hops such as Hallertauer, Cascade, Goldings or Willamette boiled for a full 60 minutes will make a positive and noticeable contribution to your kit beers. Adding half an ounce of low- to medium-bitter hops that are noted for their flavor during the final 15 to 20 minutes of the boil will contribute a complex hop flavor that will otherwise always be lacking if hop extract is listed as an ingredient of the kit. Fuggles, Willamette, Hallertauer, Mt. Hood, Cascade, Goldings, Tettnanger and Saaz are among the more popular aroma and flavor hops. Finally, to add aromatic finesse to any beer, add half an ounce of aroma hops during the final two minutes of the boil, then immediately strain, sparge and transfer to the fermenter. By including this step in your brewing process, you will create a balance, complexity and depth of character in your beer that is missing from most kit beers.
For those who choose to continue their brewing endeavors with simple kit beers, these three hop infusions may provide the complexity and satisfaction you have been seeking in your homebrewed beer.
Transferring beer from one container to another is an essential step for every homebrewer. There are many ways and means to simplify this process, but there is one principle that must be kept in mind whenever handling fermented beer. Avoid aerating the beer once it has finished fermentation. The introduction of oxygen to finished beer will accelerate the staling process and render beer oxidized and unpalatable.
Preventing the spoilage of good finished beer is easy. Avoid splashing the beer when siphoning by placing the outspout of the siphon at the bottom of the receiving vessel. This is a simple and very important principle you can keep in mind to help maintain beer freshness.
DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM?
It tastes funny, but you're not quite sure. why. Was it the ingredients, the yeast, the process, the temperature, the bottles? For a new brewer, it can be quite frustrating knowing that your beer isn't exactly what you would like it to be, but not knowing why.;
There's one simple observation you can make that will almost always indicate whether or not you have a bacterial contamination that has affected the flavor of your beer. Hold a bottle of beer up to a bright light and carefully examine the fill line in the bottle's neck or any part of the surface where beer and glass are in contact. Is there a deposit adhering to the glass in the form of a ring or small dots? If so, you can be 100 percent certain that you have a bacterial contamination, whether you like it or not and even whether you like the beer or not. It's time to investigate your sanitizing process and get out the household bleach. At least now you know what kind of problem you have and you can seek advice on how best to get back to clean brewing. Don't give up. Don't worry. Every brewer confronts this problem several times a lifetime. And solves it.
Many homebrewers use a wire mesh strainer to strain hot wort from spent grains. Due to their weave, wire mesh strainers are impossible to sanitize with chemical solutions such as bleach and water. Bacteria and other contaminating microorganisms evade chemical solutions by lodging themselves in the microscopic world of nooks and crannies. For the price of a paper clip and a bit of forethought, one can use the brewpot and the boiling wort to heat and sanitize the strainer. Immerse the strainer in the boiling wort during the final 15 minutes of boiling. Configure a paper clip as a handle-hook and hook it on the lip of the pot to prevent the strainer from falling completely into
the boiling liquid.
Do you use a saucepan to to ladle hot wort from the brewpot into your fermenter? Does the saucepan have seams that hide and protect bacteria? If so, your saucepan needs a heat treatment as well. This might best be done directly on your stove t op.
WASH YOUR HANDS
Didn't your mother tell you this? Before handling equipment coming into contact with wort or fermenting beer, wash your hands with soap and water. But please don't get overly compulsive about this. Have a homebrew and think about the sense it makes.
sanitizing solution. It works well and, with a few hours of soaking, even removes stains and bacterial deposits on the inside of contaminated beer bottles. One ounce of bleach mixed with 4 gallons (l5 1.) of cold water will last for weeks in a cool environment. It is easily rinsed with hot tap water. (For brewing purposes, hot tap water is essentially sanitized water, so no need to worry here.) It works on plastic hoses, funnels, fermenters, glass; there is really no justification for contaminated beer because of ineffective sanitizing solutions.
It takes a lot of practice, but taste your beer. Taste your unfermented wort. Taste it while it is fermenting and at bottling time. Taste your malt ingredients. Chew every kind of grain. Crush, squeeze and feel hops between your fingers. Smell the perfume they emit. Slowly learn the difference between fresh ingredients and stale ingredients, between fresh beer and old beer.
Use your senses of sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing to experience your ingredients, your beer and the brewing process. If you take the time to do this, you will learn the art of brewing in a way no book or technical measuring instrument can convey.
Participate in beer evaluations as a learning apprentice or a judge or for fun. In the company of others there is a lot to learn about beer, yours and those you buy.