Monday, 13 October 2014

5 Tips For Starting a Succesful Homebrew

Our kettle, home made wort chiller and a couple frothy glasses of Lower Thompsonville Rouge (LTR).
The line between passion and obsession is often blurred. Never has that been more true than when I dove into homebrewing. What started as a weekend hobby to brew a couple of cases has occupied most of my down time this past few weeks. Now that things in the Real Man Travels brewery are operating smoothly, its time to drop some knowledge on the would-be brewmasters amoung the Real Man Travels faithful.

But first, a short quiz to see if homebrewing is for you:

1: Do you like beer?
YES - you should brew beer!
NO- see question 2

2: Do you you like cooking/baking?
YES - you should brew beer!
NO- see question 3

3: Do you enjoy science experiments?
YES- you should brew beer!
NO- see question 4

4: What the hell is wrong is wrong with you? In truth, I should have asked this after you said NO to question 1.

Taking a gravity reading before fermentation can help determine alcohol content.
Now that we've weeded out those who cannot be trusted, I'm going to be using some brew lingo in these tips (yes, brewing has its own special language to make things more complicated fun.) Luckily, the internet is smarter than us all. I recommend John Palmer's How To Brew to help you make sense of it all. Now that we are all ready, here's my five tips for starting a successful homebrew

Tip 1: Do yourself a favour and buy a starter kit. The fine people over at Toronto Brewing and Ontario Beer Kegs have several packages to choose from ranging from a simple extract brewing set up to the more advanced "all grain" set ups. Basically you wind up with everything you need to get your new obsession rolling.

A cold water bath is a primitive way to bring the wort down to "pitching" temperature.
Tip 2: Buy the biggest brew kettle you can find/afford. Fact: you can boil five gallons of water in a 10 gallon pot, but you cant boil 10 gallons of water in a five gallon pot. The last thing you want to do is out grow your kettle (its really just a big pot) shortly after your purchase. That said, you also don't need to drop a g-note on a 55 gallon kettle when you are only making five gallons of beer. If you decide five gallon extract brewing is for you, then get a six gallon kettle (20% extra to prevent boil over).

The wort chiller at work in Sir Fredericks' Ale.
Tip 3: Clean like your life depends on it. If there's one thing that will crush your homebrew dreams it will be poor sanitation. Everything needs to be cleaned and sanitized to hospital standards to ensure your beer's success. I can't stress this enough. no cutting corners. Use a high quality sanitizer like Star San.

Tip 4: Know your yeast. Yeast plays a very important roll in your beer's journey from boiling water to delicious nectar of the gods. Each variety of yeast may shape your beer's flavour differently, but it will also require a certain optimal condition to "get things moving." Temperature is an important factor to take into consideration. Some yeasts require 55 -71 degrees Fahrenheit where others can be happy right up to 100 degrees. You can "start" your yeast to ensure everything is alive and kicking before adding it to your wort. To do this add a table spoon of sugar to a cup of water and boil it. When it has cooled to "pitching" temperature (65F-100F depending on the yeast you've chosen) add half of your yeast package and cover. in 5-10 minutes you should see some activity. three days into fermentation add the remainder of the yeast. This will help prevent coming home to an awful mess, as well as ensure you have plenty of active yeast for bottle carbonation.

Fermenting a batch. A blow off tube can prevent an awful mess.
Tip 5: Patience, young grasshopper. After you brew you will want to try your beer - that's only natural. However, make sure your fermentation has finished before moving onto bottling (or kegging!). Then of course you will want to pop a top on one of your creations as soon as you feel its ready to go. This will again test your patience as every day of carbonation adds more flavour to your beer. As a rule of thumb give your beer a minimum of two weeks from bottling day you sample it. This should allow for adequate carbonation. If it doesn't taste quite right, leave it for another week.

There you have it. Just enough information to make you dangerous at your local home brew supply shop. If you have any questions please feel free to ask; if you've got some tips for us, we'd love to hear from you!

About the Author

Sam Williams is a content creator for Real Man Travels. He is also the site's dedicated sales and sponsorship man. Connect with Sam on Twitter or Instagram.

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