Secrets of successful brewing
Actually, the secret is that there isn't any secret to making good-tasting, quality beer.
Just follow the few simple rules below and you'll end up with a good, if not great, brew.
This is a summary of the rules, which are outlined in more detail in the pages that follow.
No matter what method of brewing you do, whether it be a simple kit brew or a full mash brew, follow these rules and you're well on your way.
Cleanliness is next to beeriness
What you don't want is for an infection to take hold in your brew. Wild yeasts and other bacteria are all around us, just waiting for food. Your freshly prepared wort is the kind of thing they love. Make sure you sanitise any equipment that comes into contact with the beer at any stage of the brewing process, including fermentation, racking, bottling and kegging. The only things that don't need to be sanitised are anything that will be boiled or put into boiling liquid, such as saucepans and stirring spoons. Anything that will not get hot enough to kill nasties needs to be sanitised.
And be sure to clean up thoroughly afterwards with a non-brasive cloth and some oxyper (Napisan) or other brewing cleaner.
Don't cut corners
Until you've got a few brews under your belt and understand the brewing process, follow instructions, although as you'll see, not necessarily the instructions that come with your brewing kit or can of concentrate. Once you get the feel for brewing and understand the process you can modify some of the steps based on research and information from others.
Don't skimp on ingredients
Let's face it, making your own beer is not that expensive compared with buying beer. So when it comes to ingredients, don't scrimp and save. It's just not worth buying the cheaper ingredient to save a dollar or two. And if you've got some leftover hops in the fridge and you have to think twice about whether you should use them, don't. Chuck them out and buy some fresh hops.
Find a good homebrew store
There are two reasons to find a reputable and reliable homebrew store. First, you know they'll have a good selection and their ingredients will be quality. Second, homebrew stores are an excellent source of information, even for experienced brewers.
When looking for a homebrew store ask other brewers for their recommendations (why not ask on our forum) and if possible visit the store yourself and have a look around and talk to the proprietor. Avoid a store that is mainly concerned with selling winemaking or spirit-making products and for which beer brewing is a sideline. Check to see that their hops are kept in a refrigerator in vacuum-sealed bags. All yeast — including the dried variety — should also be kept in the fridge. Do they have a good range of beer concentrates, hops, grains (malted and unmalted) and yeast (liquid and dried), and does it seem that turnover of stock would be steady? Have a chat to the owner and get a feel for their knowledge about brewing and passion for beer. If they're mainly concerned with selling cans of concentrate and tell you there's no need to expand your brewing horizons beyond a kit and a few extra hops or grains, then continue the search.
If you can't find a good homebrew store locally there's absolutely nothing wrong with buying online. There are plenty of good online retailers who offer prompt, reliable delivery at a resonable price. Again, seek advice from other brewers about the online stores they use.
Control the temperature
If you do everything to the letter then ferment your beer at too high a temperature you'll undo all your good work. A constant and correct temperature will ensure your beer turns out as well as possible. For correct brewing temperatures, see the section on Yeast or consult your yeast packet. And remember, following the instructions that come with a can of concentrate will make beer, not necessarily the best beer.
Get brewing software
Brewing is a complex process. To help you understand how different ingredients and methods affect the final product you can learn and use many complex forumulas. Or you can let software do the hard work for you. By adding different ingredients, quantities and other information about a beer you intend brewing, the software will estimate things such as final colour, gravities and bitterness.
There are many programs out there that will help your brewing. Some of the more popular brewing software is:
BeerSmith - Probably the most popular brewing software, for Windows and Mac.
BrewMate - Free, for Windows only.
ProMash - Not recently updated, but still has some rusted-on users.
iBrewMaster - For iPhone and iPad.
Brew Pal - Another iPhone and iPad app.
BeerTools - For Mac, Windows and Linux.
Just as effective and usually free are spreadsheets that can be found around the web. The better spreadsheets are just as good as brewing software, but sometimes not as intuitive or user-friendly.
Brewing software isn't essential for beginners or makers or simple kit beers, and even some advanced brewers don't use it. However, the more reliably you can know the effect of ingredients you're putting into your beer the more likely it is to be a winner. Plus, with software doing the hard work, there's more time for brewing and drinking the fruits of your labour!
Measure, measure, measure
Temperatures, volumes, weights, gravities, times. Measure them all. If you brew an absolute ripper you want to know how to make it again and if it's not so great you will want to know what to change next time. Measuring is particularly important for all-grain brewers because changes to the recipe are sometimes required on the fly to adjust for variables such as mash efficiency (the amount of sugars extracted from the malted grain) and evaporation during the boil.
Don't worry, have another homebrew
Any experienced brewer will tell you that new brewers worry too much. Provided you follow the rules above, you've got a much better than even chance of brewing a decent beer. Even if you have don't get everything exactly right as you're starting out, your beer will probably overcome adversity and be a bloody ripper!