There’s no reason why you can’t brew beer as good as the pros. Often a few simple changes to your process or mindset will take your homebrew to the next level. Most problems for homebrewers are not unique. Countless brewers before you have struggled with the exact same issues and have made a few adjustments to overcome them.
We offer up 10 ways to improve your homebrew for all levels of brewers. Whether you’re just starting out with an extract kit, or making 10 gallon all grain batches, these tips will help you get the most out of your homebrew.
1. Understand Your Limitations
Homebrewers face limitations. Maybe they’re equipment restraints, or maybe they’re experienced based. As a homebrewer, it’s important to understand your limitations and brew beers that are realistic for you to succeed.
If you don’t have a fermentation fridge, a lager is probably not the best style to brew. Similarly, if you can’t hold very hot fermentation temperatures, saison yeast won’t perform as desired.
Before brewing difficult styles, like Imperial Stout, arguably one of the hardest to master, consider if you’re really ready. Do you have a firm grasp on sanitation, yeast pitching rates, carbonation, and recipe design?
Brewing is a continuously evolving hobby, where equipment and experience is built one piece at a time. Knowing your own limits, and brewing within them, will result in the most consistent and best quality beer as you build up your toolbox and skillset.
2. Control Fermentation Temperature
Yeast performs differently depending on the fermentation temperature. Some yeasts, like lager strains, prefer cold temperatures. Others, like Belgian strains, like it warmer. It’s important to understand the suitable temperature range of fermentation for your yeast.
What’s equally important is a consistent fermentation temperature. Large swings in temperatures cause unsteady fermentations. Yeast become more active when warmer and less active when colder. If the temperature varies up and down, yeast can become stressed and won’t ferment properly. To best control fermentation temperature, build a fermentation chamber.
If you don’t have a fermentation chamber, find a place in your house with consistent temperature. Maybe a corner of your basement or garage. Measure the temperature over a few days. Then, choose a yeast and beer style that suits the temperature of that area.
In the summer, you could focus on saison or kveik yeast. In winter, you might have cool enough temperatures to ferment with a lager yeast or a clean fermenting ale yeast like a Kolsch strain.
3. Use Good Tasting Water
Understanding the exact chemistry of your brewing water isn’t necessary to make great beer. What is, however, is the use of good tasting water.
If you live in a city, your municipal water supply is likely treated with a disinfectant agent like chlorine or chloramine. These chemicals are disastrous for beer flavor and stability. Always filter water that has been treated or use a campden tablet in your brewing water.
Many brewers use water from their garden faucet. Make sure that this water tastes good enough to drink. If it tastes like an old hose going into the mash, that flavor will be present in the finished beer.
Buying water at the grocery store is another solution to ensure good tasting and consistent water.
When you’re sure that your water tastes great, take a deeper dive into brewing water chemistry to dial in your water adjustment.
4. Use Fresh Ingredients
Fresh ingredients are crucial to great tasting beer. Malt and hops, if stored properly, can last a long time. But that doesn’t mean they’re optimal for that entire period.
Hoppy styles, like IPA, require the use of the freshest hops. Using opened hops that have been in the freezer for months will not make good beer. Make sure you use freshly opened packages that have been properly sealed and stored for the best hop flavor.
On top of that, always check the harvest year of hops before you buy them. Is that deal too good to be true on a pound of Galaxy? It could be from a few harvest years back.
Malt and malt extract also needs to be relatively fresh. Uncrushed grains will store well for about a year. Crushed grain should be used within a few weeks of being milled. Liquid malt extract should be used within the expiration date on the package. Don’t leave an opened package in storage for longer than a couple weeks. Dry malt extract has a much better shelf life, and should store – sealed – for about a year.
Yeast should be as fresh as possible and well within its expiration date. Which leads us to our next tip…
5. Use Healthy Yeast
Pitching the right amount of healthy yeast is necessary to ensure a strong fermentation. Homebrewers often try to get away with underpitching out of convenience. This can cause off-flavors and under-attenuated, not fully fermented beer.
Liquid yeast that’s nearing its packaged expiration date will never be as viable as it was when it left the yeast lab. It’s always worth it to take the time to make a yeast starter for the best fermentation possible.
If making starters and managing yeasts seems a little intimidating, opt for dry yeast. There are hundreds of dry yeast options available for a wide range of styles. And for the most part, you don’t need to use a starter for beers with an original gravity of 1.060 or less.
6. Don’t Rush It
It can be hard to give your beer the time it needs to condition properly. Especially for new homebrewers who are eager to taste the fruits of their labor, patience can be arduously tested.
Every style of beer benefits from conditioning time. Even super hoppy beer needs a week or two in the keg to condition and round out. Bottle conditioned beers might be drinkable after 1 week – but they’ll be much better after 3 weeks. Belgian style and strong beers might only peak at 3 to 6 months.
Try to be patient and give your homebrew the time it needs to develop. You might be pleasantly surprised at the effect a bit of time can have on your beer.
7. Avoid Oxidation
The biggest problem we taste in homebrewed beer today is oxidation. All homebrewing literature warns against its dangers. While it has always been a cause for off-flavors, it’s more prevalent today with the increased popularity in brewing hoppy beer.
Bottle conditioning hoppy beers is challenging. Unless you’re equipped with the tools needed to limit oxygen exposure when bottling, it is not recommended. Even when kegging hoppy beer, extra precaution needs to be taken. Closed transferring into CO2 purged kegs will help ensure you’re limiting all contact with oxygen.
If your beers are coming across dull, cloying, and dark-looking, you might have a problem with oxidation. Try brewing a beer without a dry hop. If you notice a stark difference in quality, this is likely to due to the degrading effects oxidation has on hoppy beer. Consider investing in a kegging system if you’re dead set on brewing hop-forward styles.
8. Use A Priming Sugar Calculator
Over or under carbonated beer is a common problem for many homebrewers. Especially for kit brewers, over carbonation seems to plague a great number of beers. That’s because kits often include pre-measured bags of priming sugar suitable for the full volume, usually 5 gallons. The problem is, you’ll often end up with less than 5 gallons in the bottling bucket, due to system losses, like trub and hops.
Follow our guide on priming for bottle conditioning and use a priming sugar calculator to prime with the right quantity of sugar.
If your kit instructs you to bottle condition with honey, we recommend disregarding this advice and to use normal table sugar. Unless you’re experienced with priming with honey, it can be very difficult to control due to the varying nature of honey’s sugar content.
9. Get Real Feedback on Your Beer
It’s always great to share homebrew with friends and family. Most homebrewers have heard the old “you should really start a brewery” adage more than once. Though spirit boosting and uplifting, biases can paint an unrealistic picture of the quality of your beer.
It’s always a good idea to seek the opinion of a neutral third party. The best ways to receive honest, knowledgeable feedback for your beer is to connect with other homebrewers. We recommend exploring one of the following:
- Joining a local homebrew club
- Trading with homebrewers through online brewing forums
- Entering in homebrewing competitions
Honest, critical feedback will give you insight into your beer you never considered, and will make you a better brewer in the end.
10. Read, Watch, and Listen
If you’ve made it to this article, you’re probably committed to learning and improving your brew. Continuous learning about homebrewing is imperative to grow as a homebrewer. Best practices for homebrewing evolve rapidly. Technology, ingredients, and changing tastes drive innovation in the homebrewing world.
The internet is the best resource for updated brewing knowledge. Discussion forums and social media sites, like Reddit and Facebook groups, offer advice and techniques. Plus, homebrewers are always super eager to share knowledge and are welcoming to all questions.
Brewing podcasts and YouTube channels also offer endless content on homebrewing to learn and get inspired.
Homebrewing should always be fun. If you’re getting frustrated with a few poor batches, don’t be discouraged. Often, solutions to common problems require only a slight tweak in your process.
Make sure you’re always using high quality, fresh ingredients and give your beer the time it needs to taste great. On top of this, keep learning about the hobby and get some feedback on your brews to help make amazing beer.