To the experienced brewer, these should come off as common sense. But, it's also easy to forget some of these when you are juggling hop additions, equipment malfunctions and other brew day distractions, such as chasing kids or dogs away from 7 gallons of boiling hot liquids.
1. Start with fresh ingredients. This may sound pretty lame, but you've been surprised how long some of that liquid malt extract sits around in your local home brew shop. Online vendors like Adventures in Home brewing, Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies have a high turnaround on ingredients, with some of them receiving shipments each week. If you are an all-grain brewer and buy your grain pre-crushed, try to use them the week you receive them. If you can not brew right away, store the crushed grain in a refrigerator, where they will keep for a few weeks.
2. Use a yeast starter and use the correct amount of yeast. First, make sure you refrigerate your yeast when it arrives – whether it is dry or liquid. Dry yeast is not as sensitive as liquid, but if you do not plan on using it right away, refrigerate it. If you order online during the summer, ask the home brew store to pack your liquid yeast in an ice pack. If you plan on brewing a high-gravity beer such as a Double IPA, or an Imperial Stout, do not just throw the contents of the smack pack or the vial in the wort – that tiny amount of yeast will become stressed and your beer will not complete fermentation. You need lots of yeast for a big beer! Check MrMalty.com for the correct amount of yeast to pitch for the beer that you are brewing and then make a yeast starter. A yeast starter is basically a smaller amount of un-hopped wort that you add your yeast to in order to let your yeast be fruitful and multiply!
3. Assemble all the materials you'll need BEFORE you start brewing. Nothing is worse than scrambling around looking for ingredients or equipment during your brew day. It makes it very easy to forget to add certain ingredients or miss-time them. I write down each step of my brew day and the equipment / ingredients that I'll need for each step. Then, before I start my mash, I lay everything out that I'll need on the bed in the bedroom next to the door to the patio where I brew. This way, nothing will become contaminated by outdoor bugs or even airborne grain particles. It will be there waiting for me to use. Check your equipment, too. Are any of your valves leaking? Is that new mash tun manifold operational? It's never fun sticking your hands into a 160F grain bed in order to reassemble your manifold. Or realizing that the leak around your ball valve that you forgot about is not leaking enough to lose pints from your batch.
4. Check your water. Rule of thumb is: If it does not taste good, then it will not make good beer. Also, if you are an all-grain brewer, check your pH. If your mash water is too alkaline, you will not achieve proper starch conversion. A product such as Five Star's 5.2 pH Stabilizer will guarantee that your mash water will be the optimum pH for conversion. It is relatively inexpensive for the degree of confidence it will give you. Just do not go overboard, adding too much will lend a chalky, minerally or salty taste to your finished beer. If you want to use tap water, contact your water company, they will be happy to mail you a complete water profile for your community. You can then adjust for Cloramine and other chemical levels in your water. Campden tablets are also a cheap way to adjust your water.
5. Mash at the correct temperature. This is usually the culprit to new all-grain brewers who complain that their beer is too watery or too sweet for the style. You should be mashing between 140-160F. The closer to 140F you mash, the dryer (less sweet) and thinner (watery) your finished beer will be. Lower mash temps result in more fermentables being produced – giving the yeast more to chew on. Higher mash temps will allow the conversion of longer chain sugars (harder to ferment) resulting in a sweeter beer. The yeast has a harder time converting these long-chain sugars, so more of them will remain in your beer for the long-haul. Depending on which style of beer you want to brew will dictate your mash temperature.
6. Clean all your equipment thoroughly before and after use . Take the extra time to clean up after you brew. It will make your brew day so much easier. Rinse the break and hop materials off of your immersion chiller. Get all the grain out of your mash tun. Wash your brew kettle and your stirring spoon. It's easy to be tired after a 6-8 hour brew session. Take the extra 20-30 mins. to clean up after yourself. Your beer and your wife / girlfriend / significant other will be glad, too.
7. Check your gravity 20 mins. before your boil ends. Adjust hop schedule accordingly. I do not know how many times I've finished brewing and had way too much wort that was low gravity or too little that was too high that I had to dilute. Get a refractometer and check your gravity. If you do it 20 mins. before the boil ends, you can keep your late hop additions where they need to be. Nothing like flaming out and then seeing that your gravity is off and you need to continue boiling to reach your desired gravity. For bees that are not hoppy this is not as much of a problem. But who needs to be scrambling around in the last few minutes of boil time anyway?
8. Cool your wort quickly. As I mentioned previously, once your wort drops below 170F, bacteria and wild yeast like to jump in your beer. Well, maybe not that dramatically, but just the same – invest in a wort chiller – either immersion or counterflow and use it to get your wort to yeast pitching temperatures (around 70F) as quickly as possible (under 20-30 mins is ideal) . In the summer this is a bit harder using tap water (depending on where you live). Look into a pre-chiller or use a pump to recirculate icy cold water. The quicker you can get your wort chilled and into your fermenter, the less likely you are to introduce bacteria into your beer.
9. Sanitize everything that will come in contact with your wort after it drops below 170F. CLEAN, then SANITIZE. You do not have to sterilize everything or wear a biohazard suit while you brew, but do get all the chunks off by cleaning and then use a no-rinse sanitizer such as One Step, Iodophor or Star San (my favorite). I will sanitize my better bottle fermenter and then turn it upside down (bacteria can not fall up) or cap it with some tin foil that has also been sanitized. The foam from the Star San will continue to sanitize while it is in contact with the container. Do not fear the foam, it is your friend. Pour your beer right on top of it – it has no effect on the final taste.
10. Ferment at correct temperature. This is usually the last thing a new brewer does to help their beer – control their fermentation temperature. And it has the arguably largest effect on the finished product. I absolutely killed a pale ale by fermenting it at room temperature in the summer. It ended up tasting like a banana daquiri. Yuck! I had been so careful to do everything right, but it still tasted horrible. Buy a used refrigerator or chest freezer and purchase a temperature controller and use it to dial in your temperature to the degree. You will also then be able to brew lagers correctly. It is one of the best steps a homebrewer can make to improve the taste of their beer.
And now, the bonus tip that you've been waiting for … 11. Do not drink home brew while your brew home brew. or any other beer for that matter. Seriously. I know that brewing is fun. But if you wait until you're done to drink, you will thank me for it. In my house, brew days are party days, so this was the hardest step for me to take. Even harder than making a stir plate from old computer parts for my yeast starters, making my homemade mash tun manifold or my immersion chiller. Resist the temptation. You'll find that you remember all your additions, hit all your temperatures and your times and will not be nearly as frantic in case you have an equipment failure. Or if you run out of propane half way through your boil! Be alert and enjoy the fruits of your labor when you get done. Once you are done and you're waiting for that airlock to start bubbling, kick back and pop open that beer – it will taste so great!
Source by John E Garner