By Carl Weaver
Whether you got into homebrewing because your friends were doing it, or you wanted to try something new, or perhaps you did the analysis on the cost of making beer vs. buying it, the real background comes from a love of the beverage. Let’s remember that foundation as we go through some areas where new homebrewers sometimes falter, and some ways to overcome these challenges.
You have to let go of making a perfect beer. Go ahead and get a clone kit, if that is what you want to do, but unless you have incredible temperature and process control, and have perfected cleaning and sanitizing, your beer will taste a little different from a commercial brew. That’s okay. It will still be beer, and later on you can make improvements to your processes to make a better product.
Your first few batches will likely not be what you expect, but these are good opportunities to get used to a process of making beer, and figuring out how to overcome obstacles. Make it a process of learning how beer is made. Your beer equipment kit will come with instructions on how to make your brew. Get used to all the steps. Make a checklist and figure out your way of doing things based on your home brewery area. If you make it a routine and do the same thing every time (assuming you are doing things right), you have a greater likelihood of success.
Again, let go of the idea of making a perfect beer. Embrace mediocrity for a while. Get your processes nailed down. Make better beer.
Beer is a great growth medium for yeast, molds, and bacteria, and your goal is to only grow yeast, and really only one specific yeast. The key to making great beer is to keep your equipment clean and to sanitize it before it touches the beer. Follow the directions in your kit. It should come with both cleaner and sanitizer – both important keys to making a decent beer.
As a new brewer, it can be complicated to figure out which set of equipment to buy. Do you need an all-stainless nano brewery that costs possibly thousands of dollars? No. Start with one of the starter kits that More Beer has. One-gallon and five-gallon options are available, but the industry has adopted the five-gallon batch of beer as the standard. Getting the one-gallon kit might save some space if that is a concern but it will save only a little trouble on brew day, so don’t think that a smaller quantity will make brewing easier. The starter kit has everything you need.
When I started making beer, the thing I hated most was bottling. A five-gallon batch of beer is something like 55 bottles. You have to clean and sanitize each one, and sanitize the bottle caps and siphon equipment you will use to bottle it. That’s a lot of work by itself, not to mention potential spills while bottling, and the fact that the bottles are like dominoes when you have them all together. Knock one down, and it will hit a couple others, and before long, there is beer everywhere. It sucks. I am convinced that bottling is the step that keeps people from staying with the hobby. However, I have a few tips for you.
The best tip, although this is not practical for most new brewers, is to get a kegging system and kegerator as soon as you can justify doing so. Again, it is not the best advice for a new brewer, but it solves lots of problems on bottling day. It’s like one big bottle, instead of 60 small ones.
One big step you can take to make bottling day easier is to put all your bottles in cardboard boxes or plastic totes. This will keep them from falling over if you bump one. In addition, you will have some spills and over-filling issues, and this reduces the clean-up afterward. I prefer plastic totes because everything can be rinsed out. The ease of filling bottles increases dramatically.
Another tip is to get a bench capper. Your homebrew kit comes with a dual-lever bottle capper. They work great, but if you do not have everything lined up properly, the cap can be bent or possibly won’t seal. I used to have extra caps so that I knew I would not run out, even if I messed up more caps than normal. The bench capper allows you to line everything up perfectly, and with a single lever, crimp the cap. You can still mess up with this tool, but it makes the whole process much easier, and with a smaller rate of failure.
My last tip for you is to graduate to flip-top bottles. You don’t have to use a capping machine at all with these, and some beers are still packaged this way commercially, so you can drink your way to a stock of these bottles easily. Of course, you can always buy them too. You can also buy new rubber gaskets for them. Never again will you need to buy caps and worry about messing them up.
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