Its that time of the year where we sit back, reflect on all we have
done brewed, and what we plan to do brew in the upcoming year. Sure, its just a date on a piece of paper, but any excuse is a good one to try and improve your self brewing. I’ve had some great success with the wild brews I’ve been working on lately – although unbeknownst to many, I have dumped some batches. Most often, this is just a set of bugs that didn’t work out or a coolship batch that ended up just nasty – or perhaps too much O2 getting in over time. Nevertheless, there are many practices that I continue to work on, some need more attention than others. This list contains things I’m already doing, but want to get better and more formalized at. My cooking style consists of glancing at a few recipes and make something up, or more lately look in the fridge and toss something together – too often I feel like like this translates into some of my brewing practices: I’m getting too casual.
This list is here to encourage brewers to think about their own practices and producing better beer faster. Thats why we’re here, right?
Fermentation Temperature Control
This can be difficult when you’re working with barrels, but for smaller batches there’s really no excuse. Fortunately for me, my basement stays around 62F almost year round, plus or minus a few degrees. I have several options for heating it in winter if need be, and in summer it stays right at 64. When I complete the “big move” next summer I plan to have a walk in fermentation room, but until then there isn’t too much I can do here. I can assure you that if you want your beer to taste great (I’m sure it tastes good) then this is the fastest way to do it. Unless you have a great cellar or cool room in the house, you should invest in a fridge/freezer with some kind of control system. Remember – if the room/box is set at a certain temp and fermenation is happening, odds are the beer temperature is 4-8degF higher than ambient temperature – and those first few days are critical!
Admittedly, I don’t adjust my water. Portland (Maine) water is great and for the most part doesn’t need anything – if it ain’t broke, why fix it? This means my practical knowledge of water adjustment is starting to slip away with my Quantum Physics class in college. There are many specific styles that can be accentuated by tweaking your water, and trying to match these would be great practice for me. They’d also be helpful for brewing “clean” beers.
If you haven’t looked at your city’s water report, pause right here and start your search. Beer is mostly water (despite my ability to not stay hydrated while drinking it) and it is critical you understand how it affects your final outcome. Think of the difference in making a soup base with different qualities of chicken stock – the better the base stock, the better the overall flavor. If you don’t understand water, adjustments, or how to read you water report, picking up a copy of “Water” from the Brewers Publications is a great place to start.
I do what is commonly referred to as “blind” yeast ranching. In the sense that I save my yeast for future brews, but don’t take any data on cell counting, viability, or anything else. Sure, I’m making starters, stepping up my dregs, but I really don’t know what’s going on quantitatively. I’ve got a microscope and have done some viewing, mostly just for fun. My wishlist this year from for my wife (a biochem major) is to help me up on all the good stuff. She used to do a lot of lab work and think she’ll be a great resource as her schedule becomes lighter.
My ultimate goal is to be able to harvest a strain, plate, select colonies, store, count cells and eventually test viability, by the end of next year!
Brew a few “Clean” Beers
As I mentioned above, I’ve had great success with many of the wilder brews I’ve done – and my barrel program is doing fantastic. Honestly, I occasionally miss a well brewed lager or IPA. A “clean beer” is one without any brett, lacto or pedio to the party. Mostly, I just buy a six or so of what I’ve got a hankering for – but I miss having them on tap. My only regular clear beer is my traditional Oktoberfest – brewed in March and tapped the third weekend in September. My goal is to brew a nice one each quarter – beers are TBD.
Take Better Notes
This is the one I really want to get better at, and it’s probably the easiest to do. Turns out, I’m really good at keeping track of malt bills and almost nothing else. Up until I got Beersmith a few months ago, I did everything with my TI-81 and an Excel spreadsheet. My plan is going to be using the computer and all the different software I decide upon to formulate my recipe and water adjustments, then use old fashioned paper and pen to record how the day went, then plug it all back into the computer. I find when I try to do everything on the computer I end up not going back to it to record my data, and when I try to use my phone it just gets wet and hard to work with.
Recording everything in detail is the one thing I wish I had been doing all these years. I used to not do any kind of recording at all the first few years I brewed and I really wish I had, if anything to look back for a laugh at what I used to think was acceptable practice or a good recipe. If you don’t write down what you do – start now!
Read less online, read more brewing literature.
Online forums are a great place to find answers for odd questions and uncommon practices. They’re also great if you suddenly forgot how much DME to mix in with your starter water and don’t want to sift through a text. Beyond that, I’ve found a few online resources are becoming a place of petty arguments. The wave of newbie questions are fine – I recall my early days of trying to figure out what the heck a mash was and whether I should be measuring pH the first time I tried it out (thanks, Palmer.) However I find myself going back to some of the basic texts to find the right answers. Granted, practices are changing, people are figuring out what shortcuts make brewing easier, and there is a lot of good information on the web. My goal isn’t to cut the web resources out, just back. Less browsing, more direct searching. Doesn’t mean this blog will be updated any less, my goal is to actually put a little more time into the non-brewing aspects of this website as well. If I know a little about beer, I know a LOT about the culinary arts.
A few books on my reading list are: Malt, The Craft of Stone Brewing Co, Beyond the Pale, and some other articles I have. Finish Beer School, reread American Sour Beers, Hops, Water, and Brewing with Wheat.
Hopefully this has you thinking about your “BrewYears Resolutions” and things you can do to make your brewing process easier and better. Any questions on the above practices or specifics on what I plan to do, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. Let’s hear what you are working on in 2015.