I recently had a couple beers with some friends and someone asked what variables, other than ingredients and cooking methods, went into making a good homebrew beer. There were two other homebrewers at the table, and we agreed that there were three key things you can control to ensure that things go right for your beer.
- Temperature Control. This is crucial. Proper temperature controlwill give your yeast a comfortable place to live and thrive. You do not need for the temperature to be in the mid-60s to make a good homebrew beer, but you do need for it to be somewhat stable. Yeast like to be in a particular environment and if it gets too warm or too cold they get a little upset and don’t perform well. I am the same way, I suppose.
Here in the Washington, DC area, it is hard to find a cool spot to ferment my beer, especially this time of year. If you have the space available, I recommend using a cellar or an interior closet in your home. Even if it does not get cold enough for lagering, these places typically have a pretty stable temperature. And if that temperature is 75 degrees, just find a yeast that will work well in that range. You may not get exactly the style you tried for, but you will still get a good beer.
- Sanitization. The single most important thing you can do to give your beer a fighting chance to be great is to properly clean and sanitize everything it touches. Beer is full of sugars and is a wonderful growth medium for many things, whether yeast or other beasties. Keeping out bacteria is important because all that nasty stuff can make nasty flavors and even prematurely stop the yeast from growing, if it is bad enough. Then you have disgusting beer with little alcohol. No redeeming value at all. It is true that sometimes certain bacteria are added, for example to make some sour beers, but these are added in a deliberate scientific way, not by skimping on sanitization.
- Time. Taking time and allowing things to sit for a while can dramatically change your beer’s flavor and other characteristics. We think of wine needing to age, sometimes for years, but we like to drink our beer fresh. There is a sweet spot, however, between having beer that has just been bottled and carbonated, and having beer that is old and less appealing.
Most beers are carbonated and ready to drink as soon as a few weeks after starting the boil. However, I recommend letting it sit in a glass secondary for at least an extra week, and then letting it sit in the bottle or keg at least an extra week. An extra month of aging would be even better. This will clarify your beer and simply make it more mellow, well-rounded, and overall more interesting. The downside is that this takes patience and the will to not hurry the process along just to get a beer in your belly. This is why you should time your batches so that you never run out of beer.
These three tricks will ensure that you have good quality beer and repeatable recipes. Did I leave anything out> What should be added to this list?