Brew Team Confidential: Home Brewing 101

top tips straight from the source

Brew Team Confidential: Home Brewing 101

Last month our Camden home brew maestro, Zara Hale, brought you some handy hints on how to start making beer in your living room.

Now we’ve quizzed our very own brew team to get you insider tips on home brewing; a scene that’s seen astronomic growth and shows no sign of slowing down.

So here are the misadventures and adventures of homebrew, through the eyes of our very own brew team…

John: “Knowing where to start when it comes to home brewing can be tricky. For inspiration, check out the Beer Judge Certification Programme website - they do a list of all known styles and the characters of different types of beer. It will also suggest hops and malts you might like to use for certain styles meaning you can match characteristics of beers to hops and malts to create your own unique hybrid.” johnlauter_620_01

Charlotte: “Starting off with an extract kit is a decent stepping stone into real home brewing. Even if you don't like the end result it's a good way to learn the process. Then you can introduce your own herbs, hops and experiment; you can slowly move up to all grain brewing. Another tip is to brew around 25 litres of a pale ale then use different demijohns to experiment with dry hopping using different hops.” mashtagcharlotte_620_02

Steve: “I got my job at BrewDog because I was such a dedicated home brewer! While living in Canada there was some awesome home brew shops  (Dan’s Home Brew Supplies in Vancouver being one of my favourites) and so I took to making my own beers. It’s best to brew in the kitchen, where you can make less lasting mess. Never ferment on a carpet; otherwise you’ll end up with a very angry partner! Bin bags are also handy for reducing the chance of making a right ol’ mess.”

Ryan: “Sanitation is the key to success. You can't make a really bad beer with good sanitation. Stock up on stuff like PVW - powered brewery wash and clean all your equipment in the bath. The first home brew beer I made was getting cold so I stuck it in the was light struck and horrible. UV light causes a chemical reaction in the hops so the taste becomes ‘skunky’. This is why beer is bottled in brown bottles; to block out the UV. Beers in clear bottles are highly unlikely to use real hops, they probably use hop extract or flavouring syrups instead so stock up on brown bottles to protect your beer!”

Russell: “Do as many home brews as possible. After about 100 attempts the beer will start to taste good! There's a lot more control in modern breweries so don’t beat yourself if your first few attempts don’t even taste like beer; it’s tricky! Be prepared for plenty trial and error.”

Want more ideas about how to get into home brewing? Feel free to ask our brew team questions using the comments box below!

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Comments (20)

Chris H 4th May, 2013 8:18pm
BrewDog Team 1st May, 2013 11:10am
Hey Christopsy,Yeast is super important! It defines so many different styles, and the flavours are so distinctive. Wyeast give recommendations on what style each of their strains are good for, so have a look through those and see what would fit the beer you want to brew. If you’re interested in yeast then Jamil Zainasheff has written a great book that is accessible to everyone, and that will help you learn about the mysterious world of yeast!
BrewDog Team 1st May, 2013 11:09am
Hi FBSF,Try using a dry hopping sock, just a very fine muslin bag, as the hops will disintegrate in there, just suspend it in the beer, and take it out when you’re done. When you’re bottling you could transfer into a demijohn first, leaving all the hop sludge at the bottom. Then bottle from the beer you just racked off. That should help reduce soupiness!
BrewDog Team 1st May, 2013 11:09am
Hey Grapat,First of all, you need to make sure you’re getting a good extraction from your mash, perhaps try lowering your strike temperature 2 degrees or so, or bump up your percentage of pale ale malt. We use all grain, but we use huge mash volumes for a smallish amount of final product. You can use sugar if you like, it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do to get your OG up, malt extract also works well and you’ll get a bit more body from it rather than just fermentables. I would use a strain with high alcohol tolerance, such as wyeast 1275 or 1318, both of which go up to about 10% ABV. If you want to go higher then champagne yeast can be used to restart a stuck fermentation.
BrewDog Team 1st May, 2013 11:08am
Oh and also PaulyWalks, it does depend on what you’re brewing, but aroma and dual purpose hops are best for dry hopping, dry hopping won’t make the beer any more bitter, so varieties like Centennial, Cascade and Columbus are good, as is Simcoe and Citra.
BrewDog Team 1st May, 2013 11:07am
Hey PaulyWalks,Air locks are not totally essential, but vigorously fermenting beer will produce a lot of CO2 and this needs somewhere to go! Minimal exposure to air whilst the beer is fermenting is essential, you can use cling film over the top of you fermenter too. I’ve always used an air lock, but home brew forums will be full of people with differing opinions. But CO2 has to go somewhere, and all the beasties and nasties need to be kept out, so it’s an easy way to ensure quality.
BrewDog Team 1st May, 2013 11:07am
Hey DjDanny32 Whilst brewers like to keep proportions and hopping schedules close to their chests, they are usually happy to share what type of hops they use for bittering and aroma, and well as the IBU’s of a final beer. If you wanted to brew a super bitter beer like Jackhammer at home, then you can use an IBU calculator. IBU’s are the measuring unit for bitterness in beers, and all hopped beers fall somewhere on the scale. Hardcore has 150 IBU’s, and we use high alpha American hops for that amazing resinous bitterness, so using the calculator you could enter the details specific to the brew you’re doing, and work out how much of each type of hop you’re using to get the IBU’s you’re after. Because every hop has a different alpha acid % (alpha acids are isomerised in boiling wort to give iso-alpha acids which gives the beer it’s bitterness), it’s impossible to give a hop-liquid ratio, as crops differ, and some hops are much better at bittering than giving aroma.
BrewDog Team 1st May, 2013 11:06am
Hey Alekks,For an extract brew, you could just get one of the starter kits that many homebrew shops will supply, with a malt extract, dried yeast and pre-prepared hops. If you’re feeling adventurous then you can use the malt extract and order a cool yeast strain from Wyeast or White Labs, and all home brew shops will have loads of hops, and the guys in there can help you pick the best one for the style you want to brew. You will also need a fermeting bucket, hydrometer and sanitiser. Be sure to keep everything sterile, or you can end up with vinegar. For an all grain brew you can find instructions on how to build a mash tun out of a picnic cooler online, and loads of home brewers use these and they’re pretty simple and effective. You will want mostly a pale ale malt, such as Marris Otter as this will give you the bulk of your fermentable sugars, and using specialty malts like caramalt or dark malts will give you additional flavour, body and colour. You will also need a good thermometer to make sure that you’re not mashing at too high or low a temperature (too high will inhibit enzyme activity), then the hops and yeast are all up to you! Homebrew shops and forums are fountains of knowledge, and loads of home brewers are happy to share their recipes. Don’t be daunted by the seeming complexity of the recipes, it will all start to fall into place once you’ve done a few kit brews, and can see how gravity changes and you understand what all the numbers mean! If you want to dry hop, then try a home brew hop sock, which will stop the final product having too many bits in it. Most importantly, don’t be put off if your first attempt at a style isn’t bang on, brewing takes a lot of practice, so perseverance is key.- Charlotte
Andy S 1st May, 2013 10:12am
Fermentation temperature and yeast health! Second most important things after sanitation. If you do not know how to propagate yeast, use rehydrated dry yeast at the proper temperature.Propagation reviews and descriptions over at white labs are excellent. www.whitelabs.comBut you might aswell go with Wyeast for your non dry yeast.If there's not enough to read about yeast you simply haven't googled enough.
Chris H 1st May, 2013 12:57am
I'm about to make my first attempt at homebrewing beer. I've been making elderflower champagne for several years now, so I'm familiar with sterilization techniques. I read about beer, malts, and hops on a daily basis, so theoretically I know what I'm doing, but I know there's more to brewing than theory. The main thing I'm not sure about is yeast. There's not as much written about yeast... almost as if people don't think the type of yeast is as important... I know it is very important. I'm looking at recipies for brown ales and stouts. Any suggestions?
Morten Skogly 30th April, 2013 11:31pm
It's a good tip to start with an abstract kit and consentrating on sanitation. After that move to allgrain, but use brew In a bag and create smaller batches (7-10 liters), to learn faster. Start with a SMASH simple pale ale , like a New Albion Clone, and build on that, adding specialty grain like crystal 40, swapping out ingredients to systematically build up skills. I hit my first awesome beer at #13.
Stephen Bdog 30th April, 2013 7:23pm
FBSF,If you use a pan scourer and a tight as modeled here you can boil the scourer and tight ( so they are clean ) then put it on the end of your siphon and secure the scourer by knotting the tight around the bottom. The scourer will give you good flow and the tight will filter out all the hops left in the beer. Also a week after dry hopping place the FV in a cold place and lots of the hops will settle out, this will also help in combo with the scourer/tight trick above. You will waste a bottle or so of beer but you will have bright beer and amazing aromas. Hope this helps.
brewdog fan 30th April, 2013 4:47pm
I don't think John is using those safety glasses properly.
A 30th April, 2013 4:43pm
How do I centuple cold filter my Miller clone?
alekks 30th April, 2013 3:51pm
What equipment is needed/necessary for my first batch?One list for extract and one list for all-grain, please!
Martin B 30th April, 2013 2:43pm
I would say this:Know your ingredients. Taste the malt, read up on your hops and yeast strains.Keep track of what you do during brewing. If the beer turns out bad, retrace your notes!Learn the basic math of malts and extracts, your equipment BWE and evaporation etc. Then you'll have a greater chance of getting the end result you wanted.
DjDanny32 30th April, 2013 2:28pm
I'd love a few more specifics - ok, so I know you've got to protect your recipes, but a rough idea of ratios of hops to liquid to attain the bitterness of Jackhammer, for example.Don't worry - we'll still buy Brewdog!
PaulyWalks 30th April, 2013 2:10pm
AfternoonAre air-locks essential? I've read a few books and almost all of them suggest to use them with the FV, however I simply fix a lid, without an air-lock and don't appear to have had any problems.Also what american hops are best to dry hop with for paler beers?Thanks.
Grapat 30th April, 2013 12:52pm
I have been atempting to make big stouts 10-15% Do you use sugars to bump up ABV or stick to AG and long boil times? What yeast do you use for big brews? I have used Champagne yeast is this OK?Cheers Graeme
FBSF 30th April, 2013 11:59am
I'm an all-grain homebrewer, and whilst my beers taste good, every time I try to dry-hop the sh** out of a beer, it ends up looking like soup instead of beer, even if I start with clear beer before dry hopping. Any tips to help keep it clear?