My name is Ken Lenard and I have been brewing beer since 1999. I started with extract kits, eventually designing my own recipes with specialty grains and dried malt extract and then started brewing all-grain in 2004. That is 5 years of extract brewing! Hard to believe. On this page, I want to cover some of the important aspects of brewing great beer. I want to give some background on my approach to brewing and enjoying the rewards of brewing.
Maybe it's my Midwest upbringing, but when I drink beer, I like to drink beer. I don't necessarily want to drink one or two strong beers. I appreciate a good beer that you can drink for awhile without getting tired of it and without sounding like a blithering idiot when you're done. My beers range from about 4% up to about 5.5%. I like to brew German beers like Oktobers, Viennas, Kolsch and Altbier. I also like English Ales like best Bitters and English Pale Ales. I also like Amber Ales and Lagers, Red Ales and Lagers and the occasional Blonde Ale. I enjoy having friends and family over to enjoy good food and great beer.
I like to use plastic primaries for their ease of use and because giant glass bottles make a huge mess when they break... which they do. I have four or five plastic primary vessels and 5-6 secondary fermenters. Beer can last a long time at cool temperatures in a secondary vessel so I use them to allow the beer to age and clarify. I also have a spare fridge for lagering or cold-conditioning and a draft fridge with a double tower. I have 6 kegs and room to keep 5 of them cold. So at any given time, I may have 2 beers in primary, 5-6 in secondary and 5-6 cold, carbonated and kegged. Once a keg is empty, I can move a beer from secondary into a keg and carbonated it at 25-30 psi over 48 hours and it's ready to be served. I will also use a simple picnic or cobra tap and low keg pressure to bottle directly from a keg. Using this method, it's possible to bottle directly from a keg while keeping very good carbonation for long periods of time. I have bottles in my fridge that were bottled with this method 10-12 months ago and they are crystal clear and well-carbonated... no Beer Gun required. Speaking of clarity, I also like clear beer. I want my beer to look like beer, not homebrew.
There are a lot of ways to make beer. It can be as easy or as complicated as you want to make it. Everything you see here is based on my own experiences and I do not pretend to be an expert in any way. I brew "by-the-numbers", generally and I try not to dive into ideas too deeply. This is a hobby after all and I would like to keep it fun without it becoming work. But you have to know some things up front or things can go badly. Again, there are many ways to do things and this is my angle on it.
1. Clean and sanitize. If you're reading this, you already know that bacteria can move in on your beer and ruin it. There are brewery-friendly cleansers and sanitizers that are made to help you with this. PBW, Straight-A, B-Brite even Oxiclean will help clean brewery equipment. Iodophor and Star-San will help sanitize equipment. Even when you think you have this area mastered, it's possible to have a batch of beer get infected.
2. Use Fresh Ingredients. Fresh ingredients make the best beer. Get your supplies at a local supplier, if possible and use fresh grains, extract, hops and yeast.
3. Check out your water. If you're brewing with extract, this is not an issue unless your water is absolutely foul. If it's good to drink, you can use it to make extract beer. If you brew all-grain, consider having your water analyzed. The mash process requires certain ions to be present in your beer and a water analysis will tell you what you have. It may also tell you what styles of beer are best brewed in your brewery. Most municipal water supplies are fine for brewing, but they will vary. I also send my tap water through a carbon block filter to remove chlorine, chloramine, organic flavor and particulate down to .5 micron.
4. Make a starter or carefully reuse your yeast. You need to use good, healthy yeast to ferment your beer and it's best to have a good volume of it to ensure a quick, vigorous fermentation. Wyeast Activators can be used directly from the pack if the yeast is fresh, the pack is swelled and the beer is of low or medium gravity (1.050 or lower...). White Labs vials should never really be directly pitched into wort because the packaging does not tell you if the yeast is active or viable. Make a starter with 650ml of water and ½ cup of DME... boil it, allow it to cool and add the yeast. Depending on yeast health, the yeast will be ready in 24-72 hours (possibly longer for older yeast) and that yeast can be pitched into cooled, well oxygenated wort.
5. Prepare your wort for pitching. Before you add the yeast to your wort, take these steps to ensure healthy & clean fermentations. First, make sure that there is plenty of oxygen in your wort. There are simple oxygenation systems that consist of a small airstone connected to tubing that will connect to an oxygen tank. Adding 60 seconds of pure O2 to the wort is usually sufficient. If it needs to be easier, you can connect a stirring tool to a drill and whip the wort up to create some oxygen. This is not quite as effective and can possible lead to contamination, but it can be better than taking no action. Yeast is a living organism and requires the proper environment... oxygen helps the yeast to do its important work. Also, the temperature of the wort is important. Try to get the temp of your wort to (or 5° below) the temp you want to ferment. When making an ale, do not assume that 80° to 90° is "good enough" to pitch your yeast. It is known that having yeast swimming in wort that is warmer than ideal temps can lead to esters and off-flavors even if the yeast is in contact with warmer wort for only 24 hours. This is also true for lagers. It's better to have the wort cooler and have the temp rise than pitch into warmer wort and have the temp fall.
6. Keep the temps consistent and in the ideal range. There are some styles of beer where the primary temp can climb into the 70s and 80s. Hefewiezens and Belgian beers feature complex flavors that are produced at these higher fermentation temperatures. Personally, I like to keep the profile of my beers clean. I typically try to ferment my lagers from 48° to 50° and I have fermented ales in the high 50s. Some strains like Wyeast 2565 (Kolsch) are meant to be fermented at 55° and others like Wyeast 2112 (West Coast Lager) are also meant to be used at lower temperatures. I have also used White Labs California Ale and Wyeast 1028 (London) as low as 58° to create a very clean beer. The important thing is to keep the primary temp consistent and at a temperature that will produce a beer that you enjoy. Many new brewers will taste their early batches and wonder what "that flavor" is. When a beer is fermented too warm, many unusual flavors can form. Spicy, complex, wine-like, cardboard, band-aid, banana or fruitiness, etc. Again, some beers are meant to have these flavors (called esters) but some clearly are not.
7. Allow your beer to fully ferment before you package it or send it to another vessel. With even the most basic of kits, you should have a hydrometer. Always allow your beer to fully ferment on the yeast before you decide to do anything with it. Beer can sit in a primary for a long time (easily 4+ weeks) with nothing adverse happening to it.
Let's talk about things that can go terribly wrong. We have all heard that bacteria will muscle in on your beer and take it over. Everything that comes in contact with your beer needs to be clean and sanitary. There are times when your wort or beer are more prone to bacteria and other times where they are protected. Obviously, anything that happens up to the point of boiling your wort is a non-issue. The boiling will kill off anything attempting to colonize your beer. But once your wort is cooled and before an active fermentation begins, the wort can be vulnerable. Once a good, vigorous fermentation has begun, it's very difficult for bacteria to cause trouble because yeast will typically metabolize any bacteria that is unfortunate enough to be in its way and a churning primary fermenter is a very inhospitable place for bacteria. Once primary fermentation is complete, a layer of Co2 typically hovers over the beer offering some protection. But at this point, it's certainly possible for bacteria to cause trouble. I have read some articles that suggest that your beer is probably the single place in your entire home that bacteria would love to invade. It's sweet & sugary and there's plenty of it. Because of this, use your sanitizer the way it shows on the label. Iodophor and Starsan are both "no-rinse" products. The iodophor has a bit of an odor (which does not carry over into beer) and Starsan can have some foaming issues. But the best procedure for this is to soak anything (spoons, racking canes, tubing, airlocks, buckets, carboys, bottling wands, etc.) in the sanitizer and then remove them and let them sit without rinsing them. Many brewers have described how they racked 5 gallons of beer right onto Starsan foam with no issues. The better your sanitation, the better chance that your beer will make it to your beerglass.
I've had some strange things happen. I like to use the garage as a "walk-in cooler" during the winter, so I will put carboys & kegs out there. A carboy in the garage with an airlock & stopper is a little dicey, especially if you have 3 kids. So one day I'm out in the garage and I notice that somehow the airlock & stopper have been knocked out of one of my secondaries. I quickly grabbed it, cleaned & sanitized it and put it back on and it had probably been off for 24 hours or less. As I put the stopper back in place, I figured... I need to take a whiff... Well, it smelled like 5 gallons of vinegar. 5 gallons down the drain.
I have also had instances where I will take a beer from primary, send it to secondary and have it sit there for weeks and possibly months. This is not an issue (ordinarily) and by that time the beer is typically crystal clear and very smooth flavor-wise. When my beer goes into secondary, I expect it to be still... no bubbles, no floaties, no activity of any kind. This past summer I had one like that and it sat there clarifying. It was a light lager and it had a nice, clear gold color that was beautiful in the secondary. Then one day I went to check on another secondary that was right next to the light lager and noticed some activity. There was about ½ inch of foam, bubbles were rising from the bottom and the beer was no longer clear... it was very cloudy. The airlock was secure and the airlock was inserted into an orange carboy cap which I consider to be more secure than a stopper because it clings tightly to the glass and has less chance to be accidentally knocked out of place. So this suggests that there was a possibility that bacteria was in the secondary and cleaned and sanitized to a degree, but not completely and over the 3-4 weeks that the beer was in secondary, the bacteria multiplied and took over. This is guess, but if something got into the secondary from the outside, I don't know how it happened. Best to be as safe and diligent as possible and make sure that things are clean & sanitized. Also, anything that's easy and cheap to replace (a plastic primary or lid, tubing, funky airlocks, etc.) just replace them. Don't take chances with things that cost 99¢ or something.
At some point, you begin to recognize batches that may be infected. They may act differently in secondary, they may be cloudy, a secondary fermentation may kick up or they may smell or taste problematic. I have always been very patient about this and have always had the hope that extended aging may solve the problem... it rarely does. There are large gravity beers, beers made with honey, fruit or spices that may not taste smooth when they are young and may improve with extended aging. But these are not the type of beers I'm referring to... I'm talking about BAD BEER. The first bottles of homebrew that I poured down the sink made me very nausesous. Not because I drank them and they made me sick, but because I was pouring beer down the drain. The truth is that every homebrewer, regardless of experience level, will eventually have a batch that is either infected or is simply not what they had in mind. I am much more open about dumping beer that is not to my liking. I still don't like to do it, but I know that I have many other beers patiently waiting to get into one of my kegs. While it may make you shake your fist at the sky, realize that you are not alone when you dump out gallons of beer that just didn't make the cut. If it's not to your liking, it's just taking up precious space in your brewery, in one of your fermenters, kegs, bottles or whatever. If it's not good and you're not going to drink it no matter what, pour it out. If it's in bottles and you don't think that the bottles will explode (due to the infection creating more pressure in the bottle... a very real and scary possibility) you can save them to boil brats, ribs or italian sausages... I do this occasionally. Also, a note about extended aging, cold-conditioning and the like: Many brewers will experience a situation where they fermented a batch of beer and had a problem or two. Maybe they used old yeast or yeast that was in poor health. Maybe the wort wasn't aerated properly or maybe the wort was too warm when they pitched their yeast. Maybe they allowed the primary temperature to rise into the high 70s, the 80s or higher and their beer now has some esters and off-flavors that are detracting from the overall flavor. Many will attempt to age the beer with the hope that these flavors will disappear. Aging a beer in secondary (cool, cold or otherwise) will rarely if ever erase a problem that occurred in primary. Cold conditioning a beer will often improve the clarity, smoothness and cleanliness of a beer that was properly fermented, but extended aging will not erase problems that popped up in primary. This is why paying close attention to the primary fermentation is so important.
Let's talk about using your yeast more than once. If you use dry yeast, it's not recommended that you use it for more than one batch. It's possible that you could do it without issue, but for the $1 that it costs for dry yeast, it may not be a good idea. Liquid yeast almost always requires a starter before you use it. After the batch is done fermenting, you may notice that you have a whole lotta yeast at the bottom of the primary. There are different ways to reuse it and one method is to rack Beer #1 from primary on the same day that Beer #2 is being brewed. Rack Beer #1 out of primary and simply add Beer #2 into the same, crusty fermenter (after it's cooled down, of course). If you assume that the primary environment was sanitary (as you should if Beer #1 was just in there), you may assume that it still is sanitary and you can place fresh wort in there. I have done this with good results but I have never been completely comfortable doing this. Another option is to carefully take some of that yeast, place it into a clean & sanitary vessel (erlenmeyer flask, glass jar, growler, etc) and store it in the fridge until you're ready to pitch it into the next beer. If you decide to save it for some length of time (days, weeks, months), it's best to make sure that the yeast is stored at a low temperature to ensure that it has gone dormant. If the yeast continues to stay active (even slightly), it can metabolize itself and get funky. I store all of my saved yeast in 12 oz bottles (with a #2 stopper and airlock for 20-30 days... then I cap the bottles tight) in a fridge set to 34°. I have stored some lager strains at warmer temps (~40s) and that yeast will stay active in that environment and mutate. If the yeast sits for longer than 1-2 weeks, it's best to make a large starter for it before using it. It will give you a chance to smell it, making sure that it's still healthy and fresh and it will also give you a chance to see how active it is. When I make a starter from harvested yeast, the starter is usually ready (rocking, actually) in 1-2 days. Remember too that all of the schputz at the bottom of the primary may not be yeast. It could be hops, break material, irish moss, whirfloc, etc). There is also the topic of "washing" yeast. There appears to be a number of ways to do this and they may not all qualify as washing, but I believe they all serve the same purpose. Let's say you're making a beer and you're going to use the yeast that is currently in a primary fermenter. You would rack that primary beer to a secondary and then save the yeast from that primary in a sanitized vessel. You can take some sterile water (I boil some water and allow it to cool) and mix that in with the yeast and mix it around. Cover the vessel and put it into the fridge. After about an hour, you will see a layer of liquid (beer) on the top and possible a layer of darker particles (hops, maybe Irish Moss, etc.) on the bottom. You will then see a middle layer that should appear cleaner and smoother. This is the yeast you want. You can pour off the beer, pour the yeast layer into the primary for the new beer and leave the darker section on the bottom of the yeast vessel and throw it away.
Using the right amount of yeast
I started to get into the habit of taking ALL of the leftover yeast from a primary, saving it and then using ALL of that slurry in a new batch. If you talk to any homebrewers or look at forum topics on yeast, you will see that most homebrewers believe that the more yeast, the better. I listened to a Brewing Network show with Jamil Zainasheff and he outlined the above process for washing yeast. But he also has a yeast calculator on his site where you can set your parameters for new yeast, harvested yeast, age of yeast, type of beer (ale or lager), gravity of beer, how thin or thick the yeast is, how much of the yeast slurry may be non-yeast, etc. If you enter these parameters into his calculator, you will see the optimum about of yeast to pitch. I believe that I was pitching 2, 3, maybe 4 times more yeast than was optimum. I have heard numerous times that yeast need to reproduce to some extent so that they can produce some of the flavors that we find pleasant in beer. If too much yeast was pitched, the yeast would not reproduce at all and that may lead to an adverse profile in the beer. Also, by pitching ALL of that slurry volume, it's possible that a good amount of non-yeast material or dead yeast cells are now present in your new primary and that can lead to flavor problems too. Here's an example: I just racked a beer out of primary and saved the lager yeast (in this case, White Labs 940 Mexican Lager yeast). I got about 600-700 milliliters of slurry in the flask, washed it and put it into the fridge. As it settled, about 525 milliliters were slurry and 175 was liquid floating on top. I punched my parameters into Jamil's calculator... my new beer was a lager, the O.G. was 1.050, I was using harvested slurry that was harvested today. There is a "thin/thick" slide control on the site which is to determine how dense the yeast is. When you look at the blob of yeast in a White Labs vial... that is considered "thick". When you see slushy, thin yeast at the bottom of your primary (as you might see on a low-floccing strain), that's "thin". I set my thickness level about 1/3rd of the way across which would be more "thin" than "thick"... this would simply suggest that I needed more yeast. I also set my "non-yeast" parameter to about 5% because I'm usually pretty careful about what ends up in my primaries. So the calculator took all of that information and determined that I needed a little over 200 milliliters of my slurry. Had I not looked into this issue, I would have pitched the entire contents of the flask which would have been about three times more yeast than I needed. All of this is subjective because we all have different tastebuds, we all pitch different amounts of different yeasts and we all brew different beers. The few beers where I noticed a problem were all lighter lagers where the off-flavors would be more noticeable.
Below is a video showing some very-high floccing yeast (Wyeast 1968 London ESB). When you rack beer out of a primary, you will always see yeast. Somtimes a lot of the yeast will be suspended and the yeast at the bottom will the "thin" and sparse. Other times, the yeast cake will be thick & compact. On this one, I just couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this yeast cake. It looks like one giant mass, as if you could just pick it up and frisbee it across the backyard. Needless to say, a yeast like this will result in some very clear beer...
On the show Beer Nutz on MOJO, the hosts interviewed Fritz Maytag of San Francisco's Anchor Brewing Company. When they asked him about the beer he was most proud of, he replied, "Anchor Steam" and said something about the fact that any time he had the good fortune to have an Anchor Steam he would say, "That's wonderful!" and he said that one of the reasons he enjoyed it was because it was a "beery beer". This is an interestingly silly statement, but it occurred to me that there truly are beery beers and there are also beers that are not beery.
It seems to me that a beery beer is straightforward, clean-tasting, refreshing and thirst-quenching. It's a beer that you can drink a lot of and not get tired of. Of course, this is all subjective depending on your taste. But I would suggest that a pilsner, a cream ale, a blonde and a pale ale are beery beers. I would also say that a Belgian Witbier is not. A hefe is not a beery beer with all of that banana & clove in there. An Amber Ale, a Red Ale or Lager, a Vienna, Oktober or Marzen are beery. A Saison (or anything Belgian), a stout (in any form) and a porter are probably not. A bock, an English Ale, a West Coast Lager (which Anchor Steam is) are beery beers. This may explain why I do not have stouts, porters, hefes Belgian Trippels or ultra-hoppy IPAs on my recipe pages.
Lately, I have been using ale yeast at lower temps just to see how they will behave. My original thinking was that the beer would be cleaner tasting from the lower fermentation temps and that esters would be kept to a minimum. I have recently used White Labs 01 in my Memory Lapse Pale Ale and my Bases Loaded Blonde Ale where I kept the primary fermentation temps under 60°. This may be something that would work better on a subsequent batch (not the first usage of the yeast) where there is a greater volume of yeast. I have also used Wyeast 2565 and Wyeast 2112 between 50° and 55°. Both of these yeasts are meant to ferment lower, so this is not necessarily a radical idea. In some recent English Ales (Aviator's and Thirsty Buffalo) I also used Wyeast 1028 at about 58° which is about 2° lower than the low end of the range for Wyeast ale strains. The result has been unbelievably smooth, clean-tasting beer that allows the grains & hops to shine through with less interference from the yeast. Clearly, there are some beer styles where this will not work. Belgians and Hefe styles are meant to have complex flavors that are derived from using the proper yeast at warmer temperatures. One method I have been using for both ales and lagers is using a large, plastic tub with about 10 gallons of cool water in it... I place the primary in there and keep primary temps cool and consistent. With 5 gallons of beer being surrounded by a 10-gallon blanket of water, the primary temps are kept cool with very little fluctuation. If I am fermenting a lager, I will use frozen plastic bottles to keep the temp near 50°. If I do not use any frozen water bottles, the temp will stabilize somewhere around 58-60° depending on the season. These plastic tubs (with rope handles) are available at places like Walmart, Sam's & Target for less than $10. Put a probe thermometer in there to keep track of your temperature. It works especially well on a cool, cement basement floor.
I think it's very possible that when new brewers (or friends & family of new brewers) taste those first few batches of beer, they may taste something that just doesn't seem right. It's very possible that it is esters, off-flavors and phenolic characteristics that come out when beer is not fermented at the proper temperature. Most brewers will tell you that you really need to keep the temp low in the range that is suggested by the yeast. This is one of the things I have done to improve my beer dramatically. The only issue with fermenting at these lower temperatures is making sure that the beer is fully fermented before you decide to send it to secondary or a keg. If the yeast does not finish up due to the cooler temps, the beer will be underfermented and have an overly sweet, tangy flavor. To ensure that the beer is fully fermented, the primary can be moved to a warmer place once the activity in the primary has slowed down. I will typically leave an ale in the tub for 7 days or so and when the actitvity has slowed down dramatically, I will take it out of the tub and leave it at a slightly warmer temp. Always use a hydrometer to check the gravity of the beer before you decide to take it off the yeast.
When I first started homebrewing, one of my goals was to make some good fruit beers. I had tried a few commercial versions of beer with lemon, raspberry, blackberry, etc. and thought it would be fun to try. I quickly leared that this area is filled with landmines. The first option that a homebrewer is usually faced with is fruit extract that comes from your brewing supply house. Some of these are better than others. The Crosby and Baker stuff seems to be better than the LD Carlson stuff, generally. But in many cases, theses things are either tasteless or what flavor they have is very cough-syrupy. Some of these will actually come through better in a dark, roasty beer like a stout or porter, than they would in something like a blonde ale. For example, I tried LD Carlson raspberry extract in a blonde/cream ale and it really was not very good. But another brewer made a raspberry porter and when I tried it, I asked him about the fruit flavor. When he told me he used LD Carlson raspberry extract, I was very surprised. I also picked up some Crosby & Baker blueberry extract one time. It's dark blue and has a very fresh aroma to it. On the other hand, LD Carlson has a blueberry extract that is clear and has very little aroma. When working with real fruit, you have a few obstacles also. One is that you need to sanitize the fruit in some way because any kind of wild contaminants on the fruit may ruin your beer. Also, you don't want to boil the fruit. This can bring out haze-causing pectins and the boiling of the fruit (plus the scrubbing effects of primary) will remove the delicate flavor of the fruit. I have used some lemon zest and lemon juice in a wheat beer where I added the zest & juice at flameout and then let that steep in the brewpot with the lid on. The heat of the brewpot sanitized the zest & juice and the flavor came through very nicely even though the fruit had to go through primary. But the lemon flavor was "muted" a little. Drinking that beer was not like squeezing a lemon into your glass of beer. It lacked that fresh lemon flavor. I also used frozen fruit from the grocery store. One issue here is that many brands of frozen fruit also contain added sugars. I sanitized the fruit by putting it into a pot and brining it to around 160° for 20 minutes. Then I poured that into my sanitized secondary and racked the beer on top (I believe this particular fruit was a medley of raspberry, strawberry and blueberry). A short time later, a small, steady secondary fermentation kicked in that lasted for a very long time. There was an inch or two of white foam on top of the beer and it just kept chugging away. Weeks went by and it kept going. Eventually I tasted it and it was extremely dry and wine-like. I believe that the added sugars are to blame for this. At one point I decided to get away from that altogether and I found myself standing in the spice area of my grocery store. I found McCormick Natural Raspberry extract. I couldn't smell it because it was sealed closed so I had to buy it. A small, glass, 1-ounce bottle. I tried some of this in a "raspberry dunkel" and it was probably the best attempt at a fruit beer that I had tried. It has a much better flavor and aroma than anything I've seen at a brewing supply house. They also make the McCormick extracts in other flavors including lemon, orange, strawberry, cherry and coconut for that porter you've been wanting to make. I got to the point once (when attempting a strawberry blonde...) that I actually added a packet of sugar-free strawberry Kool-aid to a keg of beer. You know what? It wasn't bad at all. It was very faint but you could pick out that there was a fruit flavor in the beer. I read something in BYO where a brewclub in Ohio makes a wheat beer and when they keg it, they add 2 small tubs of Crystal Light lemon directly to the keg and it adds the perfect amount of lemon flavor. Last weekend I had some of the local brewers over for a beer gathering. One of the guys brought over a raspberry-bourbon oatmeal stout. I didn't detect bourbon as much as I picked up the raspberry. It turned out that he grew the raspberries in his yard. He picked 1½ pounds of them and froze them. When you freeze berries, it breaks the skin and allows the juices to flow. When they thaw, they are mushy. So he placed them in a blender to zip them up and then into a pot to get them to 160° for 15-20 minutes to sanitize them. Then he put that into the secondary and racked on top. He said he had a very mild secondary fermentation kick up from the natural sugars in the berries, but nothing compared to the one I experienced. The fruit flavor from his stout was the best I have tried. It figures that real fruit would produce the best results. I went out and picked up some fresh raspberries and quickly threw them into the freezer in a freezer bag. I plan to make a Raspberry Cream Ale using the technique just described. I may mash a little higher to offset any dryness that may occur. Below are some general guidelines for producing some good fruit-flavored beer.
¤ If using real fruit, try to add the fruit as late in the process as possible to keep the delicate flavor of the fruit intact.
¤ If using extract from a brewing supply house, look into Crosby & Baker. If possible, take the cap off the various bottles and smell them. Some are better than others. The McCormick extracts are much better and a web search may lead you to places that carry gourmet extracts and "flavorings" that are much fresher tasting than the LHBS stuff.
¤ If using real fresh fruit, sanitize it by bringing it to around 160° for 15-20 minutes to kill off any wild contaminants. You can also mix it with some amount of alcohol (vodka, rum, bourbon) to attempt to sanitize it as best as possible.
¤ If buying frozen fruit from the store, look for fruit that hasn't had any sugars added to it. Many of the products found in the freezer section of the store are labeled "sweetened" and it's tough to find frozen fruit that doesn't contain additional sugars.
¤ Mash a little higher to offset the drying effects that may occur from the sugars in the fruit fermenting.
¤ If adding fruit directly to the brewpot, wait until flameout and steep the fruit in the brewpot (lid on, heat off) for 15 minutes. This will impart some fruit flavor, but the heat of the brewpot and the scrubbing effects of primary may remove a lot of what you want in your glass of beer. It may be necessary to add more later in the process.
¤ If using extracts, add them to your secondary, bottling bucket or keg.
¤ It is apparent that adding anything like fruit, spice or other flavoring to a beer requires a little extra time. Some of these beers can taste sharp when they're young and a little aging can help smooth out the flavor and bring everything together.
Some brewers do not mind that there beer is not clear. Obviously, flavor should be the number 1 priority with aroma and maybe color being taken into consideration too. I once read something like, "You first taste a beer with your eyes", which sounds ridiculous, but I have to say that I like my beer to be clear. I like for my beer to look like "beer", not homebrew. I am always thinking that ordinary beer-drinking people will already have a suspicious thought about homebrew in the first place... if it ended up looking like a cloudy mess, it certainly wouldn't help. Clear beer is something I look for every time I make a beer. I don't really make a lot of beers where clarity is not an issue (like hefes) so I try to get each batch clear and I look at various things along the way.
1. Use Irish Moss, Whirfloc or Supermoss in the boil kettle. I used to use Irish Moss and I now use Whirfloc which works very well. Some brewers have told me that Supermoss is even better. These products allow for your break and hop material to settle in the brewpot while (and after) you chill your wort.
2. Leave the brewpot in an ice bath for 15-20 minutes after chilling. This will allow everything to settle further.
3. Rack your wort from brewpot to primary, leaving most of the hop and break schputz behind. I can normally rack about 3-4 gallons of ultra-clear wort from brewpot to primary. Eventually I will get some of the solids, but it's better than just dumping the brewpot into the primary.
4. Make sure that your beer is done fermenting before you move it. Once yeast is done fermenting your beer, allow it to settle a bit so most of it ends up on the bottom of the primary. Not only will this allow for clearer beer, but it will also mean more yeast for you to harvest, if applicable.
5. Strongly consider using a secondary. Many brewers do not want the additional hassle of a secondary fermenter. It can be an extra place to pick up contamination and it's one extra step that you need to make and many brewers simply do not want to do it. But the secondary is THE place where the beer gets it's clearest. I like a secondary for a few reasons. First, you can add a gel solution to the secondary and rack the beer on top. This will drag particulate down to the bottom of the secondary and produce brilliantly clear beer in almost all cases. It also allows for extra storage of beer if you happen to have a lot of brewing going on. Beer can sit safely in a secondary for a very long time and if the secondaries can be kept cool or cold, the beer will clear that much better.
6. Allow the beer to sit and clear before you bottle it or keg it. You can have very clear beer and still have enough yeast is suspension to sucessfully prime bottles. If you're going to a keg, just rack the clear beer and try to leave as much yeast in the bottom of the secondary as you can.
7. Check your mash pH and what ions are present in your beer and at what levels. This is an area that could fill many books and I won't go into much detail here. But if you're an all-grain brewer, you can get a jump on beer clarity at the point of mashing. The appropriate level of calcium can promote clarity in beer and having the correct mash pH can also be a big factor in how clear your glass of beer eventually turns out. There is more information on my BREWING WATER page.
8. If you keg, try adding a gel solution to the keg when the beer is cold but before it's carbed. I will normally add gel to room-temp (or "cellar-temp") beer when the beer goes from primary to secondary. But I recently learned that adding a gel solution to COLD beer will boost the effectiveness of the gel quite dramatically. I typically have secondaries sitting at cellar temps for weeks or months until a keg opens up. I rack one of those beers to a keg and then put it into my "on-deck" fridge overnight to get it cold before I carb it. The next morning, I whip up some gel solution, pour it into that keg, seal it back up and then start force-carbing it. This will cause a very large percentage of haze-causing compounds to drop out. As a result, you may get 2-3 pints of heavily sedimented beer when the keg is first tapped. But eventually you will be delighted by beer that almost looks filtered. I have done this on my last 8-10 kegs and it makes a HUGE difference. Many of my friends, family & neighbors have commented, Wow! Look at that glass of beer! Give it a try on your next batch.
It's possible that you can have very clear beer go into a keg or bottles only for them to cloud up when they get cold. This is chill haze and some brewers will experience this more than others. But going through the above steps will lessen the impact of chill haze. Also, using a high-floccing yeast can also be a great tool in making clear beer easier to achieve. Some brewers also suggest that a more vigorous boil will produce clearer beer or make the beer easier to clarify so... No wimpy boils! Another good tip is to brew more often if possible. If you have many, many secondaries filled with beer, you will be less anxious to get the beer from the secondary to bottles or a keg and that will allow the beer to sit longer and clarify. I try to do these things on every batch I make. I have had low flocculating yeasts like 1007 and 2565 end up producing brilliantly clear beers by following the steps here. Visit the Beer Gallery for pictures of Mayfair Court Brewhouse beers that are clear.
The Power of the Homebrewer
As a homebrewer, you don't make beer in the hopes that it will be almost as good as some commercial beer that you have in mind. No. You plan to surpass that beer. The bottles or kegs in your fridge hold the freshest and most delicious beer in your neighborhood. Think about it... maybe there have been people brewing in Europe for thousands of years, but by the time their product makes it over here, finds its way to the store and eventually to your fridge, how do we know how good it is? Maybe it's been mishandled or maybe it's old. As for craft beers that are made in the U.S., many are only locally or regionally available so you... the homebrewer, you have to make the beer that you will drink. You have no budgetary constraints (within reason), you're not necessarily attempting to make the exact same product time after time, you use only the finest and freshest ingredients and your beer contains no preservatives. Your beer is like a fingerprint... unique. Think about all of the beer that you might encounter in a 10 or 20 miles radius from your house. How much beer could you find in that area that has been made with such experience and care? How much beer can you find in that area that has had so much attention given to the little details? How much beer would you find that is fresher than yours or of higher quality than yours? I suppose you could get a run for your money if you lived next door to a fantastic craft brewpub. But even then... the beer you brew is brewed with your tastebuds in mind. You know exactly what's in it and what's been done to it. You know how old (or young) it is and you know how you made it. It's sad to say, but the head brewers and assistant brewers at your favorite brewpub have to keep making the same beers over and over again. Their creativity can come out once in awhile and that's the extent of it. The homebrewer makes whatever beer he or she can envision. The homebrewer can have unlimited creativity. What's the point? The point is that the homebrewer is armed with the latest knowledge. The homebrewer can make any beer he or she wants and has access to all of the grains, hops and yeast to be had. The homebrewer has an army of other homebrewers who like to share their knowledge and help make all homebrewer's beer better. The large national breweries don't make the best beer. The craft beer companies don't make the best beer and the small craft breweries don't make the best beer. The homebrewer makes the best beer. Darn right. Cheers!
Questions, comments or something else? Email me: here.