Home brewing beer is a traditional art that has recently undergone a huge resurgence. Hobby minded people from coast to coast are now making beer at home and re-discovering the tricks and treats of making their own beer, wine, and mead for a fraction of the cost of store bought alcohol. In fact, of the many types of libations that one can produce with a simple knowledge of the process of fermentation are rare, if one can find them in stores at all. Some of the tips that we discuss in this article will help any home brewer achieve these rare and wonderful flavors by brewing at home.
Our first tip on home brewing beer has to do with really bringing the flavors out of your malt by aging. Most folks, including the HomeBrewing.com staff, are all too eager to try their latest batches of beer. We urge you to have patience! A properly aged beer gains quite a variety of subtle flavors over time. Most beers age very well at two months, and the higher the gravity (or alcohol level), and the stronger the hop content, the longer such beers can age without detriment. If you save a six pack and taste one every two weeks, you will start to get an idea of how your brews are enhanced by aging. Most beers start to drop off in flavors after six months, so make sure you don't wait too long!
Our next tip on brewing at home is simple, yet vital - keep good track of your recipes! We recommend keeping a log in a hardbound book of your home brewing endeavors - both while brewing and after tasting - this will help you to fine tune your recipes. The simple process of writing down your recipes and the development of your brew over time will help you achieve the taste, body, and appearance you desire in your home brewed beers… in a way that no amount of reading other's books on the subject will. Make sure you leave room in each log entry not only for your recipe, but also any variations on standard production, including whether or not you applied a secondary or tertiary fermentation, changes in the temperature while the brew is fermenting, and, of course, the taste of the brew upon completion of fermentation and at intervals after (as long as your supply lasts!).
Another useful tip on home brewing beer is to diversify! A simple knowledge of fermentation will yield a vast array of brews. The world of beers alone is intricate and varied, from the light pale ales, lagers, and pilsners to the heavy and thick porters (our favorite), stouts, and barley wines, there are hundreds of flavors and styles. We recommend starting out by mastering a few kinds of simple beer - an amber ale is a good first choice - and from there trying more and more complicated recipes. In this manner, you can slowly but surely build your home brewing repertoire until you have quite a few beers under your belt. Also, by expanding into the art of mead or cider, you can produce brews for those that are allergic to hops or malt, for which they will be VERY grateful, as we can attest to from personal experiences. Mead and cider are both good choices for expanding beyond the realm of beer, due to the simplicity of their production.
"It's the water." We have all heard this phrase before, and I tell you now that IT IS TRUE! The quality of water used in your beer production is VERY important. The tap water from most cities is terrible for home brewing beer - it might even ruin some batches that are particularly sensitive. We recommend using reverse osmosis filtered water for regular brews, and spring water of the highest quality for brews you are putting a lot of effort into. One of our staffers went on a road trip to Alaska in 2004 in the summer, and quickly went through some 15 gallons of home brew on the way north. While visiting a glacial park near Anchorage, Alaska, they harvested ten gallons of pure glacier melt water, five gallons of which made it back home. The beer made with that water was gifted to each of their friends that made it up for the summer, "Winter Wolf Stout". This was the best beer our staffer ever brewed, using organic ingredients and pure Alaskan glacier melt water - and you could taste that it was the water! This was truly the landmark of their career in home brewing beer.
Our final tip on brewing at home is to add your own personal flair for each brew. Try a little something different that will most likely have an inconsequential effect upon the brew - yet YOU will know it's there. Maybe this involves adding some actual cocoa beans to your chocolate porter. Maybe it's as extreme as adding a squid's ink sac to the boil in an amber ale (what we have done before: the Spirit Squid Amber Ale). Or simple as throwing some boiled oak chips into your fermentation vessel for two weeks. These little touches may or may not have any effect upon your brew - but they are a great way to expand and evolve the art of home brewing beer. Most importantly, it makes the art and process of brewing at home fun! The fun you get out of this hobby is like no other - it makes for shared experiences that are unique to knowing who YOU are.