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Number One Simple Tips for Beginner Brewers?

I’m some 15 brews into my homebrew career now, and I still can’t get that great beer. Either my hop profile doesn’t come through or they have flavors in the wrong type of beer. Saison esters in my Cali Common, etc. So I’m asking you guys to reveal that one secret or change that took your beers to that next level. Either a change in procedure or a new temperature or a new part; maybe just something mental. Things I see on the forum along the lines I’m thinking:

Using a wort Chiller
Hop additions

Nothing crazy. Just a simple little thing that changed your brewing for the better. I’m sure you guys have your tricks. I can assure you as a beginner on the forum that all advice, however small, is greatly appreciated. Sometimes it’s intimidating to ask for basic suggestions.

For me it was fermentation temp control

I use a ‘swamp cooler’

Yeast, yeast and more healthy yeast! Yes, make a yeast starter.
Fermenting consistently at the lower-middle range of the yeast temperature range.

Skip the filtering, oxygenating through shaking/stirring can be enough for most beers, and a BIG ice bath with a extract kit can cut it. Now a filter with some pure oxygen and a nice fast cool can help but I’d focus on those first two.

Temp control and healthy yeast are key.

So is establishing the conditions for great beer and resisting the urge to tinker with everything. Skip the darn secondary and just primary for 3 weeks. Cold crash that mother and keg it up.

Oh yeah - moving to kegging is revolutionary. Your beer will taste much better thanks to the extended cold conditioning, drop a lot clearer, be more consistent, and much less of a hassle. It’s easy to bottle from the keg with a homemade cobra tap-style bottling wand.

Moving to all-grain was also huge for me, although it brought about a lot of other changes like full-wort boils, getting a wort chiller, and spending a lot more time reading up on the brewing process. If you really want to step it up, start AG brewing. Then start kegging. If you’re sure that this hobby is something you’ll stick with, make the investment to become the brewer you want to be ASAP. You won’t regret it!

You have more brews under your belt then mine, but i don’t think I’ve brewed one yet that I did not think was good.
Maybe I am not picky but I did do my homework and lurked these great forums for a long time before I brewed, that being said the advice from above is good, ferm temps and making sure you have enough yeast is crucial.
I invested in a freezer with a Johnson control and a stir plate + flask set up for yeast starters and have never had a bad brew imo.

fermentation temp control and healthy yeast. if your liquid yeast is past it’s date, make a starter. if your OG is around 1.060 or higher, make a starter. check out what hop others are using in the style you want to brew and start off with those until you know their characters real good. if you’re using extracts, start doing full boils if possible.

Clean and sanitize everything ! Prepare yeast starters and read instructions from start to finish. I also have recently invested in a wort chiller and the faster you can cool your wort the better

First and foremost.

Are you extract or all-grain? If you’re extract… full-volume boils, for sure. Boil the entire volume of water, extract, hops, etc.

You mention “wort chiller”. How are you chilling now? Getting a good, quick chill is important. The time after the boil and the time that the yeast start their important work is critical and the time when batches are most likely to become infected.

Temp control is also critical. I used to ferment ales on my basement floor and lagers in a large tub filled with cool water and frozen water bottles. Now I ferment my lagers in a fridge and my ales in the tub of water. The beer will be much cleaner and smoother if you keep your primary fermentation temps in line.

Making sure that you’re using enough fresh, healthy yeast is important too and I always oxygenate with pure O2 before I pitch.

Also, patience is important. Allow the beer to fully ferment and the yeast to start to settle before you transfer it to secondary or for bottling and kegging.

Clean and sanitary conditions are brewing 101 so if there is an issue there, you need to get on that, for sure.

If you’re all grain… I hate to mention this but… you absolutely need to look into your water. If you’re on a well or just have bad water for whatever the reason, that will carry over into your beer. You would need to adjust it or dilute it to make it better but you can’t do that without knowing what’s in it so a water analysis would be necessary.

I apologize for all of those suggestions but making stellar beer is rarely due to making one small adjustment. It’s usually a progression of changes that are made over time by taking good notes and looking at small things and trying to adjust them. I’ve been brewing for 13 years and still make the occasional subpar batch. I have brewing dreams and/or nightmares. Yes, it’s a sickness. :o Cheers & good luck.

The big 3 (in order of importance):

Sanitization - clean and sanitize everything meticulously

Fermentation - pitch enough yeast and keep your temps under control

Ingredients - use fresh, quality ingredients and store them properly

After that, just make sure you keep meticulous notes of your entire process. You can then tweak one thing at a time and you’ll be able to see how (and whether) it improves your beer.

Read everything you can, but do so with a critical mind until you test things for yourself. And ask a lot of questions to other brewers, but don’t take anything as 100% fact until you try it yourself.

Brew as often as you can, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Every time you taste one of your beers, ask yourself “what can I do to make this better?”

Good Beer Starts with good water. Do you know what is in yours? Do you remove chloramines? If you suspect your water might be an issue, try a batch with store bought water and see if there is a difference.

Otherwise, water treatment can be fairly simple, as long as you are not starting with something too hard or alkaline.

I’ll do mine based on your suggestions:

Oxygenating - very very important, but unless you are making HUGE alcohol beers, using your store bought mash paddle and splashing the thing around in the for 2-3 minutes is sufficient…IF you are pitching enough yeast (not just a smack pack/vial)

Filtering - not important…maybe for clarity, but there are other ways to get that

Using a wort Chiller- this helps your ‘beer made : time spent brewing’ ratio, and some say it can help reduce DMS (cooked corn/cabbage flavor), BUT I have made some great brews with no-chill/partial chill. An immersion chiller is a good pick up. I would almost advise just buying one as the price of copper makes building one (which I did) about cost-neutral, especially when you factor in the value of your time

Temperatures - HUGE. huge, huge, huge. $100 Johnson temp controller, and used chest freezer on craigs list. Best $150 I’ve spent on any brew gear.

Hop additions - not sure what you are referring to, but as long as you follow a GOOD recipe, this shouldn’t be an issue. Pick up or borrow Brewing Classic Styles.


Do you use brewing software? Try out one of them (BeerTools, etc.). You can also use Hopunions site for free. Amongst many other things, this will allow you to keep lots of notes (ie gravity was 1.052 instead of 1.058, forgot to add campden tablet, etc.). Its so easy to forget.

I would also suggest trying to brew with an experienced brewer. I had 15-20 brews under my belt, and brewing with some other guys helped me realize some things I had been doing wrong all along (ie leaving the boil kettle lid on! Though this didn’t seem to have much of an effect (some say it will cause excess levels of DMS))

Make yeast starters too. Every time, even for 1.050-.060-level beers. Dangers of overpitching are far more minimal than those of underpitching.

FINALLY (and this was my hardest lesson to learn): PATIENCE. I primary for 2-3 weeks MINIMUM now. No secondary. As above, the dangers of oxygenation/infection with transferring far outweigh the dangers of leaving a beer in primary for 3, 4, 5, 8 weeks.

As Gordon Strong says, its all about learning your system, and how to minimize ‘stuff you don’t want’ and maximize ‘stuff you do want’.

Definitely temperature control. I think the single biggest improvement to my brewing happened when I moved to New Hampshire (from oklahoma), and suddenly had a basement to ferment in that is in the low 60s basically year round. Before that I had never attempted to control the temperature of anything, beyond keeping the fermenter indoors. Not everyone has the benefit of my basement, but you can achieve the same results with a swamp cooler.

Other things you mentioned
Wort chiller - You need to chill your wort quickly some how. A chiller is not strictly necessary if you’re doing a partial boil and getting temp down in a reasonable time by doing an ice water bath and adding cold top up water. Don’t even consider doing a full boil without a chiller.
Filtering - few home brewers filter. I don’t. Don’t worry about it.
Oxygenating - you need to do something to aerate your wort. You don’t need a fancy system though. If you’re not regularly getting stuck fermentations, your aeration is probably fine.
Hop additions and such- I recommend you brew from a kit from a good store, or a well respected online recipe, and follow it to the letter. You need to get happy with your process before you screw around too much with ingredients.

Making starters and reusing yeast is the one thing I can point to that I started doing that increased the quality of my beers significantly.

The other thing is re-brewing the same recipe, tweaking it each time, to get it where i want it.

And read as many books as you can. Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels is one of my favourites. And even if some books overlap on material, I find that every different perpective helps.

And keep coming back to this forum. I have been brewing for 6 or 7 years now, and only joined up here a couple of months ago. Wish I had all this great advice when I started out.

Watch Brewing TV. I am definately not a beginner, but with the amount of info I got from Brewing TV, I still feel like a beginner some times.

For me, the things that really made the biggest difference in the quality of my beer were:

cleaning/sanitizing - getting a process down and being meticulous at every stage. PBW (or comparable) for cleaning, Star San for sanitizing. Also, switching to buckets for fermenting - makes sanitizing and cleaning much easier than carboys (IMHO). No secondary - primary for 3 weeks - one less stage to contaminate beer. Touch beer as little and as rarely as possible once it is cool.

Yeast Starters - Makes a big difference. But, remember all of the sanitizing and cleaning must start at this point too. Get 1 gallon glass jugs for $5 from NB - they work great for starters.

Fermentation temps. - keep em low. Low 60’s for most ales. Remember, fermenting beer is warmer than the room temp. it is sitting in.

Recipes - start with tried and true recipes (Brewing Classic Styles). Keep it simple to start, THEN change a one thing at a time. Don’t start with something crazy or recipes you just throw together because “it sounded good”. Brew the same recipes over and over when you have something you like. It is hard to improve if every single beer you brew is something totally new.

Water - Made a big difference for me - but my water is very hard. May or may not be as important for you. If you brew extract, use simple R.O. water (.39 cents a gallon for refills at walmart).

Read - How to Brew by Palmer, Brewing Classic Styles for starters, go from there.

Fermentation temperature…
65 for ales, 50 for lagers. Once I changed that, my beer starting changing for the good. I also used dry yeast so no need for starters.


[quote=“mvsawyer”]Fermentation temperature…
65 for ales, 50 for lagers. Once I changed that, my beer starting changing for the good. I also used dry yeast so no need for starters.

:cheers: [/quote]
Dry yeast for all your beers? Interesting. Dry yeast has come a long, long way.

[quote=“Ken Lenard”]
I apologize for all of those suggestions but making stellar beer is rarely due to making one small adjustment. It’s usually a progression of changes that are made over time by taking good notes and looking at small things and trying to adjust them. I’ve been brewing for 13 years and still make the occasional subpar batch. I have brewing dreams and/or nightmares. Yes, it’s a sickness. :o Cheers & good luck.[/quote]this. and the dreams & nightmares. I’ve also been brewing for 13 years & slowly changing what I’m doing for the better. take advice when given & cross reference to other advice on the same topic.

Funny, isn’t it? I actually have recipes come to me in my sleep. If I have a brewday coming up or there have been a bunch of brewing projects going on (bottling, kegging, transferring, dry hopping, ordering equipment or ingredients, etc), I dream about all of it. Freaky, freaky stuff.

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