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That "list" we always talk about

You know the one where people ask, “What are the top [x number] of things on your list of making great beer?”. Sometimes it’s newbies that ask (which is good) and then there is a good smattering of replies from everyone with a productive answer. I feel like I’m making the best beer of my homebrew adventure (so far) so I wanted to put the list together and see what becomes of it. In no particular order and doing just one of these may or may not be enough or may be plenty.

  1. Cleaning & sanitation. This always seems to be on the list and I suppose it has to be. Get comfortable with a good cleanser and sanitizer. Learn how to use them and use them properly. For the last few years I have been using LD Carlson Easy-Clean for cleansing and Starsan for sanitizing.

  2. Proper temp control for primary fermentation. This is big and it took me awhile to get it right. I used to just ferment ales on my cool basement floor and make lagers in a tub of cool water with frozen water or Gatorade bottles thrown in. Now I make my ales that way and I have a small 4.3cf fridge for lager primaries. The fridge is set to 47° and I place my primary in there (with the wort already chilled to around 50°) and forget about it for 10-14 days. On the ales, what can I say? I like to ferment those cool… 60 to maybe 63 or 64. I don’t like the overly-estery profile you might get when you ferment warmer. Hefes and Belgians are an exception but I don’t make them so no worries.

  3. Simple recipe formulation. Know what you want from your beer and know what to use to get it. I see a lot of complex grain bills but I have been told over and over that simplicity is king and I believe it. Look at your whole recipe… grain, hops, yeast, water, mash schedule, etc. Homebrewers always move from kits to other brewer’s recipes to their own recipes and when you get comfortable making beers designed for your own tastebuds… you make great beer!

  4. Proper yeast handling and oxygenation. Use fresh yeast. Make starters. Use the right amount of yeast and oxygenate your wort with pure O2 before you pitch. If you harvest yeast and use the slurry, be careful when you handle it and repitch the right amount for your beer. You can get a lot of batches of beer out of one colony of yeast if you’re careful. You can underpitch and you can overpitch. Check Jamil’s calculator (there are others too) to check before you pitch.

  5. Water composition. This will affect some more than others. Some brewers are blessed with water that nicely coincides with the types of beer they make and looking deeper into water is not an issue. I happen to have great water numbers except for one… bicarbonate. My calcium, chlorides and sulfates are all in the 20-35ppm range but my bicarb is 138. It does not play well with softer beers like pilsner or helles and it destroys head formation and stability. I have been diluting my source water with distilled water anywhere from 25% to 87% and it has made a HUGE difference in the quality of my beers. My beers are cleaner, clearer, smoother, creamier and have much better head stability.

Honorable mentions were using fresh ingredients (always a good idea) and also relaxing, not worrying and having a homebrew but it seems to me that it’s easier to say that once you’re comfortable making good beer.

Simple recipes are best…except when they’re not!

Ken, I agree with some of your points…know where you’re going with a recipe and what each ingredient will bring to it. Absolutely! But then use anything you need to achieve that goal. For example, a lot of people go for the ultimate in simplicity by making a SMASH beer, single malt and single hop. I agree with Vinnie Cilurzo (IIRC) who said that’s a good way to learn about ingredients, but a lousy recipe for beer. 99% of the SMASH beers I’ve tasted were boring and insipid and could have benefited from some complexity. So, I would modify your point to “Don’t needlessly complicate your recipe”.

I’m on-board with 1, 2, and 4. The others are more optional or regional in my opinion.

I agree with these posts - Ken’s recipes are always good and Denny’s are so as well. The next thing I’d add are fresh ingredients. To save on shipping some of my friends order multiple kits (crushed grains) and then proceed to let them sit for a year or more before use. Not good, but often not thought about after the fact when the outcome is middle of the road.

Simple recipes are best…except when they’re not!

Ken, I agree with some of your points…know where you’re going with a recipe and what each ingredient will bring to it. Absolutely! But then use anything you need to achieve that goal. For example, a lot of people go for the ultimate in simplicity by making a SMASH beer, single malt and single hop. I agree with Vinnie Cilurzo (IIRC) who said that’s a good way to learn about ingredients, but a lousy recipe for beer. 99% of the SMASH beers I’ve tasted were boring and insipid and could have benefited from some complexity. So, I would modify your point to “Don’t needlessly complicate your recipe”.[/quote]
I agree. I don’t think I have ever made a SMaSH beer even though I do like simple recipes. I was referring more to the pale ale that has 2-row, munich, Vienna, caramunich, aromatic, victory, chocolate, carapils, black malt, crystal 60, biscuit, carared, midnight wheat, carafa and just a pinch of special B. Whoa. :lol:

[quote=“Ken Lenard”]
I agree. I don’t think I have ever made a SMaSH beer even though I do like simple recipes. I was referring more to the pale ale that has 2-row, munich, Vienna, caramunich, aromatic, victory, chocolate, carapils, black malt, crystal 60, biscuit, carared, midnight wheat, carafa and just a pinch of special B. Whoa. :lol: [/quote]

What about an IPA that has oats, honey, orange juice and zest, grapefruit juice and zest, and lemon juice and zest? I was a simple recipe guy till I broke out of that mold with a crazy IPA recipe. It worked.

I agree with all your other points though. And most of my beers are really simple :wink:

Simple recipes are best…except when they’re not!

Ken, I agree with some of your points…know where you’re going with a recipe and what each ingredient will bring to it. Absolutely! But then use anything you need to achieve that goal. For example, a lot of people go for the ultimate in simplicity by making a SMASH beer, single malt and single hop. I agree with Vinnie Cilurzo (IIRC) who said that’s a good way to learn about ingredients, but a lousy recipe for beer. 99% of the SMASH beers I’ve tasted were boring and insipid and could have benefited from some complexity. So, I would modify your point to “Don’t needlessly complicate your recipe”.[/quote]
I agree. I don’t think I have ever made a SMaSH beer even though I do like simple recipes. I was referring more to the pale ale that has 2-row, munich, Vienna, caramunich, aromatic, victory, chocolate, carapils, black malt, crystal 60, biscuit, carared, midnight wheat, carafa and just a pinch of special B. Whoa. :lol: [/quote]

Whoa, indeed! I think the key is to know what every ingredient will do to the beer and justify its use.

Right. We all know that we don’t operate in a box so sometimes you make something off-the-map and it’s all good. I occasionally make a “clean out the closet” kind of beer that has 2 ounces of this, 4 ounces of that 1.5 pounds of this, etc. and it makes great beer. But most of my beers are straightforward.

I find it hilarious that Martin the water guy looks past my point on water. I will also give big ups to Martin for all of the personal help he has given me on water. But this issue I had with bicarb was really getting in the way of my beers. Maybe I’m just over-sensitive to it or something, I don’t know. But I like some of the more delicate and finesse styles and the bicarb was enemy #1 one for those beers. Cheers Beerheads.

I like the first 2 for new brewers. If you follow this you will make good brew and be pleasantly surprised by your results. Use fresh ingredients and the rest is easier than you think. You can make the same beer that you can buy and maybe better. Yes you can, so go for it.

Sorry, but I’ve gotta disagree. I make what I think is really good beer, incuding a great “clone” of Rochefort. But in no way is it the same, better, or even close to as good.

Sorry, but I’ve gotta disagree. I make what I think is really good beer, incuding a great “clone” of Rochefort. But in no way is it the same, better, or even close to as good.[/quote]
Well I said " maybe" and I have, at least with a hop forward beer. Yummy Yummy in my Tummy.
As for other beers, yes it would be hard to do so. I was only trying to tell the newbies that you can make good beer and in some cases make it better, and that much is true.

Sorry, but I’ve gotta disagree. I make what I think is really good beer, incuding a great “clone” of Rochefort. But in no way is it the same, better, or even close to as good.[/quote]
As far as making a Rochefort maybe not but pick your favorite IPA then yes Denny’ do I dare say Its possible, It is.

It all depend on the style of beer. Style, not clone. Yes folks, We can make great beer.
Easy Peasy, Slap your Kneezy.

Sorry, but I’ve gotta disagree. I make what I think is really good beer, incuding a great “clone” of Rochefort. But in no way is it the same, better, or even close to as good.[/quote]
As far as making a Rochefort maybe not but pick your favorite IPA then yes Denny’ do I dare say Its possible, It is.[/quote]

I’ve made LOTS of IPA…likely hundreds. I agree that it’s possible to make better than SOME commercial IPAs, but there are a lot I couldn’t touch.

Good list ken… I agree with all of them. Some downplay water. And, to be honest, for a lot of people - they are lucky enough to have good water to start with. However, if you don’t…water is HUGELY important. Know what is in your water. Maybe it is fine. Maybe it is not… but you should really find out. Because it can make a very big difference.

Water was big for me and possibly the toughest challenge. There are a lot of variables and I was just not getting it. But I did have some conversations with Martin, AJ DeLange and Kai about water and the best way to resolve the issues I was having and I have made some dynamite beers that used to come out very funky. The darker beers I make get diluted about 25% with distilled, amber beers might be 25% to 50% and pale beers might be 75% to 87% (87% is 7 of 8 gallons being distilled). All of these beers have come out better with the dilution.

That is basically what I do as well… Dark beers get less dilution (20-25%), 40-80% dilution for browns, ambers, IPA’s, pales… on up to 100% dilution for something like a helles. Then use Bru’n water to get the right mix of mineral additions and to dial in pH. Like you, it has made a stunning difference on several styles for me (Pale ales and IPA’s have probably benefitted most for me).

Another thing I failed to mention in that list was my relatively recent walk through the world of pH. I noticed a few of my beers were flabby (if we can agree that flabby means a beer that may have been made with a higher-than-desired pH and lacked that acid snap) and I looked closer at it. I have been using ColorpHast strips for years and decided to pick up a decent Milwaukee pH meter along with the various solutions required to store and calibrate it. That meter almost killed me because it was such a pain to store, calibrate and use. I would love to say I was doing something wrong but I had a manual, online videos, etc. and I was doing everything the same way but the meter appeared inaccurate (would not show 4.0 or 7.0 when sitting in the 4.0 or 7.0 solution) and it seemed like I needed to calibrate it 30 seconds after I just calibrated it. Needless to say, I did not trust it so I went back to my strips. When lining up the pH on the color key, I concluded that I may have let the pH go because it seemed “close enough”. Now I’m using a small amount of lactic acid to get it slightly lower than what I used to call “good”. The results on all beers seem to be very good but it’s noticeable on pale and amber beers. The beers are clearer and the colors stay as they should. Boiling wort with a high pH can allow it to get a stubborn haze and it will always be darker than it should be. A pale gold beer can turn into a hazy, grayish beer if the pH is too high. I check the mash and I also check as I add my sparge water. If either appears high, I knock it down with lactic acid. The flabby beers are gone as a result.

[quote=“Ken Lenard”]Right. We all know that we don’t operate in a box so sometimes you make something off-the-map and it’s all good. I occasionally make a “clean out the closet” kind of beer that has 2 ounces of this, 4 ounces of that 1.5 pounds of this, etc. and it makes great beer. But most of my beers are straightforward.

I find it hilarious that Martin the water guy looks past my point on water. I will also give big ups to Martin for all of the personal help he has given me on water. But this issue I had with bicarb was really getting in the way of my beers. Maybe I’m just over-sensitive to it or something, I don’t know. But I like some of the more delicate and finesse styles and the bicarb was enemy #1 one for those beers. Cheers Beerheads.[/quote]

Well in retrospect, you have a point Ken. My initial take is that there are people that happen to have great water for certain styles, right out of their tap. So I was less inclined to say that all brewers have to be fanatic about their water condition. Thus my initial dismissal of #4.

Any water is likely to be able to make beer…maybe even good beer. However, you are correct that the water really does have to be right for the style to create ‘great’ beer. The term ‘right’ has some leeway when it comes to flavor ions. However, the right level of residual alkalinity is fairly narrow. For many brewers, bicarbonate is the water component that is most likely to screw up their beer.

I agree that once you get points 1-4 down, that water becomes the most important step in taking your beer to another level. Water makes up, what, 99% of the beer? It’s important…
Making a helles with the water that Stone uses for Arrogant Bastard would not work…some people might like it, but it sure wouldn’t taste like a helles.

I’ve started using 100% reverse osmosis water as the tap water tends to change throughout the year and has more bicarbonate than I prefer. I like beers made with softer water and I can always add more minerals to make the water harder.
I think keeping most things in the process simple is the way to go. But it’s also good to be thorough.

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