Steps to Becoming a Homebrewer, Part 3 – Things to Consider

Now that you have all of your equipment, you’re almost ready to brew your first batch! But first, there are some things to consider.

1) What beer do you want to brew?

Given DB’s unquenchable thirst for hops, it was a no brainer that our first brew would be an IPA. I highly recommend that for your first brew, you chose to brew a style that you love as much as DB loves his hops. Don’t brew something to impress your friends and don’t brew something that you’re kind of meh about. Brewing is actually quite a lot of work and expense (and fun, don’t get me wrong!) and it’s easy to get resentful if you’re not making something you’ll want to drink. (Trust me – we brewed plenty of IPAs before my lupulin shift and it wasn’t as fun as brewing things I wanted to drink.)

2) Do you want to buy a kit (complete with recipe) or do you want to take the bold step of designing your own beer and buying ingredients seperately?

When you’re just starting out, the ready-made beer kits available at places like Northern Brewer are great. They contain all the ingredients you need, in just the right amounts, and come with a handy dandy recipe that tells you what to do and when. There’s less creative license than if you came up with your own recipe, but also less pressure because you know that you’re making a tried-and-true recipe that has to be at least decent. Also, if you create your own recipe and purchase your ingredients separately, you’ll quickly realize that no one is going to sell you 5 oz of CaraPils. (DB points out that there are some local homebrew shops that may, but they are few and far between). You have to purchase ingredients in round amounts (like 1 pound increments of grain or 3.15 lbs of LME) and deal with storing them. This gets to be less of an issue as you advance as a homebrewer and can say, “Oh, I have 3/4 lb English Chocolate Malt – what recipe can I create that will use that up?” It ends up being a bit of a game – sort of like coming up with dinner using only the ingredients in your pantry – but it can be kind of stressful at first and can lead to some not tasty beer. I would recommend sticking with kits to start, just until you have a few brews under your belt.

3) How much yeast do I need to pitch? Liquid or Dry? Do I need to make a starter?

If you create your own recipe, you can plug it into a website like Mr. Malty and it will tell you how many yeast cells you need to pitch for adequate fermentation. Or, if you purchase a kit, it should come with the appropriate amount of yeast. Or if you know your expected original gravity, you can figure it out by planning on 5 billion yeast cells for each point over 1.000 (For example, an O.G. of 1.060 would require 5 billion cells x 60 points of gravity, or 300 billion cells total).

Liquid vs Dry: We personally always use Wyeast Liquid Yeast Packs. We like that they swell up, proving viability of the yeast. And we like to support the company, which is based in the same town as Jessie and John. But it’s largely a matter of personal preference and you will find strong supporters of both kinds. Trial and error – figure out what you like to brew with and stick with it. (DB now points out that dry yeast is cheaper and stores more easily than liquid yeast, but that it can impart a distinct “dry yeast” character to your beer.)

We also always make a starter, even if its just a 1L starter. DB once explained it to me like this: Pitching yeast without a starter is like putting players into a soccer game without having them warm up. They can still play, but it takes them a bit longer to get going. Pitching yeast with a starter is like putting players in that have been warmed up and are raring to go and can hit the ground running without delay. Which guys would you want on your team? Also, making a starter is an easy way to increase the amount of yeast you’re pitching without having to purchase a bunch of smackpacks. For example, say you need 350 billion yeast cells. Each smackpack has 100 billion – so you would need at least 4 smackpacks (at $6.25 a pop). Or you could use 2 smackpacks to make a 1L starter (which bumps that original 100 billion up to 150 billion) and a 2L starter (which nets you 200 billion). Yes, there is a cost for the DME to make the starters, but it’s less than the cost of extra yeast packs.

Once you’ve picked your recipe, assembled your ingredients, and taken the yeast situation under consideration, you’re ready to brew your first beer. How exciting! I can hardly wait! 🙂

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