It’s part 5 of our brewing basics series! By now, you might be thinking, “Why aren’t we brewing yet, damn it!” Well, because brewing bad beer is easy, and brewing really, really great beer is a little bit less easy. But only a bit!

So today, we’re going to cover stuff that I wish I knew back when I started out as a homebrewer.

Think of these as mistakes I’ve made so you don’t have to.

Here are 5 key techniques that if mastered, will make your homebrewing more enjoyable and your beer far tastier!

 1. A Full Wort Boil

While you can get by with boiling only part of your wort when using extracts or kits, it’s not ideal.

A full wort boil is far better. What it means is simply to boil the full volume of beer that you will ultimately put in the fermenter.

For a 19 litre (5 Gallon) batch, that translates into about 22-23 litres (6 Gallons), depending on how vigorous the boil is. Boiling the total volume has several benefits:

  • It gets rid of DMS. DMS (Dimethyl Sulphide) is contained within malt and evaporates as the wort is boiled. It can give beer a cooked corn or vegetable taste, which is almost always considered a flaw in any beer style. Boiling all of the wort for 60-90 minutes reduces DMS, providing you can cool down your wort quickly enough (see point 2 below)
  • It releases the full flavor profile of the hops. Hops need to be boiled and agitated for a while to release all the oils that give your beer that lovely hoppy flavor. A full wort boil does that far better than a partial boil. This, BTW, is referred to as hops utilization. 
  • Full, rolling boils also break up proteins contained in malt and hops, ensuring greater clarity of the final product, and clear beer is a thing of joy! 

2. Cool down rapidly

If you don’t cool down your wort quickly enough, it can re-introduce all the DMS you’ve boiled off, which is just not cool (sorry).

Also, cooling the wort rapidly creates a cold break, which is essential for creating a nice, clear beer. Removing the proteins that come out of a cold break also keeps the beer fresher for longer: A good thing!

To rapidly cool down 19 litres of boiling liquid is not easy. Two relatively affordable ways to do it are:

  •  An immersion wort chiller. These are relatively easy to make yourself, and won’t cost an arm and leg. A quick search online will get you the plans in a snip.
  •  A really cold ice bath. Get a medium sized galvanized metal bathtub, fill it with several packets of ice, water and salt. You now have an incredibly effective ice bath.

This will chill your wort in about 30-40 minutes, but can be a bit of a pain. Make sure that you cover your brew-pot with a sanitized lid, and don’t let any of the salty water into the beer! Salt and beer don’t mix! Well, mostly they don’t.

 3. Don’t guess: Measure!

Brewing is both an art and a science. The science part is often neglected by homebrewers though, with predictable results.

If you don’t have one already, invest in a good digital kitchen scale for weighing your ingredients properly.

Use thermometers and hydrometers to measure the gravity of your wort, the right time to pitch your yeast, and when to bottle your beer.

Guesswork is just not enough to produce truly skilled brews, so invest in the right measurement instrumentation early.

 4. Rehydrate dry yeast

When using dry yeasts, it’s a very good practice to rehydrate them for at least 30 minutes in sterile water at about 20-25 degrees C (72-77 F). Dry yeast manufacturers sometimes claim that their dry yeast don’t need no re-hydration. You can believe that if you like. But then you probably also believe that insecticide is perfectly safe and Anna Nicole married for love. #JustSaying.

When pitching (i.e. adding yeast), make sure the wort is within 5 degrees C of the rehydrated yeast to avoid shocking the yeast into a slumber (not good).

 5. Aerate properly.

Before pitching your yeast, aerate the wort by either rocking the fermenter back and forth for a few minutes, or use a sterile stainless steel aeration stone and aquarium pump setup with a carbon filter.

Using this system, you will need to aerate your wort for at least 20-30 minutes, longer for higher gravity beers.

Next Time: It’s time to brew!

4 Comments

  1. Hans Havenga

    Thanks for your great website. It has helped a lot to finally start brewing my own beer. I have 2 questions.
    1. What is seen as a full boil. I currently only do half batches (10L) The problem is that my gas stove seems to be lacking the full power needed. It brings the wort to a boil but it is not a vigorous boil. When I put the lid on it becomes a vigorous boil but the lid on seems to make some of the hops stick to the sides and lid. I cannot think that this is desired because all the hops is then not in contact with the wort during the boil. Does a gentle boil make a big difference compared to a vigorous boil?
    2. I want to start experimenting with small batch brews. (This will counter the above boiling issue) I want to use 5L water bottles for the fermenting. (will store it in a dark place so that UV light is not an issue with the clear bottle) What would a good clearing space in the 5L “fermenter bottle” be. I want to make the max amount without the fermenting beer going through the air lock

    Reply
    • Harper

      Thanks for the kind words and feedback, Hans! We really appreciate it.

      To your questions:
      1) A full, rolling boil is one where almost the entire volume of liquid “rolls” over in the kettle. It’s vigorous and will lead to a lot of evaporation. That’s important. You don’t want to cover your kettle because one of the purposes of a full, rolling boil is to blow off DMS, a naturally occurring compound found in malt that will cause off-flavors in your beer. So, rather boil a smaller volume with the lid off!
      2) For fermenter headspace, the rule of thumb is to have about 15-20% headspace. So, for 5 Liter containers, you’re looking at a batch size of around a 3-4 liters to avoid messy spillage during fermentation.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Hans Havenga

        Thanks for your help and advice. Been referring this site to friends who are looking at starting to brew.

        Going to try your Blond recipe on over the weekend. I also wan to try an American IPA. One question about the IPA. When dry hopping, what is your feeling about just pouring the hops on top vs putting it in a weighted (and sterilized) bag

        Reply
        • Harper

          Sorry for the delay in reply, Hans! On your question: Unless you’re using fresh hops, you can just put the hop pellets straight in the fermenter. They will do their thing without needing to be placed in a bag etc. Fresh hops tend to float, so putting these in a weighted bag is a good idea.

          Reply

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