After homebrewing for a few years, I wanted to take my brewing skills to the next level, so I started reading more technical brewing texts, scouring my local university for scientific articles on brewing science, and hung out with some professional brewers, trying to pick their brains.

That, combined with a period of feverish brewing and experimentation actually started to pay some dividends. My brews slowly turned out a bit better each time, I started entering competitions and began to place higher. This whole journey took a few years, but it was a whole heck of a lot of fun, so bonus!

After getting into some pro brewing myself (a story for another day), I finally thought that I was getting to some core truths about brewing really good beer. In today’s post, I’m going to share some of these with you. Having written that word, “truth”, makes me a bit uncomfortable of course, since I’m a scientist and don’t much care for so-called absolute truths. But in brewing, and especially homebrewing, I think we can get away with a tentative commitment to some of these.

Anyway, enough with the philosophy, in the following weeks, I’ll be covering a few components of really good homebrew—the kind of stuff I wish I’d known about sooner.

When you speak to commercial brewers, they sometimes see just a little bit obsessed with the topic of yeast health. There’s good reasons for that, chief amongst them being that an awful lot of Really Bad Things can happen to beer because of poor yeast health and consequently, dodgy fermentation.

Some of these Bad Things include off-flavors, infections, poor shelf-life, and just not hitting the called-for recipe outcomes. I’ve mentioned before that yeast is really what makes beer—us brewers are just there to ensure that the conditions are correct for yeast to do what it does best.

So how can you make sure that your yeasty beasties are happy and doing okay?

Use fresh yeast.

Yeast, like all food products, has an expiration period. Make sure to check the best before date on the packets or vials of yeast you’re using. If you’re using yeast that’s been harvested from a previous brew, don’t delay. Use it within 1-2 weeks (assuming that you’ve kept it refrigerated, of course). And don’t use expired yeast. Yeah, the stuff ain’t cheap, but wasting an entire brew day just because you couldn’t be bothered to use fresh yeast is, well, a bit silly.

Pitching it right

It all starts with pitching. Well, it actually starts a bit before then. When you use dry yeast, be sure to re-hydrate it before pitching. If you’re using liquid yeast, make a yeast starter {link here}.

Once you’ve got your rehydrated yeast or yeast starter, you have to avoid shocking the yeast back into a slumber by pitching it into wort that is within 5 C (41 F) of the yeast’s temperature. Yeast shock is a thing, so avoid it at all costs.

Aerate your wort

Yeast needs oxygen to survive, just like you. So make sure to splash your wort or shake it up before pitching. You can also use an aeration stone and an oxygen or filtered air tank to get even more O2 into the wort. But generally, splashing the wort into the fermenter and shaking the vessel itself will also do just fine.

Take care of the temperature

Not all yeast strains operate at the same ideal temperature ranges. Lager yeasts, for instance, are best used at low temperatures (e.g. 5 C / 41 F), while some Saison strains are quite content at sweltering temperatures (25 C / 77 F).

Make sure you read up on the yeast strain you’re using and then try to give it the best possible temperature to do its work. Remember that a general rule of thumb is: The colder the fermentation, the cleaner the taste, while the warmer the temperature, the fruitier the taste.

Fermenting at too hot a temperature will result in most yeasts producing fusel alcohols, which can make your beer taste overly boozy and also give you a pretty serious headache in comparison to the ordinary stuff.

Give it time

In my experience, one of the number one reasons beginning homebrewers struggle with their brews is impatience. It’s pretty exciting to think that you’ll soon be sampling beer that you’ve made yourself!

But alas, good beer takes time. And you’ve got to give the yeast time to do its thing. Apart from the occasional measurement, leave your beer to ferment out for at least 2 weeks. In that time, the yeast will be going through primary and secondary fermentation, contributing a whole lot of flavor and depth to your beer (not to mention alcohol!).

Next time, we’ll take a look at some other seriously important principles of good homebrew. Until then, remember to be kind to your yeast!