My 30 Tips to Improve Your Homebrew

by Brenton Russell on

Below are the 30 tips that worked for me to improve the quality of my homebrew and increase the ease of my homebrewing process.  This list is aimed at the newer brewer and is what I have found has worked for me – not all home brewers may agree! I have ordered the homebrew tips from the simplest and easiest down to the more advanced and sophisticated.  I recommend adding one or two new techniques each brew day and enjoy your beer making journey!

  1. Take a long term view to developing your brewing techniques. I found that by only introducing one or two new techniques each brewing day, I was able to achieve a steady progression in my homebrewing development.  Don’t just consider my tips here, read widely as every brewer has an opinion on the best way to make beer.
  2. Find a great homebrew shop. While there are massive amounts of info on the net about homebrewing, I find nothing beats talking face-to-face with the experts.  Having moved around a lot I have used a number of different homebrew shops and they can be a bit hit and miss.  Once you’ve found a shop with knowledgeable and friendly experts, staying loyal and developing a relationship can have significant benefits.  Greg Young at Homebrewers Warehouse in Townsville, Queensland, Australia is an inspiration and I’m rarely in his shop for anything less than an hour.  Unfortunately if you don’t have access to great homebrew shops, you will need to stick to the net for your advice.  Two great homebrew forums are Aussie HomeBrewer and HomeBrewTalk.
  3. Be a cleanliness zealot. The quickest way to ruin a batch of beer is to infect it through a lack of cleanliness.  There are a lot of different opinions on methods of sterilisation and cleaniness.  My opinion is that outside of an operating theatre, sterilisation is very hard to achieve so I focus more on cleanliness than sterilisation.  I avoid ‘hard’ sterilisers like sodium metabisulphite (I’m after natural ingredients in my beer!) and focus more on cleanliness than sterilisation.  I use a fermenter, keg and line cleaner that I get from my local homebrew shop, Homebrewer’s Warehouse in Townsville, Queensland, Australia.
  4. Don’t use raw sugar. While opinions vary, I found that as a general rule raw sugar can detract from the quality of your beer.  As you progress you will most likely find that you will come back to using different types of sugar for certain styles but my opinion is that until you understand this level of sophistication it is easier for the newer brewer to just use quality brewing sugars instead.
  5. Control the temperature. Yeast hates variations in temperature, particularly when you start using liquid yeasts (see tip no. 23).  Temperatures varying to the high side will produce off tastes.  I brew in a working fridge (I live in tropical Australia!) and use a thermostat control which works brilliantly that I purchased from Dave’s Home Brew Shop.
  6. Don’t drink until the end of brewing day!  I find that Brew Day requires discipline and precision to ensure that my cleanliness and processes are not compromised.  I love drinking a beer at the end of brew day as a reward but I never drink during the process.  Many brewers will (and have!) violently disagreed with this point!
  7. Use only fresh cans and ingredients. I always check the ‘best by’ date on my concentrate cans and avoid imported cans.  Freshness counts!
  8. Keep brewing records.  Keeping a record for each batch of what ingredients I used, my Brewing Day processes and the results are very useful for fine tuning my techniques and recreating that great brew that I previously made.  Its also great for reminiscing over how far my brewing techniques have come!
  9. Don’t use the yeast under the can’s cap. You never know how old the yeast is or its quality so I also add a good quality dry yeast to my list of ingredients.  It costs next to nothing.
  10. Use filtered water. Beer is over 90% water; I think its worth buying a good water filter!  My water is heavily chlorinated so it is even more important to use filtered watered.
  11. Aerate your wort.  Yeast works best in an aerobic (oxygenated) environment.  I find that by pouring my wort into the fermenter from a height sufficiently aerates it to get the fermentation off to a flying start.
  12. Use dark colored bottles and store in the dark. Light deteriorates beer so use dark colored bottles and store away from the light.
  13. Mature your beer for longer. Although some beer styles are better when they are young, generally the longer you let your beer mature the better quality it will be.  If anyone has perfected the art of storing your beer without drinking it, please tell me how you do it!
  14. Use finings.  If you want to make your beer more presentable, using finings in your fermenter a few days before bottling will help to clear your beer up.  It will clump together the sediment and drop to the bottom but won’t affect the flavour.
  15. Use all malts. I found that using adjuncts and brewing sugars (like dextrose etc) was great when I started out to keep things simple, but once I got the hang of the basic hombrew processes using only all malt ingredients is an easy way I have found to give my beer richer character, texture and taste.  You may come back to using adjuncts etc once you get more sophisticated and understand better how to use them.
  16. Buy a bottle tree. While it won’t improve the quality of your beer, I have found that a bottle tree significantly reduced the tedium and increased the efficiency of my bottling process.  You can also get attachments for your tree for squirting your cleaning mix directly into the bottles.  I should qualify this by stating that bottling is by far my least favorite part of homebrewing.  Other homebrewings may not feel as strongly as me!
  17. Dry hop.  I have found that introducing dry hops into my fermenter significantly improved the hops aroma of my beer and was an easy way to improve the overall quality of my homebrew.
  18. Boil in hops. Boiling in fresh hops will significantly improve the hops profile of your beer.  There is a science to how long and how much but a good homebrew shop will help you with the calculations (or see number tip no.  26 – using homebrew software).
  19. Steep in specialty grains. Not only did I find that this improved the colour and flavour of my homebrew, I also found that it helped me start understanding more of the theory behind the use of grains in homebeer.
  20. Keg your beer instead of bottling. While kegging your beer won’t necessarily improve the quality of your beer, I have found it far quicker and easier than bottling.  I do not enjoy bottling and if I didn’t set up a keg system I may not still be homebrewing! While the set up can be reasonably costly, I have found kegging to be a great investment in my long term brewing and is a novelty for my visiting mates to pour their own beer!  Keep an eye out for second hand keg systems on Ebay and the likes as there are plenty of former homebrewers out there cleaning out their garages.
  21. Use a lager yeast when making lagers. Regardless of the type of concentrate can the yeast under the lid is generally an ale yeast.  Most real lager yeasts requires you to brew around 10 degrees celcius and will give you much cleaner, crisper lagers. Brewing with an ale yeast will make the fermenting temperature is easier to control but will give your beer more fruity complex flavours which are generally undesirable in lagers.
  22. Serve your homebrew at the correct temperature. It is widely accepted that crisp, clean lagers should be served at around 7 – 8 degrees celcius and ales served at cellar temperature (12 – 15 degrees celcius) to bring out the fruitiness and complexity of the beer.
  23. Experiment with liquid yeast. Great beers can be made with both good quality dry and liquid yeast.  I have found that there is far more variety in the types of liquid yeasts giving you more control in selecting a strain to match your intended style of beer.  Dry yeasts, however, are generally much cheaper and easier to handle.  I found that experimenting with different types of liquid yeasts improved by understanding of yeast and did produce some great quality beer.  You may come back to dry yeast but I recommend that you give liquid yeast a try!
  24. Get feedback from experts.  Join a club, enter in competitions, get your ‘expert’ mates to try your beer! Competitions are especially good as you will get a judging sheet that you can use to assess and improve your beer.  Impartial feedback is important as I think all my beer is great!
  25. Culture your own liquid yeast. As discussed in tip no. 23, I found experimenting with liquid yeast great but significantly more expensive.  One way to keep the cost down is to culture multiple batches of yeast from the one pack.  Search on the internet or ask your homebrew shop/forum on how to do this.  I will also look to discuss this technique as a future post.
  26. Use brewing software. As you start to get more sophisticated and are looking at developing partial and full mash recipes, brewing software can make your life significantly easier.  With built-in functions like calculating colour and bitterness and the ability to create brewing logs etc, I have found that inexpensive brewing software can make your life a lot easier.  My preference is the BeerSmith software.
  27. Make an immersion wort cooler. The time that your wort is most vulnerable to bacteria and wild yeast is just after your boil when your malty mix is nice and warm but hasn’t fermented any alcohol yet to protect itself from infection.  I made an immersion cooler myself which uses copper tubing, some hose and circulated tap water to rapidly drop my wort to yeast pitching temperature.  Here’s a link where you can find the videos that I used to make my own immersion chiller and cooler/esky mash tun.
  28. Try a partial mash. Partial mashing helped me to test my mashing equipment and practice my techniques before making the final plunge into all-grain (full mash) brewing.
  29. Progress towards all-grain brewing (full mash). While I still have many years of homebrew learning ahead of me, I found working towards all-grain brewing (full mash) significantly increased my understanding of the mechanics and theory of homebrewing.  While great beer can be made without adopting all-grain brewing, I found a certain sense of satisfaction making beer from scratch!
  30. Experiment and enjoy the journey! My first partial mash beer was described by a friend as “the second worst beer that he’d ever drunk” (deservedly I admit!) just behind some dodgy beer that he had in Indonesia.  I learnt from this experience and the next beer I brewed was by far and away the best beer that I had ever made to date.

I have personally progressed through each of my tips above and this is what has worked for me.  I would love to hear your homebrewing tips and tricks, so please post your comments!

Please note that I receive no financial benefit (but plenty of great advice!) from the homebrew businesses mentioned in this post.

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justin wright June 30, 2010 at 2:45 am

Very interesting…the idea of making my own beer has always been something I’ve wanted to try but I’ve never gotten around to it.

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Brenton Russell July 4, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Hi Justin,

The beauty of homebrewing is that you can keep it very simple (and still make good beer!) to get started and progressing increase your sophistication.

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Simon June 20, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Dude, re tip 13, there are shops that sell pre made beer to help prevent you from drinking your un-matured home brew! I think they are called bottle-o’s! Having said this, I am writing this drinking a 3 week old kit and kilo pale ale (hypocrite!). My first batch since getting back into the hobby after a 5 year break. Great site man, good tips, definately taken a few on board.

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Ryan May 3, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Love the tips you have here. I think #2 is really one of the most important steps. Our local homebrew shops here in Minneapolis are wonderful. Some have classrooms and free classes and all have helpful employees who will help with any questions.
Ryan recently posted..Lazy Homebrewing – Making Beer As Cheap & Easy As Possible

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