My first homebrewing purchase was a book. Before I ever made a drop of beer, I read Charlie Papazian’s book, The Joy of Homebrewing cover to cover. Looking back, I realize that only an infinitesimal amount of that valuable tome actually stuck in my brain that first time through. I’ve read it many times since and something new “clicks” every time—and Charlie’s passionate, encouraging style is a treat. If you’re looking for more book recommendations, I also strongly recommend Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing and John Palmer’s How to Brew—both outstanding books no matter how long you’ve been wielding your beer paddle.
But there are some things they don’t tell you in the books that I think could be really, really useful to the beginning homebrewer. Or, to be clear, they might tell you in the book but for some reason they didn’t sink through my thick skull. Here are ten of those pieces of advice, updated with links to other useful articles.
1. Get the big(ger) kettle.
Like many of my fellow homebrewers, my first significant purchase was a starter equipment kit. Once I had it, all I needed was a brew kettle and ingredients, and I was good to go. So, I bought a 5-gallon stainless steel kettle for $35. Stupid. It took only 2 weeks of brewing before I dropped another $70 on a 7.5-gallon kettle. If you ever plan to get into all-grain brewing or want to reduce the likelihood that your kettle will boil over, splurge for the big kettle right out of the gate. You’ll be saving money in the long run. Learn more about selecting a brew kettle.
2. Wort chillers are worth it.
One of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of your beer getting contaminated is to chill the wort as fast as possible, dropping the temperature from that dangerous range that evil bacteria just love. Many beginning homebrewers accomplish this by submerging the brew kettle in an ice bath in either a large tub or the bathtub. Depending on how many bags of ice you purchased (additional expense), this can take anywhere from 40 minutes to well over an hour.
You can save a ton of time, eliminate hassle, and reduce the risk of contamination by purchasing a wort chiller. These come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common is a coiled immersion chiller. Immersion chillers usually cost $50–$70 and can typically chill 5 gallons of wort in 20 minutes or less. You simply hook a cold-water source up to the immersion chiller, add the chiller to your kettle for the last 10 minutes of your boil to sanitize it, and then turn on the water after you’ve removed your kettle from the heat source. The chiller does the rest, and is surprisingly easy to clean when you’re finished chilling your wort. (Plate chillers are also available but are a little more complicated to use and cost considerably more.) Learn more about ways to cool your wort, different wort chillers, and how to make your own wort chiller.
There’s a good chance that the last beer you drank was a craft beer. With more than 5,000 craft breweries in the United States and nearly two more opening every day, craft beer is on tap for more and more Americans. The country hasn’t seen a surge in locally owned and operated breweries since the 1880s. Yet with this growth in demand for craft brews comes an increase in challenges for the less glamorous side of beer production — the wastewater created by the brewing process.