Don’t be a sucker. Use these homebrewing tips to get yourself liquored up on your own microbrews instead.
The rent (and beer prices) are too damn high!
If you like to enjoy a few adult beverages with friends, you may be feeling the pain of alcoholic inflation — which somehow feels even worse to us than regular inflation these days. Whether it’s draft beers on tap at the local bar to a glass of wine at your favorite restaurant, the cost of drinks has skyrocketed in recent years. Unless you’ve got some rich drinking benefactor in your pocket, it’s easy to stretch the ol’ budget too thin with your boozing habits.
So how do you enjoy the libations you crave without breaking the bank? And what can you do to lower the high cost of that enjoyment?
The good freakin’ news is that there is indeed a better way to kick back and relax with a drink in your hand. If you enjoy a cocktail after dinner, you can simply stock up at the liquor store and stock the bar in your basement.
And while we love ourselves a few local Colorado brews, you don’t have to shell out for microbrew quality beers on a regular basis. If you pick up some basic home brewing equipment, you can make your own beer and wine, all without the long drive to the bar, the restaurant or the grocery store. Kinda like homestead-ing but with booze? OK, maybe not. We tried.
And what’s even better is that home brewing is probably not as complicated as you may think. However, it is important to have an understanding of some basic information before you get started. That includes knowing what to expect and how to prepare — which is the best way to avoid costly, and undrinkable, mistakes.
The rumors are true: Bigger is actually better
Home brewing is one area where bigger is better, and it is important to invest in the right equipment. Many home brewing starter kits come with under-sized kettles, and their small size makes it difficult to whip up a quality batch.
Whether you purchase a ready made kit to get started or buy the equipment one piece at a time on your own, do yourself a favor and get the biggest kettle you can find. Buying a kettle larger than what you think you will need is important, especially if you are serious about your new home brewing hobby.
Invest in an auto si-phon, for the love!
The siphon will be your main tool when transferring adult beverages in various stages of their creation, and the quality of that tool matters. Once again, many home brewing kits come equipped with small siphons, and once again serious home brewers will want to upgrade as quickly as possible.
Buying a ½” racking cane is a purchase you will not regret as a new home brewer. This simple and inexpensive device will pay for itself over and over again in time saved and hassle avoided.
Make your own (yeast)
Beer is not the only thing you will be brewing. If you want to whip up amazing adult beverages, you will need the right yeast starter, and that means making your own.
Every baker knows that a quality yeast starter is an essential first step for baking bread, and many home brewers have learned the same lesson.
There are many different recipes for making that all important yeast starter, and if you ask around you will find plenty of opinions from those in the home brewing community. If you need more help, a handy guide from the Homebrew-ers Association is below. Ultimately, the best approach is to do your homework, learn as much as you can about how the process works and experiment with various types of yeast starter until you find the right one.
Yeast starter instructions: Equipment
When making a yeast starter, you’re essentially boiling and fermenting a mini batch of beer. First you’ll need a vessel large enough to hold the volume of the starter and something to cover the top, like foil or a stopper. The vessel can simply be a jar or plastic bottle, but Erlenmeyer flasks that can withstand direct heat are a popular choice since the entire boiling and fermentation process can be done in one vessel. If not using a flask, you’ll need a pot to boil a small quantity of wort. Other than that, you’ll need some water, dry malt extract and sanitizer.
A stir plate, which can easily be made at home, is highly recommended to continually add oxygen to the starter, which is crucial in growing the yeast cell population in a starter. If a stirplate is not available, simply giving the vessel a shake every now and again is better than not adding oxygen at all.
Establishing an ideal yeast cell count
It is important to have a target number of viable yeast cells when formulating a starter. This is determined by the beer batch’s volume in relation to the original gravity. Generally speaking, an ale requires 0.75 million viable yeast cells for every milliliter of wort per every degree plato, while lagers require 1.5 million viable yeast cells for every milliliter of wort per degree plato. So, for example, a 5-gallon batch of 1.064 ale wort would require about 227 billion viable yeast cells:
(0.75 million viable yeast cells) x
(18925 mL of wort) x (16° Plato) = ~227 billion yeast cells
Determining gravity, temperature & volume for a starter
Gravity: Aim to have the gravity in the 1.030-1.040 range, which will promote healthy growth without introducing too much unneeded stress.
Temperature: In general, aim to keep yeast starters around 72°F (22°C), with ales being able to be a few degrees warmer and lagers a few degrees cooler.
Volume: Determining volume can be a very involved process. The volume of the starter in relation to the number of viable yeast cells added, termed the inoculation rate, will determine the growth potential for the yeast starter.
Making a yeast starter: The steps
Now, all that’s left is to actually make the starter! The following are general instructions that can be applied to all sizes of starter:
Determine the appropriate starter volume to achieve the target number of viable yeast cells for your beer. Remember, you can use an online yeast calculator like the one linked above to quickly determine these variables.
Weigh out 1 gram of dry malt extract for every 10 milliliters of target starter volume.
Add the dry malt extract to the vessel you will be boiling in.
Add enough water to the boil vessel (dry malt already added) to reach the target starter volume.
Add about 1/4 teaspoon of yeast nutrient to the boil vessel. You can use slight less for starters under 1-2 L and slightly more for ones larger.
Bring to a gentle boil for about 15 minutes. Keep the boil vessel covered to maintain as much of the volume as possible.
After 15 minutes, allow the wort to cool.
If needed, transfer the liquid to the vessel that will hold the starter. (Note: As with beer, anything that comes into contact with the starter wort post-boil should be properly clean and sanitized).
Pitch yeast into the chilled starter wort.
Use a stir plate or intermittent shaking to add vital oxygen to the starter.
Pitch into beer once ready!
Pitching a yeast starter
Starters are typically either pitched during high krausen or after active fermentation has subsided.
Pitching at high krausen, or at the height of the fermentation’s activity, which typically is 12-18 hours after pitching the yeast into the starter is the most convenient method. Simply pitch the entire contents of the starter into the wort of your homebrew once it’s ready.
Be sure the temperature is within 5-15°F of the wort’s temperature when using this method. If it’s too hot or too cold, it can shock the yeast and ultimately create problem fermentations.
Warm starters or starters with volumes more than 5% of the main batch volume need additional preparation. First, allow the fermentation to basically complete and then chill the starter by placing it in the fridge until it is near the temperature of the wort it is intended for. Decant the liquid and pitch only the yeast cake.
Home brewing can be a wonderful hobby, and a great way to save money. If you love the taste of quality beer but not the high cost of buying it, making your own home brew can be a very smart idea, especially if you incorporate the tips listed above into your first home brewed batch.