Homebrewing Tips To Brew Beer Like The Pros – Organic & Beyond!

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Brew Organic » Homebrewing Tips To Brew Beer Like The Pros – Organic & Beyond!

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To learn more about brewing organic, we have published the following free information at this site.

For a complete step by step tutorial about the home brewing process, check out our 101 virtual brewing class to learn how to brew beer.

Organic Brewing & Water 

If you stop to think about it, that beer you are brewing is about 95% water.

Thus, good water is critical for a successful organic beer or indeed your daily espresso.

The most important piece of advice we can offer you is to avoid chlorinated water. Even minute quantities of chlorine can affect the flavor of your organic beer. Use a water filter, purified water or distilled water to brew with and make sure to do something with your spent grains.

A good rule of thumb- if you like the taste of the water on its own, its is probobly fine to brew with (unless it contains chloramine). If you use distilled water you may want to adjust the chemistry of your water with gypsum, calcium carbonate, or other minerals to achieve the water chemistry your beer style calls for.

A good brewing book such as the Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papzian has detailed information about water treatment. An easier solution is to use water that has been filtered with an activated charcoal filter.

This type of filter removes chlorine, chloramine, heavy metals, and toxic compounds but does not remove the basic minerals such as calcium that are beneficial to the brewing process. A Pur faucet filter is an example of this type of filter.

WATER & ENERGY CONSERVATION

Because water and energy conservation are so important these days a conscientious brewer can significantly reduce the use of these resources and keep the homebrew flowing by making a few small changes in the process. For most brewers, these ideas can also save money as most of us pay for the water and energy we use.

*Unlike a commercial brewery, which uses on average 7 gallons of water for every gallon of beer produced, most of the water used in the brewing process can be recycled. The easiest way to re-use water is to water your plants with the cooling water from your wort chiller or cold water bath. Another use for cooling water: the washing machine! The hot water can be run right into the washing machine for the next load of laundry. Or, simply use the hot water to clean up after the brew session.

*Maximize your savings and conserve water by combining cleaning projects for one day- while your grains are mashing or brew pot is simmering, use the cleaning solution left over from cleaning that carboy to wash bottles or kegs, and then save the solution to clean your brew pot at the end of the day.

*Save energy by using natural gas or propane to boil your brew. Not only will you save energy, but you will have less chance of scorching your brew and you will have more control over temperature. If you are stuck with an electric range in your home, an outdoor burner is a great way to switch to gas. Not only will you spend less time brewing, clean-up is easier if you brew outside.

*If you use a refrigerator exclusively for your homebrew, you can save a considerable amount of energy by investing in a temperature controller. Most refrigerators maintain a temperature range of 30 to 40 ¾F. If you raise the temperature to 40 to 50 ¾F, you can save up to $5 per month on electricity. If you have a home keg system, a refrigerator tap can also help save energy. By dispensing your brews from outside the refrigerator, the door does not need to be opened frequently, which will significantly cut down on the amount of energy needed to keep your brews cold.

Got some water and energy saving ideas of your own? Let us know, and we’ll share your tips with the rest of our readers in future updates of this page.

Adding Organic Fruit to Your Beer and Mead 

Adding fruit to your organic beers is easy. The main consideration is how to kill unwanted organanisms in the fresh fruit without overcooking the fruit or adding unwanted chemicals. The easiest way to do this is by pasteurizing. Berries (all types), apples, plums, apricots, cherries, grapes, and kiwi fruit are all great fruits to use.

To add fruit in the primary fermentor:

The fruit will be added to the brew pot after the boil is complete and before the wort has been chilled. Wash and pit the fruit, and mash with a potato masher, or use a food processor. When your beer has reached the end of the boil, turn the heat off and wait until the wort has cooled to about 200 oF. Once it has cooled, add the fruit pulp and replace the lid on the brew pot. It is important that the fruit is not boiled- this will release the pectins in the fruit which could cause haze problems in the finished beer. Allow the wort to stand for a full twenty minutes. If adding a large amount of fruit you may want to check the temperature: if it falls below 160 oF you will need to carefully add heat. If you do this, watch the pot carefully to make sure the heat is not raised above 180 oF. Use a sanitized spoon to stir the mixture- this will help to distribute the heat more evenly. After 20 minutes proceed with chilling the wort as you usually do. To get the most out of the fruit it is a good idea to leave the pulp in the beer during the primary fermentation, and then rack the beer off the fruit into a secondary fermenter after the primary fermentation.

To add fruit to the secondary fermentor:

If you add fruit in the second stage of the fermentation, the fruit flavors are usually more pronounced. To do this, prepare the fruit as described above. If you do not want to transfer the beer after the secondary fermenter, you may want to strain the pulp after you mash it. You may want to add a small amount of water if the juices from the fruit are not sufficient to make a consistancy that is easily stirred. On a low flame, carefully raise the temperature of the fruit pulp to 180 oF, stirring frequently. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Cool it down and add the pulp to your secondary fermenter. Allow the beer or mead to ferment for an additional 1 to two weeks.

Another option is to add the fruit without pasteurization. This can be done successfully in the secondary fermenter if the beer is relatively high in alcohol (over 5% by volume), and if you take great care in cleaning the fruit and all utensils use in pulping it. This method can introduce wild yeast or unwanted bacteria to the beer, especially if the skins of the fruits are added with the pulp. As a further precaution, campden tablets (sodium or potassium metabisulfite) can be used, but these add sulfites to the beer or mead.

Substituting Organic Ingredients in Your Favorite Recipes 

One thing is certain- currently the selection of organic brewing ingredients pales in comparison to the selection of conventionally grown ingredients that is available to home brewers today. This has forced homebrewers dedicated to the organic and environmental cause to be resourceful and creative. The challange to brew organic beer just as good if not better than conventionally brewed beer has made the truly dedicated organic brewer a better brewer. We raise our organic beers in a toast to all brewers who have risen to the challenge and brewed their best. Some have won awards in brewing contests where their organic beers were pitted against beers brewed with the much wider range of malts and hops available to non organic brewers. And for those of you ready to go organic, we hope the following information will help you to succeed in making the conversion to organic without sacrificing the quality of your beer.

ORGANIC MALT EXTRACT:

Currently there is, sadly enough, just one malt extract available to organic home brewers. As it is a pale unhopped extract it is extremely versatile if you are willing to use a few specialty grains and fresh hops to complete your recipe rather than a pre-hopped “kit in a can”. Most experienced brewers agree that adding fresh grains and hops actually makes a better beer, so brewing organic could actually be considered an upgrade from prehopped can kits. Just follow these guidelines for some common substitutions:

Amber malt: add 1/2 pound caramel 60 malt to the recipe

Dark malt: add 1/2 lb. chocolate and 1/4 lb. caramel 120 malt to the recipe

Hops: If kit is pre-hopped, add 1/2 oz. Pacific Gem or 3/4 to 1 oz. Hallertaur hops to the boil (9- 12 HBU, 60 minute boil).

ORGANIC MALTED GRAINS:

Organic malts are comparable to conventionally grown malts and can be substituted pound for pound in your favorite recipes. If you are an all grain brewer you may find as we have that the starch conversion rate is slightly higher and to be precise you may want to reduce the amount of organic grain by 1 or 2 percent. Specialty malts can often be interchangeable- for instance crystal and caramel are two different terms for the same type of specialty malt. Let your common sense be the guide here. A bit of reading on the basic styles of malt can be very useful. Designing Great Beers is a good written guide to creating your own recipes, and it covers a lot of basic information about ingredients. Brew Your Own Magazine has a good overview of different brewing grains.

ORGANIC HOPS:

Organic hops tend to have a slightly higher alpha acid content so you may want to calculate the IBU’s (International Bittering Units) of your recipe and adjust the quantity of hops to achieve the desired bitterness. Below is a short summary of the most popular organic hops and our favorite substitutions:

New Zealand Pacific Gem: 13- 15% AAU. Excellent bittering with a clean pleasant aroma. Subs: Chinook, Columbus, Galena, Horizon, Magnum, Northern Brewer.

New Zealand Hallertaur: 7- 11% AAU. Versatile hop can be used for bittering and aroma. Has a clean flowery aroma. Subs: Liberty, Ultra, Hallertaur Tradition, Centennial, Crystal.

German Spalt Select: 4- 7% AAU. Very refined aroma and flavor, mild and spicy. Subs: Saaz, Tettnanger, Styrian Golding, Willamette.

German Hallertaur Tradition & Mittlefrueh: 4- 7% AAU. Very mild aroma and flavor hops especially good for aroma. Subs: Liberty, Ultra, German Hershbrucker, Mt. Hood.

Organic Ingredient Storage Tips 

So you want to take advantage of our summer sale, but you cannot brew all that beer in the next 30 days? Ingredients to make beer are considered food products, best used fresh, and should be properly stored. Read on for some tips to keep your organic ingredients as fresh as possible for at least 6 months!

HOPS:

Hops are affected by light, heat, and oxygen. Store in air-tight bags or containers in the freezer. If vacuum sealed and frozen, whole hops will retain a good aroma and flavor for up to 1 year, and pellet hops for up to 2 years.

WHOLE GRAIN BARLEY MALT:

Uncrushed malt stores well for long periods of time if stored at room temperature (60- 70 ¾F) in airtight packaging. Whole malts need to be maintained with a low moisture content, so it is important that the malts are stored in airtight packaging or in a consistently dry place. Never store whole malts (crushed or uncrushed) in the refrigerator or freezer. Doing so will cause moisture condensation inside the package and will ruin the malt. If uncrushed, malts can be stored for up to a year. If pre-crushed, unopened packages (as packed by us at 7 bridges in our special oxygen barrier packaging) may be safely stored for up to 6 months. After opening, crushed malts are best if used within a month (if re-sealed in an airtight container).

LIQUID MALT EXTRACT:

Liquid malt extract will darken with age, and if exposed to air and moisture, it will develop mold on the top after a few months if stored at room temperature. If packaged in a vacuum sealed bag, the liquid malt extract will store well at room temperature (60- 70 ¾F) 3 to 6 months. For longer storage, or to store buckets or jars of extract, refrigerate for up to 1 year.

DRY MALT EXTRACT (DME):

Dry malt extract should be treated like the whole grain barley malt: store in airtight packaging, and do not refrigerate. If exposed to humid air, dry malt extract will form a compact, solid cake. If this happens it can still be used, but it will take longer to dissolve.

YEAST:

Dehydrated beer yeast will store well under refrigeration (40- 45 ¾F) for up to 1 year. Liquid yeast has a short shelf life unless you plan to make a starter. If you brew with liquid yeast, it is always best to buy the yeast no longer than a month or two before you brew.

Growing Organic Hops 

A Quick Primer.. Know Your Hop Plants

Hops are a perennial plant, meaning with proper care one plant will produce for many years. Hops like fertile soil, plenty of sun and water, and something to climb on. The part of the plant used in brewing are the flower cones of the female plant. When growing your own hops, it is best to start with rhizomes (roots) from the female plant only, as these will produce large healthy cones without any seed.

Which Varieties Will Grow Best in Your Back Yard?

There are many varieties of hops, and if you are growing hops for the first time, it is a good idea to start with several varieties to find out which will do the best in your own back yard. For areas with a short growing season, choose hops that can be harvested early: Hallertaur, Perle, Saaz, Spalt, & Tettnanger

For areas with a longer growing season, Cascade and Kent Goldings are good choices, but the other varieties can be grown successfully also, as long as the plants are mulched well and they get plenty of water. Here in California, all of the varieties we sell can be grown successfully.

Hop Rhizomes For Sale

The hop rhizomes we have for sale come from farms in the United States that currently grow certified organic hops or are small scale farms that use organic methods. Starting in 2011, all of the hop rhizomes we sell are USDA Certified organic.

Each year fresh hop rhizomes are available from early March to early May. We offer them for sale as early as the first week of February. As soon as they are available each year we post them for sale on this page: https://breworganic.com/hoprhizomes.aspx

Although we cannot cover every detail about growing hops here on this page, the following information should help you to get started on the right foot. Also, there are some really good information resources on the subject in print:

Book: The Homebrewer’s Garden, By Joe Fisher & Dennis Fisher ($15.50)

Book: Homegrown Hops, by David R. Beach ($12.90)

These are good websites to visit for more information:

Crannog Ales also offers a Small Scale & Organic Hops Production manual on their website.

To have hops analyzed in a lab for alpha and beta acid content:

Testing in a laboratory may not be cost effective as it can cost between $24 and $50 per sample not including the shipping costs. This should not stop you from brewing with your homegrown hops however! It is a good rule of thumb to use the middle average AA value for the hop variety you have. If you do not like overly bitter beer, use less rather than more, taste a sample of the wort as it nears the end of boil, and keep good notes if you plan to brew with the same hops again. If youing your freshly harvested home grown hops for aroma or flavor, the amount of bitterness extracted in the shorter boil time is negligable, so using the amount called for in your recipe is a good procedure.

Planting Your Hops In the Right Place:

A good site for your hop plants is key to a healthy crop. The following criteria is the most important:

-Good sun.. a minimum of 6 to 8 hours per day of full sunlight.

-Good air circulation..this will help to prevent diseases and will help keep pests to a minimum. If your area is really windy, a windbreak should be considered.

-Good drainage.. hops like a lot of moisture, but ground that stays too saturated after a heavy rain will promote the growth of mold and other diseases.

-Plenty of vertical space.. hop vines can grow up to 30 feet in length. You will need to construct a trellis, or use an existing structure that the hops can grow on.

Planting Your Hops:

Get your hops off to a good start by adding lots of compost or well rotted manure to the soil before planting. Hops grow best in soil with a Ph of 6 to 7.5, and need plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, and boron. A good organic fertilizer or compost will provide most of these nutrients. For more details about soil amendments and fertilizers, we recommend The Homebrewer’s Garden, or another good gardening guide. Plant the hop rhizomes 6″ deep and 1 1/2 to 3 feet apart, in raised beds if possible. The soil should be worked at least 2′ deep. Cover the planted hops with a thick layer of mulch to prevent the soil from drying out and to keep weeds and pests to a minimum.

Before the hops grow more than a few inches, construct a hop trellis. There are many designs for the hop trellis, some of which can be found on the web page links, above, or in the recommended books, above. A good trellis is sturdy so it can hold up the weight of the hops plus withstand a strong wind, and gives the entire leafy part of the hop plant good sun exposure.

Making Yeast Starters 

Yeast Preparation & Yeast Starters

USING DRY YEAST

Most dry yeast will start the fermentation quickly without any preparation. It is important to use fresh yeast. To improve the chances of a good fermentation with dry yeast, the yeast can be rehydrated in a small amount of sterile water before adding to the beer. The water should be the same temperature as the fermentation temperature of the beer you are making. A yeast starter can be made with dry yeast (see below).

USING LIQUID YEAST

The most common form of liquid yeast available to home brewers is Wyeast, which comes in a foil packet. The packet contains instructions for popping the inner pouch to start the yeast growth. This is usually done the day before brewing, unless the Wyeast packet is more than a month old. For each month beyond one month, pop the package an additional day in advance of brewing, up to 4 days. Thus, if your packet is two months old, pop the yeast two days before brewing; if it is six months old, pop the yeast 4 days before brewing. MAKING A YEAST STARTER:

This is usually done the day before you brew. A yeast starter will start the fermentation of you beer more rapidly.

Equipment needed:

  1. Starter vessel: quart size or larger jar (juice jars work well), a large beer bottle, or an Erlenmeyer flask
  2. Stopper & Airlock*
  3. Measuring cups, measuring spoons
  4. Rubbing alcohol & cotton balls or swabs

*If you do not have a stopper that fits your chosen starter vessel, you may cover the container with a clean cloth that has been sanitized: boil the cloth for 10 minutes, and then soak it in a sanitizing solution. If using cheesecloth, or other loosely woven cloth, use 2- 4 layers so dust and bacteria are effectively trapped.

The starter should be at least 2 cups in size. Before making the starter, if using liquid yeast, follow the instructions above for starting the yeast growth.

To make a starter medium, use malt extract, dried malt extract, or some unfermented wort from a previous batch. It is important to use malt based sugars, as other sugars do not have sufficient nutrients for healthy yeast growth. Add water to the extract or gyle- the best specific gravity range for making a yeast starter is between 1.030- 1.040. Here are some guidelines for making starters with organic malt extract:

STARTER VOLUME VOLUME OF EXTRACT YEAST NUTRIENT (Optional) HOPS (optional) 
1 cup 1 Tablespoon 1/2 tsp. 1/2 tsp. 
2 cups 2 Tablespoons 1 tsp. 1 tsp. 
1 Quart 1/4 cup 1 Tablespoon 1 Tablespoon 
(For larger volumes, adjust above quantities equally) 

Tips For a Healthy Fermentation 

A Great Beer Needs a Great Start:

Some Tips for Better Fermentation Starts

If you have had trouble in the past with long lag times between the time you pitch the yeast and the time you see active fermentation, you are not alone. Virtually every homebrewer has experienced this at least once. There are many things you can do to improve the odds that your fermentation will start quickly and finish clean. We have summarized the most important below:

#1: Start with enough yeast to do the job right:

Yeast will not start to eat the sugars in the wort until there is a sufficient population of yeast cells. When yeast is first introduced into the wort is it starts to reproduce. During the reproduction stage, there is no visible activity in the fermenter. If a higher number of yeast cells are pitched into the wort, the reproduction stage will be shorter and fermentation will start sooner. So how do you start will a high yeast cell count?….

*If using dehydrated yeast: rehydrate the yeast in a small amount of sterile water before adding to the beer. To make sure the water is sterile, boil it for at least 10 minutes, and then cool it down to 70 oF (the water should be the same temperature as the fermentation temperature of the beer you are making). Use at least 10 grams of dehydrated yeast per 5 gallons. A yeast starter can be made with dry yeast.

*If using liquid yeast: Ready to pitch yeast in a tube from White Labs is ready to use, but be careful that the yeast is the same temperature as the wort, or the temperature shock will cause some of the yeast cells to die. If using Wyeast in a “smack-pack” choose the XL (125 ml) size as it is almost 3.5 times more yeast than the smaller 50 ml. size. Make sure you pop the inner pouch in advance of brew day; For each month beyond one month, pop the package an additional day in advance of brewing, up to 4 days. Thus, if your packet is two months old, pop the yeast two days before brewing; if it is six months old, pop the yeast 4 days before brewing. With yeast older than 6 months, a yeast starter is highly recommended.

#2: Feed Your Yeast:

Yeast needs sufficient oxygen and other nutrients to build cell walls during the reproductive stage. To achieve a fast start, the wort must be aerated thoroughly. Accomplish this by vigorous shaking of the wort, using an aeration device such as a Siphon Spray Wort Aerator, or aerating with oxygen and a carbonation stone. A combination of these methods is also effective. Because malt has most of the nutrients needed by yeast, the addition of nutrients is usually not necessary, but a few Tablespoons of yeast nutrient powder added to the wort does not hurt.

#3: Keep the right temperature:

Temperature is very important when growing healthy yeast. Most important is the temperature when pitching the yeast. First and foremost, try to avoid a big difference in the temperature of the wort and the temperature of the yeast or starter when adding the yeast to the fermenter. A temperature difference of more than 10oF can shock the yeast and cause too many of the yeast cells to die. Try to maintain the correct temperature range for the beer style during the entire fermentation.Your beer will finish when expected and you will see the best results.

KRAEUSENING – Bottling With Unfermented Wort 

KRAEUSENING YOUR BEER

To preserve the integrity of your organic beer, one option is to use organic malt extract or unfermented wort to bottle your beer. The most economical method is to use unfermented wort (called gyle), a process called krausening. True kraeusening actually involves adding freshly fermenting wort into a finished beer. This method is more time consuming but the carbonation period is significantly less. We find the following method is easier and very effective.

A simple method of krausening is to thoroughly clean a mason jar or large beer bottles and fill with hot tap water as your wort reaches the end of the boil. Just prior to adding the finishing hops transfer the needed amount of the boiling wort to the jar or bottle (empty the hot water first) and cap immediately. Let the wort cool to under 90 oF and then refrigerate until your batch is ready for bottling. At bottling time, boil the saved wort for 10 minutes and chill, then add to the fermented beer and bottle. It is important to use the proper amount of gyle for the particular beer you are priming.

Here is a rough guideline:

For Original gravity reading of:Use this amount of gyle
1.0302 quarts
1.0401 1/2 quarts
1.0501 1/4 quarts
1.0601 quart
1.0703 1/2 cups
1.0803 cups
1.0902 2/3 cups
1.1002 1/2 cups

A Few Cleaning Tips 

A Few Cleaning Tips For a Better Brew

Every successful homebrewer and professional brewer will tell you that keeping it clean is the key to success. Why is this so important? First, beer is more prone to infection than other alcoholic beverages because it has a lower alcohol content and a higher sugar content. Second, lots of microbes really like beer and its main ingredient, barley malt. Third, as brewer you probably already know how messy brewing can be!

For the most effective cleaning routine, it is helpful to think of cleaning and sanitizing as a 2 stage process. A good cleaning will remove surface deposits and most bacteria. Then, after rinsing the cleaning solution residue away, a final sanitizing step (we recommend Iodophor or Star-San) will reduce microbes to a microscopic population. Thus, your yeast will have virtually no competition when it is introduced into your yummy wort.

Want to get your carboy really clean? 

Nothing beats a good soak in the best cleaner we have tried, 5-Star PBW. This cleaner is low environmental impact, but expensive, so to avoid making a 5 gallon solution, make a 1- 1 1/2 gallon lukewarm solution (too much heat can break a carboy) and pour it into the carboy. On an old towel or blanket, lay the carboy on its side. The water level should be just below the mouth of the carboy (you may need to adjust this). Soak for 10- 20 minutes, then rotate the carboy, soak again, etc. Once all surfaces have had a good soak, use a carboy brush to scrub all surfaces. Because of the long soak, a gentle scrub is fine, just make sure every surface meets the brush at least once. Now rinse and admire your handiwork! Apply a long soak in PBW to other equipment that could use a deep cleaning, and you are ready for a lot of good home brewing!

Hate the sound of metal scraping glass?

 It happens every time you use a bottle or carboy brush. On top of the annoying sound, every time you scrape the lip of a bottle or carboy, you can create a scratch that can harbor bacteria. Here is a simple but effective solution: Cut a length of 1/4″ i.d. tubing to fit the unprotected wire handle of the brush. Thick walled tubing works best, the kind used for keg systems, because it holds its shape best. Now for the tricky part. Use a utility knife to cut through one side of the tubing lengthwise (if a cross-section of the tubing is an O, then once you cut it it becomes a C ) . Once this is done, force the tubing over the wire handle. Ta-da! You now have a better brush!

Keeping Homebrew Cool in Hot Weather 

A lot of us have more time to brew in the summer. Relaxed work schedules, longer days, and vacation time all can add time to your brew schedule. Sometimes the biggest challenge is fermenting the beer in the hottest time of year. There are ways to beat the heat and keep the beer flowing even in hot summer weather. Read on for a few ideas.

Sometimes the thought of being in a hot kitchen with a pot of boiling wort is not a welcome thought when the mercury creeps up past the 90 degree mark. But if you really do not want to run out of organic brew, there are a few things you can do. If you have an outdoor heat source such as a propane burner why not brew outdoors? The process will not cause you to sweat too much (especially if you have an outdoor umbrella or convenient tree to act as a shade source), and you will also not have to worry so much about making a mess. If you use a wort chiller to cool the beer down, you can also hook up a sprinkler to the chiller outflow (after the first few minutes of really hot water has been drawn off) and water the yard while you finish your brew. If you do not have the option to brew outdoors, and early morning or night time session when the temperatures are cooler is the best option. Brewing early or late has the added bonus of leaving you the rest of the day to do other things.

Perhaps keeping your fermenter cool has kept you from brewing. There are a few tricks to cooling the fermentation temperature when the weather really heats up. The most basic cooling method is the swamp cooling method. You will need a large tub that fits the fermenter and will hold enough water to reach about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way up the fermenter when placed in the tub. Once the fermenter is in the tub of water, completely soak a towel in water and wrap it around the fermenter so that the bottom of the towel is also immersed in the water. This creates a giant wick that keeps itself damp and keeps the fermenter cooler. If this is not enough cooling, you can add a fan, as moving air will add up to 10 degrees of cooling. If this is still not enough, you can freeze a few plastic jugs of water and put them in the tub of water. The more ice you add, the cooler it will be. It is actually possible to achieve lager temperatures in this way, even in the hottest summer weather.

If you are lucky enough to have a basement, temperatures usually stay below 70 ¾F naturally. This is ideal for fermentation, especially because temperature fluctuations are usually much more stable. Vintners have been using underground basements and caves to store wine for centuries, after all.

If all this is too much for you to keep track of, the ultimate solution is a temperature controller. For this, you will need a refrigerator or freezer large enough to hold your fermenter and dedicated to brewing. A temperature controller overrides the built in thermostat of the refrigerator or freezer and allows you to set any temperature you like, within the range that the refrigerator or freezer is capable of (so you will not be able to set it to -50 ¾F for instance). An added benefit of a temperature controller as it can reduce the power consumption of the appliance- it takes much less energy to maintain a temperature of 50 or 55 ¾F than it does to cool things down to 40 ¾F.

Keeping Homebrew Warm in Cool Weather 

MAINTAINING A WARM FERMENTATION IN COLD WEATHER

Have you stopped brewing, or are you just brewing lager because your brew area is just too cold when the temperature drops? There are many ways to keep your fermenters warm, even if your brew room is icy cold. We have heard many suggestions over the years, from temperature controlled/heated refrigerators to light boxes and electric blankets. Here are some ideas, and the inevitable disclaimer:

DISCLAIMER: some of the following brew tips call for the use of electrical devices or lights for purposes they were not designed for. These brew tips are ideas only and we are not responsible for damage or personal injury resulting from your use of these devices.

A Light Box: 

A simple incandescent light bulb can provide enough heat in a small space to keep your fermenter warm. Use a large box, build an enclosure, or section off a small closet. Place a utility light with a 60 to a 100 watt bulb inside the enclosure to provide heat. The fermenter should be covered with a thick cloth to keep the light from reaching the beer, and the light bulb should be at least 8 inches away from the fermenter and any flammable materials. Keep a thermometer in the light box to monitor the temperature.

Electric Blanket:

We have heard from many customers who have reported success in using an electric blanket to keep their brews warm during fermentation. The danger in using an electric blanket is that it can create too much heat. To prevent overheating your fermenter, first wrap a thick blanket around the fermenter, and then drape the blanket loosely over this. A fermometer (stick-on thermometer) will help to monitor the actual fermentation temperature. Check the temperature frequently.

Aquarium Heater: 

If you have a large tub that can hold water and will fit your fermenter (the water does not have to reach the top of the fermenter), you can use an aquarium heater. The aquarium heater should be placed in the tub of water, and the fermenter resting in the warm water will stay at the temperature you set with the heater thermostat. When purchasing an aquarium heater, it is important to buy the right one. Aquarium heaters are rated for volume of liquid and for temperature differential. If you want to heat 20 gallons of water (include the volume of liquid in your fermenter in your calculations) about 10 degrees over the average room temperature, you should buy an aquarium heater of 200- 300 watts. A good aquarium heater has both a thermostat and a temperature sensor that measures the current water temperature. For a small investment, this is one of the most effective ways to keep your fermenter warm and at a constant, controlled temperature.

Digital Temperature Controller: 

A digital temperature controller, an insulated enclosure (such as a refrigerator, and a heating pad or other thermostatically controlled heating device can also be used to keep fermentation warm. This method requires a more modest investment, but because the digital temperature controller can control both heat and cold, it may be worth it if keeping your fermentation cool or brewing lager is a concern.

Reducing Carbs and Calories in Homebrew 

By now you have probably heard all about the latest low carb diets. As a fan of good beer, the news that carbs are bad hits where it hurts, because beer is pretty high in carbs for a beverage. If the level of carbs in your homebrew is a concern to you, there are a few things you can do to reduce the carbs. It helps to understand where the carbs come from in the first place.

Carbs (and calories) come from sugar and starch (basically the brewing malt), and your average homebrew has plenty of both, resulting in an average of about 10- 15 carbs per 12 oz. serving. Although most of the carbs in the unfermented wort are converted to alcohol and CO2 by the yeast, enough remain behind to make beer off limits to those on a strict low carb diet. Certain specialty grains contribute to higher carbs in beer, especially caramel, crystal malts, and Munich malts. Essentially, grains that contribute a full body and sweetness contain a higher level of complex carbohydrates that are unfermentable by yeast, thus leaving more carbs in the beer. Fortunately, grains with a very dark roast such as chocolate and roasted barley have been roasted so long that the carbohydrates have been broken down in the roasting process. For this reason a very dark beer such as Guinness clocks in at about 10 carbs for 12 oz. while a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale actually contains about 12 carbs.

Knowing this, it is possible to brew a beer with low carbs that still has some flavor. The trick is to achieve a low starting and finishing gravity, and then, if you really want to cut out the carbs, utilize a carb destroying enzyme such as beano (available in most drugstores) in the secondary fermenter.3 Beano tablets added to the secondary fermenter will reduce the carbs in the finished beer by about half. Beano is actually the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, and it works by breaking up complex carbs that yeast cannot normally ferment. Note that these complex carbs are the source of the flavor and mouthfeel you may be used to in your homebrew, so you may want to start by brewing a beer with less carbs and then try the extra step of adding beano to a smaller portion of a batch- say 1 gallon- to be sure that you find the results drinkable. Using Beano to cut carbs will make the beer taste thinner. If you brew a beer you do not like, of course it might not contribute carbs to your diet at all- if you end up dumping it down the drain!

If you are very partial to a higher alcohol content you can bump up alcohol by adding ingredients that are highly fermentable, such as refined sugar, fruit, or honey. If you are an all-grain or partial mash brewer you can also use fermentable adjuncts such as barley or rye flakes. All grain brewers can utilize mash techniques to reduce carbs by maximizing the fermentability of the wort. Adding a 15 to 20 minute rest at 140oF and also mashing at a slightly lower temperature- 148- 150 oF will help to produce a more fermentable wort. One more thing a brewer can do to ensure lower carbs is to use a yeast strain with a higher attenuation and to make sure the yeast has a healthy start with vigorous aeration and by making a yeast starter so that a large amount of yeast is initially pitched.

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