Good Beer Hunting

Fervent Few

A Fervent Few Guide to Homebrewing

After years of drinking a bunch of the stuff while putting nothing back into the beer ecosystem, I decided it was high time to try homebrewing. I got a kit and figured it’d be easy enough. But inside were as many questions as answers. I sought the advice of The Fervent Few to help make my beers as tasty—or, um, at least as bacteria-free—as possible. And this week, those very same nice humans are here to help you get started—or step up your game—in the glamorous world of homebrewing.


Matt Paonessa: “I wish I had started with all-grain recipes when I began brewing. Extract brewing is nice to get familiar with the principles of cleanliness and sanitation, but all-grain brewing is so much more satisfying and so surprisingly easy! Also, carboy handles are worth every penny.”

Hank Hanna: “Learn about water chemistry. It may seem daunting at first, but it makes a huge difference. For example, if you use tap water and your local municipality uses chloramine to treat the water, your beer will have a medicinal aftertaste. A simple fix like campden tablets will take that flavor right out.”

Quinn Thompson: “Temperature control is one of the most surefire ways to produce consistent results across batches and capture the desired characteristics of whatever yeast strain you're using. Ideally, you'd be able to hook up a chamber to control the temperature. If that's not an option, finding a room in the house that's cool and doesn't fluctuate temperatures throughout the day or season is going to help dramatically.”

Threefrenchs: “You can homebrew for cheap, but in most cases you will be constantly investing in your hobby. After that, the fun part is learning with every batch. Make improvements and adjustments.”

Mark Forsman: “I wish I had joined a homebrew club earlier. It's such a valuable resource even if it can feel really overwhelming at first. They're filled with usually-kind people who care about helping you make better beer. While they'll judge your beer, they won't judge you. They're a resource that you can ask dumb questions to and usually get reliable and nice answers back. It's helped me problem solve and push past issues even as a self-titled advanced brewer. There's always someone nerdier out there…”

Bill Kuhn: “You’re going to make bad beer and that’s OK! We learn from what goes wrong and improve the next time. It’s so easy to be discouraged when you see your local brewery making stellar beer but all you’ve managed to do is make bottle bombs. It takes a lot of bad beer to make good beer.”

Wayne Pelletier: “If you are new and plan to bottle the beer, the bottle wand in that starter kit is a waste of plastic. Transfer from the fermenter/carboy to a clean pail with a spigot, put it up on the counter atop a milk-crate/box with 10" of hose, and set up an assembly line. If you have the means to keg, it’s worth it—it will save you hours of tedium.”

Peter Campen: “The real magic comes with knowledge. There is a lot of bad knowledge out there. The best knowledge comes from John Palmer (How to Brew v.4), and The Brewing Network, notably The Jamil Show, Brew Strong, and The Session. Listen from the beginning, learn as the they learn.”

Johnny Swinehart: “Starter kits are a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they are cheap and let you get experience with all the different components. On the other hand, you slowly realize you want to replace everything with better options.”

John Austin: “Get to know your ingredients. Go to the shop and taste Munich vs. Vienna, pils vs. ale malts, etc. See if they have any unsealed hops to that you can smell. (Don’t eat those.) This helped me at least, and I had the, “Aha! This the the flavor I want in my beer!” Yeast is harder to get to know, but try repeat batches with the same type, or split a batch into two carboys and pitch different yeast in each.”

Andrew Skelton: “Take notes of everything you're doing. Future You will love you! It will help you replicate or improve any recipes you want to make again. Exact grain weights, actual mash temperature vss the temp you aimed for, pH, hop weight, OG, FG, if you changed your process, every little detail matters! If you think it's important, write it down!”

Nick Weber: “Get objective feedback on your beer. Your friends and family will always give subjective responses to your beer, and that's cool, but it doesn't really help you beyond your ego. Enter every competition you can find, and enter often. Go to your local brewery and get some pro brewers to give you pointers—we're more than happy to taste beers. Nobody starts out making world-class beer, and that's fine. Getting constructive feedback on your brews will help you learn where in your process you can improve. Keep an open mind and your ego in check.”

Jason Berg: “As you are learning the hobby, break each component (yeast starter, mash, lauter, boil, chill, ferment, package) into its own set of steps (preheat tun, adjust water, heat water, mill grain, dough-in, measure temp) to find the little tweaks for improvement instead of trying to take on a several-hour brew day as one big process. Use the downtime during the mash, boil, etc. to look at the next step and prepare that equipment. To double-down on a couple other comments: join an education-based homebrew club (not just tasting beers or entering competitions), look at water chemistry including a professional water test, and write everything down to look for opportunities toward improvement. A kaizen mindset toward continual improvement is where I find the most enjoyment.”

C. Sean West: “Don’t start drinking till the wort is in the fermenter, if possible. Every brew session is a little different and a clear head will eliminate a bunch of problems.”

Andrew Drinkwater: “Don’t be afraid to stand on the shoulders of others—clone pro beers, borrow ideas and recipes, follow their methods, then adapt and tweak when you re-brew. One of my favourite recipes, Herb Garden Saison, started life as a kind of clone of the Dogfish/Victory/Stone Saison du Buff originally. Five batches later, with spelt in the mash, different herbs in the whirlpool, and a yeast strain I prefer, it felt like my own thing. Some homebrewers I’ve met feel like brewing clones is cheating, but what better way to get started than having a pro version to compare your efforts to, and to understand how the pieces fit together?”

Rob Steuart: “If I could give myself some advice back when I started it would be that I should have started doings sours sooner. I was worried that I needed more experience in other styles before getting on to sours, but in hindsight, I should have just bitten the bullet earlier and just started doing it. Also, just adding more hops doesn't necessarily make a beer any better.”

Rob Cartwright: “Time. Always schedule extra time, because—especially early on—it's going to take longer than you expect. Nothing worse than having to be somewhere but your wort still hasn't sufficiently cooled.”

Quinton Cook: “The whole ‘brew beer in your bathtub’ thing does apply during your first few batches generally as you look to cool your wort in a tub of ice water. That may make some of us feel like we’re going back to our roots. However, do yourself and your a beer a favor and invest in a wort chiller as soon as you can. You’ll get that wort cooled down 10x quicker, saving you time and saving your beer!”

Zak Rotello: “When brewing your own beer, don't forget to make a Hot Scotchy. Recipes vary, but it's generally ~8-oz. of whatever hot wort you've got brewing and a healthy 2-oz. pour of good scotch (although bourbon or another whiskey could work too). Sweet and malty with a peaty, boozy kick, Hot Scotchies are best enjoyed from a hot mug in a cold garage. Whipped cream not necessary.”

Are you a homebrewer? Have any advice for The Fervent Few? Join today to support Good Beer Hunting while becoming part of a community of people who are just as passionate about brewing and drinking beer as you are.

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