My name is Steven, I am from Bloomingdale, ON and have been home brewing for little over a year now. This blog post is intended to share my insight and experiences as a rookie home brewer and some lessons that I have learned as far as making beer.
The KISS Method…Keep it simple:
When I was younger, a crazy old guy who used to run a jazz band that I was in gave me some pretty simple advice. ‘Keep it simple, stupid’. As a brewer, I cannot stress enough how important this is in the early going. Because I didn’t heed that advice and tried to make fairly complicated recipes right off the hop, including doing all grain, I made some pretty bad beers. My first beer had hop particles in the fermenter that got into the bottles. My second beer lagged out on fermentation and I wound up with this really sweet maple ale. Although it was drinkable, I still have about 10 bottles. When I got to my third recipe, things started turning around. I brewed a smoked maple ale which was decent. Then, I did a Scotch Ale which I enjoyed but was nothing great. After that, I started trying to do 5 gallon brews and things just went to hell; Oxidation in my fermenter, bland or even putrid off-flavours ruined beers. In hindsight, I should have stuck with 1 gallon batches for a while longer. It wasn’t until I brewed what Jamie Fowler dubbed the Megabock at the Royalfinger homebrew competition, that I finally started to grasp the process. That was about 8 months after I started brewing.
You might think you can make your own recipes, but much like cooking, making a great recipe that stands heads and tails above others is exceptionally challenging and requires a lot of understanding of both styles as well as what your final goal needs to be. Kits, while often not the greatest recipes as far as being unique, are by far and away the best way to get started brewing.
I will happily admit that my ambition was fed primarily because of how blown away I was by what Kevin Freer has been doing at Block 3 for the last couple of years, as well as other great brewers in the region. One thing I didn’t stop to do was to consider that he has been doing it a lot longer than me and has a lot of experience doing it. It’s good to be ambitious, but simplification is the best way to get making good beer right out of the gate. My best recipes to date have all been fairly simple. I recently brewed a traditional Vienna Lager although it is a bit on the hazy side, though I failed to do a diacetyl rest which resulted in the burned bitter off flavour. Cold conditioning for 3+ months is a lot of time just to clarify the beer though. The beer consists of a simple 3 malt grain bill, two ounces of hops and a couple of packets of Saflager 34-70 yeast. This simple recipe produced a pretty good beer despite the issue. Likewise, I made a coffee milk stout that turned out great. Lactose really does wonders to balance the bitterness of English hops and black cold-brewed coffee. Again, just a few grains and some hops, nothing fancy. After rebrewing the Vienna Lager, ensuring that I raised the temperature helped with killing off the diacetyl that ruined my first attempt, I am looking forward to bottling it soon.
Click here for my Vienna Lager recipe
|Batch Size||Boil Time||IBU||SRM||Est. OG||Est. FG||ABV|
|20.8 L||60 min||27.4 IBUs||12.1 SRM||1.052||1.014||5.0 %|
|Name||Cat.||OG Range||FG Range||IBU||SRM||Carb||ABV|
|Vienna Lager||7 A||1.048 - 1.055||1.01 - 1.014||18 - 30||9 - 15||2.5 - 3||4.7 - 5.5 %|
|Vienna Malt (Weyermann)||4.082 kg||87.8|
|Caramunich II (Weyermann)||453.6 g||9.76|
|Special B (Dingemans)||113.4 g||2.44|
|Styrian Goldings||28.3 g||60 min||Boil||Pellet||5.4|
|Saaz||21.3 g||60 min||Boil||Pellet||3.8|
|Saflager Lager (W-34/70)||DCL/Fermentis||75%||8.89°C - 15°C|
|Step 1||64.44°C||30 min|
|Step 2||68.33°C||15 min|
|Mash Out||75.56°C||15 min|
|Remove grain bag and rinse collected wort over grain bag for two cycles before draining the bag entirely and bringing to a boil. Once at a roiling boil, add both hops and boil for 60 minutes. Chill to 20 Celsius and pitch two packets of Saflager 34-70 dry yeast into a sanitized 1L flask with a stopper. Stir it with the flask plugged or with a stir plate and store in a cold environment around 12-18 C for 3 hours. Pitch entire starter into the fermenter and ferment at 12-18 C for two weeks. Once primary is done, transfer off the yeast cake and store at ~3 Celsius for lagering to bring the yeast out of suspension.|
One thing I have tried to do more of recently is make beers that fall within the guidelines of the BJCP categories. Rather than taking my own liberties and trying to create fancy recipes, I spent the time to research common ingredients for beer styles and use that as a basis upon which I would create a recipe. So for a Belgian Golden Strong Ale; pilsner malt, Belgian candy sugar and an Abbey or Trappist style yeast strain are all that I needed. Belgian yeasts seem to be one of the hardest working yeasts, and the fruity and spicy flavours created by any Belgian strain are the most prominent aspects of these styles of beer. Doing that allowed me to brew a pretty good Belgian Golden Strong Ale that I’ll be submitting to the Barnstormer Homebrew competition. Understanding what the main features are supposed to be in a traditional beer recipe, also helps with creating some good beer. You might not be able to clone your favourite beers, but that shouldn’t be the goal, it should be making your own unique beer that reflects who you are.
Don’t try to be unique right away, you shouldn’t try to sprint before you can crawl. It’s OK to make simple beers, and each time you make them, try to tweak a few things. Whether it be a different mash temperature, doing step mashing, changing your hop addition times or even a choice of hops, small changes can have big impacts. When I started mashing in at a lower temperature, I noticed the body and mouthfeel of my beers started improving. And doing a couple of step mashes really made a difference, though they are not necessary for all styles of beer. Heck, even using different malts of the same variety can change your beer significantly. Using grain from different regions, even if it is supposed to be the same species or has the same SRM, can change your beer quite a bit. Recently, I have started using Maris Otter instead of Ontario 2 Row because, in my opinion, it produces a nicer body in the beer. Using adjuncts like wheat and oats also can really improve the mouthfeel of your beers. Hops are a similar story. However, I am not big on hop forward beers, so this is an area I haven’t delved into a whole lot yet. Of course, there are many more years and beers to go!
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions, there isn’t a dumb one out there. The KW region has many great brewers and individuals who can give you feedback and there are plenty of public events held at places like Shortfinger that can help you out. I can’t thank enough the people who have been honest with me about the beers I have made. I hope my insights into homebrewing will prevent you from making the same mistakes that I have made.