Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment With Flavors
“With one exception I’ve never brewed the same recipe twice,” says James Schirmer, an institutional research analyst at the University of La Verne. “I’ve brewed beers with various spices, chocolate, fruit, and anything that I think may lend itself well to a beer.”
Schirmer says one of his most successful batches was a wheat beer brewed with hibiscus flowers. “I got the idea from my mother-in-law, who mentioned one of her favorite drinks is made with hibiscus flowers,” he says. After trying it, Schirmer says he immediately knew the hibiscus flavor would meld well with a nice, light, easy-drinking summer beer. “And so I brewed an American wheat-style beer and added some dried hibiscus flowers in the boil,” he says.
That beer went on to win the 2012 Samuel Adams Longshot competition. It’s available now (under the name James Schirmer’s Beerflower Wheat) in the Samuel Adams Longshot Variety six-pack, along with the two other winners of the competition.
Keep Your Hands Away
“I showed my rookie stripes during my very first brew when I stuck my hand in the wort to retrieve the thermometer,” says home-brewer Ron Perez, a CAD manager for an engineering firm in Northern Colorado.
What he did is a huge no-no because it can contaminate the brew before even getting it to the fermentation process. “When I started home brewing, I was also pretty lax about keeping all the measuring equipment sanitized and did not use an acid sanitizer to clean the fermenter,” Perez says. “As a result, my first batch was a little fruity—a characteristic of contamination.”
Keep a Brew Log
“I am a believer in recording data throughout the brewing process,” says Scott Klym, who works as an institutional equity trader and has been home-brewing for more than two years. Why? Because if something goes wrong, a log gives him a better chance of identifying the problem and correcting it.
Klym uses a software program called Beersmith to develop recipes and record his brew day data. “I print out a brew sheet and record water volumes, temperatures at various stages, original and final gravity readings,” he explains. Then he compares those to the expected values. “If there are large deviations, I can track down what caused the problem,” Klym says. “For example, if my temp was too high during the mash, it would alter the original gravity and body of the beer.”
Update Your Equipment
“The basic kits and ingredients available today are much better than in the past, but they have limits,” says Brent Shelton, an online shopping expert and media relations specialist for FatWallet.com. For really passionate brewers, the goal is to keep improving the process and the results, so upgrading to better equipment and ingredients is a logical step toward custom brewing and possibly competing with other brewers, he says.
First, Shelton says, simply upgrading your boiling kettle will make a big difference in the mash and cook. This is especially true if you buy a glass kettle, which is superior to plastic when fermenting. He also recommends investing in a counterflow system for cooling your batch, which improves the time and accuracy of this process.
“I started out with a five-gallon pale kit from Midwest Supplies, but I’ve since graduated to more custom equipment, including a grain crusher, an extra burner (saves about an hour per batch), refracometer, better cleaning supplies, tubing and connectors, and an auto siphon — a must!” Shelton says.
So heed the advice of the experts. Whether you’ve been brewing for a while or just getting started, there’s always room for improvisation, experimentation, and improvement.