Does your love for craft beers run deep? Home brewing can be quite fulfilling and not just filling. There’s way more to this hobby than draining a keg on brew day. Home brewing is creative, social and scientific, which explains why it keeps growing beer after beer. Maybe you’ve always been curious about making it your hobby but not quite sure how to hop in. We tapped award winning Home Brew Expert, Paul Mazziotti to answer some of our heavier brew questions. Cheers!
How did you get started home brewing and why do you love it?
I started brewing about ten years ago. I was getting into beer and getting really interested in how it was made. I ran into an old friend who mentioned to me that he tried making beer at home, which blew my mind. I went out the next day and bought a starter kit. Right from the first day, I loved everything about it. It was the perfect combination of science and creativity. It was so exciting to touch and smell all the raw ingredients and learn how they all came together to make a beer. A few weeks later I got to share the beer I made with my friends and although I thought they were just being nice about that first batch they apparently enjoyed it. Now ten years later the same things still excite me. I love the process, building recipes, finding ways to constantly improve, and most importantly sharing the end result with my friends and family.
What’s the easiest and most affordable way to get started?
When talking about home brewing, there are two main options; extract brewing or all-grain brewing.
1) Extract brewing simplifies the process and cuts out on a few steps; you are using malt extract which is essentially a syrup or super concentrate of wort (unfermented beer) that you mix with boiling water and add hops to. This method requires minimal equipment at a basic level, the process is relatively simple, and can produce a decent beer
2) All-grain is real deal brewing. You're following the same process that a commercial brewer is and truly starting from raw ingredients. Although this method is more complex and requires more equipment, I would strongly encourage people to go this route right from the beginning if they are really interested in brewing. If you love beer and brewing, you'll end up at all-grain sooner than later anyway, and all-grain gives you so much more ability to develop recipes and have control over the end product.
Where are the best places for new brewers to buy equipment and ingredients?
First and foremost I recommend supporting your local home brew shop if you have one. They are great resources of knowledge and can provide great support for the hobby in your community. Beyond that, there are of course numerous websites offering home brew gear. My two personal favorites are More Beer (morebeer.com) and Adventures In Homebrewing (homebrewing.org). These websites have every imaginable piece of equipment and fantastic selections of ingredients. On these sites, you can buy a variety of starter kits that will give you all the basic equipment you need to get started with whatever method you choose to go (all-grain or extract). They also sell recipe kits which are a great option when you're getting started or even when you are more experienced and just want to brew a proven recipe.
Where do you find your recipes and instructions on how to make the actual beer? (i would love for you to mention the podcast here as well)
There are plenty of great resources out there obviously there is a lot of good (and bad) advice on the internet. My two favorite resources are "How To Brew" by John Palmer, which breaks down every step of the brewing process and every piece of equipment in a way that is very easy to understand but without sacrificing the science of it all. For learning how to develop recipes, understanding ingredients, and learning about beer styles, I LOVE "Brewing Classic Styles" by Jamil Zainasheff. I still refer to that book regularly. I can't recommend The Brewing Network highly enough. They are a podcast network and put out a wide variety of shows. Their flagship show "The Session" is a great combination of entertainment and beer and brewing information. Many of the hosts and show regulars are professional brewers or award winning home brewers. Every week they interview various people from the beer industry touch as brewers, brewery owners, hop farmers, etc. In addition to the session, they have several other shows that focus more on the technical aspects of brewing. I have been listening to the Brewing Network since I started brewing and they are hands down the biggest contributor to my success as a home brewer and the #1 reason I brew really good beer today. Their podcasts are available on iTunes and at thebrewingnetwork.com.
Can you save us from some new of the common mistakes new brewers make?
The most important thing hands down is sanitation. Bad sanitation practice will make even the best recipe undrinkable. It's important to remember that microorganisms like bacteria love to eat sugar just like yeast does and poor sanitation practice will introduce bacteria to your beer and sour it (not in a good way). The best product on the market for sanitation is StarSan; it's available pretty much anywhere that sells home brewing supplies and is super easy to use. The second most important thing, in my opinion, is temperature control during fermentation. Yeasts produce different flavor profiles at different temperatures. Different strains of yeast have different temperature preferences but as a simple rule of thumb most ale strains will do well in the mid to upper 60s. Lager yeasts, on the other hand, prefer a much cooler temperature. Ideally, I'd tell you to get a chest freezer and a temperature control unit so that you can control the exact temperature down to the degree but you can certainly get by without that when you are starting out. There are a variety of techniques to reasonably control temperature and some time on Google should help there, but the main thing is to find a spot in the house where the temperature is fairly consistent, just don't put it in your 95-degree garage. Without really temperature control I would strongly recommend not trying to brew a lager as lager yeast needs to ferment at lower typically in the high 40s to low 50s.
About how long should the whole process take?
There are two stages to the home brewing process; the brew day and then fermentation. A typical brew day is approximately 6 hours (maybe half that for extract). Following brew day you will need to ferment the beer (this is what creates alcohol). Fermentation for most beers will take anywhere from 1 - 2 weeks. Once fermentation is complete you will need to package the beer in either bottles or a Keg. I recommend Kegs but that, of course, adds cost and equipment up front. Most beginner bottle and the beer will need to stay in the bottles for an additional week or two to carbonate.
Would you care to share a favorite recipe?
In 10 years I have brewed dozens of recipes again and again, but for all the unique beers I have brewed I keep coming back to an old classic, Kolsch. Kolsch is a classic German beer that is light and easy drinking but is still interesting and flavorful. It's a perfect summer beer. I'm going to give the recipe in percentages and IBUs, which is how beer recipes are typically given. The books I recommended can help with understanding recipes. Also, I'd recommend BeerSmith, it is a fantastic computer program for building recipes, it covers every aspect of the home brewing process and it's only $20.
92% Pilsener Malt
8% Vienna Malt
Mash at 149 degrees for 60 min
Sparge to achieve a pre-boil gravity of 1.040
Boil for 90 min
23 IBU German Saphir Hops at 60 min
0.1 IBU German Saphir Hops at 1 min
Final gravity should be 1.046
German Ale/Kolsch Yeast (White Labs #WLP029) Fermented at 60-62 degrees
The final beer will be approximately 5% ABV
This beer will benefit from an additional few weeks of cold storage after fermentation
For an extract brewer, I would recommend replacing the malt with a light malt extract. Also cut the boil time down to 60 min.