When I started homebrewing in 2010, I was hugely motivated by costs. I loved beer, and I was a broke university student. While not much has changed in regards to my situation (still a broke student as I decided to take on a couple graduate degrees), my attitude towards brewing has progressed.
Time efficiency > cost efficiency
I see now that the largest investment in my beers is not money, but time. Brew days are my favourite, but without many exceptions I have found myself optimizing my brewing process with respect to reducing work rather than to reduce or maintain my brewing costs. A couple examples:
- No sparge brewing: at the cost of a couple efficiency points and maybe a couple dollars worth of grain per brew, I’m no longer performing a sparge. This marginally shortens and simplifies my brew days.
- No starters: yeast starters are cool, and have me feeling like a mad scientist when I make them, but they’re also time consuming. Unless you are pressure canning extra wort, you’re probably using dried malt extract to make media, which isn’t all that cheap. What I do now is to follow the yeast manufacturer’s recommendations, and use one package of fresh liquid brewing culture per 5 gallons (rounding up). Use more if you’re brewing an especially strong beer. For my 14.5 gallon batches I’ll use 3 packages typically, which will cost me roughly twice as much as one package + the dried malt extract, and requires much less time investment.
- Less mess: while the sanitary stainless steel plumbing on my new brewery wasn’t cheap, one advantage of how I’ve set it up is that I do not require any hose changes during my brew days. In my experience, hose changes are when the messes happen. The sanitary fittings are easier to clean too. I’m not so disillusioned to think my brewery’s bling makes better beer, but I know that it improves my cleaning:brewing time ratio.
Healthy fermentation is the key
Paying closer attention to yeast and their fermentation environment is probably the best thing anyone can do for their brewing. A couple aspects to this:
- Sanitation: How clean? Super clean. Using sanitary fittings where I can makes this a bit easier for me. It’s also another argument to not make starters; I’d wager that the sanitary techniques of yeast labs are better than what any of us are able to achieve at home.
- Pitching temperatures: Don’t pitch until pitching temperature has been reached. Because of sanitation measures, waiting overnight or longer before pitching yeast should not result in any contamination. It’s worth being patient as to not stress your yeast.
- Aeration: Proper aeration is necessary for yeast reproduction and healthy fermentation. Aerate at pitching temperature as oxygen is more soluble in wort at cooler temperates, prior to adding any brewing cultures.
- Fermentation temperature: Different yeasts shine under different conditions. Research these conditions, and then provide them!
When it comes to the hops
Using fresh ingredients is one of the more obvious parts to crafting a quality brew, here’s a couple other comments regarding the use of hops specifically:
- I prefer a first wort hop to a regular 60 minute boil addition for bittering
- Complicated hopping schedules are often unnecessary – there’s not much that can’t be done with a bittering addition and an aroma addition. Further, when using simple hop schedules, there are no complications with on-the-fly alterations to boil length in the event evaporation targets are missed. I hold that it is more important to hit target gravity and post boil volume than boil for exactly 60 or 90 minutes.
- If you are dry hopping, do so generously. A double dry hop is my preferred method. The first dry hop occurs while fermentation is slowing, and the second once fermentation has stopped. Hop compounds undergo biotransformation when in contact with active yeast, differentiating the dry hop character each stage contributes. If you doing a large dry hop (as I would advise), dividing your dry hops into 2 stages effectively doubles the hop contact area, optimizing dry hop character contribution. 2 days per dry hop stage is sufficient to transfer hop magic into your beer.
A couple other things
And a last few things that I think are key for great homebrew:
- If your water is chlorinated, treat for it
- Control the pH of your mash
- Take minimizing oxygen exposure to finished product very seriously
- Keep the brew day relaxed as possible
- Learn from each brew day, collect data and notes on everything, and share what you can.