Homebrewing: Lessons learned and future projects

After homebrewing a total of eight beers under our ‘label’ Schneuczek we’ve learned quite a bit. Thus the time has come to draw a conclusion from the lessons learned so far, especially about more patience. And we try to look into the future, talking about what’s next and how we like to gain a bit more control.

Looking back – A bit of Schneuczek  History

Brewing 2014 to 2016

Starting back in Nov 2014 and trying to copy one of our favorites – at least at that time – the Kronen Export from Dortmund, our very own Schneuczek (read as “Shnoi-check”) was born and we began with homebrewing. As we all were into so-called Bock beers we then crafted the Schneuczek No. 2 – Maibock, which was still pretty simple. It was followed by the ‘critically well acclaimed – we brought about 10L with us to a LARP Con and everybody really liked it – Schneuczek No. 3 – 40° Witt, which was our first experiment leaving even the German ‘Rheinheitsgebot’ from 1516 behind.

We continued with a Red Pale Ale (Red Henri), did the Maibock again, had our biggest success so far with the Citra Pale Ale Single Hop and another experiment with sundried Fuggle hop blossoms from the garden of a colleague, which sadly was the first Schneuczek which wasn’t really a great success.

Brewing now
Brewing

Now in 2017 we’ve only brewed once and this time a so-called ‘Helles’ (Recipe: Katharinen-Sud) and we even had some friends (Sandra, Mösi and their dog) over to help out a bit, because they also got interested in the topic. Our plan is to have the beer ready for the 100 episode of the ‘Methodisch Inkorrekt‘ Podcast (a German science podcast). Also, because Mösi is a beekeeper we might have a look into a honey beer for the time around Christmas.

Lessons Learned – Be patient young brewer

Lesson 1 – It takes time and so should you!

This might be the most important lesson we’ve learned so far: Be patient. The brewing itself takes about 3 to 6 hours, but with all the cooking, cooling and especially filtering involved it takes much more. And despite all of our beers coming out pretty well, we always had some problems with the different filtrations and in the end we had more sediment in the bottles than we had expected.

Of course you can’t expect a crystal clear beer like the ones you buy in a supermarket, but you can make your brewing-life much easier and get better results. For example after cooking the mash, do not let it run through immediately, let it rest for at least and hour. Then start the lautering slowly, wash out the sugar with the recast. But use only 1/3 of the whole recast, let it rest again and so on.

After cooking the hops let it rest again in order to let the hops sink down and at best try to withdraw the brew from the top. Same with the yeast when filling your beer into the bottles, do it slow and from the top. Every time you’ll find a lot of sediment in your fermenter that you really don’t want in your bottles. If possible get micro filter bags, a beer siphon and a bottle filler, they help a lot.

But most importantly, and I can’t stress this enough, be patient. Yes, with a standart homebrewing kit the whole process will take 2 days for brewing and maybe one hour (or more) for bottling. But you’ll get much better and cleaner results.

Lesson 2 – To cook or not to cook

This was actually some kind of a misunderstanding on our side. The problem is that you are supposed to get the brew boiling and then cook the hops for 90 min and that we didn’t stop at 95°-100°C, we always had a bit more. And afterwards we were always wondering why our outcome was much less than described in the recipes we were using.

The problem was simple, we just lost a whole lot as steam and we should have estimated that we’re not cooking simple water (boiling at 100°C where we are), but our beer brew with several other parts in the water. Thus it is harder to reach the 100°C and additionally we’re not able to create a ‘ideal environment’ in our hobby kitchen. Maybe even our thermometer was not 100% correct.

Now we know that temperatures in between 95 to 98°C are fine or basically: When it starts boiling, throw in the hops, start the timer and try to keep it that way. Don’t heat it all up too much.

Lesson 3 – Too much is too much

If your cooking pot or maybe your automatic brewing kettle can hold 20L, don’t aim for 20L of beer, aim for 10-12L. We’ve now made the mistake twice with our kettle which is supposed to be good for 27L and so we went for an outcome of 20L.

The problem is that you’ll not only use a lot of water but also several kilo of malt and we easily reached the maximum capacity with that. Just aim for ~50% of the max. capacity of your pot as final outcome and you should be good to go.

Lesson 4 – Save your hops

Most of the time you will need to buy much more hops than needed for brewing because you get them in 50 or 100g packages but need only 10g or so. So if you’re not brewing every few weeks – which I assume you don’t because you’re just starting – store the remaining hops in the freezer. Keep them dry and they should be good for long time storage.

Lesson 5 – Keep ’em cool and upright

It might happen that your beer has a lot pressure when it is ready after 3-6 weeks in the bottles and especially if you store it for a longer time period. That’s because it is maturing in the bottles and thus the carbonation might be higher after a while. If you want to stop the process, just put the beer into your fridge. You might now say that you don’t have enough space in to store 20L of beer in the fridge, as do we. Then just put the bottles in there for 2-3 days before you want to drink the beer and you should be fine.

But very important, always store them upright. That’s just because as we’ve learned before, you will have some sediments in there and you don’t want them getting into your glass.

Lesson 6 – It is still good

Basically beer can’t decay like most other groceries which is true if you are able to work in a totally sterile and professional environment like the big(-er) breweries. Now let’s be honest, we can’t work that sterile at home with standard kitchen equipment. But we can at least try to work as clean and sterile as possible. And this is what you should do when you start working with the yeast and filling the bottles. Try to keep the air contact to a minimum, use boiling water to sterilize everything that comes into contact with your beer and wear gloves.

If you’re doing a good job there your beer should be good for several month. When we started brewing we always read about 2 or 3 month and afterwards the beer might change its taste more or less drastically and even might decay. But we just recently found some bottles of our Citra Ale that we had totally forgotten about and they were still good after nearly a year.

Citra Pale Ale
Citra Pale Ale – Single Hop after nearly 1 year
Lesson 7 – Everybody can and should do it!

When it comes down to the basics, it is really not that complicated and you also do not have to invest a lot of money. When you look recipes and especially forums about homebrewing you might get the impression it is hard science and you have to invest thousands of €, but you can really get great results with just some basic kitchen tools and some additional equipment you can start with ~50 € plus ingredients for maybe 15-20 €.

So if you enjoy a good beer, why not make your own? It really is no rocket science and can be a lot of fun to get into which I wrote about in another article: Homebrewing.

Future Projects

With all the lessons learned so far I think we’ve established a really good base for future beers. But one thing that still annoys us a bit is the temperature fermentation process when the yeast is doing its work.

The bad thing first: We are not able to really control this part, because we can only store the brew in our flat or in the cellar. So we only have two different ‘temperature zones’ to work with which makes it even almost impossible, expect for cold winters, to create a cold fermented beer.

But not being able to control something and not even knowing the real temperature during the fermentation are two pairs of shoes here. And if we have almost no influence or control over this, we at least want to know more about the environment that we’re working with.

Which led us to our future project: We want to get a raspberry pi with temperature sensors, a little display and write a little program that is able to measure the temperature – room temperature and brew temperature – and save the results. This why we hope to get at least a bit more in control and get to know better how the outside temperature affects the brew and the yeast and the whole process.

And as mentioned before we’d like to do some more experiments. One of them will be a honey beer and we’ve been talking about cold hopping to create an IPA because at the moment we’re big fans of Pale Ales and especially the India Pale Ales.

Last but not least we also want to create our very own recipe once because so far we have always used what others have done before, which is not a bad thing at all when it comes down to homebrewing.  Because due to all the different conditions you’re working in, the ability to control some parts not everything you’re still creating something unique. But in the future we want to take this a step further.

Keezer dreams

Sadly the space in our flat and our balcony is limited but we are still allowed to dream a bit, right? So have you every heard about a ‘Keezer’? Neither did we till a few month ago. Keezer is short for Keg Freezer and this should give you an idea what we’re talking about here.

The simple idea is to use an old freezer, put one or more kegs in there, attach them to beer pump and have your own beers on tap at home, doesn’t this sound awesome? As mentioned before the sad thing is that we do not have enough space for a freezer and neither do we have enough space where we could build something like that.

But maybe we’ll be able to build one in the very far future which would be a dream project. Especially if we’d be able to add the really nice looking taps used in the UK or in North America and not the typical simple and boring taps we have back here in Germany. 

Last but not least – Presentation

Last year I was asked by some colleagues from work if I could have a talk at our company about homebrewing and so I created the following slides which might also be interesting for you as some kind of a quickstart guide.

Zythologie_Handouts

(currently only in German, sorry for that)

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Categories: Beer, Homebrewing

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