3 Free Resources to Help You Celebrate ‘Learn to Homebrew Day’

Homebrew Supplies

On this date fourteen years ago, the American Homebrewers Association established the first annual “Learn to Homebrew Day” to help teach people how to brew their own beer. Over the years, partly because of this “beer holiday,” the craft of brewing your own beer has grown substantially in popularity.

Like any new hobby, knowing where to get started and how to do it right can be somewhat daunting for a beginner. I know it was for me. Because of that, I have compiled a list of free online resources that will help you get started, or just learn more about the process and techniques that go into it.

1. Get Started in Our Homebrew Learning Center

We have a trove of information about homebrewing in our Homebrew learning center. We’ve been homebrewing for years now, and it’s a hobby that we think everyone should try at least once. We’ve compiled a collection of information about homebrewing that we think will help you get started. And that information is growing as the days go by.
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6 Tips Everyone Needs to Know Before They Brew Their Own Beer

Home brewing has taken the nation by storm. The beer brewing competitions are fiercer than ever because there are so many more competitors. If you are just getting started then there are a few things you need to know. By learning the basics and creating good habits from the beginning, you will find the entire process easier, more enjoyable, and hopefully tastier.

1. Never Overlook Sanitation

Sanitation and sterilization are two terms you should respect immediately. Sanitation issues begin before you have even started brewing and don’t end until your bottles are capped. The most important time for sterilization concerns is the period immediately after you cool your beer. This is when bacteria and other infections are most likely to take over because the yeast has not yet started to ferment.

2. Cool Your Wort Fast

It is essential that you always try to cool your wort as quickly as possible. A fast cooling process will increase the fallout of tannins and proteins that are bad your beer. It will also minimize the opportunity for bacteria to grow. As an added bonus, cooling your wort quickly can enhance the clarity of your beer to ensure it is as visually appealing as possible.

3. Start with Darker Beers

Regardless of what your favorite type of beer is, the best place to start is with the dark stuff. Darker beers, such as porters and stouts are typically better at covering up mistakes you may have made due to their forgiving makeup and flavor profile. It is easy to get disheartened if your first few batches flop so don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

4. Just Like Cooking, Your Ingredients Are Everything

There is no arguing that high quality, fresh ingredients are essential to crafting the best home brew possible. It is also important to understand your ingredients. For example, you store fresh hops in your freezer without losing much freshness, but storing crushed grains and malt will eventually end in oxidation which will destroy the flavor. Some items you can store and some you can’t.

5. Opt for Glass Fermenters

A lot of home brewing kits include plastic buckets for fermenting. While plastic fermenters are an inexpensive way to get started, they should also be a piece that you consider upgrading down the line. Glass or stainless steel fermenters offer a number of significant advantages over plastic. Contents don’t stick as easily, so they are easier to clean and sterilize. They also provide a better barrier against oxygen which plastic can’t match because they are porous.

6. Always Think Long-Term

Home brewing is an investment. Anytime you make an equipment purchase, think of how it will work over the long run. Saving a few bucks today can cost you a lot tomorrow. If you are looking to upgrade, then there is a good chance you are in it for the long haul anyways so upgrade intelligently.

Home brewing is part art, part science and a whole lot of fun. The key to brewing successfully is thinking strategically, appreciating your ingredients and making decisions with the long-term in mind. Once you have the basics down, it is all about testing and tweaking until you discover the perfect beer.

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Black Star Co-op Brewery Tour

Black Star Co-op is a fairly new brewery and pub in Austin, TX, and the first co-op brewery in town. Being a co-operative means that the business is owned by the people (or members, in the case of Black Star) and the employees. We decided to check them out by scheduling a brewery tour for Kegerator.com employees that were interested.

One of the first things I learned about Black Star when I arrived is that the employees at the bar don’t accept tips. I ordered my first beer (a Thirsty Goat Amber) and looked around for a tip jar with no luck. I asked the girl who took my order where I could leave a tip, and she informed me that the employees of Black Star all receive living wages. So no tip jars on the bar and no tip line on the receipt. Awesome.

    

A few of us in the group enjoyed a beer as we waited for everyone to arrive and the tour to begin. It’s definitely a nice setup for hanging out with friends, inside or out on the patio.

The tour began with us climbing a ladder to a loft in the brewery room where the grains and mill are stored. We tasted some of the grains on hand and got a quick overview of Black Star’s process. The next part of the tour included two mash tuns where the grains are steeped and 4 fermenters, which each can hold 20 half barrels of beer. The final stop was the cold room where the beer being served at the bar is stored and kept cool.

         

We learned that Black Star never makes the same beer twice; they’re constantly tweaking and improving the recipes, so while the beer might have the same name, there could be subtle changes in the taste.

After the tour, some of us hung around to drink some more, chat, play darts and try some food. The place got fairly crowded in the evening, so there was a bit of a line to order beer or food, but the atmosphere was very relaxed and enjoyable.

I look forward to going back soon and possibly becoming a member. Do you have any co-op breweries near you? Plug them in the comments!

Rainbow Ale Fermenting & Bottling

A lot has happened since the Rainbow Ale team has last checked in and the beer judging is rapidly approaching so we figured you were definitely due for a status check.  Our last post left off with our Honey Brown Rainbow Ale in the primary fermenter.  The beer stayed in the primary fermenter for about a week.  During this time it was important that we kept it in a cool non-drafty location and let the yeast go to work.  We opted to store it in a corner of my dining room.  The first 2 to 3 days the air lock that was on the top of the primary fermenting bucket was going crazy.

It was noticeably bubbling as our brew was releasing CO2 which had one of my dogs very curious about this new object in our house.

After the first few days the bubbling started getting less and less and then at about a week of it being in the primary fermenter it was time to move our ale to the secondary fermenter which was a glass carboy.  We found out from our friends at Austin Homebrew that using a two stage fermenting process allows for better clarity on our brew. To move the beer from the primary fermenting bucket to the carboy we used an auto siphon (which made it way easier than trying to siphon the old fashioned way because what I had in mind was more like siphoning gas from a car with plastic tubing and you adding suction without trying to get gas in your mouth).  The first step it to sterilize everything.  This is probably the longest part of the process, but is definitely key.  After I was done sterilizing, I put the empty carboy on the floor and made sure to gently place the primary fermenting bucket on the counter above the empty carboy.  When transporting the primary fermenting bucket, you want to make sure not to disturb the sediment that has accumulated on the bottom of the bucket.  This sediment is called trube.  The idea is to try to get as little of the trube as possible into the carboy while getting as much as the liquid (AKA beer) in the carboy.  A good tip is to move the primary fermenting bucket to the counter or whatever place you are going to use to transfer the beer the day before.  This will allow time for any sediment that you stirred up while moving it to settle before you begin the transfer.

I took the lid off the primary fermenting bucket, which can be tricky, but luckily there was a tool in our kit to help with this.

I then plunged the auto siphon about half-way in the bucket making sure not to hit the bottom so I don’t disturb the sediment.  I then gave the auto siphon 2-3 pumps and voila the beer was flowing from the primary fermenting bucket to the carboy!

         


Here the trube that was left in the primary fermenting bucket after the transfer:

Here is the full carboy after the transfer:

         

Once it was finished, I placed the air lock tightly on the top of the carboy and moved it back into my dining room for safe keeping and there it sat for about another week.  During this time the air lock bubbled less and less until finally it stopped bubbling all together.  At this point we knew it was time to transfer our Rainbow Honey Brown Ale from the carboy to the bottles.

Once again we moved the carboy to the counter making sure not to disturb the sediment or trube that had accumulated at the bottom.  This too can be done the day before the bottling process to ensure the least amount of sediment possible gets in the bottles.  At this point you are supposed to take a hydrometer reading to ensure your brew is ready to be bottled and the bottles won’t explode on you, however, with the excitement of bottling our brew, we completely forgot about this very important step until it was too late so we had to just cross our fingers and hop for the best.

The very important step that we didn’t forget was to sterilize everything.  We formed an assembly line as we sterilized the bottles.  Anthony took them out of the box and handed them to Scott who proceeded to dunk them in the sterilizing liquid in the bucket and then handed them to me, Kara, who placed them on my dishwasher rack to dry.

It is very important to have nothing touch anywhere the beer will touch after it has been sterilized so this required strategically place the bottles on the rack where they were balanced but nothing actually going inside them including the rack prongs.  This meant they were kind of just hanging on the rack.

While we were doing this, Michael heated up the priming sugar on the stove and transferred the beer from the carboy to the sterilized bottling bucket with the auto siphon making sure to get as little trube as possible during the transfer.  He then added the priming sugar mixture to the beer and slowly stirred it in by using figure 8 motions for 2 minutes.

By this time the bottles were drying out and we set the bottling bucket on the counter, hooked up the bottling hose to the spigot and we were ready to start bottling…or so we thought.  We turned on the spigot and noticed nothing was coming out in the hose and was instead leaking out of the sides of the spigot where it connects to the bucket.  Uh oh, it was time for us to think fast!!!  Thanks to the genious mind of Michael, we decided to syphon the beer from the bucket into the bottles instead of using the spigot.  You see, if we didn’t have the spigot on, the leak wasn’t that bad, it was only when the spigot was open that the leak became a gusher and we thought we were going to quickly sacrifice all of our scrumptious Rainbow Ale to my floor.

Though not ideal, we once again formed an assembly line and siphoned our beer into the bottles.  Anthony handed Michael the sterilized bottles.  Michael filled the bottles up.

Anthony handed me the full bottles.

I gave the filled up bottles to Scott who capped them.  To cap the bottles, we used a capping tool that came in our kit.  You place the cap on the bottle and then clamp down with the capping tool, give the bottle a quarter turn, and clamp down again with the capping tool again.

You then make sure the bottle has a circle dimple on the top, and if so, it is ready to be placed in the box for safe storage for another two weeks.

We bottled 48 beers but of course made sure that there was enough left over to give our brew a little taste tester.  At this point in the brewing process the beer will have the flavor of what it will taste like when it is complete, however, it will not yet be carbonated.  The carbonation occurs when the yeast eats the priming sugar which happens while in the bottle.  We ceremoniously gave a cheers and tasted the uncarbonated version of our brew and if we do say so ourselves…it’s delicious.

Hooray for Rainbow Ale the best honey brown ale around!!!!

Damage Control | Schlitz & Giggles

As many of you already know, we at Schlitz & Giggles are on the verge of announcing our new beer. It is due to be introduced in late November, and production has already begun at our plant. To ensure a quality product, part of our brewing process is taping various quality assurance videos, which remain safe within our company.

However, our QA videos were unfortunately leaked to the news media outlets, showing bits and pieces of the process we used to make our mystery beer. While we wish that this source had chosen not to leak these videos, we figured it would just be better to roll with the punches. Luckily, not enough of our secret was divulged to discontinue our late November launch, and so we decided to post those videos on our blog.

Please keep in mind that, while many of the various steps were meant to be top secret, most of them can also be used to brew your own style of beer at home.

This process is known as steeping (just like with tea). We use a muslin bag to pour our secret blend of barley and malts, and steep it in the bag of boiling hot water for about 20-30 minutes.

Our master brewers then let the mixture of the water and spices boil over an open flame for about 30 minutes.

The top-secret syrup is then added to the hot water, and the brewers make sure it is slowly poured in while stirring slowly to ensure it dissolves. Then the mixture boils for another 60 minutes. By the way, I recognize that dog… I may have just figured out who leaked this video!

Then, 15 minutes before the hour of boiling is up, the master brewers add our bittering hops blend. After about 10 minutes, they then add flavoring hops to give it that extra Schlitz kick.

Following the boiling and adding of flavors, our brewers rapidly cool the mixture down to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in just 15 minutes to ensure all of the flavors are not boiled out.

Our mixture is then added to the fermenter along with water to make the complete brew. In this case, they added it to make 5 gallons of beer.

This is the final result of the first half of brewing. The mixture stays in this fermenter for up to 2 weeks. The thing at the top is called an airlock, and it tells is if the brew is starting to ferment correctly.

These are the videos that were leaked, but luckily nothing incriminating came out of it. Now we just have to hope that no other video gets leaked… I think it’s about time we find the owner of that dog!

Related Posts: Company Homebrew Competition, Brewery Buzz | Schlitz & Giggles

Related Posts: Company Homebrew Competition

Rainbow Ale Brewing Process

Team Rainbow Ale checking in here.  Our team includes Anthony, Michael, Kara and me, Scott.  We are making honey brown ale.  Michael chose this based on the description.  “Honey Brown is a full bodied American brown ale…”.  Mike thought it was perfect, since there are two full bodied American brown people on the team (Anthony and Scott, pictured center below).

Team Picture

Before we brewed, we went to Austin Home Brew to get the supplies, and learn the process. Check out the video Mike put together of that experience:

So, we brewed our beer last night, and that was an adventure, and I mean that in a good way.  Austin Home Brew sent us home with all of the supplies we would need to make the perfect Honey Brown.

Brewing Ingredients

As the video explains, first we get the water up to 155 degrees.  We just settled for boiling, and let it cool from there.  Then, we added the malt, which smelled of honey and chocolate.  Luckily, we had something to put it in, because I was thinking we were going to use an old stocking (yeah, pretty gross, but you do what you gotta do).  We let that soak for 25 minutes, dipping it like a tea bag every so often.  After that was done, we added what looked and tasted and smelled like molasses (not sure of the technical term, but I called it the tasty goodness).  We got that to a rolling boil, and then the fun began!  TIME TO ADD THE HOPS!!  The hops had a sweet, slightly fruity smell to them, and look like rabbit pellets.  So, we took half the hops, and added them in the beginning for bitterness.

This is when we ate dinner, thanks to Kara’s husband Justin.  He grilled hamburgers (AMAZING) and hot dogs (even fat free, for us full bodied American browns).

The Grill

After 45 minutes, we added half of what was left for flavoring.  10 minutes later, it was time to add the rest for aroma.

Now, the fun began.  The instructions were very specific about getting this brew to 80 degrees within 20 minutes.  So, we created an ice bath in the sink, and took the mixture (keep in mind, it was boiling) and put it in there.  And, we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  But, we forgot to set a timer, so it was unclear when 20 minutes were up.  I used the baseball game (Game 6 of the World Series) as a timer.  I figured 2 complete innings would be about 20 minutes.  It took almost that entire time to get it down to 80.

Cool Down

Then, we transferred the brew into the fermenting bucket and added 3 gallons of water.  After thoroughly mixing it, we tested the density, made sure it was correct, and put the lid on.  Now, putting on the lid proved to be a little more difficult than we initially realized.  I literally had to kneel completely on it to close the lid.  We thought we were all done, but WAIT!  Forgot to add the yeast (you know, that makes the alcohol, pretty important).  So, it was getting the lid off, another adventure, and then pouring the yeast in.  Now, in the brewing class, we learned that we are to sprinkle it evenly across the top.  But, yeah, that didn’t happen.  We just kind of put it in there.  We’ll see how that turns out…  The lid went back on (much easier this time), put the stopper and a little contraption that could be mistaken for a crack pipe into the stopper to allow the CO2 to escape.  And, voila!  Now, we are just letting it sit and ferment.  In two weeks, we will begin the bottling process.  SUPER GEEKED!!  So, that was our brewing adventure. Remember, when you are in the mood for a full bodied American brown ale, think….

Rainbow Ale LogoRelated Posts: Company Homebrew CompetitionTeam Rainbow Ale Introduction

Brew Ha Ha’s Brewing Process

Once we learned the basics at Austin Homebrew, it was time to do it ourselves. As previously stated, we chose the Imperial stout recipe. The brewing process was fairly simple and foolproof, from start to finish. The recipe was straightforward and step-by-step, allowing for an easy night of brewing. All the equipment was labeled and documented in a little pamphlet provided by AHB. The first step was to sterilize the stock pot, thermometer, and gigantic spoon. We visually inspected the equipment before sterilizing, but found no dirt or grime to clean. Earlier in the day, I took the hops and yeast out of the refrigerator to let them warm up.

Next it was time to bring the water 155˚F and then steep the grains. We added the grains to the boiling bag and let it sit in the water, periodically moving the bag up and down to really let the grains move through the water. We did this for about 26 minutes, and halfway through the aroma really began to waft through the kitchen.

Following the steeping process, we let the boiling bag drain excess water into the pot and then tossed the grains. The formerly clear water was now a dark black, so we were headed in the right direction. We added in some more water and began to bring the pot to a boil. With such a large amount of water it took about 30 minutes to bring to a full boil. Once it was at a continuous boil we added in the malt, which brought with it an overpowering, concentrated smell. The smell permeated through the entire house and it was almost enough to make one feel a little nauseous. Opening the kitchen window brought only a little relief. We let that sit for about 45-60 minutes, occasionally stirring so the syrup didn’t burn to the pot.

Once the malt was sufficiently dissolved and cooked, it was time to add the hops editions. The recipe only called for one packet of Chinook hops, scheduled to cook for 60 minutes, however a packet of Kent Golding hops had found its way into the ingredients bag. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I called Austin Home Brew and they advised that it would be okay to just throw the unscheduled hops into the mix at about 5 minutes left in the scheduled hops cooking time. That was good enough for me and I did just that.

Next was the hardest part of the entire process – bringing the wort down to 80˚F in 20 minutes. We set up an ice bath in the sink and placed the pot inside. The ice would melt pretty quickly so we would constantly drain the water, add more ice, and repeat until the wort was cooled. Unfortunately, it took a little longer than 20 minutes so hopefully that doesn’t affect the end result too much.  While the hops were cooking we had sanitized the fermenting bucket. It was time to dump the wort and add the yeast. After adding the wort and water to bring the brew to the necessary 5 ¼ gallon level, I stirred vigorously to allow it to breath and then added the yeast. I placed the lid on the bucket to close it up and, after adding sanitizer, placed the air lock in its designated hole.

It only took about an hour for the CO2 to start making bubbles in the air lock, which was a comforting sight. Hopefully the rest of the process is as easy as the brewing portion. We will update you once we begin the secondary stage.

Check out our video of the process:

Related Posts: Company Homebrew Competition, Brew Ha Ha’s: Austin Home Brew Class #1

Brew Ha Ha’s: Austin Home Brew Class #1

When I arrived at Austin Home Brew, I realized that their set up was much larger than I expected. They have a great facility complete with retail and shipping operations. They appeared to be very transparent, giving you a view of the grain room and how they work inside it. The sales floor has everything under the sun related to home brewing, and we spent several minutes browsing the equipment, ingredients, etc.

                             

Once the initial awe wore off it was time to get started. The first step was to pick a recipe, and it was a little daunting looking through their recipe book because there were literally hundreds and hundreds of recipes and clones to choose from. A clone is a recipe that matches a specific name brand; if you have a favorite beer the chances are extremely good that they have a clone recipe for it. One of the experts, Christian, explained to me that the cost of the recipe kit goes up by ABV %. I finally landed on the Imperial Stout recipe and they gathered up the materials.

The next step was to learn how to brew. JB took us to the back of the building where the shipping bays were, and where he had bag of grain already steeping in a stockpot sitting on a propane cooker. He explained the process of steeping the grains like a tea bag, moving it up and down. Next was removing the grain bag and to bring the brew to a boil and then to add the malt. The malt was almost like caramel – very thick and sticky – and it was important to get it all in there while stirring vigorously to help it dissolve.

Once again, JB brought the brew to a boil and it was time to put in the hops additions to add bitterness, aroma, and flavor. At this point it was just a matter of waiting to add in hops as the recipe called for it, in this case every 30 minutes or so. While we were waiting JB set up a cold bath to quickly bring the brew down to 80°F. From there he poured the contents of the stockpot into the primary fermentation bucket, added the yeast, and locked up the bucket with an airlock to let the CO2 out and keep oxygen from getting in.

The class was very informative and allowed for socializing with my fellow Living Directors and I look forward to the second part of class.

Video Clips from the Home Brew Class:

Related Post: Company Homebrew Competition

Team Rainbow Ale Introduction

We are…

Rainbow Ale Logo

And we are brewing…

 

Related Post: Company Homebrew Competition

Homebrew Competition

In an effort to learn (even) more about our products and customers, Kegerator.com employees will be attending two “How to Brew Beer” classes hosted by Austin Homebrew Supply in the next few weeks. But since we are a competitive bunch, we just had to turn this learning experience into a contest. So we will also be hosting our first Employee Brewing Contest!

Here is how it works:

  1. Interested employees have been placed in teams of 4-5 people. We have four teams.
  2. Choose what type of beer the team wants to brew.
  3. Team members will attend the first “How to Brew Beer” class.
  4. Teams get together to start brewing within one week of the first class.
  5. Team members will attend the second “How to Brew Beer” class.
  6. Teams complete phase 2 of beer brewing within one week of the second class.
  7. Beer must be ready for tasting by Monday, December 5, and the winners will be announced at our holiday party on Friday, December 9.

Lucky for us, the company will be supplying all of the equipment and ingredients necessary to brew our beer. Aside from attending the classes and actually brewing the beers, the teams are also tasked with documenting the entire experience, so expect to see lots of pictures, videos and posts in the coming weeks updating you on how the competition is going so far. May the best team win!