Home brewing is a hobby that requires you to do some simple planning for ingredients, procedure, and equipment ahead of time to make the whole process run smoothly. John Palmer, author of the classic How to Brew, says that the three important things to keep in mind every time you brew are:
2. Sanitation, and
3. Record Keeping
It’s pretty hard to argue with that. The more I’ve brewed, the more I’ve refined my preparation process. We’ll talk about sanitation and record keeping later, but let’s focus on preparation for now. These are the four questions that I ask myself before I begin each brew:
- Do You Have Good Water for the Brew?
Clean, uninfected water is one of the keys to good beer. Tap water varies from place to place, so you may have to take several steps to ensure your water is of good enough quality to brew with. You can also buy distilled water from a store if you do not trust your tap water.
I always boil all of the water that I intend to use as a precaution against introducing bacteria into the beer, and I allow it a few hours to cool before I begin the brewing process. This includes the extra water that I intend to add to the wort at the end of the brewing process to bring the batch volume up to five gallons and the water I use for sanitizing all of the equipment. The water in the five gallon brew kettle will be brought to a boil before I add my malt extract, so I don’t boil that ahead of time.
For a couple of my brews in the past I actually ran all of the water through two different types of carbon filters because of concerns with some heavy metals that we suspected might have been in the tap water. I should have just gone and bought distilled water. Filtering eight or ten gallons of water takes forever.
- Do You Have All of the Ingredients?
You clearly don’t want to be in the middle of brewing and realize that you forgot an ingredient. Make a list of what you need, check it twice, and make sure you have it.
You are going to have to activate your yeast well before you pitch it. If you are brewing a strong beer you may have to prepare a yeast starter days in advance. Even if you don’t need a yeast starter you will want to check the viability of the yeast just prior to the start of the brewing process. I have forgotten to do this several times and it has caused delays in the brewing process. Don’t repeat my mistakes.
- Is Your Procedure Planned Out?
I always make a step-by-step, minute-by-minute checklist for my brewing procedure in large writing, even if I’m using a kit that comes with instructions. Those instructions are usually in very small writing on a cluttered page. When I’m stirring the kettle and my list is sitting on the counter halfway across the kitchen, I need to be able to find where I’m at in the procedure and read it easily.
It also helps to think about the logistics of the brewing process ahead of time. Before I had a wort chiller we had to plan out a way to get several bags of ice into the house for the ice bath, and we had no freezer space in which to store the ice. My friend Karl and I always waited until there were 15 minutes remaining in the boil and then we ran down the street to a gas station and bought bags of ice while our wives monitored the wort. Having this planned out ahead of time saved us stress and confusion later.
- Is Your Equipment Ready?
Make sure every piece of equipment is present and in working condition. A common mistake that I make is to have my wort chiller in the kitchen but to forget the fitting that connects it to the sink in the basement where I store my bottling equipment. It helps to have a list of your brewing equipment that you can check off.
Preparation is one of the keys to creating great beers. What do you do to prepare for brewing?