Home Brewing Tips
We have a wealth of experience in trying new things
with our brews and some work better than others. Learn from our mistakes
and our successes and you too can brew some excellent beverages for you
and your friends. The following are some tips of the trade that we would
like to let you in on.
Spotlight on Technique: Warm Weather
When the dog days of August are upon us, the summer heat is about to
arrive. Sadly, most beer yeasts aren't crazy about the heat. We try
to help by featuring recipe kits using yeasts that do thrive in summer
heat, but sometimes you've just got to brew something besides wheat
beers and Belgians. So what can you do if you want to keep brewing through
the hottest days of the year?
Fortunately, there are solutions other than the obvious (and expensive)
choice of buying a spare refrigerator and temperature controller. First,
set up a water bath. A spare bathtub will work, but for most of us it's
easier to get one of those rope-handled plastic tubs, set the fermenter
inside it and pour in a few buckets of water. The water will both provide
a heat sink for the fermenter and help keep the temperature from fluctuating
wildly from night to day.
If the water bath isn't quite enough, pull an old t-shirt over your
fermenter and make sure that it extends down into the wate r. The fabric
will wick water up into the shirt, where it will evaporate, which provides
a cooling effect. For an extra boost, direct a fan onto the shirt to
If you live somewhere that gets really hot during the day, you'll have
to get serious and use ice. A few half-gallon milk jugs filled 3/4 full
of water and frozen provide a convenient colling medium. Keep one or
two in the water bath and swap them out for the ones from the freezer
once or twice a day. If you use all the techiques above, you'll be able
to keep brewing straight through the summer, even if the temperature
climbs into the 90s!
Spotlight on Water: What's Your Ideal SRM?
This month's edition of Brew Your Own has one of the best articles
I've read on brewing water. Written by well-respected homebrewer Bill
Pierce, it clearly explains the importance of pH to your brewing, as
well as giving some good practical advice on how to calculate and change
your pH. One item that was of great interest to me was the concept of
an "ideal SRM" for a given water and how to calculate it.
SRM, if you don't know by now, is a color scale used to describe beer
color. A golden Pilsner might be 4-5 SRM, while a brown ale would be
17-20 SRM, and stouts and porters 35+ SRM. The pH of the local brewing
water comes into play because the enzymes that convert grain into fermentable
sugars work best in a ph range of 5.2-5.6. Water typically falls in
the range of 7-8.5 pH and while the grain itself will lower the pH of
water, pale malt alone might not be able to reduce the pH of a given
water sufficiently to get into the 5.2-5.6 range needed for proper conversion.
What keeps this from happening? Most often it's the residual alkalinity
(RA) of your local water.
Luckily for us, alkalinity is one of the items listed in the water
quality reports available from the local water authority. Less luckily,
the alkalinity of water changes at different times of year for various
reasons. However, by looking at the highest and lowest values we can
determine a range for the RA value. For example, the Culver City water
report shows an alkalinity range of 89 to 114. Knowing this, we can
apply the formula for determing ideal SRM: (0.14 * RA) + 5.2 = Ideal
SRM. Given our example, the calculations would be (0.14 * 89) + 5.2
= 17.7 and (0.14 * 114) + 5.2 = 21.2. So, the ideal SRM range for beers
made with untreated city water is 17-21 SRM.
Of course, that doesn't tell the whole story. Obviously, it's still
possible to make beers that fall outside this color range without treating
the water. But if you've been wondering why some of your beers are more
successful than others, you might want to read the full article in Brew
your own for the whole story.
Spotlight on Kegging: Carbonation
Most brewers are familiar with using priming sugar to carbonate beer
in the bottle, but carbonating a keg is a mystery for many people. Part
of the confusion stems from the fact that kegs give brewers far more
The simplest way to carbonate a keg is to use priming sugar - just
like you were bottling. You even use a little less priming sugar - about
1/2 - 2/3 of the amount you'd use to bottle. But the real key to success is
in making sure that your keg is sealed by giving it a little blast of
pressure from your CO2 tank after you add the priming sugar.
The next easiest approach is to connect your CO2 tank to your keg and
leave it at pressure for a week or so. The correct pressure varies according
to the temperature of the beer, but you can find temperature/pressure
charts at a number of places on the web, including Carl Townsend's Picobrewery
The last approach is a lot more labor-intensive, but it's the quickest.
First, you'll need to have your keg chilled to refrigerator temperature
(40F). Next, set your CO2 tank on a table and make sure you have a blanket
handy because you're going to set the keg across your knees and 40F
is cold! Set your regulator to 35 lb/sq. in., sit down and lay the blanket
across your knees. Then lay the keg across your knees on the blanket,
with the gas connection on the low side. Set a timer to 3-5 minutes, depending on the carbonation level you want, connect
the CO2 line and start the timer. You'll be able to hear the gas gurgling
through the beer and you should rock the keg gently during the four
minutes while the timer is counting down. Once you're done, return the
keg to the fridge and leave it for at least 8 hours, or overnight, before bleeding the excess pressure off.
If you know you won't be able to bleed off the pressure for a while, rock the keg for one minute less. Your beer will be
ready to drink the next day.
Spotlight on Theory: The Importance of Water
The pH of water is a shorthand way for indicating it's relative acidity.
The value is scaled from 0 (maximum acidity) to 14 (maximum alkalinity).
7 is neutral. Adding grain to the water will lower the pH, hopefully
into ideal pH range for a beer mash: 5.2-5.4. Even if you're not mashing,
the pH of your water will still affect the flavor and clarity of your
Historically, the single most important factor in determining the kind
of beer brewed in a certain area has been the pH level of the local
water. How does this affect you? Well, if you're content with brewing
amber-colored ales, it doesn't. But if you'd like to brew light golden
beers that are clear, it does. And if you like to brew dark Stouts or
Porters that aren't astringent it does. It doesn't matter if you brew
all-grain or with extract, the pH levels of your brewing water has an
effect on the beer you brew. Which only makes sense, since water is
the biggest ingredient in beer.
The traditional approach to pH adjustment was to adjust the beer to
suit the water. The high pH water of London was great for Porters because
the dark grains used in Porter would lower pH to just the right level.
But when Pale Ale became all the rage, Burton's low pH water made it
the brewing capital of England. Europe was no different. Lagers were
first brewed in Munich, but they were dark because their high pH (high
carbonate) water made it nearly impossible to make a beer that was both
light and clear (Helles came along later). Once the lager yeast found
its way to Bohemia though, the low pH of the water there made it possible
to brew those light-colored, clear beers. In Los Angeles, the pH of
our water is slightly to moderately high, depending on the season. While
this is great for anything in the middle of the beer color range, it
means that we have to make adjustments for anything at the t op or bottom
of the color range.
Adjustments can be made in several ways. Some people add Lactic acid
to lower pH. Others use naturally occuring minerals to try to approximate
the water originally used to brew the style in question. Diluting our
local water with distilled water is still another approach. The easiest
approach yet may be to use the 5.2 pH Stabilizer from Five Star Chemicals.
Reports from those who've tried it have been favorable, so I know I'm
looking forward to giving it a try.
Spotlight on Technique: Dry Hopping
If you've been wondering how to get more hop aroma from your brews,
dry hopping is a technique you should know more about. The name comes
from the fact that the hops aren't added to the kettle during the boil,
they're added to the secondary fermenter (or keg) while still dry. This
approach extracts maximum aroma while having little to no impact on
flavor and bitterness.
To dry hop a batch of beer, you'll need .5 - 1.5 ounce of hops, depending
on how much hop aroma you want to add. While you can use hop pellets
for dry hopping, I find that the easiest approach is to use whole hops.
You don't need a bag, just stuff them down the neck of the carboy -
they'll float on top of the beer and you can siphon it out from under
them after a week or so.
Another approach is to dry hop in the keg. This approach is commonly
used in England for cask-conditioned ales. If you want to try this,
you'd be best off using one of the little Sure Screens we sell at the
shop. Just slip one over the end of your keg's dip tube and you won't
end up with hops in your beer.
Spotlight on Ingredients: Malt Extract
Virtually every brewer uses malt extract in one form or another, but
how many know how it is made? For that matter, how many know about its
composition? Read on and we'll try to shed a little light on this essential
Broadly speaking, malt etract may be divided into two categories, liquid
and dry. Each of these can be generally broken down into unhopped or
hopped varieties, although we rarely carry hopped extracts at Culver
City Home Brewing supply. After that, there are a myriad of different
variations. CCHBS typically carries the following varieties of unhopped
extract: liquid pale, dark, Munich and wheat; and dry extra-light, light,
wheat and dark. Some of these are seasonal. For example, you're more
likely to find wheat extract available during the summer months and
Munich in the fall and winter.
All malt extracts are manufactured in the same way, initially. Malted
barley is mashed, lautered to separate the grain from the wort. The
grain bill and mash steps may vary according to the particular type
of extract being made, but the main difference takes place after lautering.
Liquid extracts are heated under a vacuum in order to reduce the water
content to about 20% of the total. Dry malt extract may have some of
the liquid reduced in this way, but is also sprayed into a super-heated
room. The heat evaporates the water out immediately and the extract
is converted into a fine powder.
As you might expect, the manufacturing process also accounts for the
difference in potential extract between liquid and dry malt extracts.
Since liquid extract consists of 20% water, it is 20% "weaker"
than dry extract. This make it easy to convert between liquid and dry
extracts in a recipe: to convert a recipe calling for liquid extract
to dry extract, reduce the amount called for by 20%; for dry to liquid,
incread the amount by 20%. If you like to calculate your recipes from
scratch, that's easy too. For a 5 gallon batch, each pound of liquid
extract will contribute about 7 points of gravity, while each pound
of dry extract contributes 9 points. As an example, let's look at one
of our typical 6 lb. recipe kits. 6 lbs. of extract times 7 points =
42, or a gravity of 1.042 (without any conribution from specialty grains).
By contrast, the same recipe using dry malt extract would need only
about 5 lbs. of dry extract because 5 X 9 = 45.
One final note. It's should be obvious by now that it's possible to
combine various amounts of liquid and dry extracts to hit a particular
point of gravity. For example, let's say you want to make a beer with
a starting gravity of 1.050. A standard 3 lb. jar of liquid extract
plus a standard 3 lb. bag of dry extract will give a gravity of 1.048.
(3 X 7)+(3 X 9) = 21 + 27 = 48. Or, you could combine a 6 lb. jar of
extract with 1 lb. of DME for a starting gravity of 1.051 (6 X 7) +
(1 X 9) = 42 + 9 = 51.