31 Things New Home Brewers Must Know

31 Things New Home Brewers Must Know

As a new brewer, there are some things I’ve learned that I need to share with you.  There are my personal opinions and experiences.  I hope they’ll be of benefit to you as you follow your own journey into home brewing.  These are my thirty-one things new home brewers must know:

A friend will be there on tasting day.  A true friend helps on brew day.

Welp, this is speaking from experience.  You’ll have lots of interest in helping your drink your delectable brew.  I was hoarding my first batch and selfish with who tried it.  Looking back, I was being silly about it.  You’ll brew future batches so don’t be shy about sharing it with others.

Use your friends for their assistance and feedback.  Their opinions can help you grow and better yourself.  Share one with anyone who wants to try.  Trust me, when people find out you started brewing, then you’ll have a line outside your door.  Embrace the leaches!

Cleaning and sanitizing are half the work.

Everyone tells you that cleaning is ninety percent of brewing.  This may seem like an exaggeration but it’s pretty close to the truth.  You can expect to do a lot of cleaning.  Let’s not forget sanitizing though.  Sanitizing is just as critical as cleaning to ensure your brew doesn’t become infected.

What’s the difference you ask?  Basically, cleaning removes what your eyes can see and sanitizing removes what they can’t see.  If you do every step perfect in the brewing process but make a mistake in the cleaning or sanitizing, then you can just dump the whole batch out.

Just the basic equipment is enough to brew great beer.

I love bells and whistles, but I can rarely afford them!  If you’re just getting started, a basic brewing kit will provide much of what you need.  Buying the tools as a kit can save you versus buying them separately.

I went the opposite route.  Slowly over time I bought individual pieces of equipment over time.  While my initial cost was lower, my overall cost was higher.  I should have made an investment in basic brewing equipment initially.

(See the savings you can get by utilizing starter equipment sets.  This Basic Brewing Kit contains everything you need to start plus a basic extract beer kit for under sixty bucks.  We make a percent if you buy from our link.)

Patience is a virtue.

If you want to brew, prepare to wait.  Many steps in the beer making process require time.  You can expect brewing, fermenting, carbonating, and conditioning to take anywhere from two weeks to over a year.  Time from grain to glass depends on numerous factors such as equipment and style of beer.  Some ales can be ready to consumer in just over a week.  Some lagers won’t be ready for over a month.

I assume that new brewers can be consuming a beer within four weeks.  If you begin with a basic ale, then you should be able to reasonably accomplish this timeline.  Brewing will take a day to complete.  The fermenting process will take about two weeks.  Carbonating in the bottle, with the use of priming sugar, should take about two weeks.  At four weeks, you can begin enjoying your brews while they continue to condition in the bottle.

Plan for an all day event, at least for your first day.

Sure, your instructions say two to four hours for brew day.  That’s cute.  If it’s your first day, I would plan on a whole day.  Don’t be rushed, follow the instructions, ensure your batch turns out well.

I find that when I try to rush a brew day, then I make mistakes.  Remember if you want things to turn out right, then plan on taking the time needed.  You’ll be happy you allotted enough time instead of starting late in the day and ending after midnight.  Again, speaking from experience.

Excellence is learned over time.

You won’t make the next Pliny the Elder on your first batch.  Get over it.  It takes time and experience to understand the brewing process.  Using different ingredients and figuring out their effects on the final product is half the fun.

There are countless sources of information for new and developing brewers.  NewToBrew is just one of many great ways to learn.  You should get some “brewing bibles” that are recommended by other home brewers.  Be sure to watch tutorials, read articles, research in books, and you’ll develop your skills over time.

(See my brewing tutorials to be walked through the brewing process.  My favorite tutorial is a Brut IPA Brewing Tutorial by NewToBrew.)

Mistakes are often “Discoveries”.

So you made a mistake on brew day, during fermenting, or during bottling.  Should you just dump the beer out?  Of course, you shouldn’t dump the beer!  Finish the process through and give your finally beer a try.  Sure, your beer could be ruined.  However, maybe it’s just fine or even improved.  You won’t know until you try.

I accidentally used the wrong hops on one of my early batches.  I was rushing to get a brew day in and measured the wrong type out.  It wasn’t until a future brew day, and my beer was already bottle, that I realized my mistake.  The end product was a delicious brew that I never would have tried if it wasn’t for my mistake.

Equipment can cost $100 or $100K, it’s up to you.

Like any hobby, you can get started for very little or a whole lot of cash.  I find that moderation is often a good choice when starting a new hobby.  Find a happy medium that you’re willing to spend to get started.

Having an initial investment will make sure you give brewing a few tries before giving up!  I started off as cheap as possible and found I needed to make constant upgrade to keep brewing.  I wouldn’t suggest starting off on a total shoestring budget unless you must do so.  Find what you’re will to invest and get started.

(Equipment can get really expensive!  Some day I’ll upgrade to a Stainless Steel Conical Fermenter.  For today though, that remains a dream.  We make a small percent if you buy one and that keeps the site going.)

The more you know, the dumber you once were.

You truly don’t know what you don’t know.  I look back at some of the early decisions I made and laugh at how dumb they were.  On the plus side, you can learn and grow at your own pace.

Every beer tastes great as long as you brewed it.

One of my first beers had a major flaw.  I failed to follow my own advice and did use my kit’s included recipe.  I was over confident in my abilities.  My over confidence ultimately led to my demise.

I added my extract to my water before boiling.  Then I fired my burner and tried to rush my water to a boil.  This lead to scorched sugars on the bottom of the kettle.  I should have added my extract to already boiling water.  My final product, a cream ale, end up have a burnt sugar flavor to it.

The burnt sugar was noticeable to anyone who drank the beer.  I ended up calling it a caramel ale and we drank every bottle.  Though it had a noticeable flaw, I still enjoyed the beer simply because I brewed it myself!

Everyone wants to talk brewing, rarely though does anyone else start.

I remember telling others that I wanted to start brewing.  I began to accumulate equipment and eventually purchased my first kit.  Many people I know where eager to get started as well while they watched as I started to take action.  You’ll see, everyone romanticizes about home brewing, but few rarely start.

Don’t let opinions of others deter your from starting your brewing journey.  Take the plunge and get started while other still just talk about it.  You’ll be happy you did.

Learning is addictive.

The hobby of home brewing can quickly take over your life!  I highly suggest you take baby steps and not become consumed!  I must have brewed every other weekend for the first few months.  I always had something going and something in the works.  Take a slow and steady approach to home brewing.

One way to feed your fix for home brewing is to learn.  You can read book, watch tutorials, read articles, and focus on learning and improvement between brews.  This helped me space out my brewing days more and make more improvements between brews.

(New brewers can get a wealth of information from the classic book How to Brew by John Palmer.   I own it and recommend it to everyone.)

Brewing is addictive.

Like I said, brewing can quickly consume you.  Once you get a taste of the first beer that was solely made by you, you’ll want to do it again.  Use caution with how much you take on and how often you brew.  Burning out is a risk that many new home brewers run into.

Kits help you get it right the first time.

Assuming you’re newer to brewing, you simply don’t have the experience to create recipes yet.  Writing recipes come with experience and a full understanding of the ingredients.  Instead, why not let someone do that for you.

A quality brew kits is tested and true.  If you follow the instructions, then you’ll have a balanced final product.  Be sure you’re purchasing your kits from reputable sources.  This will ensure that you get fresh, quality ingredients.

(There are countless kits available to you.  Look at all of the Quality Extract Beer Kits you can pick to brew.  Following out affiliate link helps pay the bills!)

Your spouse might not “get it” and that’s ok.

“Why would you do all that work when you can just go buy beer at the store?”  Get ready to hear this a lot.  Others may not understand why we choose to brew.  Don’t let that stop you though.  Once they taste the final product, they may change their mind.

Start with a tried and true style, avoid experimental.

I love Double India Pale Ales.  However, I would suggest that for one of your first brews.  Try something simple and forgiving.  A basic pale ale or amber ale is the perfect place to start.  I would suggest a tried and tested kit to ensure you get a balanced beer.

The goal is that your first beer turns out amazing so that you can continue to grow and learn.  Many new brewers try to take on a difficult first brew and become frustrated or quit when things don’t turn out well.  Think about this, if you were learning to race cars, you would just jump into a Nascar driver’s seat, right?  So why do so many new brewers jump to difficult brews they’re not prepared to make?

(For more help, see Five Steps to Choosing Your First Extract Beer)

Your local brewers are a wealth of information.

Looking to brew better beer?  Look no further than local associations and group.  There is likely a local home brewing association near you.  If not, check out Facebook and other social media.  There are countless groups to join.  Some local groups do meet ups and brew sessions together.  If you’re looking to learn and gain valuable experience, then brewing with other local brewers is a great opportunity.

Get creative with your equipment.

You don’t need the biggest and the best equipment on the market.  If you can afford it, then go for it.  However, most of us need to strike a balance between great equipment and the budget!  There are multiple ways that you can get creative without compromising quality.

The biggest tip I have for you is to find free fermenters.  Check with local restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, etc.  Some one near you gets food products in large buckets.  Those buckets inevitably end up in the trash.  You just need to find the right source and you’ll have a life time supply of free fermenting buckets.  I personally use pails that icing came in.  These gems even have a rubber gasket seal around the rim.

You can multipurpose other equipment to be used in home brewing as well.  One of the largest expenses you’ll have is your brew kettle and burner.  I’ve found great deals on large turkey fryer kits that can double for beer making.  Personally, I currently use a borrowed turkey fryer so my kettle and burner are currently free.  Now that I’m consistently brewing it’s time for an upgrade soon.

Fifty beers are easy to drink!

I almost started brewing with a one gallon kit.  My advice to you is not to brew one gallon of beer at a time.  Now there are certain brewers who love brewing batches that small.  If you have space constraints or another reason, then one gallon may work for you.  I brew, and suggest you brew, five gallon batches.  In the end you’ll have about fifty beers.

Fifty beers! How will you ever drink it all?  Don’t worry, they’ll be gone before you know it.  Fifty beers don’t last very long.  You’ll give some away.  People will come over and drink some.  You’ll polish off a few.  Before you know it, it’ll be all gone and your next batch won’t be ready yet!

My opinion is that for the time and effort that brewing takes, get your money’s worth and brew a five gallon batch.

Plan your brews so you always have some ready.

You’ll figure out pretty quick how long a single batch of beer is going to last.  Many brewers what to ensure they have a constant supply on hand.  I don’t mind running out of home brewed beers, but I prefer to have some on hand.

Planning out your brewers requires some work.  Many use an Excel sheet to visually show their pipeline of beers.  I find this is the easiest way to quickly see when you’ll want to brew.  By graphing your pipeline, you can account for longer or shorter fermentations, lagering times, and other variables.

Upgrade your equipment over time.

I didn’t start off with the biggest and best equipment.  I’m still upgrading and improving my own set up.  You can spread the costs over time.  This way your upfront investment won’t be astronomical.

I suggest expecting at minimum to spend a hundred dollars to get started.  A couple hundred would be easily spent as well.  What I wouldn’t do is spend thousands just to get into the hobby.  You can brew great beer without the huge upfront cost.  Plus, but gaining experience you’ll have a better understanding of what you’re looking for in a piece of equipment.

(I’m going to be upgrading to an Affordable Stainless Steel Brew KettleThis is the exact model I’m contemplating.  We can make a small percentage of the sale if you’re looking to buy one through this link.)

Find local brewing groups.

Local groups are a great way to gain information.  They can help you with recipes, equipment questions, and much more.  My local brewing groups even do monthly competitions where you can get you beer judged by experienced peers.  Want to improve your brewing?  Start with a local group.

Find online brewing groups.

Online groups are a great way to crowd source your questions.  Keep in mind though, it’s nearly impossible to tell what information is reliable.  I suggest asking a question and looking for multiple answers that are the same.

For instance, if you ask, “What’s the best way to start all-grain brewing?”  You’re going to get lots of different answers.  Honestly, there’s multiple ways to get into all-grain brewing.  So even different answers are still true.  Look for a common theme in the answers instead.

Don’t expect perfection at first.

Your first batches won’t be perfect.  If you pick a proper style, you can often hide many of the flavor imperfections.  Don’t expect to be a master brewer on day one.  This comes with time, trial, and error.  Expect to make mistakes and roll with the punches.

Like I’ve said many times, I scorched one of my early batches.  From that I learn about fire control, when to add extracts in the brewing process, and how often I need to stir my wort.  I don’t think of it as a mistake but rather a learning experience.

Always read the instructions.

Sounds easy right?  If you have a kit, the instructions are critical to success.  They lay out the path to a successful brew day.  Follow them!  I was overconfident in my skills when I made my scorching mistake.  Why didn’t follow the instructions? That’s what caused my problem.

I often change one thing in my instructions.  I usually do a full five to six gallon boil instead of the partial boil they call for in most kits.  Outside of that, I follow their every word.  Some of the best advice I have is to read, re-read, and follow the instructions.

No one wants to help you recreate a macro domestic.  Just go buy one from the pros.

Don’t get me wrong now, many new brewers talk about recreating a macro.  You simply don’t have the skills or equipment to do so.  It’s a question that’s been covered in countless online forums.  If you want to read about it, just search for it.

Instead, ask about what beer styles a domestic drinker might enjoy.  There are a lot of different styles that could be suggested.  I would personally suggest learning about and drinking a cream ale or common ale.

Don’t think you know it all. Be open to advice from veterans.

There is always someone smarter than you.  I’ve learned this time and time again.  So, ask for advice from others who know more.  Why not benefit from their knowledge.  They likely put in lots of time and effort to learn all they know.

When using online forums, look for users who have a large history.  You can also often tell a lot about a poster by how detailed their responses are and if they used credible links.  Remember, anyone can post on the internet, so reader beware!

Make a commitment without over committing.

I talk a lot about getting the right amount of equipment.  Your budget will determine the quality and quantity of equipment you should get.  I suggest finding a solution that is an investment in your brewing future without breaking the bank.  I think you need some skin in the game to keep you committed but not so much you can’t pay the bills!

Most new brewers can strike a balance by using equipment kits.  By purchasing a packaged set you can often save money versus buying the equipment separately.  Also, reputable sources build their packages based on what you actually need to brew.

Start with extracts and move to all-grain brewing.

Extract brewing a great way to hone your skills as a brewer.  As you develop, you can move towards all-grain brewing naturally.  This is done through acquiring skills and equipment.  Remember, just like the Nascar scenario, learn to crawl before you walk.  I brewed about six or seven extract kits before dabbling with all-grain.

There are lots of reasons why starting with extracts is a good choice.  They’re easier to brew.  Also, they take less time to brew.  Whether you start with extract or all-grain, both have their pros and cons.  I suggest extract because I feel you’re more likely to find success and keep brewing.

(Professional Developed Extract Kits are available to help you have a great brew day.  We can pay to keep the lights on if you buy from the link.)

Plan for success, prepare for failure.

Early on, it’s devastating to lose a beer.  You put in hours of time and effort only to find an infection in fermenting or a terrible flavor in the bottle.  I know it’s a tragic scenario.  You need to get back on the horse though.  My scorched batch happened early in my brewing journey.  It could have caused me to stop brewing.  Instead, it drove me to correct my mistake.

I’m always trying to learn more and brew better beer.  My goal is that my next beer is always my best.  However, failures happen, and you need to be ready for them.  So, understand that the possibility of a problem exists and be ready to learn from them when they happen.

There’s nothing more rewarding than enjoying your first home brewed beer.

My first brew was a cream ale extract kit.  It probably only turned out so-so.  However, I remember it as being the best beer I ever tasted.  Even my friends were amazed.  We all were just impressed that I made it and it turned out drinkable.

Conclusion

Brewing can be a rewarding hobby that can become a borderline obsession if you aren’t careful.  It can be a lot of work, but your efforts are rewarded with a drinkable final product.  Once word gets out that you’re brewing, then you can expect to have long lost friends stopping over at your house.

What would you say is one of your things new home brewers must know?  Put it in the comments and help out a fellow brewer.

Happy Brewing,

Ryan Caldbeck

NewToBrew.com

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