Nothing beats the excitement of getting ready to brew your first batch of home brewed beer. You’re energized to have a great first brew day. Being pumped about brewing is a great first step, but it can lead to rushing into action. Instead, let me show you how to properly develop a brew day plan.
By taking the time to plan your brew day, you greatly increase your chances of success. You’ll find that the devil is in the details. If you develop a brew day game plan, then you’ll have a much better time. Also, your brew day plan decreases your chances of making a common error on brew day.
I think of my brew days like a marathon. Marathon runners know that the preparation for race day is critical to success. Failing to train for a marathon will end up with a terrible outcome. However, failing to plan for brew day can also result in failure. Do yourself a favor and learn the proper way to plan for your first brew day.
All-Grain or Extract Brew Day Plan
As a new brewer, the first choice you’ll face is how you want to brew. I’m referring to either all-grain or extract brewing. It’s critical that you understand the differences between the two style. If you want a great brew day, then you need a brew day plan that optimizes your ability to succeed.
For this reason, I always suggest that new brewers start with extract brewing. An extract brew day is shorter in length than an all-grain brew day. Extract brewing removes some steps and specialty equipment as well. This should help you have an easier time on your first brew day. The most important reason that I suggest extract brewing to beginners is because you’ll have a greater chance of a successful brew day by simplifying the steps.
When you start all-grain brewing, then you’ll be turning the grains into wort before boiling. This process is called mashing. When you start with extracts, the conversion has already taken place for you and been reduced to a syrup or powder. Now you can focus on the boil, hop additions, and fermentation process. As you grow as a brewer, then you can take on the addition of the mashing process.
Time can also be a concern for new brewers. We’ll talk more about how much time to allot in your brew day plan. When considering extracts, another great reason to use them is they reduce time by eliminating mashing. This will save at least an hour, if not two. Even though I’ve begun all-grain brewing, I still use extract brewing when I’m trying to save time.
(Still not sure about extracts or all-grain. Try reading All-Grain Vs. Extract Brewing for New Brewers.)
Picking the Right Beer Style
As a new brewer, picking the right style of beer to brew is critical. You need to find a beer style that you’re interested in brewing and that is a basic recipe. Some of the easier styles to start with include pale ales, India Pale Ales, Amber Ales, or really any basic ale. This isn’t the time to try out a high gravity Double India Pale Ale or a fancy fruited beer. Keep it simple for the first time.
You’ll notice that all my suggested beer styles were ales. This is because I highly recommend you stay away from lagers when you first begin brewing. Lagers are less forgiving and often show off every flaw in the beer. You’re best off trying a more forgiving style for your first brew day plan.
Lagers also require time. The word lager refers to the need to store or lager the beer over time. You can expect a lager to generally take twice as long, or more, than an ale.
Remember, lagers also need to be stored cold. This means you’ll need to have temperature control over your fermentation. You’ll also need to be able to store your beer, long term, at these colder temperatures. I have a dedicated keezer / fermentation chamber that I use for this purpose. All these reasons add up to why I suggest starting with easy ales.
(Building a fermentation chamber can be simple: Fermentation Chamber Build)
Kits are a simple way to get into home brewing. Personally, they’re the way I started. They’re also the way I suggest for you to start. Extract kits are available from a variety of reliable sources. They’re specifically put together to make your brew day plan as easy as possible.
As a new brewer, you probably won’t have the knowledge or experience to start writing your own recipes. This ability come from time, experience, and an overall understanding of the ingredients. You may however find a recipe from a more experienced brewer online.
When I’m looking for a specific style, I often look for published award-winning recipes. These are a great starting place from home brewers who are looking to begin writing their own recipes. Why not start with a great recipe and tweak it some to make it your own.
Whether using a kit or using a recipe, you’re looking for simplicity in your first brew. Simplicity is often found in recipes that use less ingredients and less brewing steps. Less steps or processes limits the opportunities for mistakes. Using less ingredients helps you as a brew gain a better understanding of the individual ingredients. This will be helpful when you do decide to start writing your own recipes and experimenting.
I do believe you’re best off starting with a kit. Reputable kits are designed for simplicity and great flavors. As a new brewer, it’s hard to know what ingredients go together and the flavors they’ll create. Great kits allow you to use the knowledge of someone else to your benefit.
(Here are my top picks for starting brewing with kits. 9 Straightforward Home Brewing Kits for Beginners.)
Know the Recipe
Regardless of whether you use a kit or a recipe. Regardless of whether you brew all-grain or extract beer. Understanding all of the steps in your recipe is critical to the success of your brew day plan. I read, re-read, and then read again. I’ve found that actually marking the steps off as they’re completed helps ensure nothing is missed on brew day.
For me, my second brew day was riddled with mistakes. I had already successfully completed a great first brew day. My confidence was high and then I started making mistakes. The process of extract brewing is important. You need to do steps in a particular order to receive the correct outcome.
For me, I added my extract to the water and before bringing it to a boil. A small mistake with a big consequence. I turned up the heat on my kettle to boil the wort and accidentally scorched the wort. One small mistake in the process lead to a burnt sugar flavor to my entire batch.
To avoid making a small mistake that create a large issue, know your recipe. Know it well. As you’re executing your first brew, go ahead and literally mark off each step as you go. This will help ensure you’re following the right steps.
Have the Right Equipment
As with anything you wish to accomplish, having the right equipment is a must. There is a bare minimum level of equipment that you must have to brew. Your brew day plan needs to take into consideration what equipment you have available.
At a bare minimum you’ll need a brew kettle, paddle, siphon and hose, and a primary fermenter. These few items will get you through your first brew day. Keep in mind, you’ll need equipment like bottles, capper, and a bottling bucket if you plan to bottle your brew. Otherwise you’ll need kegs and carbonating equipment.
Your brew day plan needs to reflect the equipment you have available. For instance, many new brewers don’t have an immersion cooler to cool their wort. Instead they use an ice bath to cool their kettle and wort together. Your brew day plan should account for this different technique. If you map out an entire brew day plan, then you can make sure you have all the necessary equipment.
Developing a brew day plan is critical to ensuring you have the right equipment come brew day. You’ll want to make sure you have every piece of brewing equipment that your brew day plan calls for using. I like to make a list of equipment from my plan and make sure I have it all available and ready for use.
(Many brew kits are available that contain the basics for brewing. You can get a good start with this Home Brew Equipment Kit. This affiliate link pays a small percentage if you buy. It helps keep the blog going.)
Cleaning and Sanitizing
Do you know the difference between cleaning and sanitizing? There is a big difference between the two steps and brewers need to be aware of how to accomplish both.
Cleaning is the process of using a cleaner and friction to remove debris. By using a soap and scrubbing, we clean our equipment. This is an important step before brewing. I prefer to clean my equipment after use and the day before I use it again.
One of the most common cleaning detergents is PBW. This is a product professional brewers use and you can too. However, I’ve found that any unscented dish soap will also do the trick. Be sure to rinse thoroughly to avoid any residual film.
(PBW is easy to find and is a product that many commercial and home brewers use. You can find it available for purchase here: PBW by Five Star. We make a small percentage of the sale to keep the site going.)
The next step is sanitizing. I like to sanitize all of my equipment before using it to brew. Many will point out that sanitizing things like the brew kettle and paddle are unnecessary. The wort will be boiling which makes sanitizing these items moot. Though they have a point, I simply prefer to sanitize everything for safety’s sake.
The most commonly used sanitizing product is StarSan. It is one I use and highly recommend you do to. I have three tips for using StarSan. Don’t fear the foam! The foam is perfectly safe and won’t ruin your beer. Secondly, get a spray bottle. This makes sanitizing everything easier. Finally, don’t throw out your sanitizer after one use. Its good for a few weeks at least, if not a few months. This will greatly reduce your amount of sanitizer used and the cost of sanitizing.
(StarSan is another commercial product that is available to the home brewer. Sanitize like the pros by using StarSan. This affiliate link help fund the site.)
Set Up Before Brew Day
Assuming your brew day plan is ready, its time to start working. I start the day before my brew day. I get all of my ingredients and equipment together and compare them to my brew day plan. Finally, I make sure I have everything I could possibly need during my brew day.
Next, I clean everything. Literally, I clean everything with detergent a scrubbing. I clean my equipment. I clean my work space. Then, I make sure that everything I plan to use and my brew space is fully cleaned. Sanitizing will take place during brew day.
This is your final chance to ensure nothing is missing. Creating a check list is the way I’ve found best. I have a check list for my ingredients and then cross them off. Then, I do the same thing for my equipment as I clean it. I scrub the equipment, set it aside for the next day, and cross it off my equipment list.
Nothing ruins a brew day quite like not having all the necessary ingredients. I am of course speaking from experience. I ended up subbing in different hops to my recipe at the last minute. That was an easy fix because I had them on hand, but you might not. Having a brew day plan in place allows you to double check ingredients and equipment before brew day.
Plan for the Worst
Why would I list something so negative? Am I trying to scare you off? Of course not, instead I’m trying to get you to plan ahead so you can be responsive. Equipment breaks, ingredients spill, and mistakes happen. Be ready to be agile and flexible.
One common issue is having a boil off rate that is higher than expected. Say a recipe calls for 5.5 gallons to boil for one hour and claims the remaining wort should be 5 gallons. What do you do if you only have 4.5 gallons? You could leave it and have a higher gravity beer. You could also be prepared for this possibility and have a gallon of bottled spring water on hand to use for the last half gallon. The bottled water is sanitary and won’t risk contaminating your brew.
Another possibility is breaking a hydrometer on brew day. This one happens all the time. You can always just keep brewing without taking gravity readings. However, you could have a back up or you could have a refractometer just in case. These are just two simple examples of common things that can happen on brew day.
(You can avoid common mistakes by studying the brewing process in-depth. Here are my suggested readings: Three Essential Home Brewing Books for Every Home Brewer.)
Find your Fermentation Spot
Fermentation temperature control is a great thing. I’m lucky enough to have my fermentation chamber because it makes controlling the temperature extremely simple. Surprise though, I don’t actually use it for most of my ale brews.
Instead of using my fermentation chamber for warmer fermenting ales, I have found specific spaces in my house the remain at stead temperatures. I found a cheap thermometer that tracks temperatures. Then I placed it in different locations in my house and found a few different temperature ranges that remained steady.
One location stays around 67-69F. A second location in my home stays between 70-72F. These two locations will work for the majority of ale yeast strains.
You’ll need to plan an prepare a location for fermentation as part of your brew day plan. Knowing the temperatures that you have the ability to ferment at will influence the style of beer you use and the strain of yeast you ferment.
(Here are my suggested ale yeast strains: Eight Awesome Ale Yeast Strain Worth Fermenting.)
Prepare to be Patient
One intangible part of your brew day plan needs to be patience. This trait is a brewer’s best friend. You can’t rush a brew day, you can’t rush fermentation, you can’t rush bottle conditioning. Be patient and understand that good things are worth waiting for.
Once your brew day is done, you have one to two weeks before fermentation is completed. If you rush this step, you could end up bottling beer that hasn’t finished fermenting. This will over-carbonate in the bottle causing the bottles to explode. Commonly, this is referred to as bottle bombs.
From there, you can plan on another one to two weeks of conditioning and carbonating in the bottle. I often open a bottle at one week to check carbonation levels. I know they won’t be ready, but I can barely wait any longer to try my brew! As days and weeks go on, the bottles only continue to improve.
If you want to have a successful first brew day, then complete a brew day plan. Taking the time to plan your first brew day will help you have a less stressful time and create a better final product.
You want to make sure that you have everything necessary for the big day. You can make checklists from your brew day plan and check off ingredients and equipment.
Ultimately you reap what you sow. Planning your brew day out in advance, studying the plan, and properly executing the plan will help you create great beer. Do the work in advance and receive the payout in a few weeks when the beer is ready for consumption.
Do you have a question about home brewing? Put it in the comments below. Also, feel free to comment, share and like. Thanks for reading.