The Home Brew Challenge: My Plan For Getting Better At Home Brewing

After two years of home brewing, I’ve decided it’s time to really get to the bottom of how to make great beer.

Here’s what I’ve got in mind.

getting better at home brewing (glass of saison)

Although I’m happy with the beer I brew, there’s always a voice in the back of my head telling me it could be better. It’s not usually bad, is often pretty good, but is rarely if ever excellent.

As with most things in life that need changing, if I continue as I am it’s unlikely I’ll make any significant improvements, other than the natural honing that comes with experience and practice.

To really escape from my mid-level plateau I’m going to have to put in a lot of effort and challenge myself to improve.

Improve My Home Brew

I currently use the brew in a bag method for all of my brews.

One obvious option for expanding my grasp of beer making is to get a more complete all grain brewing set-up.

However, I’ve decided that for the time being it’s better to stick with what I know. Otherwise I’ll be starting again instead of moving forward.

I prefer to exhaust my current set-up first.

Focussing instead of opening up is going to be an important, and possibly difficult, part of this challenge.

Eventually, if and when space allows, I’d like to try other techniques. But because much of what I’m going to learn applies to all brewing, I’m not worried about wasting effort on redundant knowledge.

In a similar way, I’ve decided to build on the beers I’ve already brewed rather than branch out into new areas.

I’ll primarily focus on bitters and similar beers, as these are the ones I most enjoy drinking.

To reduce the chances of repetition and boredom squashing my motivation, every now and then I’ll continue to brew a mix of dependable tasty beersexperimental recipes, and the occasional swerve ball.

But for the most part my goal is the improvement of a few core beers.

It’s going to be a long process but I think it’ll pay off more than the scattergun approach I’m using at the moment.

If I can brew one great beer this time next year (or in ten years!), that in my view is better than one hundred mediocre ones now.

Things I’m Going To Look At

Any point in the brew process where I say “that’ll do” is ripe for exploration.

Measurements

Now I’m thinking about this project I realise how loose my brewing can be.

Although I measure volume, temperature and gravity I don’t do it at every stage and don’t have a clear understanding of how these things change with time and place.

These areas are a good start for the challenge.

I don’t want to become an overly technical brewer, measuring everything obsessively, but I do want to have a good idea of what’s going on.

My instinct is that going into a lot of detail now will let me loosen up again with more confidence later.

Ideas to Explore:

Ingredients

I’ve already got a fairly good handle on malt and hops, but I continually avoid learning more about yeast and water.

This must change!

Ideas to Explore:

Aesthetics and Experience

Although not as important as taste, I do believe that appearance matters. Especially if offering beer to friends.

I’m going to look at things like head formation, carbonation, clarity and colour.

Ideas to Explore:

  • Understand why head forms
  • Understand why it lasts
  • Experiment with different ways of achieving body
  • Control gas
  • Explore ways of controlling colour
  • Explore ways of consistently brewing clear beers

Techniques and Methods

There are many areas for exploration here, but I think the primary one is the mash.

Other than that I’m going to leave it open.

I think the other things I’m looking at will demand I make changes to the way I do things anyway, and I don’t want to be too fixed on an uninformed idea before I even start.

Storage

I see this as secondary at the moment although I may be wrong.

For now I’ll continue bottling as I do, with a view to later using kegs. First I need beer that’s worth the investment in the kit.

Approach To The Challenge

My two main tactics are reading more books and brewing websites and, above all, testing everything I read with actual beer.

I’m not sure yet whether I’ll develop some sort of overall plan, or let one thing lead to another.

Whichever route I take, I’m going to try to tweak rather than make many changes at once.

The idea is to come out of the experience with an understanding of what each change does to the finished beer.

The first area to explore is fermentation temperature control. Summer’s arriving here in Argentina and it’s going to be tricky to brew anything without it!

Is This Your Idea Of Fun?

If you too feel you’re stuck on a plateau why not join me and challenge yourself to noticeably improve your beer.

It’d be great if we could help each other out and share our discoveries.

Are you already a home brew master? Is there something you wish you’d known a long time ago?

Are you a beginner? Have you got any questions or is there anything you’re particularly interested in?

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Comments...

  1. This all hits home for me. One of the criticisms I often get from my wife is that I’m too free-flowing in the kitchen. I like to experiment and stray as-needed (or as-wanted) from recipes because I see cooking food or brewing beer as an excuse to play. This is perhaps why I decided to do more “experimental” brews among my first batches, playing with honey, fruit and other adjuncts.

    Over the next year, I want to try and improve my brewing ability – as soon as I clear out some bottle space – by focusing on core styles. I really want to try a stout recipe. I’d love to make a broad IPA, having only made a single-hop version. Maybe a straight wheat beer? Who knows.

    I’ll also agree with you on learning more about water. It plays such an important role in the process, but it’s very easy to overlook. I’ve considered getting testing strips to see what I can find out about my supply.

    Opportunities abound!

    • John

      Hi Bryan,

      Cooking is interesting. We do it everyday and have lots of experience with it.

      It’s easy to experiment and make changes because we’re generally very familiar with the ingredients, including how they change in flavour and appearance according to the cooking technique used.

      That’s the point I want to get to with my brewing (if that’s not too ambitious!)

      You’re right, water is by far the largest element in beer yet usually the least considered. I hope I tackle it sooner rather than later.

      Good luck with your own brewing improvements – be sure to write about them!

  2. I am a long time home brewer with well over 100 brews to my credit.
    Check out the website for links to my 100 Bottles of Beer home brewing blog.

    • John

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for stopping by. It looks like you have a lot of material there – I’ll certainly have a look in more detail.

      Cheers!

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