From the very moment I started boiling water to kick off my first batch of beer, I was nervous I had already messed it up. Thankfully this was not the case, and the water boiled as the laws of physics demand.
That constant worry feeling, like a first-time mother watching her child experience their inaugural teeter totter ride, is expected when you are a rookie home brewer spending a good amount of time and money on your first batch.
I’ve reached the bottling stage relatively unscathed, but here are a few easy tips to make the actual brewing process as pain-free as possible:
1. Follow the directions…literally
My only recipe misstep was failing to use common sense when boiling the hops, grain, and malt extract combined into the wort. I made sure everything was added at the correct temperature, set the timer accurately, and stirred as needed to prevent the malt from scorching the bottom of the pot. Then I covered the wort and turned around to sanitize some of my beer making supplies.
Within seconds, the wort had boiled over the top of the pot and all over the stove, causing a moderate amount of the hops settled on top of the mixture to splatter all over my stove. Again, common sense failed me, especially since I had spent so much time carefully measuring everything so the beer would turn out exactly as intended. Also, being a self-professed “hop head,” the loss of even a trace amount of bitter hops was enough to engrain the mistake in my head for good.
2. Sanitize immediately
The difference between a messy house/apartment and a clean one is the realization that cleaning up immediately saves you time and effort later. I’ve yet to completely master that art form for my apartment, but my beer making kit is another story. When I finished using various beer making supplies, I proceeded to sanitize and scrub down every one of them to keep the chances of bacteria/mold forming as low as possible.
Cleaning your beer making equipment is always going to be marginally labor intensive (the carboys especially), but it makes the entire process so much easier if they are sanitized promptly after use. If you use a double fermenting kit (like mine), then some of the equipment is going to be used later in the brewing process and will need immediate sanitation anyway.
3. Reusable or returnable bottles?
You can scour home brewing forums all across the Internet asking about the difference between using returnable bottles or one-time pop-tops from a standard liquor store. Returnable bottles are preferable because the glass is slightly thicker than single use bottles, but people have tried the latter to varying success.
I did buy a couple of 12 packs (Franziskaner and Summit Extra Pale Ale) with the intent of using them in the beer making process, but decided against it after some thought. Up until the bottling stage, I had made sure to follow every direction verbatim, given my inexperience and general cautiousness. Why would the bottling process be any different? Returnable bottles are cheap and (obviously) guaranteed to last through multiple batches.