As I continue to homebrew, I discover and perfect techniques that make the process easier, more effective and/or more efficient. Often, simple modification in my equipment or in my brewing procedures at first appear small and inconsequential but are in fact significant in terms of making the brewing day more enjoyable. Today I want to go over three more tricks that I use on a regular basis.
Back in March I listed here some homebrew tricks (go here) to save time and money and those are worth returning to as you review these new items.
As the cooler winter months approach and the temperatures in the area where my fermenters sit (in this case my garage) get cooler, I have found a simple way to keep the fermenting beer from dropping down into the range (below 60f.) that prevents my ale yeasts from performing properly. There is nothing scientific about this technique and it requires some vigilance on my part but it is well worth the effort.
1.) I take an inexpensive, clamp-on utility lamp with a 60w. bulb and place it near the fermenter. This heat source is enough to keep the chill at bay. I will initially moniter the temperature and modify the amount of heat that I apply by moving the lamp closer or further away depending on the amount required. Be careful because you can very quickly over heat using this technique. Once I have the perfect distance/temperature ratio in place I can rest through the night knowing that the cold will not be a factor and the yeast will continue to do their job.
I really enjoy a hoppy ale and in my attempts to brew them I use multiple additions of hops throughout the boil, sometimes dropping as many as five bags of hops into the kettle. Each bag will be added at different time intervals depending on the desired bitterness, flavor or hop aroma. In my preparation for the brew day I measure out and bag all of the hops in advance and stack them in order of first to last additions, to make it easier on myself. Unfortunately, sometimes the bags will get mixed up in the action of brewing. This next trick is something that dawned on me far later than I would have liked. It takes the guess work out of which hops are in which bag.
2.) The nylon or cotton hop bags have draw strings hemmed into the top to tie off the opening and prevent the hops from spilling out into the boiling wort. Rather than try to keep track of which bag to add next by stacking them in order or measuring out the hops as I need them, I will number the bags. I have found that the draw strings are usually long enough to tie 'indicator' knots into them for identifying the bag to be added next. One knot is tied on the string of the first bag to go in the pot. Two knots on the bag string of the second addition, three knots on the third and so on. Now I have a set of hop bags with each one identified with knots.
Lastly, I usually keg my beer but sometimes I want to fill several bottles in order to set aside and condition with priming sugar. These would be beers that I can stash and forget about and let age or submit for contests long after the kegged portion has been drunk. The trick?
3.) Carbonation drops. The simple part here is that as you are racking your beer from the fermenter to the kegs you can easily divert some into sanitized bottles, pop in a carbonation drop and cap. No need for calculating or preparing bottling sugar and you can do as many or as few as you want. These sugar pills are a little expensive but in a pinch it's worth having a bag of them around and you can get them in the less expensive generic version. Now, I can put those beer aside for the future.
I think these ideas will serve you well and I'll keep my eyes peeled for more in my brewery in the future. Others can benefit from your ideas, what tricks do you use in your home brewery? Leave a comment.