Beer - Top 8 Keys to Improving Quality - 3 & 4
3. Upgrade Your Brewing Equipment
Sure, you may not be ready for that automated RIMS system or the stainless, cylindroconical fermenter you saw in the back of that brewing magazine, but a slight upgrade in your equipment can have a large impact on your beer. You can brew excellent beer using quite primitive equipment, but there are a few things that are essential for consistent production of quality beer. Two of the most important tools for the home brewer are a good thermometer and hydrometer. Your thermometer is invaluable for checking the temperature of the cooled wort and for achieving optimal fermentation temperatures. Without a hydrometer, it is difficult to judge whether fermentation is completed. You can use it to check your starting and finishing gravity, and to monitor the process of fermentation. A friend of mine had a problem with exploding and gushing bottles when he first started brewing. When he told me about the problem, I asked if he checked the gravity of the beer before bottling. It turned out that he didn't even have a hydrometer.
It is also to your advantage to have a large boiling kettle. In fact, the larger the better. It is desirable to have a kettle large enough for you to employ full five-gallon boils. This means a kettle with a capacity of at least seven gallons. This will allow for evaporation and provide enough room for a full rolling boil. The problem with using a smaller kettle is that it limits the size of the boil and requires dilution of the wort with a large amount of water. Boiling concentrated wort affects hop utilization and boiling the entire quantity of wort is a good way to improve the quality of your beer. A full rolling boil of at least 60 minutes duration will result in a better hot break.
4. Add Character To Your Extract Beers
It is possible to get satisfactory results using only prehopped, canned malt extract but, using light malt extract, specialty grains, and hops can take your beer to the next level. Specialty grains such as crystal, chocolate, and roasted barley contribute unique malt flavors and aromas which add depth and complexity to beer. Specialty grains also contribute to the color and body of beer. Many specialty grains and malts do not require mashing to impart their unique characteristics to beer. Thus, their use does not require additional equipment or any knowledge of mashing theory.
Using light malt extract, specialty grains, and hops, you can more easily produce beers with desired style characteristics. Substitute light malt extract for the canned prehopped extract in popular beer kits. Color will be provided by the specialty grains. That way you only need one kind of extract, which you may be able to purchase in bulk, at a reduced price. Specialty grains must be milled before they can be used. You can usually have this done for you at the supply shop. When you are ready to brew, simply place them in a mesh grain bag and add the bag to your water as you are bringing it to a boil. Remove the bag of grain from the kettle once the temperature gets to 170o F to avoid extracting excessive tannins, which can contribute harsh astringent flavors to beer.
Using whole flower, plug, or pelletized hops, instead of simply relying on the bittering characteristics of prehopped extract, can greatly improve the hop character of your beer. In addition, it will give you the chance to experiment with the many different varieties of hops. It is true that you get hop bitterness from prehopped extract, but you get little hop flavor and no hop aroma. This is because the production of malt extract involves heat. Although boiling is required for extraction and isomerization of hop bitterness, hop flavor and aroma are diminished with increasing boil time. Thus, to impart hop flavor and aroma to your extract-based beers, you must add hops late in the boil and/or at the end of the boil. In general, to get a noticeable hop flavor, hops should be boiled for 10 to 30 minutes. If hop aroma is desired, hops should be boiled for 10 minutes or less. Aroma hops can also be steeped in the hot wort immediately following the boil.