One of the beautiful things about brewing as a hobby is that we can decide where and when we want to wing it (even if that’s pretty much all the time) and in which specific areas we’re willing to throw money at better quality or greater precision. When it comes to products that can help us do that, the range is often limited compared to what’s available to the pros. With that in mind, here are four ways to raise the consistency and quality of our beers without buying in bulk or taking out a business loan.
Industrial breweries have been adding enzymes to beer to achieve various goals for decades, but smaller craft brewers didn’t openly embrace them until relatively recently (thanks, brut IPA). While most of the products on the market are aimed at commercial brewers, there are a few available at a size and price that can still make sense in our kitchen or garage. These include the following products from CellarScience:
Brutzyme glucoamylase—for breaking down starches into simpler sugars, to ferment to dryness—comes in a 1 oz (30 ml) bottle ($7, various retailers), with ¼ tsp (1.5 ml) good for five gallons (19 liters) of beer.
Clearzyme—a protease that breaks down haze-forming proteins, to prevent chill haze—also comes in a 1 oz (30 ml) bottle ($23), with ¼ tsp (1.5 ml) good for five gallons (19 liters) of beer.
ALDC prevents the formation of diacetyl—a handy way to beat the hop creep when you’re dry hopping. Just add a dropper’s worth to 5 gallons; a 1 oz (30 ml) dropper bottle ($30) has about 35 doses.
Flowable Hop Extracts
What brewers once saw as an industrial shortcut has been gaining mainstream acceptance at small breweries, with many products now variety-specific and meant to boost flavor and aroma “downstream” rather than bitterness in the kettle. Often, they’re best used in combination with hop pellets. Most of these products are available only in bulk sizes meant for commercial breweries, but BarthHaas offers two types at homebrew and nano scale:
Incognito Citra and Mosaic in 20-gram jars ($14.99, yakimavalleyhops.com), meant for the whirlpool and just about right for a five-gallon (19-liter) batch.
Spectrum Citra, Eclipse, Galaxy, and Mosaic in 20-gram sachets ($24.99, yakimavalleyhops.com) meant for adding at dry hop.
Oxygen-Purged Dry Hops
As brewers keep fine-tuning their methods to not only boost hop aroma but to make it last as long as possible, more are turning their attention to reducing oxygen exposure at just about every step in the brewing process (notable exception: oxygenating the wort for healthy fermentation). Many homebrewers, likewise, have gotten into the healthy habit of purging tanks and kegs with CO2. However, a key point at which many brewers expose their precious wort to air is when they add dry hops. One solution to that problem is the KegLand Hop Bong Pressure Pack for FermZilla ($179.99 from various U.S. retailers).
Attached via tri-clamp to your fermentor, the Hop Bong’s pressure-safe chamber can be sanitized, filled with about six ounces (170 g) of hop pellets, sealed, and purged before you open the ball valve to drop the hops into your fermentor. It also works for keg finings, such as gelatin—and it can even be rigged as a Randall-like device to push beer through the chamber full of hops (or lime zest and habanero, or Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs cereal, or whatever). And, indeed, it does look like a bong. The only thing left to decide is which variety of hops you’ll put in there (dank ones, obviously).
Robust quality analysis and control are a hallmark of consistent brewing. Homebrewers have never needed full-on labs—and our tolerance for variance, er, varies—but even the laxest among us (ahem) can still pick and choose the data we want to collect when there are areas that we want to improve. In that context, the miniaturization of lab tech is an exciting development.
In past issues we’ve reviewed two generations of the Anton Paar EasyDens, a digital hydrometer that makes it easy to take gravity readings and track fermentations via smartphone. Late last year, the Austria-based analytical-equipment company added the SmartRef ($269, easydens.com), a portable refractometer that measures a wide range of variables, including gravity, sugar percentage (on a range of scales and metrics), temperature, salinity, and even glycol percentage. It works with the same intuitive Brew Meister (and Wine Meister) apps as the EasyDens, making it easy to collect and track your readings over time and over various batches.
If you already own an EasyDens, the SmartRef might not be worth the extra investment. On the other hand, if you’re into cider, mead, or wine—or you’re just hooked on data—it could be a smart bet for taking your quality and consistency to the next level.
The Complete Beer Course, 2nd Edition
By Joshua M. Bernstein, Union Square & Co., hardcover $35, 340 pages
We know how difficult it can be to keep up with beer trends—a lot changes in a year or two, let alone a decade. Yet a decade has passed since the publication of Josh Bernstein’s first Complete Beer Course—high time for a full revision to help new enthusiasts get to know a landscape that in many ways has shifted dramatically.
All the classic styles and their back stories are still here, from American ambers to Trappist tripels, and the book leans toward suggesting foundational greats that have persevered while mostly avoiding trendy picks. On the other hand, notable new developments such as cold IPAs and smoothie beers are here, too, as they should be. The idea is to welcome the proverbial newcomers to craft beer—do such people still exist? we hope so—into the much wider world of culture and flavor, sharing the enthusiasm and arcana that hooked so many of us in the first place.
To read Bernstein’s book (or to meet him in person, for what it’s worth) is to remember something important: Craft beer is fun. That’s the whole point. Whether he’s reminding us about overlooked classics, or that we ought to try pairing oysters with stout, or that it really is okay to add the damned lemon wedge to the wheat beer if you like it better that way, the Complete Beer Course never loses sight of the pursuit of pleasure. Thus, jaded old hands are likely to enjoy the book as much as the neophytes to whom it should be gifted.