Art, whether it’s on the canvas or in a glass, is a minor triumph over chaos. We have the vision, we put the pieces in place, and the results can bring joy to us and others. Many brewers are like chefs, seeing themselves as fermentation artists, not automatons. While big commercial breweries value process and repeatability, their smaller craft competition is often more focused on the creative spark. That’s even truer for homebrewers: our smaller scale and flights of fancy can lead to unpredictable but wonderful beer.
While there is luck, though, serendipity is favored when we limit the improvisation to the beer itself. An ordered approach improves our odds of success. Think of it this way. The chemistry of brewing guides us. We understand the importance of good sanitation practices and the effects of mash temperature, for instance. But with more control over our brewing session, we’re better prepared to deal with the unexpected. That control comes from planning and organization.
Let’s look at some good tools to give you that control.
One of the best investments you can make is to start using some kind of brewing software. I use BeerSmith, but there are other choices out there like Brewer’s Friend or BrewTarget. It can take some effort to dial in the settings to match your equipment and process (e.g. “Brewhouse Efficiency” in BeerSmith is key), but then you’re set up for recipe formulation, with predictions of gravity, IBUs, and color along with with feedback on stylistic conformance. In addition, most software offers other calculators for everything from adjusting water chemistry and dialing in carbonation to compensating for temperature on hydrometer readings.
It took me awhile to appreciate, but BeerSmith’s inventory feature has proven quite valuable. Well before the brew day, I can plan my next batch, putting together a recipe and seeing what I need to pick up. Brewing is a lot more relaxing when there’s less chance of forgetting a key ingredient and needing to come up with a substitute.
Checklists are another great tool for smoother brewing. You can cover everything from equipment setup, through the actual brewing, all the way to final clean up. Some people might see this as overkill; running a mash and boil is straightforward, so why worry? There are a few good reasons. The obvious one is that you’re less likely to have a crisis, like rushing your carboy sanitation because you just realized that you had forgotten to do it earlier. Also, if you’ve got company and you’ve been enjoying some adult beverages, the checklist can save you from distraction. A more subtle advantage is that by thinking through your process, you can find ways to save time and make it easier.
Organizing Your Equipment
You’re ready to brew: you’ve planned your next batch and your process is clear. Keeping your equipment organized is another area where a little discipline can let you focus on making great beer. For instance, if all your hoses are hanging in one place, they’re easily at hand and you’ll know they drained and dried without collecting mold.
My favorite trick, though, is setting up a brewer’s toolbox. I use a fold-over beer case to hold all of the small things I use in a typical brew day. As a sample, here’s some of what it holds:
* Irish Moss
* Hop and grain bags
* Oxygen tank and air stone
* Oven mitts
Having everything in one convenient place jumpstarts my brew session, and it also makes it possible to load up to go brew at a friend’s house.
Organizing your approach to brewing won’t rein in your creativity. Even if your beers generally turn out fine now and you don’t mind the occasional bit of excitement, these ideas will just help you focus more on the homebrewing mantra: “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.”