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Q: Is home brewing difficult?
A: No. Making good beer is easy. Making ‘great’ beer may require a little guidance but that’s what we are here for. The best way to describe it is like this… If you go to the grocery store and buy a box of cake mix and follow the directions precisely you will make a good cake. If you bake a cake entirely from scratch it typically will turn out a better. The same rule applies to beer.
Q: What equipment do I need to brew my own beer?
A: The basic equipment needed is a brew pot, a fermenting vessel, a siphon system, cleaning and sanitizing supplies and a good recipe. We sell several equipment packages for beginners which can be found in our web store. For more details about purchase brewing equipment please contact the Beer Belly Posse to help you customize a kit that will best fit your needs.
Q: What Ingredients do I need to make beer?
A: You will need water (drinking quality; preferably filtered), barley malt (either extract or milled whole malt), hops, yeast, and a good recipe. If you are brewing your first batch, we urge you to consider an ingredient kit, because they include all the ingredients you will need and have step by step brewing instructions. A wide selection of ingredient kits can be found in our web store or by visiting a Beer Belly retail location.
Q: How Long does it take to make a batch?
A: From start to finish, a simple batch of beer will take 2 to 4 weeks to be ready for drinking, depending on whether or not you keg or bottle your brew. The cooking stage will likely take two or three hours, the fermentation stage is about 2 weeks, bottling the beer will take 2 or 3 hours, and aging time in bottles is about 2 to 3 weeks while a keg is 2 to 3 days.
Q: Can I make really good beer at home?
A: Yes! You can make phenomenal beer at home.
In fact, your first batch may amaze you, and your friends, as long as you choose quality ingredients, practice good cleaning and sanitizing, and follow a good recipe. As you gain experience as a home brewer, you will be able to expand the styles of beer that you can brew and tailor your recipes to suit your own needs.
Q: How much space do I need to brew my own beer?
A: All you need is access to a stove or propane burner and sink on brew day, and a small section of a dark room or closet (about 2' x 2') to store your beer while it is fermenting. The basic brewing equipment will require a small amount of storage space when not in use- about 6 cubic feet.
Q: Is there any danger of my ingredients spoiling during shipping?
A: As long as the ingredients are packaged well, there is little danger they will spoil during shipping unless the package is damaged by the shipper.
Yeast is the most fragile ingredient, as it is a living organism and liquid yeast being the most sensitive. Most liquid yeasts are packaged in the ready to pitch tubes or vials but all of the liquid yeast that we ship are wrapped in thick layers of insulation, which is then insulated further by air tight sealing the box it is packed in. Packing yeast this way, can and does survive shipments of up to two weeks in duration. If shipped during the hot summer months (when temperatures are regularly over 90 oF), additional protection may be needed (we offer a gel ice pack for $1 that can be packed with the yeast), or you can choose a faster shipping option (you can have the yeast shipped separately from the rest of the order via priority mail, for instance).
Hops are also perishable but if packaged in airtight bags (we vacuum seal all of our hops) and insulated, they will keep well outside of refrigeration for up to 3 months. As heat will reduce the quality of hops more quickly, you may want to consider a faster shipping option in hot summer months if the ground shipment will take more than 3 days to deliver.
Whole Barley malt is very stable unless exposed to excessive heat or moisture. Malt is less stable after it has been crushed. For this reason we seal all malt orders in plastic right before shipping. If the malt is exposed to moisture or extreme heat and becomes musty, it can be dried in an oven on low heat for 10 minutes to "freshen" it up, except for base pale and wheat malts, which should not be exposed to temperatures over 150 oF, which could destroy the enzymes needed for starch conversion.
Barley malt extract is very stable unless exposed to air for more than a week, in which case surface mold may occur. Even if this does happen, the mold can only grow on the surface as the extract is too thick for it to live. Thus if mold does occur, the extract is still useable for brewing because the mold can be scraped off and the extract will be boiled for 1 hour, effectively killing all the mold spores.
Q: What are the advantages/disadvantages of liquid vs. dry yeasts?
A: Dry yeast is living brewer's yeast which has been dehydrated (all of the water removed from the yeast cells). In this state, the yeast is more stable, so it stores better and is less prone to being killed by temperature changes. Most experienced brewers agree that dry yeast does not produce better beer than liquid yeast, especially for certain styles of beer such as lagers and wheat beers. However the quality of most dried brewer’s yeast on the market today is pretty high, and many fine ales have been brewed with dry yeast. Dry yeast is also cheaper than liquid yeast.
Liquid yeast can produce an extremely clear, refined beer, and comes in a wide selection for virtually any beer style. The liquid yeast on the market today is also extremely pure, with no outside organisms or mutations. Liquid yeast is more fragile, and has a shorter shelf life of 2 to 4 months, although very old liquid yeast can often be revived by making a yeast starter.
Q: Do I need to change my brewing practices in any way when I switch to organic ingredients?
A: No, the process of brewing is the same no matter what ingredients you use. You may have to make some changes in your recipes to substitute organic ingredients (consult the Beer Belly Posse for more help finding quality organic substitute grains), but the techniques of brewing are the same.
Q: When you say "organic," what standard are you referring to?
A: This is a very good question, because there are many different sets of organic standards throughout the world. Our guidelines for "organic" are those spelled out by the USDA National Organic Program, a national, enforceable set of laws governing organic products in the United States. Basically these standards state that food items labeled organic must be grown without synthetic chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer, in soil that has been free from such chemicals for at least 3 years. In addition, no other toxic substances may be used as fertilizer such as sewage sludge or radioactive waste, and no chemicals may be used in the processing of organic ingredients, or used near the storage area (insect killers, rat poison, chemical cleaners, and the like). Also, no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) are allowed. Seven Bridges is certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers as a handler and retailer of organic products, which means we are required to adhere to these standards (and be able to verify that our suppliers adhere to the same standards) in order to sell products labeled as organic.
Q: What is the best way to sanitize my equipment and still "brew organic"?
A: The most practical way is with a mild iodine solution. Iodine is a naturally occurring mineral that is non toxic in minute quantities. The amount used to make an effective sanitizer is about .1 oz. per gallon of water, or about 13 ppm, which will not leave any trace of flavor and smell in the finished beer. Iodine is also a mineral that the human body needs in minute quantities, which is why it is often added to table salt. It is rare, but some people have to avoid ingesting iodine. To avoid this, equipment may be rinsed with sterile water after sanitizing. Other alternatives for sanitizing include heat (boiling, or using an oven or autoclave), hydrogen peroxide (oxygen based, a more costly alternative), or a mild acid sanitizer such as 5-Star's Star San Sanitizer.
Q: In addition to brewing organic, I'm also interested in conserving water. What tips do you have?
A: There are many ways to conserve water when brewing. Consult the Beer Belly Posse for drought friendly tips and procedures.
Q. I am concerned about GMO's (Genetically Modified Organisms). How can I be sure that my brewing ingredients do not contain any?
A: The only way to be absolutely certain that your ingredients do not contain GMO's is to use organic ingredients. By current laws regulating organic farming, organic ingredients can not contain any genetically modified organisms. Thus far, brewing yeast for home brewing has not been subjected to genetic manipulation, and we have been assured by Wyeast laboratories that the liquid yeast they sell is free from GMO's. Corn is one of the major crops that has been genetically modified, and due to lax policies of the USDA, there are currently no labeling requirements for GMO's. Because of this, there is no way to be sure that any corn product, including corn sugar, is free from GMO's. To completely avoid GMO's, a substitute to corn sugar should be used, such as malt extract, organic cane sugar, or by kraeusening your beer when bottling. Because of our concern about GMO's in corn, we are in the process of developing a replacement for the corn sugar for bottling that is included with all of our beer kits.
Q: Is homebrewing safer for the environment, compared to the industrial brewers?
A: If you brew with environmentally safe cleaners and sanitizers and practice water conservation, brewing your own beer at home is safer for the environment than industrial brewing. In addition to saving water and reducing pollution, energy is saved as the finished beer will not be trucked long distances, and the bottles used are usually reused from previous batches.
Q: Any idea why some bottles of beer might be flat while others in the same batch are perfect?
A: This is usually caused by insufficient mixing of the bottling sugar with beer at bottling time. When adding the bottling sugar, be sure to mix it thoroughly, but gently, so that excess air is not mixed into the beer. Another possible cause is too much residual sanitizer in some of the bottles but not others. Make sure your sanitizer is mixed to the recommended strength, and that the bottles are rinsed if using bleach, or drained if using Iodophor.
Q: A friend of mine just gave me two beer kits he has had in his basement for almost a year now. I intend to replace the liquid yeast but is the rest of the kit fresh enough to make a good batch?
A: In addition to replacing the yeast, you should also replace the aroma hops if they were not refrigerated. and if the kit came with cracked grains, replace these also. The extract should be OK if it was stored at relatively cool temperatures in an air tight container, but you may want to check the extract also. If it smells like beer, it has started to ferment so you should replace it. If it has mold on the surface, it may still be OK to use, as the mold cannot grow below the surface.