Lessons Learned

I felt like I needed to add a dedicated page to share key lessons I’ve learned about homebrew along the way, rather than letting them get lost amongst my blog posts.  I’ll add some recent lessons learned below, and update this page as I think of any I’ve posted previously, and of course with the many I’m yet to learn.

  • Hops aint Hops; Just because you buy some hops with a name you’ve used before (e.g. Cascade), the alpha acids inside those hops could be quite different to your last batch.  This is why it’s very important to only buy hops with their alpha acid % displayed.  Particularly for bittering hops, it will be impossible to accurately determine your IBU’s without knowing the AA% of the hops you’re using.  When it comes to aroma/flavour hops, used late in the boil or even at flameout/dry hopped, the AA% will matter a lot less.
  • Hops used for bittering don’t add much flavour/aroma, so you can pretty much use anything;  Now this may be controversial, and I realise there’s exceptions, but hear me out.  A lot of the “recipes” I see from home brewers use large amounts of low AA% hops such as Cascade for bittering (i.e. as a 60 minute addition in the boil).  Then they use similarly large amounts later in the boil to add the aroma/flavour they want from that hop.  However, I’m reading that hops boiled for a long time, such as 60 minutes, really only add bitterness, the flavour/aroma in that hop gets mostly, almost completely, boiled off.  So, why waste a large amount of low AA% hops on a bittering addition?  Instead, you can use a large AA% hop, meant specifically for bittering, with a relatively neutral flavour profile (such as Warrior).  For example, 20 grams of a 16%AA Warrior hop @ 60 minutes will add a significant 35 IBU’s to your brew.  But you’d need three times that amount of a 5%AA Fuggles hop to get the same IBU’s.  So instead of using 60 grams of Fuggles to get your 35 BU’s, use 20 grams of Warrior, and add your Fuggles as 20, 10, or 5 minute additions, or even at flameout or via dry hopping to get the flavour/aroma you want.  EDIT:  I should specify that this applies primarily to highly hopped beers…..large additions of late hops (from 20 mins onward) will be a lot more dominant on the pallette than whatever you used at the 60 minute bittering addition.
  • No two home brews can ever really be the same, and you can’t “clone” your favourite beer; I don’t mean “beers” here, I’m talking about “brews”.  Certainly once you’ve made a brew, or batch of beer, you’d expect them to all taste pretty much the same, allowing for ageing of course.  However, if you send the ‘recipe’ for that brew to a mate, or publish it on the web, it’s unlikely anyone is going to be able to “clone” it.  There are many reasons for this, and those reasons grow if you move from brewing with kit cans to using extract with your own hop additions, and again if you’re doing all grain brewing.  The reasons are mostly obvious, such as the brand of extract or grain you’re using, or more subtly the season in which that grain/extract was produced.  Same goes for hops, as mentioned above, each hop harvest will yield hops with different AA percentages year by year.  It’s for the same reasons you can’t really ‘clone’ a commercial beer.  Beer drinkers often start home brewing wanting to clone their favourite beers, such as Little Creatures Pale Ale, White Rabbit Dark Ale etc.  But in most cases you’ll never know exactly which grain they used nor how much, let alone which hops and yeast they used to produce their beer.  All that being said, you should be able to produce a great beer in a similar style to the beer you’re looking to emulate, and each time you make it you can tweak it to get closer and closer as you go.  But be prepared for the fact that it’ll never be  exactly the same.  Some guys even go as far as capturing the yeast from the bottles of their favourite brews, but even that can be problematic as some commercial breweries bottle their beers with yeast different to the one used to ferment their beer!
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