1 – Hot Break
Achieving a good rolling boil is an important step in the beer making process for several reasons. First, boiling sterilizes the beer, killing any unwanted bacteria that might be hanging around just waiting to spoil your hard work. Boil off reduces the overall volume, concentrating it. Without boiling, you’d end up with a beer that probably tasted water down. Boiling also causes caramelization, contributing additional flavor to the beer. Lastly, boiling produces an affect known as the hot break.
As the liquid begins to reach a boil, a foam will start to form on the surface. This foam is caused by the coagulation of proteins. Once a vigorous boil is reached, the action of the boiling liquid will eventually cause more of those proteins to clump together and eventually fall off the surface. These protein clumps are often said to resemble egg drop soup. This is the hot break. The coagulation and precipitation of these proteins out of the liquid is important because if they are left in suspension they can contribute to lack of head retention and flavor issues in the beer.
2 – Cold Break
While hot break refers to the coagulation of proteins at boiling temperatures, cold break is a similar affect that occurs during chilling. Cold break is important because these proteins can also cause chill haze if they are not removed. In order to achieve a good cold break, the liquid should be cooled from boiling to below 80F as quickly as possible. There are also other advantages to this rapid cooling.
The temperature range between 140F and 80F is a dangerous time period where the liquid is most susceptible to potential spoilage or other contaminating bacteria. Other chemical reactions that produce off flavors can also continue to occur in this temperature range. Limiting the amount of time spent in this “danger zone” reduces the chances of any of these issues affecting the beer.
3 – Sanitizing
Sanitization is an essential component of the brewing process. Maybe you’ve picked the perfect blend of malt and hops, executing every temperature and step of the brewing process perfectly along the way. However, unless your equipment has been properly cleaned and sanitized, any number of rogue bacteria or wild yeast could show up and ruin the greatest batch you’ve ever made.
In the homebrewing world there is an important distinction between the processes of cleaning and sanitizing. When cleaning your equipment, you want to remove any sort of particulate debris or other visible residue from equipment surfaces. During sanitizing, you are killing most of the bacteria and other organisms inhabiting the surfaces of your equipment. Sanitization is a lower standard than the procedure of sterilization where all living things are killed in the process. Sterilization is generally not required in the brewing process.
Only the pieces of equipment which touch the liquid after boiling require sanitizing. Everything up to the point of boiling must only be cleaned – the process of boiling acts as sanitization. Any potential spoilage organisms which exist prior to this point will be killed by the boiling process. Even equipment and tubing which comes into contact with the liquid immediately after the boil must only be routinely cleaned. For instance, plate or non-immersion style counterflow chillers will be sanitized by the near boiling liquid circulating during the first few minutes of contact. Everything that comes into contact with the beer after boiling must be properly sanitized. This includes fermentation vessels, stoppers, airlocks, transfer tubing, etc.
4 – Take Notes
Good documentation is critical. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve made the greatest beer in the world or the most hideous drain dump ever. You’re going to want to know what you did in order to reproduce it or to diagnose and make sure you never do it again. Many inexperienced brewers will also find themselves imbibing a bit throughout the course of their brew day and not be able to later recall everything they did during the brew. The best assurance is to get into the habit of taking lots of notes. Recording how long different steps took, when ingredients were added and the volumes, temperatures, gravities, pH, etc of liquid at various stages can make for valuable book keeping later on when the brew day is nothing more than a faint memory.
While good documentation can serve as a valuable tool for post mortem reviews, it can also provide essential help during the brew day. One common approach is to use a standardized worksheet. The form includes spaces for recording all of the recipe ingredients, any measurements that need to be taken, and each of the steps that need to be performed. As the brew day progresses, measurements can be recorded and the steps can be checked off as they are completed. This extends beyond the brew day, too. Make sure to update your notes whenever you transfer the beer to another vessel (secondary, bottle, keg, etc) or add any other ingredients throughout the fermentation and conditioning stages.
5 – RDWHAHB
The brew day can be a stressful time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned vet, performing an unfamiliar procedure, introducing some unknown variable into your process, or doing something that has worked just fine the last 100 times. While good documentation can serve as a valuable tool for post mortem reviews, it doesn’t do much to alleviate brew day stress. For, that your best bet is to keep in mind one of homebrewing’s most cryptic of acronyms – RDWHAHB. Relax, Don’t Worry, Have A HomeBrew. Did you make a vital miscalculation, disastrous mistake of process, blunderous ingredient addition, or one of countless other flubs? RDWHAHB. Given some time, what might seem at first to be the worst mistake might turn out to be the greatest mistake you’ve ever made.
Just remember, it’s more of a state of mind than a physical act. It is best to resist the urge to have too many homebrews while you’re in the process of handling many gallons of hot and boiling liquid, handling large heavy glass carboys, or any of the other potentially dangerous tasks throughout the brew day.