The process of making beer is a cycle: inspiration, recipe formulation, gathering materials, brewing, fermenting, packaging, drinking, and back to the beginning again. The brewing year is also cyclic, with particular beers enjoyed in certain seasons: pale ales and light lagers in the summer, stouts and winter warmers in the winter. Each revolution of a cycle offers opportunity for improvement. Here are seven New Year's resolutions to launch you on a happy and fulfilling year of homebrewing.
1. Plan Ahead
I don't know about you, but I want to drink hoppy pale ale on the 4th of July, Munich Helles during Oktoberfest, and Pumpkin Ale on Halloween. Some years I might need a special brew for a special event, like a wedding. The nature of homebrewing means you cannot make a beer today to drink tomorrow. You have to plan further ahead, and making a calendar is a good way to do that. Besides having the beer you want when you want it, making a brewing calendar can help you be more efficient with your supplies and your time. For example, you can make one trip to the homebrew store for multiple ales that will use the same yeast, repitched from batch to batch.
Did you open any beers in the last year that had significant off flavors? Did you have any bottle bombs or gushers? If so, chances are you had some contamination from unwanted yeast or bacteria. Nothing is more frustrating (and expensive) than losing a batch of beer to contamination. This year, be extra diligent. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize!
3. Drink More Beers
No. Not more beer. More beers. Try new styles you've never tried. Try many beers of one style. Go to a homebrew club meeting and try fellow homebrewers' beers. Try beers from Thailand, Japan, Ethiopia, and France. Try very-low-alcohol beers and eisbocks, hop bombs and super-malts. Try fusion beers like Belgian IPAs and spiced porters. Try ciders, meads, braggots, and melomels. The more beers you try, the more you'll know what is possible. Your homebrewing will be better for it, even if you generally like to make a few favorite styles.
4. Make More Beer
The best way to improve your brewing is to do it more often. Each batch—each cycle—offers a fresh chance to improve something about the process. And the more often you brew, the less skill you will lose between sessions. Also, more brewing means more beer to share and happier friends.
5. Change It Up
This year, make three beers you have never made before. Pick styles that will require you to do something new. Haven't made a lager before? Find a system for cold fermentation and brew a lager. Never dry-hopped? Make an American IPA. Haven't lagered a brew long-term? Make a mead this month and open it during the winter holidays.
6. Build Something
No brewery is ever complete. Perhaps this year you are going all-grain and need a mash tun? Here's how to make one. Is your chiller less efficient than it could be? Does your basement need a kegerator? Is it time to take brewing outside with a self-contained, propane-powered, march-pump-equipped brewing stand? Take a Saturday to build an improvement to your home brewery.
7. Start An Annual Tradition
Many homebrew projects make great annual traditions. Go apple picking once a year and make a hard cider. Save your bottles for pressing day next year. If you like sours, choose a date to make a lambic that you can repeat year after year. Each year, brew a lambic on the same date, then blend three or more years of lambic to make a Gueuze. If sweet is more your style, make a mead every year before New Year's and, after two years, open two-year-old mead on New Year's Eve.
What are your homebrewing goals and resolutions for 2012?