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Homebrewing Resolutions: How to Make Better Beer in 2014
While your neighbors, colleagues, and cousins are all sipping green smoothies and headed to the gym on their brand new bicycles, why not make some mid-January resolutions you'll actually keep? These fun projects will help you become a superstar homebrewer. When your friends escape from the gym and show up panting at your threshold, welcome them in with the very best cold one you can make.
In 2014, your brewing yeasts deserve to be happier and healthier, too. When you use the typical commercial homebrew pitch, you barely have enough yeast for a brew and what is in there is as tired as you were on New Year's day. A bigger pitch of more active yeast will help you get a healthy, fast-starting fermentation. This is one of the simplest things you can do to improve your homebrew. Here's our guide to making a yeast starter—it's easy, I promise. Your beer will be less likely to get infected, less likely to have off-flavors, and it'll be more likely that the yeast will fully finish the fermentation without conking out and going back to bed. Don't forget, keep everything sanitized.
Remember when all your friends drank that infected batch of your homebrew that tasted like old socks and turpentine but they told you it was the nectar of the gods? Yeah, they're nice, but that's why their critiques of your beer can only be taken so seriously. Get some real feedback this year by entering a homebrew competition. The BJCP certified judges will send you detailed commentary on the flavors (or off flavors) of your beer and suggestions for making it even better. Plus, when your friend brags that she signed up for the Tough Mudder or Ironman, you can sit back and say, "Yeah, I'll be competing too." Find out about nearby competitions through your local homebrew club or check here for big competitions all over the US.
Map out a seasonal brewing schedule and you'll always have the right beer for the moment. Whip up a barleywine early in the year so it'll be ready to serve as your winter warmer. In the spring, make a summery wheat beer or pale ale that'll be ready for BBQ season. Make a spiced amber in late summer so you're prepared when pumpkin season rolls around. Go the extra mile and make Alice Waters proud by using seasonal fruit from local farms in your brew.
Create Your House Beer
If you brew a Pale Ale only once, you won't learn much about it. Constantly making new beers is having a string of one night stands: it's fun to keep trying new things but unless you invest a lot more effort, the relationship isn't headed toward a happy marriage. Pick a favorite beer recipe and make it at least three times this year. Keep detailed brewing and tasting notes. Tweak the recipe or your technique until you dial everything in and get exactly the beer you want. Hardcore homebrewers know that if you can't make the same exact beer over and over, you don't have your technique down. Dial it in with a house beer.
Grab Some Gear
Pick one major piece of brewing equipment to add to your rig this year. It should make your brew day quicker and your beer better. A high end burner for boiling wort outside can be a huge upgrade from the stovetop. A new wort chiller that speeds up the chilling process can help you avoid off flavors. One easy and inexpensive option is adding quick disconnects to all your tubing and valves—it's so much more convenient than dealing with hose barbs. Finally, if you're lifting heavy pots of hot liquid during your brew day, seriously consider getting a pump.
Do The Reading
Read a brewing book to get inspired and learn more about your craft. There are great homebrew focused books coming out every year nowadays. If you're looking for big picture brewing inspiration try Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher or for the advanced crowd check out Brewing Better Beer by Gordon Strong.
If you're a fan of funk and you're a pretty advanced homebrewer, it's time to get down. Making sours is for adventurous brewers who are completely confident when it comes to sanitation practices. Two bits of advice: first, have a separate set of plastic equipment for sour beer making to avoid cross contamination. Second, swirl up the dregs and last few inches of beer in a bottle of your favorite sour and pitch that for a much more complex result than you'll get by just using a commercial 'sour mix' homebrew pitch. Learn more about making sour beers here in our guide and find more advice and recipes here and here.
What are your homebrew resolutions and goals for 2014? Tell us your plans in the comments below.
About the Author: Chris Cohen is a Certified Cicerone, beer consultant, and the founder and President of the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild. He recently left his gig as an attorney to work toward opening SF's next great beer bar.