Improving Your Beer: Part 3 – Repeatability

Journaling may seem like something you’d only need to do if you were running a business or writing a blog, but as most brewers will tell you, the single hardest thing to master in brewing is consistency. It’s often said that 20 people could brew the same recipe, and you’d end with 20 different beers. However, if it’s your recipe and nothing else is changing, you should strive for the beer to be the same every time.

Believe it or not, it’s not as easy as just gathering all of the same ingredients and just repeating your normal process. Like all things, the ingredients used in brewing can throw you a curveball. We’ll take a look here at the things that might change on you between batches and how to adjust for them.

  1. Water
    You’d be surprised, but your water can change depending on the season or your supplier. If you use tap water in your beer, you might find yourself with a terrible beer due to high amounts of chlorine if they’ve done a chlorine flush of the system recently. Whenever I brew using tap water (which is always), I use campden tablets at a rate of 1 tablet per 20 gallons of water to remove any chlorine and chloramines. Also, get your water tested, preferably twice a year for the first year as a launching point. Once in Summer and once in Winter. It may not have a huge affect on your end beer, but water quality can change with weather and seasonal changes. It’s best to know you have the same base point regardless of time of year. For this, I’d suggest using Ward Labs, they have a fairly easy process and will have the results to you very quickly. Many people find it easier to start with Reverse Osmosis (RO) water, and build it up from there. This gives you complete control of your water addition. Check with Jay’s Brewing for more information about purchasing RO water or creating your own.
  2. Hops
    Cascade is not Cascade is not Cascade. While generally, your hops will be pretty close to the same most of the time, it’s important to remember that like all agriculture, hops can change on a crop to crop basis. The soil, weather, temperatures are all things that can affect your hops. Some strains of hops can vary in flavor from year to year. You may also see significant increases or decreases in alpha acids. This year especially has been very low on alpha acids. If you are unsure of this year’s crop, ask someone at Jay’s and they can probably let you know if anyone has been making comments about a certain variety. They will likely hear it first as brewers come back and report to them about their latest brews.
  3. Fermentation Temperature
    Unless you have dedicated temperature controlled space, seasons will affect you here. While it may be easier for you to maintain 65° in November, you may find that harder when Summer rears it’s ugly head. Find ways to bring that fermentation temperature down, such as a water bath or swamp cooler, ice, or fans. Most yeasts change dramatically over a 5-10° shift in temperature, so getting this under control will really help to keep those phenolics where you want them.
  4. Boil-off Rate During Colder Months
    Keep in mind that during the winter months, there is less moisture in the air, so while brewing in January, you are bound to have a higher level of boil-off. That half a gallon may not seem like much, but it may be enough to concentrate your wort to a gravity much higher than you expected. I’m not a big fan of top-off water, and that is an option, so I find it best to plan accordingly and just adjust my strike or sparge water volumes to accommodate. This one may take a few tries as you determine what volume changes are right for your climate and boil.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember this is a hobby. Professional brewers usually have fairly automated systems, or at least very precise equipment. It’s much easier to repeat a process when it only requires a few buttons. In the end, don’t sweat the small stuff. Repeatability is great, but not when it comes at the expense of enjoyment for the process.

Until next time, happy brewing!

stephenStephen Boyajian has been an avid homebrewer for 4 years. A fan of many styles, with a particular love for IPA’s and Stouts. He lives in Gainesville, VA with his wife, 3 kids and dog. When not brewing, he enjoys golfing or playing guitar.

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