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A Noobs Guide to Finding the Answers

Posted by Half Day on 8/17/2015 at 12:31:03 AM


Brewing beer is not about following a recipe, it is about the technique.  Of course the recipe is important but the art of brewing craft beer sits on a wide spectrum of technique.  The only way to really hone in on your craft…pun intended…is to truly understand what you are doing as opposed to just following a recipe and going through the motions like mash at 150, sparge at 168, collect 7 gallons, boil for 90 minutes, add hops at 60, 30, 15, and 5 minutes, chill wort, pitch yeast, check every 5 hours, post a pic of the krausen and ask if it is infected, etc…  Can you make good beer with extract kits and following the recipe?  Sure.  If you got into brewing to cook up some awesome beers to share with your beer snob buddies or keep your palate entertained you better get studying. 


I really like analogies.  Nah, I love analogies like sweet wort loves a healthy pitch of yeast.  I find it very easy to compare beer and music which of course is heaven for me because I love them both more than analogies…get it?  Seriously, just like every musician has their musical influences that help shape their sound, every new brewer should have multiple sources to help shape their technique and process. 

Below is a list of resources I have found to be extremely helpful in my quest for the perfect pint, or billboard #1 hit if you are into my analogy game.  If you are an experienced brewer, I don’t think you will find anything new here but I invite you to leave some comments on any additional resources you have found to be beneficial to you.



Blogs/Forums/Online Communities:

Let’s just refer to these resources collectively as BFO for the purpose of this post.  BFO in my opinion is the best place to go for answers.  Books are great and there are a few listed after this section but books are just so…..static.  The BFO world is endless and interactive.  If you are reading this post, chances are you are somewhat familiar with BFO’s but if you are just dipping your toes….time to dive in.  One of the coolest aspects of the BFO world is the discovery of one blog or forum will undoubtedly lead to others.

Welp, you are reading this on so I am just going to assume you know what it is.  This is a great community and if you haven’t yet I would create an account and start using this site to its full potential.  There are great forum topics and if you post a question, it will be answered.  I use the yeast starter calculator found in the utilities section every time I make a starter.

I would not know about if it wasn’t for /r/homebrewing.  This subreddit is filled with questions, answers, pictures, DIY projects, recipes, blog posts, and tons of opinions.  It is pretty easy to spend a few hours on here before you know it.  If you do not have a reddit account, I suggest you get one and get involved.  I am posting questions 99% of the time but made it a goal to start responding to some of the noob questions that I can actually answer.  Reddit is like a hub of info and you will be surprised what it will lead you to. should be bookmarked by every home brewer.  I saw a few of his posts on reddit and never clicked on them because I was intimidated by the topics covered.  When I saw the exBEERiment on fining with gelatin, I clicked and never looked back.  I probably spent 4 hours on that blog just reading through everything.  His exBEERiments will answer questions you didn’t even know you had and help you avoid some stupid mistakes or unnecessary steps in the brewing process.  The brulosopher is a very friendly person and very responsive, great resource.

Editor's note - Brulosopher also happens to be a BrewUnited charter member.  :)

Much like my hesitation with checking out, The Mad Fermentationist seemed like it was going to be way out of my league…nope.  There is definitely information and techniques I don’t fully understand yet, but reading through the recipes and the comments below is very informative.  I love sour beers and put them on a home brewing pedestal not to be touched until I master a few clean beers.  After reading through this blog and his book (mentioned below) I am diving into the sour game and it is glorious.  

BeerSmith (software and pod casts)

There are a ton of brewing software options, I think they are all comparable so just pick one and go with it.  I went with BeerSmith because it is all I read about on /r/homebrewing.  The software will help track your brews, build consistency, design recipes, measure efficiency, etc.  Whether or not you go with BeerSmith, I definitely recommend you check out his podcasts.  Brad Smith interviews a TON of great people in the industry (professional brewers, and you will undoubtedly learn something.  I had the pleasure of a one man 7 hour road trip and listened to these podcasts the entire time…both ways.

Even if you are not using this system, the site is great and full of recipes.  All of the brewing process questions will definitely center on this type of HERMS set up but the forum is very active on a variety of topics.  If you want to build an electric brew system there are tons of options and DIY projects out there for you to research.  If you want to go electric and have a hard time installing a smoke detector, this is the place to buy from.



Books are great and obviously full of information.  The issue I have with some of them is they can get rather technical quickly.  Some books are better for a new brewer than others but all are worth reading and keeping as a reference point.  When I first read the book on yeast, I probably understood and retained less than 25% of it, it might as well have been written in hieroglyphics.  But the more I learned from applying the concepts I did understand the more everything else started to click. 


Brew Chem 101 – The Basics of Homebrewing Chemistry by Lee W. Janson, Ph.D.

This is a great all-encompassing book on the basic chemistry behind brewing so you can go ahead and judge this book by its cover.  After a few batches I realized that I am just going through motions without really understanding what I am doing, literally just reading recipes and crossing my fingers.  This book will break down each step of the process and the BASIC chemistry behind it.  Some of it gets tricky but I go back and reference this book often.


The Brewing of Beer: Mashing and Sparging by Edward Ralph Moritz

Are you an extract brewer considering the jump into all grain brewing?  If so, get this book.  It is pretty short but covers everything you need to know about the mashing and sparging process.  A lot of home brewers have their own systems and process for mashing so what works for them may not work for you.  The better you understand what mashing is (outside of converting grains to sugar) the better you can refine the process that works best for you and your system. 


Yeast – The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff

This is one of the most difficult reads for me but in my opinion one of the most important.  I paid little to no attention to yeast for the first handful of batches.  The recipe calls for 1056 so I pitch 1056, right?  Fermentation is where a lot of new brewers fail to pay the respect it deserves.  Get this book, read through and learn as much as you can from it.  Don’t get discouraged if you don’t fully comprehend everything at first, learn what you can and apply it to your brewing.  Once you are more comfortable with your fermentations, go back and read some of the topics you didn’t quite grasp before and surprise!!  It starts to make sense!


Hops – The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness, and the Culture of Hops by Stan Hieronymus

I am a hop head so I love this book.  It gives a great history on the origin of hops and how far they have come.  The book also covers various hopping techniques along with a comprehensive list of the variety of hops available.  If you are a hop head, this book is a no brainer.


Water – A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers by John Palmer and Colin Kaminksi

I haven’t touched this book yet, I still have plenty to learn before jumping into water chemistry.  If you are a new brewer, this probably isn’t for you yet either but at least be aware of the significant impact water will have on your beer.  When I am ready to tackle water chemistry, this will be my first read.


American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmeire

You may know Michael as the Mad Fermentationist.  As a new brewer, Mike’s blog and book can seem intimidating but the book is surprisingly noob friendly.  I love sour beers but have put off any brewing attempts due to the complexity of the fermentation.  Guess what?  It isn’t ALL that complex and by reading this book I learned more about primary fermentation than anywhere else.  If you have any interest in brewing sour beers at all, get this book…don’t wait until you think you are “ready”.  You can be pulling wort from the batches you are brewing now to set aside and sour while you hone in on everything else.

Tags for this post: newb, newbie, noob, brewing, brewer, resource, learning, resources

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