I am going to try my best to impart some of the knowledge I have gathered in my brewing career so far. Usually, I am more of a hands on, in the brew shed kind of teacher (you can read more about my brew school here) but as I find myself traveling more and more, I find myself with train journeys, flights and waiting room time to put digital pen to digital paper. But enough about me! Lets get stuck straight in to 5 tips for brewing better beer at home.
Tip 1: Get into a good cleaning routine. I ritualistically clean my equipment before every brew, and then again afterwards, and I demand the same of all of my instructors. This way, your equipment will last a lot longer, and you of course remove the risk of contaminating your beer. Trust me when I say there is nothing worse than all your hard work going down the drain - literally. So get yourself into the habit! Once you build that routine, it becomes like second nature. Plus you can always crack open a cold one while you're on with it. Everyone knows you drink home brew when you brew home brew.
Tip 2: Use fresh ingredients. Here's why. This sounds like it should be common sense, but sometimes it easy to forget and use malt that has been lying around for a year. For best results, you should crush your malty just before you use it, as when it is crushed the quality deteriorates a lot faster. The same goes for hops; they will lose roughly 1% of their alpha acid potency after 3 months of storage. Knowing this does mean we can just use more hops right? Yes - but we also run the risk of our beers tasting 'dull' or having grassy off flavors due to the other chemicals created during this breakdown. If you want to make award winning beers, give yourself the best head start and use the best, freshest ingredients you can. (Just as a caveat - It is also a lot of fun to use all the old ingredients you have lying around then just brewing with that. I've made some crazy yet delicious discoveries throwing together old ingredients!)
Tip 3: Get your Sparge sorted out. You're either doing it too much or not enough! Are you always falling short of your expected ABV? Are your beers always cloudy? Does the recipe say 'good malt profile' but your tongue says 'hello, taste? Are you there?' Then the chances are you're just not sparging enough. I've seen plenty of people recirculate once, and then run their sparge water through the grain once and then move onto the boil! This is not enough for me. Sure, you will get lots of the sugars from the malt in the initial mash, and this sparge will get more of them, but if you want a really good efficiency - I'm talking 75-85% depending on your equipment - you must be patient and run that sparge water through several times. As a rule of thumb, I try and run all my added Sparge water through my beer a minimum of 2 times! So if you're Sparging with 16 liters, get 32 liters through that malt! Once it becomes clear, and there are no bits in your sweet wort, you're probably in the right ballpark. (Its hard to say exactly what works for you, as all of our equipment is different, but I'm basing this on a 5gal batch Sparge using a converted igloo cooler with a false bottom as a mash tun). HOWEVER. I must also stress - don't over Sparge. Try and keep it between 40-60mins, as any longer you run the risk of your grains being in water too long and decomposing - giving us those unwanted off flavors.
Tip 4: Use Plastic tools where possible. This is a simple one, but one I'm glad I was taught when I first started brewing. If you use a metal mash paddle, you run the risk of scratching your boil kettle, mash tun or fermenters. This is place for bacteria to hide and makes it more difficult for you to effectively clean your equipment. If you manage damage with a plastic paddle, you're using it wrong. Or you're the hulk.
Tip 5: Write down everything you do. Keep a journal of your recipes, and mark down if anything changes during your brew day. Sometimes, you might make a mistake, or you may get distracted by a phone call and your mash takes longer than planned, and sometimes, these mistakes can yield great beer! If you don't write down everything you do, you may not be able to. replicate your results. Remember: It is easy to brew a beer. It is difficult to brew the same beer twice.
I hope this helps! I'll be writing more and more posts this year, and giving as much advice as I can. I will go into depth about certain beers, ingredients and brewing techniques and will try to keep it fun, informal easy to follow. There is a lot of information on the web that seems to contradict itself, and I hope I can help dilute some of it into bit size blog posts that are actually effective. Please feel free to comment below, and I'll respond when I can!