OK, yes, I know it's almost the end of January. It's been an interesting month, and time has a way of getting away from me. But now that you've got all of your health, financial goals, and other urgent 2021 plans all laid out, let's not forget about our favorite hobby and what you can do to ensure you brew your best beers ever in 2021! -JW
It's 2021! WE MADE IT!
We're all adults - we know we aren't magically getting back to normal, but it does seem that we are headed that way. Events are being scheduled, homebrew competitions are opening back up & homebrew clubs are meeting in person again. Hope is powerful and motivational - TAKE ADVANTAGE! Start off 2021 with a clear mind, a plan, and a renewed enthusiasm for your hobby. Here are some great things you can do right now to ensure your 2021 isn't a dumper!
1) TAKE STOCK - go through all of your grains, hops, additives, extracts, salts, etc. Throw out expired or questionable items. Most of these are cheap and will not be nearly as effective or good once they age. Give yourself the best possible chance in every brew by using fresh, high-quality inputs! Here's an easy way to tell if you need to toss something.
- GRAINS - should smell fresh and should feel crisp and crunch if you chew a few kernels. If the grain smells off or has gone "slack" (chewy) dump it. Got bugs? A few can be handled by freezing them for a few days but an infestation is no good. Toss it.
- HOPS - should be green, not brown, and smell fresh and characteristic of the variety. Cheese, onion, & feet are not what you want going in your beer, even if it's just for "bittering". Toss them.
- YEAST - Now's a great time to make sure your yeasts are still in date, or that any slurries you've saved are still fresh. If you haven't brewed with them in a few months now is a good time to refresh.
- ADDITIVES/SALTS/ETC - Check expiration dates - this is especially important for enzymes. I use the one year rule here too - if you know it's over a year old and haven't used it, throw it away. Re-buy when you need it, most of these are cheap. Make a note of what you're low on so you don't forget to order and run out mid-brew.
2) ORGANIZE YOUR BREWERY - Do you know what these parts are for? Have you used that particular widget in the past year? NO? CLEAR THEM OUT! We have a tendency to save every little part and piece of equipment to the point where the clutter can cause anxiety and create roadblocks to the enjoyment of our hobbies. You don't have to throw good equipment away - it's pretty easy to sell secondhand via marketplaces and you can always donate to other homebrewers if you'd simply rather pay it forward. Contact your local club to see if there are any takers.
DEEP CLEAN EVERYTHING - for a bunch of people that are obsessed with cleaning we can easily overlook small things we can do to ensure our beer comes out in the best possible shape. Take everything apart and really get into the nooks and crannies where bad bugs and off-flavors are hiding. Here's what I do every January:
BREW KETTLES/HOT SIDE EQUIPMENT - Make a strong solution of ABW or PBW at 2oz/gallon, heat and hold at 170F-180F for 30 minutes. Circulate through any pumps, counterflow chillers, RIMS tubes, or other equipment to remove stubborn proteins, tannins, and other build up. Follow with a thorough rinse. This should be done every 10 brews or so, but if you won't keep up with it, at least do it every January. Be careful with copper, don't let this strong solution sit too long or your solution will turn blue! 15 minutes for copper, maximum.
TUBING and GASKETS - Inspect, make sure they are not cracked or losing flexibility. If they are, replace them. Cheap insurance. If you use the thick wall silicone tubing in your brewery put them in your kettle with plain water and boil them for 30 minutes to ensure they stay infection-free. Not all vinyl tubing will stand up to the heat, make sure it is good for high temps first.
FERMENTERS and COLD-SIDE EQUIPMENT - I break down all of the valves, connections, etc and make sure they are clean and free of build up or soil. Then I use a different sanitizer than I normally use to soak all the parts. Normally, I'm a StarSan guy for brewday and day-to-day sanitizing. For this, I use Iodophor to make sure I get any bugs that have survived my usual sanitizing routine. You can use what you have, but I like to switch it up to catch the bugs off guard.
CHECK INSTRUMENTS - Your trusty thermometer, probe, pH meter, scales, grain mill, and refractometer can drift out of calibration over time. Make sure you have the correct calibration tools and refresh any calibration solutions you may need. If your pH meter has a replaceable probe and hasn't been as accurate a new probe may be needed. Take care of the tools that give you the information you need to brew well and consistently with!
3) SET GOALS - What would you like to improve on this year or achieve? More batches? Perfect that IPA recipe? Tackle a new style? Enter more competitions? Learn about a new brewing technique? Whatever they are, write them down and schedule it. If you're perfecting a recipe, when are you going to brew it? Details matter so you can plan properly and remove those little barriers to brewing that slow us down. Make appointments with yourself and keep them!
4) EDUCATE, EDUCATE, EDUCATE! - One of the best parts of brewing is that there is always something new to learn. New techniques, new research, new breakthroughs - so much to learn - and so many things to UN-learn. There are still a lot of myths and misconceptions about how we *have* to do things that make our hobbies harder than they need to be. So, do your self a favor - find some new books to read, new podcasts to listen to, maybe a new forum or group and ask questions, absorb and implement to make the enjoyment of your hobby even greater.
Hopefully, with the COVID vaccine rolling out we will be able to enjoy more in-person events this year, like Homebrew Con, Big Brew Day, and Learn to Homebrew Day so go ahead and put them on your calendar. In the mean time, get to work in your brewery and set yourself up to brew some amazing beer this year.