Homebrewing Hacks for Beginners and Experts

by Karl | Updated: July 5, 2021

Transcript: On this episode of doing the most, we’re talking about the top 10 Homebrew hacks for beginners.

A lot of folks make their way to our YouTube channel, looking for home brewing content, which is awesome. That seems to mean that the hobby is on the incline. A lot of those folks that land on our channel, are beginner brewers, which we love.

So to help you all out, I want you to learn from the mistakes that I made when I was a beginner brewer. So we’ve put together this top 10 list of things I wish I had known when I started brewing. And the beverage for this episode is a barley wine, I’ll put the original recipe for this in a card and in the description.

Number one: starsan in a spray bottle

As you began your homebrewing journey, you probably learned that sanitizing is important. And the best way to sanitize is to use a no rinse sanitizer like starsan. And there’s plenty of other ones out there.

I prefer starsan. And for most uses, you can just dunk your equipment or bottles directly into the starsan and swish them around. But for some applications, it’s kind of nice to have starsan in a spray bottle.

One of the added benefits is it’s not going to gas out very well provided that this is properly sealed. Maybe with some plumbers, tape.

Sanitizer in a bottle is great for those applications where it may be difficult to dunk things or rinse things in sanitizer. You can just easily mist it on rub it in. And in a couple of minutes, you’re good to go.

Number two, mason jars are your friend.

Now it actually took me a few years to learn this one. And I really came around to the idea when I started using more advanced yeast nutrients schedules, particularly in mead making.

When I learned that the nutrients like ferm.aid and goferm are very sticky. They arrive in a bag like this opening and closing that bag, pouring it out of the little, the little pour spout that you’ve cut in the bag is very messy and you’ll learn over time that a nice sticky residue of nutrient will aggregate on the outside of the bag.

Skip all that, put anything that’s loose in a Mason jar, seal it up nice and tight. One of the great things about these is they stack pretty well and it keeps everything very well contained.

Number 3, buy 2 of everything.

Now I say buy two of everything, I don’t mean buy two of every expensive thing in your home brewing kit. But what I really mean is if it’s economical, buy two of everything.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I was going to bottle some wine and my bottling wand broke. So then I had to messily bottle wine by pinching off the tubing and transferring it bottle to bottle, which is a real pain and creates a mess.

So had I had two bottling wands that would not have been a problem. Bottling wands are like five, six bucks a piece, just get two, um, or get a stainless steel one. I’m always in favor of stainless steel.

But again, if it’s economical, just get two, and that goes for other things like a sparkolloid. Sparkolloid, it is pretty expensive to get just like a little one ounce bottle.

Buy a pound of it. It’s like 15 bucks and it will last you seemingly forever. My bag has.

Number 4, your bottling wand can be a wine thief.

So you’ve probably seen a wine thief. It’s kind of like a Turkey baster type of thing.

And it’s used to draw wine or any kind of home brew up out of the fermentation carboy and put it into another container like a graduated cylinder if you’re taking a hydrometer reading.

But in a pinch, like say you wanted to taste a little bit of a one gallon batch. This works just the same way that it needs to be cleaned, but let me show you what I mean.

When you were a kid, did you ever put your straw down inside your drink, put your thumb over it and lift it up and out? Same kind of concept with your bottling wand. You can stick it in pump the stopper a few times and draw some liquid out. Easy as that, now I’ve got the sanitizer in my mead.

So this is kind of a weird little hack, but if you need it and say, you just want to grab a quick taste and see how something’s doing your bottling wand is your friend. And of course be sure to sanitize it.

Number five, schedule your rackings.

When you need to rack something, you need to have it moved typically many days in advance, at least 24 hours in advance. Unless the yeast at the bottom is just incredibly well compacted, even then moving it more than like 10 or 12 feet could create problems.

Even if you’ve got a nice compaction at the bottom of your fermenter. Scheduling your rackings helps avoid these foibles.

So for example, in a recent video, I was racking a Chardonnay before driving that Chardonnay five gallons of it all the way across town. I knew when I was going to probably want to be moving it. So I made sure to place it on the elevated surface I was going to be racking from well ahead of time.

That way I didn’t get into a spot where I need to rack it, but it’s not elevated and moving it stirs up all that yeast. So schedule your rackings know when you’re going to be needing to rack your brew from one vessel to another. So you can be prepared for it when that time comes.

It can be a real bummer when you’re going to rack something and you realize it’s two rooms away on the floor. So schedule those out, make sure it’s moved to an elevated surface ahead of time and you’ll have no worries.

Number six, ditch the bubbler.

those of you who have been following the channel for a while, know that I have a preference for Silicon airlocks and perhaps not weirdly, I get a lot of comments and messages from people asking about these airlocks you can find them on Amazon.

Breathable Silicone Stopper
$11.81 ($11.81 / Count)
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These are breathable silicone stoppers, but it’s a two piece, little contraption where the valve is held on with pressure, from how it seeded into the bottom, the bung part.

And so this creates a very tight seal where air bad, little buggies can’t get in, but CO2 can get out.

So I prefer these because these require no maintenance and they’re incredibly reliable. And I’ve got a whole video on that, on our channel.

Now I was a beginner homebrewer once myself, and I remember watching the bubbles rise and pop out of my bubble or airlocks, and it, it is a very rewarding feeling to know that your fermentation is doing what you hope it’s doing.

The best I can offer is sometimes these whistle when the pressure is really high, yeah. Which can be kind of interesting if it happens at like 2:00 AM, but in the long run, they’re going to save you a lot of time and concern over these. These have to be topped up. Stuff gets in them from below, stuff gets in them from above just a real pain, go with these.

And for those wondering, these fit five and six gallon carboys, but I’ve also had lot getting them into the mouths of those one gallon cider jugs that you get from like sprouts or whole foods. So totally awesome.

They cost quite a bit more than these, about double $7 versus like $3. But I totally think that they’re worth the investment.

Ditch the bubbler.

Number seven, rinse your empty bottles.

I don’t know why it seems to have taken me a long time to learn this one, but rinsing your bottles after you empty them, rather than when you need them is the smarter way to go. And there’s not really much more to say on this.

If you pour a bottle into a glass, rinse the bottle, immediately rinse it a couple of times, give it a couple of good shakes and put it away.

You will save yourself, trying to get sticky gunk out of the bottom of that bottle in the future. I promise you.

Even more next level; most 12 ounce beer bottles fit pretty well into a large flat rate USPS box. Put a trash bag into the box, line the box with your bottles, cinch up the trash bag, seal up the box and put it away.

This will keep stuff from getting in your clean bottles and you should only need to sanitize them when you need them.

Any newly cleaned bottles can go back in that trash bag and cinched back up the caveat that you want them to be completely dry when you put them in there, no mildew please. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…..

Number eight, freeze your fruit.

I’m always kind of surprised when I see a homebrewing picture and somebody’s got completely fresh fruit chopped up in there.

Fresh fruit will ferment fine, and eventually it will ferment completely, but you’re going to have a lot better time with juice extraction when you’re fermenting from frozen and then thawed fruit.

The benefit is as Alton Brown says frozen fruit is frozen at the peak of freshness. So you’re getting perfectly fresh fruit that’s been flash frozen, the little ice particles inside the fruit will shatter most of the cell walls in there and help release the juice once it’s thawed.

So freeze your fruit, thaw it out the day you’re brewing and then pitch it into your fermentation vessel.

It’ll definitely speed things up and you won’t feel the need to be sitting around chopping up fruit because it’ll kind of just fall apart. Once it goes in there, freeze your fruit.

Bonus tip; wholesale stores like chef supply stores often sell frozen fruit in their freezer sections and they sell it in huge quantities in plastic bags. And you can buy it much cheaper than you would buy it at your local grocery store. Just a heads up.

Number nine, reuse your yeast.

Lot of times, we get done with primary fermentation. We rack it off into our secondary vessel, slosh that yeast slurry up and dump it out in the garden. But if you’re a new home brewer, you know that yeast, it’s not expensive, but it’s not cheap either.

And if you like a yeast reuse it.

We’ve got a video on yeast washing. I’ll put that in the description and in a card. And it’s not that difficult. There’s several ways of doing it. I like ours because it’s simple, but it’s okay.

These are my yeasty friends.

I’ve got different strains that are washed saved. I got these little vials off of Amazon. At any point, I can throw these into some water or some juice with goferm and I can bring them back to life. Easy peasy, very easy they’re strains I like no reason to pay a bunch for more yeast.

Like for example, this hothead yeast, it’s a fixed strain. It’s not cheap. This was like $11 for one packet for one six gallon batch. So I washed the yeast and now I’ve got three more that I can pitch.

And bonus tip, if you really want to cheap out, just make a lemonade wine like Skeeter P and mix all your ingredients up on top of that yeast slurry. And of course, we’ve got a video on that too.

Number 10, make batch labels.

Now I’m not talking about those fun and fancy labels that everybody likes to make for their first batch. You’ve seen the posts on social media. First batch just went into fermentor. What do you think of my label? We’ve all seen it. You know, you’ve seen it. And I’m a creative type.

My day job is primarily branding and graphic design. So I get it. It’s, it’s, it’s a fun creative pursuit. However, those things can be a pain in the rear to get back off of the bottles. So I have learned the minimalist art of creating batch labels.

A batch label can have your fun little winery or brew house logo on it. And it contains blanks for you to fill in. My batch labels have ABV when it was bottled and what the style was. I order my batch labels as return address labels on Vista print.

And the reason I do that is the semi-gloss paper that they have has a very delicate adhesive that sticks great to bottles works great in and out of the fridge, even with some condensation, but you dunk that sucker and OxiClean or Starsan for a couple of, and that label slides right off.

I know it isn’t fun. I know it isn’t sexy, but it’s, it tells you what’s in the bottle and it comes right off when it’s time to reuse that bottle. And I can tell you, it saved me plenty of headaches over the years, but I do appreciate some of the, the lovely-er labels I’ve designed over the years.

So that’s it. Our top 10 home brew hacks for beginner brewers. I hope you learned something in this. If you did let me know in the comments or if you’ve got a riff on one of the hacks or a hack that you’ve developed yourself, also let us know in the comments.

I am always eager to learn creative ways of cutting corners while home brewing and still making something delicious. Our website is doingthemost.org and you can find us on Instagram and Pinterest at doing the most. Okay. Make sure to friend us on Instagram, we’ll friend you back.

We love looking at all the DIY doing the most kind of content on Instagram these days. Super fun, very inspiring. I know this video is a little bit of a departure from our usual, but I’ve been building this list in my head for a while and it felt like it was time to finally put it out into the universe.

What about those homebrewing hacks for experts? Well, we got you coverd too….

Transcript: On this episode of doing the most, we’re going to cover 15 [More] homebrewing hacks.

Now you could call them hacks. You could call them tips and tricks, but whatever they are, we’ve also done two other videos on homebrewing hacks. If you would like to see 20 other homebrewing hacks, check out both of those previous videos, there will be links down in the description.

There’s no reason to fill this video with fluff, so let’s get down to it.

Number 1, carbonation drops.

Recently. I saw a comment from a colleague of mine, calling carbonation drops, useless things. And while I understand where this colleague is coming from, given that it is typically appropriate to calculate the exact amount of priming sugar you want for the exact volume of carbonation you want in your bottles.

I think that carbonation drops are a nice cheat, particularly for beginner brewers. And if you follow the channel, you’ve seen me using them recently because I don’t like bottle conditioning.

And I think carbonation drops, which are just pre-measured doses of dextrose that you can use to prime individual bottles. I think there are perfectly okay and acceptable solution if you want to cut a couple of corners in your home brewing.

If you want to level up, use a priming sugar calculator, choose the priming sugar that you’re working with. Be it honey, or dextrose or cane sugar, and input your information there and calculate the proper priming sugar.

But if you’re just looking to quick prime, some bottles, I think carbonation drops are an easy way of doing it.

Number 2, keep chopsticks handy in your brew space.

This one’s actually fairly simple and I keep a whole thing of chopsticks up here in my gear shelf, but chop six can come in relatively handy. We like to use them sometimes on the show to do honey tastings, snap them in half swirled around in the honey, tastes it.

Bamboo is an environmentally friendly material. So you’re not really doing any harm to the environment by using them. And they’re also multipurpose. So you drop something down in the neck of your carboy and you’re trying to get it out. Chopsticks can be an easy way of retrieving it.

Whether you need stir sticks, grabbers tasting six, whatever, some cheap, inexpensive, and disposable bamboo chopsticks are a good option.

Number 3, keep your notes strapped to your carboy.

This one’s fairly simple and not really something you see in my homebrew space, but I take gratuitous digital notes on pretty much everything that’s going on in here, as well as having a video record of everything that I’m brewing up.

But it might improve your workflow to have your notes easily accessible, strapped to your carboy. You want things in there like your gravity readings, fermentation temperature when it started, when it finished, things like that.

But this one here, I just used a recipe card, a hole punch, and a rubber to strap that on there. That way you never quite forget what’s going on inside the job.

Number 4; a zest for every problem.

Okay. Not every problem, but if you’ve got a brew that’s maybe just a little too delicate, maybe not enough nuance needs just a little bit of something in there to judge it up a little bit of zest, citrus zest, can go a long way.

For example, I’m working right now on an Acer Glen recipe and Acer Glen is a Mead made also with maple syrup and it just needed a little bit something. And I ended up opening it. But also I decided to put just a little bit of orange zest in the and secondary.

And while the orange flavor doesn’t really jump out, it added a whole other layer of complexity that is unexpected in the brew and really helps up the maple syrup and honey flavors.

So do you have a piment that’s just lacking a little something or maybe a braggat that just needs a little edge, a little zing on it. Try a little citrus zest, maybe some grapefruit lemon lime. It might fundamentally transform your brew.

Number 5, there’s almost always a substitution.

So you get down to brass tacks and you’re ready to start a brew and your missing something. And maybe the local Homebrew store is closed, but the grocery store is open.

Generally for almost every ingredient, there’s some substitution. There’s substitutions for hops for yeast, for nutrients, for different fruit adjuncts for different spices.

And this is a great time for me to plug our discord server. That’s discord dot, doing the most.org. It’s basically like an old school chat room. And our discord server is full of brilliant homebrewers that are ready and willing to help.

So missing an ingredient and looking for a substitution? I would jump onto our discord server and ask because there’s almost always a substitution.

Number 6; starter kits for replacement year.

Yeah, I know this one sounds kind of weird, but starter kits like beginner, introductory kits are a pretty good way of replacing gear that’s lost or broken.

Now granted say you wanted a hydrometer you’re going to spend a little bit more to get a beginner mead or wine making kit that comes with a hydrometer.

But it’s also going to come with a ton of other gear. That’s all bundled at a discount. Our local home brew store sells beginner wine making kits that come with a couple of buckets, hydrometer hoses, racking system, all of that stuff.

And it’s a lot cheaper than buying all the pieces individually.

So if you’re looking to expand your home brewery or winery or meadery, then it’s a good opportunity to just go ahead and make that investment, starter kits. It’s like they’re having a sale every day. And to that point,…

Number 7, keep an inventory of your supplies.

This is something I’ve definitely learned over the years. And especially since we started this YouTube channel, I keep a running list of stuff that’s low or has run out.

And then when I’m ready to order new home brewing supplies or make a trip to my local home brewing store, I’ve got a ready-made shopping list of everything that I need to pick up.

Running a little bit low on fermado, almost emptied out your bottle of starsan in, add it to the list. Keeping an inventory will keep you in check. So you’re not missing ingredients or gear when you need them.

Also from BC’s bargain basement, ….

Number 8, always check the freezer section for deals on fruit.

Whether you make meat or wine or fruited beers. It’s always a good idea to check the freezer section for fruit deals, maybe it’s fruit that’s getting close to an expiration date, or maybe it’s fruit that’s going out of a season. Quite often, grocery stores will have sales deals on frozen fruit.

We’ve got a market just up the street that has blueberries for half off of what I would normally purchase them at a regular grocery store or wholesale market. I’m talking like a dollar, a pound for blueberries and their freezer section has been full of them for like a month.

I can guarantee you, I will have another blueberry brew going soon.

The freezer section it’s like a rotating clearance section, always swing by.

Number 9, steal a taster every time.

Now this one is a lot easier for us who brew three, five or seven gallon batches, but you can do it with a one gallon batch. Also get yourself some of those little, 187 milliliter bottles, or even some of those little airplane bottles and steal just a little bit of your brew every time you do something to it.

Take a sample when it goes into secondary, take a sample before you add an adjunct to it, take a sample before you transfer into tertiary, take a sample at bottling.

And that will give you several samples you can use to track the development of the flavor profile along the way.

And if you’re only stealing just a little bit, then you’re not really impacting the amount of Headspace in the top. Now I don’t recommend this for all brews, but for a brew that you’re going to be doing the most to, It’s really nice to see how that progress tracked over the course of the brew.

Then if you decide you want to brew it again, but you’ve also decided that you’ve gone too far, you’ve done too much. Then you always have those little safe states where you can rewind back to and say, okay, I want to get here, but you know, maybe we don’t add that hibiscus in tertiary.

So if you’re developing a recipe, steal a few tasters, and then once it’s finished, you can line them all up and taste them vertically and see how your brew progressed.

One quick important note on that. You do want to make sure that the brew is de-gassed before you steal those little tastes or bottles, or at least your taste or samples or de-gasseed, because you don’t want to create little tiny bottle bombs. Nobody likes bottle bombs.

Number 10, steeping bags for adjuncts.

What I’m talking about here is these little paper teabags, environmentally friendly, super effective. Say you want to add some dry hops to a beer or a Mead in primary using a steeping bag that you can secure by the lid of the bucket, and then pull out later saved you a lot of mess.

You can use these for spices like cinnamon sticks, cloves nutmeg. You could use them for zest, make life easier on yourself. Use a steeping bag when you can.

Number 11, Erythritol for back sweetening.

Now I’m not going to go into all of it. We’ve got a video about how Erythritol is our favorite non fermentable sweetener. And that’s the operative phrase there. Non fermentable sweetener.

That video has all sorts of information about why you would want to use a non fermentable sweetener. And we also rank the non fermentable sweeteners by taste.

Our favorite is a Erythritol and it’s great specifically, if you want to sweeten a brew and also bottle condition it, but for real, just check out that video for more information.

Number 12, get yourself a hanging scale.

I got this one on eBay years ago for just a few bucks. They’re super cheap and super simple. And look, look how happy this is.

Look at the little smile, why a hanging scale instead of you know, a regular food scale? Because sometimes it’s easier to weigh stuff on a hanging scale. Say you wanted to weigh a bunch of fruits, say you’re a high school math problem. You want to weigh 62 oranges.

Well, you could put a reusable shopping bag on here, weigh it, tear it out. So that way it zeroes out your scale. And then fill that bag with your 62 oranges. Hang that from your hanging scale and you’ll know how much those oranges way, get yourself a hanging scale.

I promise you, you will find yourself using it a lot more than you think you would.

Number 13, buckets for primary.

This tip is targeted toward very, very beginner brewers, but buckets. Food grade plastic buckets with a grommet that you can stick an air lock in. Brewing in buckets is going to save you a lot of stress.

You don’t want to fill up a one gallon jug with fruit and try and ferment it. For one, you’re going to blow out your airlock as the carbon dioxide pushes that fruit up and out the neck of your jug.

And for two, you can get a two gallon bucket and have plenty of room for fruit and adjuncts that you would never have in a one gallon vessel.

And this one gallon vessel say you did fill it up with three pounds of fruit, your yield onn the other side, it’s going to be like a half gallon yield scaled up to the five gallon batches I do. It’s really nice to be able to just fill up a bucket with your brew, let everything settle out and then transfer off to a glass carboy.

When you need to transfer to secondary, the bucket has a handle. I can move it around really easily.

If I need to take it up to the attic to get it hot, or I need to bring it down here to get a cold. I can do that without doing a tango with a five gallon glass carboy full of liquid.

Buckets for primary. I don’t always do it, but I definitely do it when I know it’s going to make life a lot easier.

Number 14, milk crates for carboys.

Now this is one that I don’t do, but I need to do because carboys these days, these big glass carboys are being made a lot more cheaply than they were back in the day. Which means they’re a lot more fragile.

Enter the milk crate. You can put your class carboy into a milk crate and use the handles on the milk crate to carry it. It just puts less stress on say that fragile neck of the carboy when you’re carrying it around your house or moving it around your brew space.

Also, God forbid your carboy suddenly shatters as I’ve had happen. Most of the glass is going to be contained within that milk crate rather than spreading itself all around your floor containing most of the sharp stabby part of the mess to a centralized location.

At some point, I need to invest in a bunch of milk crates.

Number 15 melter or Baker’s honey for cheap Mead.

Melter and Baker’s honey is just cheaper than a lot of other honey. And that’s because it’s kind of like the final drags of the honey after the honey has gone through the production line.

Often it has been heated and heated enough to change the character of the honey.

But you know what it’s great in? Things that can use a caramel or toffee kind of flavor or a Bo Shea. If you’re already going to be caramelizing your honey, why get good honey, when you can get melter or Baker’s honey, it’s still perfectly good, honey. And you’re going to be caramelizing the heck out of it anyway. So get it at a reduced cost.

I recently had a Rhoda Mel sent to me by a friend of hand subscriber on the channel and it used melter honey. And just that light note of warm richness from that honey, having been slightly heat treated actually really complimented the floral flavors of the rodamel in a really interesting way that wouldn’t have existed if he had used a different kind of honey.

So for some applications, melter honey bakers honey works great. I hope this list was helpful.

Again, we have two other videos with home brewing hacks, tips and tricks that you can check out, which puts us at a total of 35 hacks tips and tricks for home brewers, not bad.

What are your home brewing tips, drop a comment and let us know. If you liked this video. I hope you’ll hit that thumbs up and maybe subscribe to the channel if you haven’t already hit that notification bell. So you’ll get more of our homebrewing content in your YouTube feed.

You can check us out on Instagram and Pinterest at doing the most. Okay. Our website’s doingthemost.org and we have a discord server at discord.doingthemost.org. We’re also on Twitch at doing the most. Okay. Until next time happy brewing.

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.