I love brewing. It’s the perfect hobby that requires all of my focus so I can take a break from everything else, and I end up with beer at the end! One of the best things about constantly learning and improving my homebrew is getting to share what I’ve learned with other brewers/would-be brewers. If you ever have questions shoot me a note at beerswithmandy (at) gmail and I’ll do my best to get you the right answer.
I opened up a Q&A on insta yesterday and wowwza y’all had a lot of questions! After reading through, many of the answers need links or some context I can’t provide in an Instagram story. I divided the answers into three sections: Equipment Questions, Brewing Questions, and Water Questions, so feel free to scroll to the section of your interest.
Homebrewing Equipment Questions
Is that a robobrew/brewzilla, I’ve been thinking about getting one of those is it worth it?
I currently brew on the Grainfather. For me it was absolutely worth it! I used to brew outside in Texas, then move to NYC and got a Picobrew, when I had a little more room I got the Grainfather. I got it about three years ago and I believe there are less expensive options now! If you only have the option to brew inside I think a machine like this is the way to go. It’s an expensive purchase but the amount of use (and fun!) I get out of it is totally worth it to me.
Where did you order your homebrew equipment?
I bought my Grainfather directly from Grainfather for warranty reasons. I buy most larger purchases (bottling gun/fermenters) from More Beer. For supplies/bottles/CO2 I support my local homebrew shop Bitter & Esters.
How do you regulate temperature, especially in the summer?
I use a converted igloo mini fridge I got at a “back to school” sale five years ago. This edition of my VinePair column has a little more info on building a converted fridge fermentation chamber. It fits comfortably in my NYC closet! When selecting a fridge make sure the floor is large enough for your fermenter, some fridges have the cooling unit in the back so the floor space is very small.
What are your favorite styles to brew? What is your set up?
I brew on a Grainfather. I love brewing Belgian styles especially lighter colored ones like Saison, Belgian Golden Strong, and Trappist Single. I also brew German Wheat Ales pretty frequently. I just love an expressive yeast!
Does it make a big difference to grind your own grain?
Nope! I grind my own grain because I got interested in how the crush changed my brewing outcomes. I also buy my base malt in bulk and I don’t like the idea of the starchy endosperm being exposed to oxygen during storage (pre-ground the husk of the malt products the endosperm) but I’m not sure it would make a huge difference even after a few months! If your homebrew shop/supplier will grind your grain for you, go for it. If you’re looking to buy a mill I use the Cereal Killer Grain Mill and it’s very easy + can’t resist the pun.
Homebrewing Questions & Answers
What’s the most challenging beer style you’ve ever brewed?
As far as a “difficult” technique: Back in Texas I did a decoction once just to do it. I wouldn’t say it was “challenging” just messy, ha! The style that continues to elude me is a Belgian Dark Strong that I either get too dry so it lacks that round figgy flavor or ends too sweet and feels flabby. I’m definitely going to keep trying though…
Do you have any advice on how to clean up a Pilsner?
Hard to give specific advice without knowing what you’re cleaning up but generally:
- Don’t forget lagers still need a diacetyl rest! Bring the beer temp up about 5 degrees for two to three days to give the yeast the last bit of energy they need to reabsorb diacetyl. If you don’t do this and crash the beer to lagering temps, it will retain the diacetyl (buttery/butter popcorn aroma and slick mouthfeel).
- Lagering doesn’t clean up fermentation off flavors. To clean up things like H2S (eggy aroma) the yeast needs a long and vigorous fermentation before the beer is lagered. Many of these aromas are expelled through CO2 rising to the surface and leaving the fermenter, when the beer is cold during lagering, this release of CO2 doesn’t happen.
- I wrote this piece on the most common off flavors in homebrew and how to fix them.
Do you ever brew with fruit? Do you think using frozen fruit is ok?
I don’t! Personally, fruit beers aren’t my favorite. I talked to some pro brewers about brewing with fruit for my VinePair column, definitely worth checking out before your first fruit homebrew. Good luck!!
Highest score you’ve gotten in a comp and what style?
Score I have no idea I think my Saison that got a gold at NHC was a 46 – but I’m not sure? I’ve gotten a few 45+ scores in smaller competitions and regionals, too. Usually always Belgian styles although my dark weizenbock did very well at the New York regional. I also won an National Homebrew Competition Gold Medal for my Imperial Stout in 2021.
Homebrew Water Questions & Answers
I use the EZ Water Calculator Spreadsheet for my water calculations (it’s free but you can also donate!). This book on Water by John Palmer from Brewer’s Publications is still the classic text on water chemistry. He also writes articles online to break down the most important aspects!
How much does water matter to making a good beer?
Not much…and also a lot! When you’re just getting started homebrewing I don’t think water chemistry is important, there are so much other aspects to nail – like fermentation temperature!! But when you’re really locking in a recipe and trying to perfect it water is that last ingredient that takes a beer from good to spot on. I think it makes a big difference if you’re sending beers in for competitions (or planning to go pro of course)
What water chemicals do you use?
I use a campden tablet, epsom salt, gypsum, and calcium chloride in pretty much every batch. To adjust pH I still go old school and use acidulated malt, though I do have some phosphoric acid in case the mash pH is way out of whack. I also add yeast nutrient and whirlfloc (a clarifier that coagulates proteins) to the boil but those aren’t adjusting my water chemistry.
Do you add salts to the strike and the sparge water?
Yes! EZ water calculator breaks up the additions which makes it even easier. I only add potassium metabisulfite (campden tablet) to the strike water but probably wouldn’t hurt to add a little to the sparge as well.
How much do you worry about matching historical water profiles vs just setting a solid base profile?
Zero! Ha! I don’t think about the water profile of a “style” much at all. Instead I think about how I want my final beer to taste and build my profile around that. Most of my focus goes into the Mash pH and the chloride to sulfate ratio. Sometimes I have to be conscious of getting enough calcium in there but most of the time the calcium is high enough once I balance the chloride to sulfate ratio.
Do you use RO water or your city water to brew with?
I’ve always used city water both in Texas and NYC! I get the info from my municipal water report and then build in what I want with the EZ Water Calculator. I’m lucky that I’ve lived places with soft water.
Do you filter your NYC because of additives like chlorine and fluoride?
Nope! I use potassium metabisulfite (in the form of a campden tablet) in my strike water and let it sit overnight (if I’m really prepared!) or at least a few hours to eliminate chlorine. Since fluoride doesn’t impact mash pH or flavor I don’t worry about it in NYC it’s only 0.7ppm so it’s not a concern for me.
I don’t have calcium on my city water report. How do I figure out my homebrew water profile?
You can work backward from bicarbonate or alkalinity to calculate the calcium in your municipal water. The wonderful John Palmer has a good write up on how do get everything you need from a water report
Why do you add minerals to the water and not to the grist?
Water chemicals need time to dissolve in the water in hopes that they will carry over in the final wort. Also chemicals like potassium metabisulfite need a few hours to do their job (in this case getting rid of chlorine). I do add the yeast nutrient to the boil instead of the initial water.