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by Russ Bee
4 time winner Gulf Coast Homebrewer of the Year

I'd like to start out by saying that whether you are a beginning extract brewer or an advanced all grain brewer, making great beer is really quite easy if you do a few essential things correctly;

  1. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.
  2. Use fresh ingredients.
  3. Use liquid yeast.
  4. Control fermentation temperature.

That's it! If you do those 4 things you will make great tasting beer. From there you can do lots of little things to improve your beer's quality, taste, appearance, aroma, etc. One of the great aspects of this wonderful hobby is that you can get as involved and detailed as you want. Making little changes to your methods, systems, and ingredients will give you better and better results. It's up to you to decide how much time, effort, and resources you care to put into the hobby.

A good place to begin "tweeking" your methods is in the selection and treatment of your yeast. Now I'm not one to get involved with scientific explanations, equations and chemical reactions. As I said making great beer is really easy. All you have to know is a few simple truths;

  1. Yeast is a living organism.
  2. As such it needs food & oxygen.
  3. It is sensitive to temperature.
  4. Different strains produce different flavors and characteristics.
  5. Its performance has a noticeable impact on your beer.

Since yeast is a living organism, I prefer using yeast that hasn't gone through the stresses of being dehydrated and reconstituted. Liquid yeast is healthier, fresher, and comes in a greater variety to produce different results. Select a strain that matches the result you are looking for i.e. an English ale yeast if you are brewing an English ale, a German lager yeast if you are brewing a German lager, etc.

Yeast is the workhorse of beer making, these little animals are what turns your sweet concoction into beer. They eat the sugars and turn it into carbon dioxide and the flavors of beer. With that in mind I highly recommend making a "starter". A starter is nothing more than a way to build up a greater number of yeast cells to do the work of eating all that food (sugars in the wort). Liquid yeast bags come with directions that are easy to follow but in a nutshell all you need do is wait for the bag of yeast to swell after you "pop" it, take 1/3 to ½ cup dry light malt extract and boil it for 10 min. in 1 pint of water, then cool it to room temp. When it is cool, put it in a glass container that can be fitted with an air lock and empty the contents of the swollen yeast pouch in with it. Shake it up really well to get a lot of air (oxygen) dissolved into it, put an air lock on it and wait for it to become active. When it gets going really well it is ready for pitching into your 5 gallon batch of beer. If you are making a particularly strong beer you may want to increase the size of the starter to 2 pints per 5 gallons.

With a little practice you'll be able to time this so it coincides with when your batch is brewed and ready for the yeast, but generally it takes overnight. So if you are brewing on a Saturday, put the contents of the swollen yeast bag into your starter on Friday night and it should be ready to go the next day when you finish brewing.

What you have just done is dramatically increased the size of your work force that has the job of eating and converting all that food (sugars) into beer. And you have introduced them into your wort in a very active stage. Making a starter decreases your start-up time at the beginning of fermentation thereby reducing the chance of infection, it makes for faster fermentation with less stress and related by-products from the yeast, and the increased work force will ferment your beer more completely. In other words, you'll make better beer!

If you have any questions you can e-mail me at RussMBee@aol.com
Happy brewing! Russ.

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