Make Beer at Home: Part 5 - Simple Tweaks to make better beer

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By Ed

Several months have gone by since I've written our How to Make Beer at Home Series beer and I've used the time to:

  • Try things
  • Drink the resulting beer
  • Try more things
  • Feed the resulting beer to friends and coworkers 
  • And so on. 

I've learned a few things (through reading, talking to people and, of course, trial and error). I've got some simple, easy and relatively inexpensive ideas to share and most importantly, I got to drink beer and call it research. I hope you enjoy reading about the fruits of my labours as much as I did writing about them.

Firstly, all the same old, same old from the previous posts in the series still applies. (You can read the entire How to Make Beer at Home series by following this link.)
  • Use clean equipment - sterilize, rinse and repeat. 
  • Don't rush anything and if you are using a concentrate kit, use the best water you can (i.e. filter it, reverse-osmosize it, or at the very least let it sit in your clean pail overnight to let the chlorine taste dissipate).
If you're not doing all these things, the stuff we're going to talk about will be wasted effort.

I still haven't gone totally native and brewed from raw ingredients yet either. I even have a friend who has offered a tutorial, but my bottom line right now is time and the FestaBrew or Brewhouse kits are just too quick, easy and good to pass up. The fact that brewing from scratch requires boiling and basically costs the same as the no-boil kits I use now also factors into the work/cost/time equation. So maybe the future will bring a post on my adventures in grain or extract brewing, but not this week.

What I did do and what I learned:

~ For those trying to make kits that taste like what you would get from a lighter, more commercial/mainstream beer.

I did a couple different experiments with Lager:

Test 1 Liquid Yeast:

My first experiment involved liquid yeast, which arrives as a sealed test tube of live, active yeast produced in a laboratory and sourced in most cases from commercial breweries. In other words, you get pretty much the same yeast the big guys are using. I had a home brewing friend who years ago suggest liquid yeast as the way to go, so I was excited to try it.


Liquid yeast, despite coming in a larger package than dry yeast, actually has fewer live organisms in it when you pitch it at the start. As a result, it takes longer to get your beer fermenting, which can produce bacteria issues, so most kits suggest a yeast starter.

I didn't have issues with getting it to start, but I did find that the primary fermentation took more than twice as long as it usually did. This is also typical of liquid yeast.

I had hoped that the longer time meant truer flavour was being created. I was mostly disappointed in this; not that the beer tasted bad- far from it - it just didn't taste that much better than my results with dry yeast. In fact, I have had dry yeast kits that produced better lager than my liquid yeast attempt.

Unless you are approaching Master Brewer status, stick to the dry yeast your kit came with.


Liquid yeast is OK, and probably ideal for someone looking or a final edge to tweak or customize a recipe, but for my purposes, the marginal improvement was not worth the time, effort and extra cost.

Test 2 - Time, a whole lotta precious time:

So I read some more on Lagering ("more" meaning "I read about things other than lager yeast"). Specifically, I wanted to understand how there were products out there like Beau's Lug Tread which make a Lagered Ale. Turns out that lagering is more about the process than it is about the type of yeast (If you're a veteran brewer reading this, forgive my ignorance and my possible oversimplification of the realities of the process). Score one for reading! Who knew?

Lagering, simply put, is storing the beer both during and after primary fermentation in a cool location for a few weeks before bottling. Wow. Simple, basically free and all it takes is patience. So I tried two more lager kits - a plain blonde lager and a Cerveza clone - and let them both ferment on the cool, concrete floor of my basement for 10 days, then transferred them to a secondary carboy to rest for a further two weeks before bottling/kegging.

Stare at this picture in a cold location for a couple weeks. That is exactly how easy and cheap basic lagering can be.


I was floored - not only was it basically free to let my lager sit a little longer, it produced better results than the liquid yeast test. Both the kegged and bottled kits had a better flavour - much "cleaner" with less aftertaste. I tried the resulting beer out on some other, more commercial beer drinking friends and all approved. Or at least said they did so they didn't hurt my feelings, but I think they were being honest.


Lagering in a cool, secure location like a basement or garage is a simple and free way to make homemade lagers taste cleaner and more like the stuff you get on tap at a bar (If you're into that). Be sure your location isn't too cold (i.e. freezing would be bad) or too hot (temperatures above 15-20C aren't actually lagering and run the risk of spoiling your product).

~ For those who like hoppy IPAs or those other microbrew style craft beers that hipsters drink.

Test 3 - Dry Hopping:

This is pretty much the only Ale experiment I did (currently, I am lagering an Ale to see how that plays out). Dry Hopping is so awesome, easy and relatively cheap that I was happy with it from the outset and pretty much quit messing around with other tests.

So, as usual, you primary ferment your beer (I used Cream Ale and Pale Ale kits as my base) then rack it to a secondary carboy. Then you dry hop - dump 1-2 ozs of dry hop pellets into the beer like you are making a giant hop tea.  Some recipes call for up to 4 ozs of hop pellets - but that would likely be an acquired taste.  You can also put the hop pellets in a mesh bag to keep them together, but I didn't bother with this.

Yeah, they look (and smell) a bit like rabbit food pellets, but maybe rabbits have it all figured out.

Suggested Hop Varieties:

Dry hopping really is like making tea - the hop pellets soak in the beer, imparting their flavour oils and aroma into the ale before you rack and bottle. You can dry hop for a few days or a few weeks (some even dry hop in the keg or bottle directly, but that would be pretty hardcore).

I found that when I racked again to my bottling keg, most of the hop residue stayed behind, as long as I was careful, so it didn't add much time/effort at all.

 This is as nice as Dry Hopping ever looks. The Hop Pellets eventually break down and look like algae on your beer. They then settle out and look like pond scum on the bottom of the carboy. It really does taste great though!


My dry hopped kits disappear very quickly. The Cream Ale kit I did with 1 oz of Amarillo was so good that my brother said, "Don't experiment anymore - this is really good" (in effect, don't mess it up). I now don't even think about doing an Ale kit without at least 1 oz of dry hopping and my preferred choice is 1 oz Amarillo and 1 oz Cascade/Centennial for a week to ten days. The cost is relatively small - $2-5 extra per 23 litres- and the results take regular homebrew and make it seem exotic and micro/craftbrewy.

So, there you have it. I hope you all appreciate the months of tireless research and experimentation and testing that went into this post. It isn't easy drinking gallons of beer in the summer sun or while watching football last fall - it takes focus and single-mindedness to chase perfection (or at least slightly above-average mediocrity).

My next experiments will be next fall - I'm looking to soak some cacao nibs and vanilla beans in a Brown Ale to replicate a decent Winter Porter and possible use some Oak Chips to knock off Iniss and Gunn's tasty ale.

Anybody else tinkering and tweaking beers in simple/cheap ways?

The Make Beer at Home Series:

Part 1: Simple, Foolproof Equipment
Part 2: Simple, Foolproof Brewing
Part 3: Bottling
Part 4: DIY Homebrew Kegging
Part 5: Simple Tips to Make Your Beer Better

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