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Having Completed Brew in a Bag Number Fifty

Over the last decade I’ve made an awful lot of cider, mead and fruit wine. I’ve been making beer for a similar amount of time. But it was only when my partner gifted me a grain mill three and a half years ago that I started making beer with basic grain over gas flames on the front porch. Like a lot of people wanting to economise on brewing equipment, I’ve been using BIAB (Brew in a Bag) equipment for making beer. And most of the time it’s pretty good beer.

The equipment you need for BIAB brewing is pretty simple. You need a heat source (gas or electric), a brew kettle (I have 36 litre and 95 litre kettles, but you only need the smaller one), a filter (you can buy a BIAB specific bag, or use a mesh filter), some form of chiller to cool your wort (unless you do the no-chill method, of course), and a fermenter (preferably with temperature control) in a dark space. The rest is just buckets and a stir paddle & some elbow grease for cleaning things.

But be warned… the rabbit hole awaits. Nowadays I have more fermenters than I know what to do with; there’s a beer fridge in our en suite kitchenette and a two tap kegerator; I have over 20 brewing books focused on techniques, science and brewing history; this office looks like a bomb site with all the bits and bobs I’ve collected along the way. And I’ve learned a short list of advisory notes for those coming down this rabbit hole with me:

  1. Don’t sweat brew day – all you’re doing is getting sugar out of the grain
  2. If you mess up on brew day you just get a different beer than you expected
  3. Ballpark temperatures are simply that – don’t sweat a few degrees Celcius
  4. Healthy yeast farming is the real game changer for making better beer
  5. Make the beer you can’t afford to buy; make what you want to drink
  6. Don’t think you have to drink your mistakes; make another batch
  7. Read, listen to podcasts, understand the science (to make better beer)
  8. Drink commercial examples, if only to realise your beer is OK
  9. Patience, patience, patience – leave the yeast alone to do their magic
  10. There isn’t only one way to make beer so don’t criticise other brewers
  11. You won’t save money on beer; you’ll just spend it on making better beer
  12. Home brewing is a smaller scale than industrial brewing – challenge dogma

These are simple tips for starting out and you probably won’t appreciate them until you discover them for yourselves. But here’s a confession: after fifty batches of all grain beer I have yet to use the most popular dry yeast US-05. I tend to go for Belgian yeasts, Bedford British Ale is a favourite seasonal yeast, London Ale, Kolsch yeast. Brettanomyces. Bottle dregs from unpasteurised and unfiltered beers that haven’t removed their original yeast, where possible.

I also tend not to use my brew bag anymore. I have a 1.5 x 1.5 metre square of white voile, a bunch of metal clips, a pulley that I hang on the front porch above the pot and a bit of rope to tie the thing together. I was a sailor when I was young; don’t sweat the knots. If you think cleaning the bag is easy… try cleaning a square of voile. Just find what works for you and your space, situation, resource profile.

What’s a good beer and what’s a bad beer? I really don’t know anymore. If it’s a beer I want to keep drinking then it’s a good beer, right? Sometimes it’s not the beer you set out to make on the day, but it’s just another beer in the end. I’m not sure I’m a believer in beer styles anymore, either. Styles are for competition and are handy shorthand indicators marketers use to indicate what’s in the can, bottle or beer tap. But a beer is what it is… if it’s outside a definition it is no less a beer for being so.

Anyway, that’s my semi-coherent fifty batch debriefing. My first BIAB was a stout and my fiftieth was a stout. It’s just the way things progressed, I guess. I’ve recently been converted to cream ale, though. I can feel another one of those coming to the kitchenette kegerator soon enough. My final advice: love the beer you’re with and learn to appreciate all the flavours of beer for what they offer. I can’t think of a beer I don’t like or wouldn’t try (unless you put seafood or offal into the kettle). It’s a great hobby, give home brewing a shot.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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