Over the weekend, The Pint was lucky enough to speak with some of the very talented brewers over at Fort Collins Brewery during the AHA’s Learn to Homebrew Day. Using a homemade transportable pilot system, these liquid pioneers were brewing up a variation on their trademark Double Chocolate Stout.

Whether you are just getting into the hobby of homebrewing, or it has become somewhat more than a hobby altogether, these tips and tricks gleaned from the professionals will come in handy on your next batch.

To Grain or Not to Grain?

That is the question, at least if you homebrew. Malt extracts save time and space, and the finished product will be nearly identical to a full-grain brew for the casual drinker, making extracts a convenient way to start out in this hobby. So why do many homebrewers opt for making everything from scratch?

“It depends how serious you want to get,” explained FCB brewer Taylor Krantz.

Going all-grain is generally more expensive, requires additional equipment, and adds another 1-2 hours to an already lengthy process. However, it brings an element of versatility and control that is lacking from premade extracts. Most importantly, according to the brewers, it can be fun.

“No matter what you’re doing with homebrewing, as long as you’re doing what you like and having fun, you’re doing it right,” said Krantz.

2. What Grains are Best?

With access to a near infinite amount of supplies and years of experience under their belts, the brewers at FCB seemed keen to experiment. I was intrigued that the brewers veered off from the traditional chocolate stout recipe by using entirely different grains for the primary brew.

So how would you take that step into the great unknown of going off the recipe? “Taylor and I have munched on a lot of grains,” said Thomas Barnett, Operations Manager at the brewery.

Like watching a jazz musician improvise, after so long, they just know what notes to hit. Experience certainly aids the innate artistry involved in homebrewing, but equally important is the courage to break the mold (or malt) and aim for something new.

3. So What if I Make a Mistake?

“There’s no mistakes,” said Barnett, recounting stories of incorrect calculations and wrong ingredients. So you accidentally add way too much hops to your amber ale? No problem; now it’s an imperial IPA.

While there are certainly some errors that can jeopardize a brew entirely (like if you kill or forget the yeast), every mistake is a potential learning opportunity. And who knows? Maybe that learning moment that took you off recipe will end up producing a better beer that no one has tried before.

4. The Most Important Aspect to Consider When Homebrewing?

Like many books and guides have attested, sanitation is paramount once the beer starts fermenting. This includes keeping your equipment clean, boiling the wort properly (204°F in the Front Range), and minimizing the wort’s exposure to the 140°F “sweet spot” for bacterial growth.

All of the brewers I spoke with were unequivocal about the single most important aspect of homebrewing, however: having fun. “If you lose the point of doing it—the whole point of brewing is having fun,” said Barnett. Watching them work, I could see that none of that spirit has been lost by turning a passion into a profession.

For those interested in getting into homebrewing, or just to learn more, the brewers recommended looking at John Palmer’s How to Brew, which is available for free online. Or head over to Fort Collins Brewery, as they certainly know their stuff.