We sat down for a good chat with homebrewing legend and founding ANHC director Phil Yeung.

Yeung is a long time homebrewer who loves trying out the latest in automated brew systems. He’s also just for interest, a prothsodontist – dental specialist.

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to get into homebrewing?

Start with kitting yourself out at your local homebrew store. There you can get first-hand, knowledgeable advice on where best to start for your level of knowledge. Compared to when I first got into homebrewing there are so many more options available. Your local homebrew store can also put you in contact with others addicted by the homebrew bug such as homebrew clubs in your area where you can again get quality information and learn from experienced brewers, avoiding a lot of mistakes.

Finally get yourself a copy of John Palmer’s ‘How to Brew’; this book is probably the Bible equivalent to homebrewing. Over the years John has consistently updated How to Brew with current information as craft brewing and the hobby evolved. A great reference for anyone starting out brewing.

Q: What are the most common mistakes that people can avoid? 

Where do I start! Brewing is no different to preparing food: hygiene is critical. I still remember one of the first lessons I learnt when I started homebrewing: what are the three most important steps in brewing? Sanitation, sanitation and sanitation. This is the same for the novice as for pro brewer. The old saying ‘happens to the best, happens to the rest’ is true within the craft brewing industry. This can have a huge impact on brand reputation for those moving into the pro scene. Fortunately for the homebrewer, you are likely to only get a bad reputation with the mates you share your infected beer with who will likely be more forgiving once you act together and start brewing decent beer. 

The other common mistake I see is a lot of is homebrewers like to throw the kitchen sink at their recipes. Less is more when it comes to brewing; keep it simple and let those few ingredients you put in shine. Too many specialty malts in the grain bill or too many hops can leave your beer being very muddled in flavour.

Q: What steps can people take to improve their homebrewing?

Two things I can recommend to the new brewer to improve their brew day experience and homebrew in general is

  1. Mise en place, which is the French for everything in its place. If you’re in the restaurant industry, this means prepare everything before you start so that the process runs smoothly. Being systematic with your process will allow you to become more consistent with the beers you produce.
  2. Yeast management and fermentation control. You can use the best ingredients in the world but if you don’t manage your yeast well or control your fermentation temperature you will produce crappy beer. Vice versa if you are just kit brewing, with well controlled fermentation temperature, you can produce a pretty decent beer. Investing in equipment to control temperature during fermentation is probably more important than investing in fancy equipment to produce wort. I have for many years used an old bar fridge that I could fit my fermenter in siting on a heat pad with the power coming out the door seal plugged into a dual temperature controller. The temperature probe is taped to the wall of the fermenter. This allows you to regulate both heating and cooling of your wort during the fermentation process. 

Q: How did you get into homebrewing? What made you fall in love with it?

You are asking me to show my age now. My first brew was back in second year uni in 1985. As a poor uni student, the thought of cheap beer was appealing and the advertising of ‘8c a glass of beer’ by Coopers who produced the early kits had me sold.  

I was fortunate to get a Coopers Homebrew Kit for Christmas and so started the long journey. Back then the Kits came with a VCR tape with a young Paul Mercurio outlining the steps to produce your first beer with a can of sticky malt extract and a kilo of sugar. Fortunately, it turned out half decent enough for my uni mates to finish off the first batch in a single session. It is funny how things come full circle and being involved with the organising committee for the Australian National Homebrewing Conference since its inception, I got to host Paul Mercurio during a session on Cooking with Beer during the last Conference in Melbourne, which was a real buzz for me.

His presentation highlighted how versatile beer is. Its addition to a recipe can take the dish to another level and, when combined with the right beer pairing, something to die for. For me now, being able to develop recipes for beers  to pair with the different dishes I cook is what keeps the love affair going. There is always something new to try!

Q: Who have been the greatest source of inspiration and education for you?

My father is a chef and he taught me a very valuable lesson from a young age, taste everything. When we were in Hong Kong for a cousin’s wedding back in the early 80s and we were eating out every night, I would constantly ask him what is in this what is in that. He would never tell me. He said try it first, if you like it eat it, if you don’t no issue, but I am not going to bias your taste perception by telling you what is that dish.

Actually the snake and fish intestines tasted better when I didn’t know what they were! That has stuck with me and you realise how your palate develops over time. Many beers when you try them for the first time can be off-putting and you can think I don’t like that but give it time, try other examples of the same style or seek out the classic examples of the style to taste, it can be an enlightening experience and your palate and brewing will be better for it.

From a brewing perspective and being involved in ANHC, I have been fortunate to meet so many local homebrewers and craft brewers  along my journey. Also meeting some of the rockstars of the industry, in Matt Brynildson, Vinnie Ciluzo, Mitch Steele and Randy Mosher to name a few.

However probably the greatest source of inspiration and also from the education side for my brewing has come from Jamil Zainasheff, owner of Heretic Brewing Co, co-author of Brewing Classic Styles, and Yeast: The Practical Guide to  Yeast Fermentation. I first met Jamil when we brought him out for the Inaugural ANHC conference. He was a homebrew rockstar back then, having won two Ninkasi Awards for the best Homebrewer at the NHC in the States. Back then he had just started a podcast on the Brewing Network called the Jamil show, which provided quality information from someone who had the runs on the board. Why he is an inspiration is that even though he has become a busy professional brewer, he hasn’t forgotten his roots and still gives his time to homebrewers through his podcast Brew strong.

Q: Which of your recipes are your proudest of?

I was inspired by Randy Mosher when we had him out here for ANHC in 2010 to brew a batch with Indigenous ingredients. At that time Belgium wit beers were popular so I decided to brew an Aussie inspired wit using Australian malts and hops: Pepperberry Wit. I used Victorian pepperberries and finger limes from NSW at the end of the boil.

I then pitched yeast harvested from a few bottles of Cooper Sparkling Ale for the final Aussie ingredient. The resulting beer was a cracker and received rave reviews from other members of the ANHC committee that year. I must brew that recipe again when finger limes are back in season. You don’t see many witbiers around these days and they are such a thirst-quenching beer on a hot summer day and pair so well with so many dishes.

Q: Tell us about a disastrous homebrewing experience – what went wrong, what you learned from it, etc.

Oh, I could tell many a story but probably now using a more automated brewing system, when it breaks down is more a disaster as it is a lot harder to recover a brew than when you are using a more manual hands on brewing system.

However, probably one of my most memorable brewing disasters was when I made a trip to Hepburn Springs to get some fresh mineral water for my third or fourth brew which I thought would produce a wonderful beer. Needless to say, it produced the most putrid beer I had ever tasted. You thought infected beers were bad, this was on a whole new level. I learnt a very important lesson about water chemistry: know your water profile and you should you control what minerals you add to your brew water such as calcium sulphate and calcium chloride. 

Q: How much do you think homebrewing in Australia has changed in recent years/since you started? What do you think will happen in the future?

Homebrewing has changed to a huge degree from when I first started. Back in the 80s, there was a limited amount of ingredients available and most homebrewers were just doing kit and kilo batches with poor temperature control, producing pretty average beer and giving homebrewing a bad name.

These days we have access to ingredients from all around the world that the big boys use and there is no excuse to producing commercial quality craft beer at home with the information and equipment available to the homebrewer. It is funny to know that we as homebrewers have easy access to hop varieties from Australia and New Zealand that craft brewers in the States complain they can’t get.

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