Kit Brewing Advice
Helpful Hints for Brewing Beer
These Helpful Hints will make the whole process of brewing your own beer at home, more enjoyable and rewarding.
Stage One Preparation
Clean & Sterilise all Equipment - that comes into contact with the brew, including stirring spoon and hydrometer.
There are a variety cleaners and sterilisers available. Some eg. Chlorinated products clean and sterilise at the same time through soaking the equipment for a period of time. Others just clean. eg products containing sodium metasilicate such as Brewers Detergent and the American manufactured PBW. Brewcraft's 'ECD' (Equipment Cold Water Detergent) is a recent development for the home brewer.
And other products just sterilise. Some work by being sloshed around or sprayed on, making sure all surfaces are wet with the sterilising agent. This fluid then gives off a gas as the moisture evaporates which performs the sterilising function - oxygen with sodium percarbonate (a 'no rinse' steriliser )or sulphur dioxide with sodium metabisulphate (not recommended for beer making).
Other sterilising products sterilise when the fluid comes into direct contact with the surface to be sterilised. Eg Star San and Brewshield (Hydrogen peroxide) and Brewmaster (sodium hyperchlorite) Whichever product you use is personal preference. Some when made up, can remain an active solution for a longer period than others. Cost is another consideration - but you must clean and you must sterilise.
Brewing Procedure Note:- Each kit has its own instructions on the label, or under the lid. However, the one simple method, (described below), is suitable for all makes of beer kit:
- Remove the yeast from under the plastic cap on your brew kit and immerse the can in a sink of hot water for 10 minutes to soften the concentrate.
- Boil two litres of water.
- Open the tin of beer ingredients with a can opener and pour into a large jug or directly onto your fermenter. To remove the last of the extract, rinse the can out with the boiled water and add to the jug /fermenter.
- Dissolve a brew enhancer(dextrose/dried malt extract/hops mix) or 1.5kg of malt extract using additional boiling water if necessary. Best to avoid sugar if at all possible.
- Fill the fermenter with cold water to the level indicated by the manufacturer; Usually the 22.5 litre or 23 litre level.
- Check that the brew is within the temperature range indicated by the manufacturer. Open yeast sachet and sprinkle on the surface of your brew. (For best results see yeast rehydration in the Additional Hints section.
- Fit the lid to your fermenter and seal by pressing round the edges. Part fill airlock with water and fit in grommet. Press the sides of the fermenter to check that you have a good seal. Air should bubble through the air lock.
Stage Two Fermentation
- The yeast will multiply until the oxygen is used up. It will then convert the sugar into alcohol. A by-product of this conversion is carbon dioxide gas that escapes through the airlock while fermentation takes place.
- Fermentation will commence during the first 24 hours. This may be quite vigorous at first; then settles down to a steady ferment over the following days. The fermentation will take about 7 - 10 days in warm weather and 10 - 15 days (or longer) in cold weather. A constant the temperature will greatly assist the fermentation.
- For most beer kits the ideal temperature is around 20o C. Note:- Most yeast have a temperature range of 15o - 25o. Check the beer kit instructions for the temperature of your yeast. Remember that the beer will ferment faster a t the higher end of the yeast's range but a slower ferment at the bottom of the range produces a superior beer.
- If the temperature gets too low, (below 16oC, fermentation may stop as the yeast goes dormant. If this happens warm the beer up and stir it. If the temperature gets too high the yeast may be killed. If this happens you will need to pitch a fresh yeast to restart the fermentation.
- During colder months a heater pad or belt is useful to keep the yeast active. Consider using a timer to help keep the temperature constant.
- Fermentation is finished when the airlock stops bubbling and the brew itself begins to clear. If you are using a heater pad turn it off now. Allow the brew to clear for a further 48 hours then take a reading with a Wash, Wine & Beer Hydrometer.
Reading the Hydrometer
- Sterilise the hydrometer, then float it in your beer. Five it a quick spin between your forefinger and thumb to remove any gas bubbles that will interfere with the reading.
- As the hydrometer comes to rest, take a reading of where the beer cuts across the hydrometer. If the hydrometer remains in the beer for any length of time, the gas bubbles will interfere and give an inaccurate reading.
- We recommend a hydrometer testing jar to test your brew. This makes reading the hydrometer easier and allows you to take a sample from the tap without removing the lid. Remove the airlock before taking a tap sample to prevent water from your airlock being drawn into the brew.
- The reading for most good beer kits, made with a brew enhancer or malt extract should be around 1010 - 1012. (1005 - 1008 is typical). Using Liquid Brewing sugar or dextrose will cause the final hydro-meter reading to be lower than 1010. If the reading is too high it usually means that fermentation is not complete.
Stage Three Bottling
- Before bottling there should be no bubbles rising to the surface and the top inch of the beer should have lost the milky appearance caused by yeast in suspension.
- Sterilise then thoroughly rinse the bottles. Usually 30 bottles of 750ml size are needed.
- Make up a solution of FermTech Steriliser Cleaner as per instructions on the pack and soak bottles for a minimum of 30 minutes. - A rinse with Sodium Met solution will neutralise any chlorine residue from the Steriliser Cleaner.
- To give the required gas in the finished beer add carbonation drops or one slightly heaped teaspoon of house-hold white sugar (not dextrose) to each cleaned and sterilised 750 ml bottle. Specialised sugar measures designed to fit into your bottles are also available.
- Fit the sterilised easy bottling valve into the tap. Turn on the tap and fill each bottle to within 40 mm from the top, by lifting the bottle up and holding the valve open with the bottom of the bottle. Note: - you will have to fill the bottle to the top to allow for the displacement caused by the beer left in your easy bottling valve.
- Screw on the plastic caps if you are using plastic pet bottles or cap with crown seals with a suitable capper is you are bottling into glass bottles.
Stage Four Maturing your Beer
- Store the bottles in a warm place (say 18o - 25oC) for three days to enable secondary fermentation.
- Then store your beer in a cooler place (ideally 8o - 12o C) for at least two weeks before sampling.
- Keep an open mind about judging your beer as it continues to improve with age. Maturing your beer improves body and allows stronger flavours to mellow. So try to age your beers to enjoy them at their best.
- Don't forget to label and date each batch. Test them at 2/4 weeks, 3 months and 6 months being sure to take notes about how they taste so you can easily appreciate how much they have improved over time. Stage five Drinking Your Beer
- All bottle conditioned beer will gather a small amount of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. Pour into a jug (or into 3-4 glasses with one movement so as not to disturb this sediment. The more you age the beer the firmer the sediment sets.
- The ideal temperature to serve your beer depends on the beer style and your personal taste.
- Lagers, Pilsners and N.Z. Draught varieties should be served about 4o C.
- English Ales often taste better around 8o - 12o C.
ChallengeYou've made your first beer. Now you want to try it to see how good it is. But you don't have any stockpiled. And sampling at an early age is not a good test.
SolutionDon't delay - Keep your fermenter working constantly. It's really important to build a stock of beer which is allowed to mature properly. Soon you will always have superb, matured beers to impress your friends with and more maturing for when your current batch is finished
- Bottle Storage - Rinse out beer bottles after emptying and store upside down in a crate. Bottles should then only require sterilising prior to filling and an occasional soaking in detergent should there be any protein build up in the neck of the bottle. (examine bottles towards the light from time to time to check this)
- Head Retention - Beer made with brew enhancers or malt extract will have a better head than beer made with dextrose If your beer doesn't have enough head after aging then add slightly more priming sugar to your next brew. If the beer loses its head quickly, try refrigerating the beer overnight prior to drinking, or aging longer. Note: Residue from dish washing liquids can cause your beer to lose its head quickly. Rinse all glassware in water after washing.
- Airlock - If it fails to bubble after 24 hours pull out the Airlock and bung and look through the opening. If you see foam on the surface or small bubbles rising to the surface the brew has started but your fermenter has not sealed. If your fermenter is a barrel type with a screw on lid this can often be corrected smearing a little Vaseline on the seal. If fermentation has not started your brew may not be warm enough or the yeast may have been killed by excessive pitching temperature.
- Boiling the Kit - Most manufactures don't recommend boiling the kit. You need to be the judge yourself. If you wish to boil the contents of the kit, add the kit and the enhancer/extract to 2 litres of water and boil for 5 mins. This will often result in a crystal clear beer, which is a lot smoother to drink and matures earlier. However due to modern processing techniques many beer kits can be damaged by such treatment. If you are going to boil the kit then watch the pot very carefully near the boil, as it will froth right out of the pot.
- Rehydrating the yeast - it's a good practice to soak the yeast in water before adding to the brew. Add the yeast to a sterilized glass trial jar half filled with water no warmer than 35C, soak for 10 - 15 mins before stirring into the brew. This gets the yeast out of it's slumber ready to do it's part.
- Malt Extract - this is the extract your beer kit is based on, together with hop extract. The balance of these gives you the sweetness (maltiness) or bitterness (from the hops). Adding Malt Extract can slightly sweeten the beer; but this should not deter you from experimenting as the majority of commercial New Zealand beers are sweeter than the beer kits on the market. Malt Extract will increase the alcohol content and improve head retention. It will also make the beer or lager slightly darker in colour. For all kits we recommend using approximately 1.5kg of Malt extract as a replacement for 1kg of dextrose or sugar.
- Double Kits - using two kits to make one batch instead of adding enhancers/malt extracts or dextrose increase the flavour, the body and the alcohol content. This technique produces brews which can be compared with the better micro - brewery products. It is obviously expensive but well worth having a batch on hand for the special occasion. Kits that have a strong hop flavour will be even more hoppy and bitter.
- Extra Bitterness, Aroma and Flavour - these qualities are achieved by the hop type, amount of hops and boiling time. If a stronger hop flavour is desired with out extra bitterness, as is becoming increasingly popular with micro breweries, extra hops can be boiled in 2 or 3 litres of water for no longer than 10 - 12 minutes and then strained into the fermenter along with the rest of the ingredients before adding the yeast. If just additional aroma is required, (Referred to as finishing) the hops are added for only 1 or 2 minutes.
Brewers Coop has a wide range of hop pellets for you to choose from to either copy your favourite beer or create your unique style.
- Sugar Substitutes - Other sugar substitutes that can be used, include Honey, Golden Syrup, Demerara Sugar, Brown Sugar and Treacle. Try experimenting, by replacing the brew enhancer with a small amount of these sugars, weight for weight.
- Yeasts - The yeasts that come with the beer kits are standard neutral ale yeast that are manufactured to perform the fermentation task according to the instructions on the beer kit. There are a variety of different yeasts that are available giving beers precise flavours to complement different styles of beer. Eg lagers, wheat beers, pale ales, dark ales and stouts. The use of a specialty yeast other than what is provided with the kit is highly recommended.
- Books - A very good book for kit beer makers is one called Brewing Crafts by Mike Rodgers-Wilson.