The home brew tips and advice listed below have been collected from a range of sources throughout the time that I have been homebrewing. Although I cannot claim that I came up with any of them, I can say that these are all things that I have personally used with great success.
Simple kit brewing improvements for beginners
- Avoid large amounts of table sugar, cane sugar or dextrose as fermentable sugars in your homebrew. They will ferment out completely and leave a very dry, almost ‘cidery’ flavour to your beer. This is what is recognized by many as the ‘homebrew’ taste.
If you are looking for an easy way to improve this, swap these sugars with dry malt extract.
- Most kit beers are designed to appeal to a wide range of people and therefore have a fairly simple flavour that it not very bitter. They are also generally bittered by using hop extract that adds bitterness but little hop flavour or aroma.
Boil some water and add ½ an ounce (14 grams) of any hop variety known for their flavour and aroma characteristics for 20 minutes. This will add a much improved change to the flavour of the beer.
Add another ½ ounce (14g) for the last 5 minutes of the boil to add a pleasant hoppy aroma.
Simply strain the ‘hop soup’ into your fermenter with the rest of the top-up water. These simple hops additions will make a remarkable difference to your kit beers.
- To wake a packet of dry yeast up and ensure that it is ready to start work as soon as it is pitched, try rehydrating it. Boil a cup (250mls) of water for 5 minutes and then pour it into a sterilized container. Wait for the water to cool down to at least 80°F/27°C and sprinkle your packet of yeast over the top. Leave this for about 15-30 minutes, when you should start to see it get nice and foamy. Once your wort has cooled enough, pitch this and it will start fermentation much earlier.
- If you would really like to get things started, follow the process above but add a tablespoon of dry malt extract to the water before boiling it. After pouring the water to a jar, add your yeast when cool enough and place cling wrap over the top to protect from the environment. Leave for at least 45 minutes at room temperature and you should start to see fermentation activity.
- The length of time for fermentation on the side of your kit beer can is almost definitely not long enough. The manufacturers are in the business of selling product and these instructions will make beer, but it won’t be great beer. This should be extended out to 10-14 days.
- Although your beer will be carbonated after about a week in the bottle, leave it for a few more to allow for the flavors to settle. This is especially relevant for beer made from kits as it will help remove some of the bite found in young/’green’ beer.
- In order to efficiently multiply and get to the business of converting sugar to alcohol, yeast needs a sufficient amount of oxygen in your wort. If brewing using malt extract this can be reached a few ways including by shaking the water you are using to top up your wort, or by pouring it from a great height into your fermenter.
- Don’t be too worried about removing your beer from the primary fermenter as soon as fermentation has finished. The Autolysis that you are seeking to avoid will take well over a month and in most cases a single stage fermentation is fine.
- If you are looking to control fermentation temperature, place the fermenter in a large container of water to cool it and prevent temperature fluctuations. Wrapping a wet towel around it and pointing a fan at it cools it even more through evaporative cooling.
A few frozen plastic bottles of water are also perfect for cooling the water and your fermenting beer.
- If you insist on using a two stage fermentation, use a bottling bucket (or something else with a spigot) for a primary. That way you only need a length of hose to rack into the secondary. The spigot will also be far enough off the bottom that the trub will get left in the primary with little extra effort – just tilt the fermenter forward at the end.
- The activity of your airlock should only be seen as one indication that something is happening. There are many others indications and a faulty seal on your fermenter could stop anything from happening in the airlock.
- The starting cell count is usually quite low with liquid yeast cultures. If you make a yeast starter about a day before brewing, you can avoid some potential issues from under-pitching the yeast.
- Dry yeast packets are perfect for new homebrewers. They have a nice high cell count and are very easy to use. Hydrating these takes very little time and will help get fermentation working earlier.
- If you are trying to cool a partial boil, place the whole brew pot into a sink or tub of cold water. You may need to change this water a few times but it is far easier to cool a small pot of wort in a temperature conductive container (i.e. your brew pot) than a large amount of liquid in a fermenter.
Adding your cooled wort to even colder water (or ice) in the fermenter will serve to cool it even further and should hopefully get you close to yeast pitching temperatures.
Before you start on brewing day
- Get into the habit of sanitizing everything that will come in contact with your wort or beer after the boil.
- Use a no-rinse sanitiser… This shouldn’t need an explanation and I am yet to hear of a real reason not to
- Following on from above – Don’t use bleach as a sanitizer…ever. It is hard to rinse out and if any comes in contact with the maltose in your wort it has the potential to completely ruin your batch.
There are so many better products available that this shouldn’t even be a consideration
- Whatever sanitizer you use, put some of it in a spray bottle for quick sanitation during brew time.
- Make sure you read and understand the recipe before you start brewing. Also make sure that you have all the ingredients handy before you start. These seem like simple things but the last 15 minutes can get a little crazy… especially if you started drinking while sanitizing
General home brew tips
- Beer is very resilient so don’t be too worried if you make a mistake while brewing. Although it may not be exactly the beer you were after, you will probably still have something tasty and worth drinking.
- Leave the lid off your brew pot while it is boiling. The process of boiling actually vaporises chemicals that are not wanted in the beer and they evaporate out. The lid doesn’t need to be completely off if you are having trouble maintaining a rolling boil but should at least be enough for the steam to escape.
- Keep a record of every beer that you make, no matter how simple the recipe. This record will allow you to recall and tweak your brews when all that remains in the future is a couple of stray bottles and a desire for more
- Especially when starting out, keep your ingredients and brews as simple as possible. It is much easier to add to a simple recipe that is missing something than it is to remove from something complex
- Start by getting a solid grasp of the sanitization, fermentation and bottling processes and work from there.
- If you have a choice, choose a fermenter or bottling bucket with a spigot/tap over one without. The siphoning required otherwise isn’t hard but it is still one more unnecessary step.
- Bulk priming your beer is a simple addition to your bottling process that will add much greater control and consistency in the amount of priming sugar in your bottles.
- The quality of your beer will be relative to the quality of the ingredients used. Always go for the freshest and best quality possible. Always make sure that extract is within any specified dates, yeast is fresh and that hops are nice and green
But most importantly… just relax and remember that you probably aren’t going to ruin your beer – It isn’t as delicate as you think