Brewing Hints

Helpful hints for brewing your first beer kit.

This list of instructions is designed for the first time brewer of beer and assumes no prior knowledge. The major problem with all instructions I have read is that they presume a knowledge of certain procedures and terms which may not always be the case.
So you have tried somebody else's home brew, liked the taste and have decided to have a go yourself. Good on you, brewing your own beer is an immensely satisfying experience, the first thing you need to know is that most brewers are a do it yourself lot with very definite ideas about how things should or should not be done. Most brewers will tell you that such and such a brand produces by far the best brew and you MUST do this and that to it to make it perfect. There is nothing wrong with this, and if you stick to brewing you will develop your own favourite methods yourself. However, in terms of knowledge it is much safer to talk to your specialty brew shop who will have had a chance to test the individual ways of doing things and advise on the best methods. Now you have bought your starter kit, have a million words of advice floating around in you head and are preparing to get your first brew down, great.

Lay out all your bits and pieces on a bench. To start you should have a brewing barrel, lid, rubber lid seal, airlock, airlock grommet, tap, sodium metabisuphite or other sterilizer, beer kit, sugar or dextrose, and a hydrometer (optional but very useful).

Take your barrel and screw out the bung in the tap hole and screw in the tap.

Mix up a sodium metabisulphite solution in the bottom of your barrel in the following way. Put two litres of lukewarm water in the bottom of your barrel and dissolve into it two teaspoons of sodium metabisuphite. Rotate your barrel around to ensure it gets a good wetting, but it is the gas given off that does much of the sterilising so it is not necessary to have the whole interior of the barrel immersed in the solution. Into the solution put your rubber lid seal, airlock and grommet.

Look at your lid, you may need to drill out the airlock hole. Make sure you don't drill the hole larger than the diameter of the grommet and keep the sides as smooth as possible to get a tight fit.

After the solution has been in the barrel for 30 minutes or so, pour some out through the tap to make sure that the tap is sterilised and tip the rest away. It is not a bad idea to use some of this solution in your airlock, so that if you have a "rogue" brew that bubbles out through the airlock you reduce the chance of bacterial infection.

Put some water out of the hot tap into the sink. Take off the beerkit outer lid and take out the yeast. Soak your beer kit can in the sink lid first, this makes it easier to pour. Boil up two litres of water and pour it into the bottom of your barrel. Take a towel and pick up your beer kit can and remove the lid with a can opener, & pour the malt/hops mixture into the water in the bottom of your barrel. Pour out as much as you can and then pour boiling water into the almost empty can giving it a good stir around, to remove as much of the malt as is possible. It is the malt which gives your beer its body so the more you can extract from the can the better. During any stirring process be sure to use plastic implements. Not wood, as bacteria ingrained in wood can easily spoil your brew. Stir the malt and water well making sure all the malt has dissolved and pour in 1kg of white sugar or (Preferably,) dextrose. Give the brew another good stir to dissolve the brewing sugar and top up the volume to 23 litres (or kit instructions) with cold water.

Put the rubber seal into the lid and insert the airlock. The water or solution in the airlock should be about half way up the barrel of the airlock on both sides.

When the brew temperature is around 25 degrees Celsius "pitch" (add in) the yeast by scattering it over the top of the brew. Then give the whole mixture a good stir up. If you have a hydrometer run some brew off and take a reading, then seal the lid tightly. Once you have sealed the lid check that you have a good seal by pushing in the side of the barrel until air is expelled from the airlock. If the barrel has sealed the water in the airlock should stay lop-sided once you let go the sides of the barrel.

Place the barrel in a warm place; Your brew temperature should not drop below 18 degrees or rise above 25. Within 24 hours you should see the Carbon Dioxide given off by the fermentation gently bubbling out of the airlock pushing the solution to one side.

After 5 to 7 days your brew will have worked itself out. Don't assume that because your brew is no longer bubbling out through the airlock that it has necessarily worked itself out, some brews will carry on for some days with a very gentle ferment which does not push gas out through the airlock. If you have a hydrometer your brew can be assumed to have worked itself out if you have seen no sign of activity for 24 hours and have a hydrometer reading of less than 1008.

Bottling time, probably the most tedious chore of brewing, this is time when cleanliness is certainly next to godliness. Any sloppiness during sterilising of bottles can result in bacteria spoiling your beer. If you have got your bottles from under the house or from a recycling centre, you will need to clean and sterilize them very carefully, once you have them clean or if you have bought plastic bottles, with a little care you don't have to be quite so particular. Thoroughly clean bottles in hot water making sure all traces of mould are removed, make up a sodium metabisuphite solution, 1 teaspoon to a cup of water, pour it into the first bottle and from the first to the second etc, you should sterilize 30 750ml bottles or the equivalent amount of larger or smaller bottles. Once sterilised save your solution of sodium metabisuphite in a mug or bowl and use it for soaking your caps in. The bottles should now be "primed" by adding one heaped teaspoon of white sugar to a 750ml bottle, or use two carbonation drops per bottle.

Fill your bottles up to around 25mm from the top and cap. If you are using a crown seal and wooden capper for your first brew place the bottle onto a wooden surface and strike your capper firmly with a mallet. If you take brewing up seriously you will find a lever capper or bench capper a good investment but the wooden type is a good cheap method of getting started. If you are using plastic bottles you simply screw on the lids. Once you have capped your bottle give the contents a good shake up to dissolve any sugar left in the bottle. Keep bottles in a warm place (around 20 deg C.) for around 3 days, then store for a further 6 weeks in a cool dark place, till drinking time. When opening a bottle, decant it into a jug and leave the yeasty sediment in the bottle.

Put down another brew. If you really can't wait to sample your first, and I can understand that, at least leave it for 2 weeks before you sample it, the younger the beer is the more likely it is to have that "yeasty" or "home brew" flavour which totally disappears after 6 to 8 weeks. As you become an experienced home brewer you will learn that the "home brew" flavour you thought you knew is only the yeastiness apparent in a beer drunk before its time and to label a beer as having a home brew flavour, is high praise, as you learn to scorn watery commercial efforts.

Beer kits have made the art of home brewing almost fail safe. There are things that can go wrong but very seldom is it unrecoverable, so if you have any problems give us a phone call... that is what makes a specialty brew shop different. We do know about the product we are selling. It is worth pointing out that the bacteria which can damage your beer is not damaging to your health just the flavour of your beer.