Join Date: Apr 2015
Location: North Sussex
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Basic beginners guide to brewing your own beer from a kit
This is a basic beginners guide to brewing your own beer from a kit, which will hopefully be of some use to 'newbies' who join our Forum and are just starting out. It is not intended to cover everything about home brewed beer just something fairly simple to get you started. When you have made a few brews you can move up a gear as you wish, and try new things helped along by the wealth of information on this Forum.
Where to buy stuff
Your local homebrew shop (LHBS) if you are lucky enough to have one near you, on-line suppliers, and Wilko who occasionally have sales with savings on brewing stuff.
- Fermenting Vessel (FV) with a lid. Readily available is the Youngs 25 litre FV.
- Enough bottles in which to put your brew. Both PET or glass are fine. Any pre-used bottle will do as long as it is in good condition and has held a 'fizzy' drink. Ordinary beer bottles will require you to have a capper and caps. You could try 2 litre PET bottles (ex fizzy water). Still water bottles should not be used.
- a long mixing spoon
- a thermometer that is reasonably accurate (e.g digital type)
- a siphon tube preferably one with a cap on the end
- something to sanitise your equipment e.g. VWP or Starsan solution
- a teaspoon
Basic Nice to Haves
- a brewing/winemakers hydrometer (recommended)
- an airlock or bubbler which will fit into the FV lid; not essential but useful
- a funnel to use for adding priming sugar to your bottles
- Keep everything that comes into contact with your brew clean and sanitised using VWP or Starsan solution or similar. There is no need to be obsessive about it, just sensible. Remember dirty equipment could lead to bad or infected beer.
- Not essential but useful; keep a record of what you have done throughout your brew so you can develop your technique
- Clean your equipment after use so it is fresh when you want to re-use it. This includes your bottles.
Starting Your Brew
Clean and sanitise your equipment.
Follow the instructions for your kit about adding the hopped malt, water and any other ingredients to your FV.
Use water from the mains since it is sterile. Do not use hot water fed from a gravity header tank since it is not sterile. If your mains water does not taste very good you might consider using bottled water instead.
If you have a one can kit (of hopped malt extract) you will be recommended to add other fermentable sugars like dried malt extract (DME), brewing sugar (dextrose) or a mixture of the two sold as beer or brew enhancer. Avoid using ordinary table sugar in large quantities since it may introduce a cidery taste to your finished beer.
Make sure that you have given the FV contents a good thrash to oxygenate it but without spilling any! This is good practice since it helps the yeast get going in the early part of fermentation.
Use the thermometer to check that the temperature of the brew is in the right range. About 20*C is fine unless you are making lager with a proper lager yeast in which case the instructions will tell you tell you the correct temperature. Keep the lid on the brew while you wait for the right temperature. Don't add the yeast if the temperature is too warm as you may kill it under extreme circumstances, or introduce off tastes to your beer, and if too cold the yeast will struggle to get going.
When the temperature is right, if you have a hydrometer, use it to take the Original Gravity (OG) of the beer.
Add the yeast to your brew. Most kits recommend sprinkling onto the surface of the brew.
When the yeast has been added put the lid on the FV and leave it alone.
Move into a place with a steady temperature in the right range, say about 20*C for most kit beers, unless your instructions say otherwise. Note that if you are using an ale type yeast (rather than a lager yeast) and you put your FV in a cool place (say below 16*C) the yeast may struggle to keep the fermentation going. Also fermentations carried out at temperatures higher than about 24*C may introduce unwanted flavours, which is one reason why some home brewers do not brew in the hot weather unless they have a way of controlling the temperature.
This is the part of the brewing process where the yeast turns most of the fermentable sugars to alcohol and CO2.
About 12 -24 hours into your brew it should have developed a foam or 'krausen' on top. The krausen contains yeast cells and is normal and healthy. The krausen will usually stay on the top of the brew until the fermentation has started to die down.
If you have an airlock fitted and your lid has a tight fit onto the FV you will see the airlock bubbling. If your airlock is not bubbling but you have a krausen on top your lid is leaking CO2. This is not a problem but you will not have a good indication of how your brew is progressing.
Leave you brew alone for about 7 days, and avoid opening the FV. Don't rely on kit instructions they are optimistic about fermentation times.
If you have an airlock with a properly sealed FV lid, wait for the bubbling rate to drop down to about once per minute before you open up the FV. Failing that have a peek under the lid and if there is no krausen but the brew still looks as if it's still active, or there is a krausen, reseal the lid and leave for another day or so.
When your brew is clearing with little sign of fermentation and the airlock activity has almost stopped check the gravity using your hydrometer.
The final gravity (FG) reading is normally around the 1.010 mark but can be higher or lower according to yeast used, type of beer and many other factors
When you get the same gravity reading on two or more consecutive days your primary fermentation has finished, and it is safe to bottle (or keg).
If in doubt leave a little longer in the FV. In any case, for normal strength beers brewed with an ale type yeast, it is recommended that the beer is left in the FV for two weeks or so, provided it is sealed, which serves two purposes, first it allows the yeast to clear from the brew minimising carry over to the bottles, and second it allows the yeast to work on the brew to improve it's quality or 'cleaning up after itself'. Additionally a further help to clearing your beer will be to put it in a cool place, if available, for a another couple of days prior to bottling.
Things that Can Go Wrong
- The first part of the fermentation is so vigorous that the contents spill out of the FV. Some kits are well know for doing this e.g. Coopers Stout and Youngs American IPA. The solution is to crack the lid slightly open with a towel to mop up any spillage or fit a blow-off tube (look this up on this Forum). When things have died down reseal the lid and/or refit the airlock
- Stuck fermentation; this is where the yeast stops working before it is supposed to. You can sometimes get the brew going again by a gentle stirring, but try to avoid getting air into the brew, or move the FV into a warmer place. Some kits like a Wherry are well known for this. Sometimes repitching with fresh yeast may get the fermentation restarted but this is not guaranteed.
- Your brew goes bad or 'infected'. However, if you have kept the lid on the FV as much as you can, and kept the equipment you use clean and sanitised this is unlikely to happen unless you have been very unlucky. Don't be confused by a raw taste at the end of the primary. Good beer will improve over time and will lose this taste some quicker than others.
When you are happy the primary has finished and/or you have left it in the FV for as long as you think necessary, its time to bottle.
At this stage it will be necessary to add priming sugar. Priming sugar is a small quantity of sugar added to the bottled brew which the suspended yeast cells convert to a little more alcohol and CO2 which carbonates the beer. Too much sugar and the beer will be too gassy or in extreme could blow a bottle, too little and your beer will be flat. Also it is important that the primary fermentation has finished (see above) since any continuing primary fermentation will add yet more CO2 with resulting bottle and beer overpressure.
Priming sugar is usually table sugar (sucrose) or brewing sugar (dextrose) but other sugars can be used as long as they are fermentable. A typical quantity is 85g sucrose per 23 litres. Your instructions will tell you how much sugar to use but note that different sugars have different rates to achieve the same degree of carbonation.
Without a second vessel into which you can 'batch prime' and add the priming sugar to give a uniform mix, the simplest way of adding priming sugar is to add it direct to the bottles (see below). Batch priming is not covered here.
So, first move the FV to a position from where you intend to siphon transfer into your bottles, avoiding knocks and excessive movements which will stir up the yeast at the bottom of the FV.
Then clean and sterilise your bottles and their caps or tops, and the siphon tube thoroughly.
Using the siphon tube fill each bottle with the beer. Avoid drawing in the settled yeast at the bottom of the FV.
To each bottle add a measure of priming sugar, using a clean funnel if available. Try to be as precise as possible. Typically, and using table sugar, the rate could be 0.5tsp per 500ml bottle or 2tsp per 2litre bottle. One teaspoon is about 4.5g.
Cap or screw the tops onto the bottles, and move to a warm place (say 20*C) for at least a week (two is better) and during this period the yeast will work on the beer to carbonate it. It should also start to clear.
Conditioning and Storage
Move your bottles into store, ideally a cool place, for another two weeks, after which it will just about be ready to drink, assuming it has cleared. Some beers can be drunk early, even without conditioning, but most are best if left for longer. Some kit yeasts settle well and quickly but others take longer, even a few weeks. Try keeping one bottle back to drink after several months have passed to see if it has improved with time.
Things that can go wrong
- beer is flat; not enough priming sugar, not long enough conditioning
- beer too gassy; too much priming sugar, bottled too early
- beer slow to clear; this is usually down to the yeast, try a few days in the fridge before drinking or just leave it longer, it won't do any harm
Serve at the correct temperature for your type of beer
Empty your bottles carefully into your glass making sure you don't disturb the settled yeast at the bottom of the bottle.
Larger bottles may be better decanted into a serving jug.
A Note on Dry Hop Additions
Some premium kits may contain hops to be used to 'dry hop' your brew.
These hops will usually be in pellet form rather than hop flowers. Pellets are ground hop flowers and when they reabsorb water, or in this case your brew, they will break up and disperse, and create a large hop particle surface area to transfer flavour and aroma to the brew.
The hops are usually added late in the primary fermentation stage, typically when fermentation has finished. The reason they are added late is to minimise hop aroma being stripped out of the beer by the CO2 fermentation gas. Hops are naturally sterile so there is little chance of infection.
There are normally two ways of adding these hops, either sprinkle them on the surface of the brew and allow them to disperse, or place them into a clean sterile nylon or muslin bag with or without weights and slowly lower that into your brew. One way to make the bag sterile is to boil it for a few minutes and then allow it to cool before you place the hops inside
The advantage of the first method is that it allows the hops to better disperse and give up their flavour and aroma. The disadvantage is that the dispersed hop particles, although they eventually mostly settle to the FV bottom, can clog up your siphon or get carried over into your bottles.
The advantage of the second method is that the hops are contained in a bag and won't clog up the siphon or carry over, but they are slightly less likely to give up flavour and aroma.
Home brewers have their own preferred method for adding the hops and you will eventually decide which suits you best.
After you have added the hops, and resealed the FV lid, you may notice that the airlock if fitted has started to bubble again. This is, in the main, is not a sign that fermentation has restarted, but a sign of dissolved CO2 being forced out of solution by the hop particles. After a few hours the bubble rate will usually drop back to where it was before the hops were added.
So how long to leave the hops in the brew? Usual practice is between 4 and 7 days. Any shorter time and the hops probably won't have done their job properly, any longer and some off-flavours may develop which you may want to avoid.
And finally at the end of the dry hopping period your brew is ready to bottle, provided you are happy you have reached the final gravity as described above.