I spend a lot of time and effort making my own beer, and people who've tried it usually like what they see, but they find that it's too much of an effort to do it themselves. I can't disagree: I often wonder how to make things easier.
One way is obvious: go to the supermarket and buy a “Home Brew Kit”. I know many people who have tried it, and only some were happy with the result. The general feeling is that home brew kits are of poor quality.
In fact, the problem with the home brew kits are the instructions, not the quality (with the possible exception of the yeast). To quote David Stewart of Goliath brewing:
In my opinion, it's first time brewers following the instructions that give brewing at home a bad reputation. Additionally, there are sheds all over OZ with fermenters in them that have been used 2-3 times then left because the results were not what was promised on the packaging.
In previous version of this document, I described one way of improving the quality of the beer. Since then, I've tried this way and realized that it's only one of many ways to improve the beer. So this page now describes how to brew the beer more or less as the manufacturers should have intended it; I describe alternatives on the page improving kit beers.
Before we start, you should know what you're letting yourself in for:
To read this article: about ten minutes. Don't be put off by its length. Brewing beer takes a while, and these instructions explain why you should do what they say. It's worth spending the extra time to read them. Consider: do it wrong and you may not find out for a month that you've made a beer which you can pour down the drain.
To make the wort for fermentation: about 30 minutes, including heating up the water.
To bottle the beer: about 90 minutes, depending on how you do it.
Most of the time will be spent drinking the beer. You can get help, of course, but 23 litres of beer are over 60 stubbies (375 ml). At 20 minutes per bottle (a pretty good pace), that's 20 hours of drinking pleasure. It certainly puts the rest of the time into perspective.
WARNING: home brewing is addictive. Even if you like this recipe, you probably won't make more than two or three brews of it before moving on to even better beers. At some later point you'll then realise that you don't like commercial beer any more. You will have passed the point of no return.
The equipment you need lot depends on whether you're going to continue, in which case it's worth investing in some better equipment. You can start with things you have round the house, but if you want to do it on a regular basis, it's worth getting better equipment. Here's an overview:
You're going to need something that holds at least 30 litres, of course, assuming you make 23 litres: the beer will foam a lot during fermentation, so you shouldn't fill the fermenter more than 80% full. If you don't have an suitable receptacle, you can ferment in a plastic bucket, as long as you make sure to keep it well covered. You can buy purpose-built fermenters for about $40. I'm not specifically recommending Country Brewer here; they just have nice illustrations on their web site. You should find similar vessels at any home brew shop.
How are you going to get the beer into the bottles? You can pour it into a jug and then into the bottles, but this increases the risk of infection. Again, it depends on how much money to spend. If you spend money on a fermenter, you should certainly also buy a bottle filler. This is a tube that sticks into the fermenter tap. It contains a valve at the bottom: you push the bottle up around it and open the valve by pushing up. That way you can fill the bottle without too much foam and without much chance of infection.
Whichever way you fill the bottles, be careful to leave behind as much yeast sediment as possible. It'll just make the finished beer harder to pour. Also, the sediment is a good basis for your next brew: with a good slurry from the previous brew, you won't need a starter.
What kind of bottles? Home brewers are always worrying about that. The standard 375 ml stubby is fine, but you'll need to put a crown cork on it. You can buy hand cappers relatively cheaply, but they're hard to use, and specifically the 375 ml stubbies are relatively difficult to cap, due to their screw thread.
Other refillable bottles are easier to cap. You can often find old “king brown” bottles at a bottle recycler, and many imported European beers come in the German standard half litre bottles. Both are easier to cap than the 375 ml bottles. I personally use all these sizes of bottles.
A third form of bottle are plastic (“PET”) screw top bottles. I don't use them myself, but I know people who do, and it seems to work.
If I were doing this for the first time, I'd probably try the PET bottles until I knew that I wanted to continue to brew beer more frequently. Then I'd use glass bottles and buy a bench capper. I'd steer clear of the hand cappers.
Adding the priming sugar is also an issue. How do you get 3, 4 or 6 grams of sugar into each bottle? You can buy purpose-made measuring spoons which will give you 3 or 6 grams (but not 4), but the most reliable way is to add it as a syrup to the beer before starting bottling. The problem here is avoiding the yeast sediment. You need to mix the sugar thoroughly, of course, and that will stir up the yeast, which will find the sugar, and a lot of the yeast will not settle out again. The solution: transfer (“rack”) the beer into another container. That's what I do, but it requires a second fermenter and a plastic tube.
As mentioned, you don't absolutely need any of the equipment mentioned above, and it won't make your beer any better. It will, however, make life easier, and it reduces the risk of infections. It is often available in kits from reputable home brew suppliers. For example, Grumpys (currently, as of 17 February 2007) offer all the equipment mentioned above for $130, along with a brew kit and a number of other useful things. That's less than the price of 4 slabs of beer; your break-even point would be somewhere after the second brew.
Note: Grumpys have dynamically generated URLs. It's possible that the equipment URL above will change; follow the “Brewshop” link from the home page (and inform me) if it's broken.
A myriad of different organisms love malt, and some love alcohol. Many live in your domestic environment, and all will attack your beer if they get the chance. You much ensure that they don't. Here are a couple of ways:
Be scrupulously clean. Don't leave things lying open while you're working. Disinfect everything you use. I use a dilute solution of household bleach (be sure to get “plain” bleach without lemon or other smell) and then rinse well (bleach doesn't improve the taste of the beer). Boiling also helps.
Give your yeast a head start. If it's raring to go, it'll consume the sugars before any other bug gets its act together.
Go to the supermarket and buy a home brew kit. In Australia, this is almost invariably a 1.7 litre can of hopped malt extract, and it includes a sachet of dried yeast. Depending on the brand and type, it will cost between about $6 and $12. Also buy a kilogram of sugar.
Take the lid off the concentrate. Read the instructions, but follow the ones below if they differ..
Boil about 200 ml of water and allow to cool. You'll need this for rehydrating the yeast when it's cold.
Heat about 5 to 10 litres of water to boiling point and add the contents of the can of wort concentrate and 1 kg sugar. Dissolve well and dilute to 20 to 25 litres with clean cold (preferably boiled) water. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature.
The volume you choose depends on how strong you want the beer to be. 23 litres will give you about 5% alcohol, depending on the yeast.
The yeast should foam up a bit.
When the wort is at room temperature (25° or below), and not before, add the yeast and stir well. Cover well, making sure that no air can get in, but that gas (carbon dioxide) can get out. The beer will generate lots of carbon dioxide during fermentation. Keep at room temperature (17°—22°) for several days. Fermentation should start within 12 hours, and it should start to subside in 3 to 4 days.
Leave the beer in the fermenter for at least five days after the fermentation has subsided. Then fill into bottles, adding about 8 grams/litre of sugar.
The total time in the fermenter should be between 7 and 14 days. Leaving it in longer may increase the risk of infection if you're using an open bucket, but it'll give more consistent results. It won't make much difference to when you can drink the beer.
Leave in a cool (but not cold; between 15° and 20°) dark place for at least a week, preferably two to three. The beer will be pretty cloudy when you put it in the bottle, and it will take about a week for it to clear.
Drink, but not all at once. The beer should keep for at least a year.
If you follow these instructions, you'll make a reasonable beer, comparable with many commercial beers, for about 40 cents a litre or 15 cents a stubby.
Again, there are a number of reasons. Here are some typical instructions:
“Providing temperature is below 35°C, add yeast. Stir briefly. ”
Brewers' yeast can't sustain temperatures that high. Most die over 30°. This suggests that the yeast in question must be some strain of baker's yeast, or at least a yeast designed for high temperatures. I don't understand why they should do that: it's no cheaper, and it can only lower the quality.
Also, stirring wort at this temperature can cause oxidation which detracts from the taste of the beer. That's probably not such a big deal in this case, though.
“Maintain temperature of brew at 25°C to 35°C. ”
Even for a yeast which can take such high brewing temperatures, it's a bad idea to ferment this hot. Yes, the fermentation will finish more quickly, but not much. At these temperatures, though, yeast develops large quantities of aliphatic esters (“banana flavour”) which detract from the flavour and can cause hangovers.
There are two basic strains of yeast on the market (not counting the Belgian strains, which are a different kettle of fish): ale yeast, which typically ferments between 15° and 20° (exceptionally as high as 24°), and lager yeast, which typically ferments between 8° and 14°. The Wyeast Product List gives much more detail.
“Bottle when fermentation has ceased and a SG of 1005 is attained ”
SG? What's that? That's the first mention of it, either in this article or in the BiLo instructions. It stands for “Specific gravity”, and you need a hydrometer to measure it. You'll note that I haven't mentioned hydrometers under “equipment” above. That's because you don't really need it at the start. The actual final SG is very much dependent on the composition of the wort. The simple answer is: wait for the fermentation to subside and wait a few days. Then you should be OK. Nevertheless, the following warning is correct in principle:
WARNING: Do not bottle if SG is above 1005 as overgassed bottles could explode.
The insidious thing about this page is, of course, that once you start you'll probably not want to stop. But with relatively little effort you can improve on the beers. I've put alternative suggestions on the improving kit beers page.
This is just a brief introduction; when you're done, you'll probably want to look at other places. I have a list of links, but another good start is the Australian CraftBrewer's web site. And of course your local home brew shop will be able to give you both the ingredients and the advice that you won't get at the supermarket. Good luck!
This page and its companion get a lot of hits on my web site. I'd be very interested to hear what you think of them. I welcome feedback via email.
|Greg's home page||Greg's diary||Greg's photos||Copyright|