JUST STARTING? HERE'S A HANDY CHECKLIST AND USEFUL THINGS TO KNOW FOR BEER, LAGER & CIDER:

HBO_StaffHBO_Staff Posts: 1,922Administrator
edited March 2014 in Beer Brewing

There are a few things to check as you're first starting out and to be aware of, take a look and make sure you avoid any problems. The process is fairly simple so don't worry, it's not as precise as you might think, most things are not an exact science, so just do your best, it will turn out great;

1 - Clean and sterilise! - Make sure your equipment is well cleaned ideally with warm water and a steriliser or washing up liquid, and then well rinsed with clean water to remove any residue, it's time well spent! When brews do go wrong, the most common cause is contamination from equipment not properly cleaned. Whilst you want your fermenting vessel to be clean, do not use a scourer or scratch it if possible, as this can damage the surface and cause bacteria to infect the brew as it is harder to keep clean in future. If using a barrel make sure the tap is tight, give it a little nip up with a spanner or pair of grips to be sure before you fill it - you don't want your precious brew leaking out!

2 - Follow the instructions (usually on the ingredients tin/box or under the lid), mix the ingredients well with water, be careful if rinsing tins out with hot water as they can get very hot so use a cloth, and give it a good stir, and then add the yeast making sure it comes into full contact with the liquid and not just froth (if any). Yeast should be added as soon after mixing as possible. There are instructions and a video guide on this forum which you may want to take a look at too. If using a hydrometer you should take your first reading now, which can then be used later with your final reading to work out the approximate alcohol content of the finished brew.

3 - Cover and leave it to ferment, if using an airlock part fill it with water and pop it in the hole in the lid. If not, loosely cover the brew to keep any contaminants out, it is not essential to be airtight at this stage, covering will minimise the risk of airborne contaminants getting in.

4 - Keep it at the right temperature recommended in the instructions - this is often room temperature, use your thermometer (the self adhesive LCD type in the kits are easiest to use - fix them around half way up on the outside of the vessel so you can see at a glance) to check it is roughly around the right temperature (and don't worry if it's not exactly right), this will help it ferment quickly - there are plenty of heating devices available if it is being kept somewhere cooler - we recommend the 25l heater tray as it is easy to use and sorts itself out without any messing around

5 - It will now ferment on it's own - sometimes it will produce a lot of froth and if an airlock is used it may bubble like mad, other times you will hardly notice anything and the airlock wont move - it varies drastically from brew to brew, just leave it to do it's own thing. There is no hard and fast rule of what you will see, it varies so don't worry or mess around with it too much. Relax. Remember to store it in a place where damage cannot occur if it were to leak or froth over.

6 - If using a hydrometer take your readings, you can do this by half filling a trial jar, or other clear container, with some of the brew, pop the hydrometer into the liquid and read the number where it passes through the liquid. It should be around what the instructions for your kit recommend, and you can double check by reading it for 2 days in a row and making sure the reading remains constant - this is a good sign it has finished. If using hydrometer readings to work out the approximate alcohol content you need to make a note of your final reading at this stage. If in doubt leave it to finish off for an extra day to be on the safe side. No trial jar? put the cleaned hydrometer straight into the fermenting vessel and read it there, plus there is no washing up!

7 - Transfer to your keg or bottles - this can be done straight away now, or if you want to leave it a couple of days until you have more time that's fine, it wont spoil for a day or two. Carefully syphon it out of the fermentation vessel over into your choice of keg or bottles - which will depend on your preference and how you drink it - a barrel is great for beer, bottles are easier to put in the fridge so you can chill your finished drink down if you like it nice and cold as lager and cider drinkers often prefer. Bottles are easier to take round to that BBQ or party you're off to too. Take care not to put the tube onto the bottom of the vessel, you want to leave as much sediment behind as possible, so your finished drink is not cloudy. This means that you must leave some of the brew behind with the sediment, but don't worry, this has been allowed for. If you do get some sediment going through, don't worry, it will settle down. Ask someone to give you a hand with this if needed, using the syphon tube is a bit of a skill which improves with practice, and there are a few devices on the market to help with the transfer which can be awkward, such as the 'little bottler' for filling bottles when you don't have three hands! Bottles should be capable of withstanding pressure so choose carefully, cleaned recycled old beer bottles (but not wine) will be fine, or food grade plastic (PET) - if it had a carbonated drink in it before, it is probably OK to use for bottling your home brew as a general rule.

8 - Prime the brew - this is simply adding a little sugar to help carbonate the brew and is referred to as 'secondary fermentation'. You can add some sugar to the barrel, or if using bottles instead of sugar 'carbonation drops' are a simple way of priming them instead, either is OK - pop one or two in each 500ml bottle, depending how fizzy you want it, or double the dose if using one litre bottles, etc. It is not critical and can be increased or decreased to your own preference, again there is no right or wrong, but we wouldn't recommend adding more than 2 to a 500ml bottle to begin with, as too much pressure may build up.

9 - Make sure the bottles or barrel are AIRTIGHT - this is essential at this stage and from now on as you store it. If using a barrel put a little petroleum jelly (Vaseline or similar) on the thread and tighten well to ensure the barrel is fully airtight. This is where home brewing gets difficult - you must WAIT, then if possible, wait some more. Often the manufacturers say it can be consumed after a short period of time, but experience tells us that the longer you leave it the better the brew will be, the flavours improve as it matures, much like a good wine. In the early days a brew can taste a bit weak and lack depth of flavour, but if left for another month or two, you usually can tell the difference and the brew is more enjoyable. This is where having a couple of batches on the go at once helps, one to drink, one to leave and drink later. In the early stages sometimes the brew can have an unusual smell or taste, but more often than not this will disappear as it ages, so don't throw it all away in despair and the belief you've messed it up. If it smells or tastes of vinegar, is sour, or has mould on the surface it has probably been contaminated by bacteria, often due to inadequately cleaned and sterilised brewing equipment. This cannot be saved, it just has to be put down to experience and learnt from unfortunately (see point 1 at the top of this page). In the vast majority of cases the brew turns out well without any problems. 

10 - Drinking - you don't need any hints or tips with this do you?! Well no, but one thing to bear in mind with the pressure barrels/kegs is that as the brew goes down and it is consumed, the beer that has been dispensed needs to be replaced with something, and the barrel will try and draw air in through the tap as you pour the beer out to take it's place. If you are drinking it fairly slowly then the beer can re-pressurise the barrel itself as it continues to carbonate, but if you drink a lot in a short space of time, then it doesn't get chance to re-pressurise. If air is drawn in through the tap it can then reduce the shelf-life of the beer, much in the same way as leaving a pint out on the side would go stale. The way around this is to use an injector cap with CO2 bulbs to inject additional CO2 into the barrel to keep the air out, and help keep the pressure up so the brew dispenses out quickly when you open the tap. Some brews need none, some need a couple of CO2 bulbs per batch, it varies depending on things such as the brew, the temperature, the sugar added, how quickly it is consumed, etc. If using the CO2 bulbs, as it gets slow, add one CO2 bulb at a time and then again later if needed. Some kits (such as our Woodfordes starter kits) come with this injector valve and bulbs included, others you may need to upgrade and add one if the carbonation is a problem. A common misconception is that by adding CO2 into the barrel with the CO2 bulbs increases carbonation of the beer, but whilst it increases the pressure which can make it froth more as it comes out of the tap it doesn't actually make the beer or lager much fizzier. The carbonation of the beer or lager is generally determined by the amount of priming sugar added when bottling or filling the barrel. This can also be improved by using brewing sugar or ideally 'brew enhancers' instead of ordinary sugar in the brewing process, they are designed to improve head retention, body, mouth feel and flavour of the finished brew. Perhaps you didn't know as much about drinking it as you thought?!

11 - Future batches - you have the equipment, now the brewing gets even cheaper as you just need ingredients! And you can experiment a little as your experience and confidence increases, the first batch is a pleasant memory, but you can try new things out, add a different flavour, maybe use a spraymalt instead of sugar to add a different flavour, improve the head of the brew, perhaps make one of the kits which comes with hop pellets and can be more complex, maybe you wished the last brew had been more hoppy, or darker, so consider trying a specific spraymalt which come in various styles. Other ways to improve your brew to your preference include using hops or finishing hop pellets.... And if you're not sure what to make just ask and we can recommend some of the best kits out there to brew.

12 - Once your brew is ready and is being tasted, leave a review on your favourite website www.home-brew-online.com so that others can use the reviews under each product as a guide on which drinks to try next, there is nothing better than genuine customer reviews from other like-minded people to help with making your decision, the manufacturers tell you a description, but the reviews are an actual insight into what to expect and any tips to bear in mind.

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