Despite the technical stuff that can be found here, you can make a damn tasty beer with relatively little equipment and just a bit of time. Here, I'm going to walk you through your first kit beer and you'll be brewing in no time.
To start, you're going to need something to put your beer in. A white plastic fermenting bucket is cheap, and food safe. They last for about a year before microscopic scratches start to harbour bacteria that will ruin your beer.
They come with a loose fitting lid, which keeps stuff from falling into your beer and allows CO2 to escape. More expensive models will come with a bubbler that keeps things even more hygenic.
Next thing you'll need are bottles. Brown and glass are best as clear or green bottles will make your beer skunky. If you can find them, swing top (AKA EZ-cap) bottles mean you won't have to get a bottle capper.
Lastly, you'll need a long handled spoon, either made of sterile plastic or stainless steel and a bottle capper if you don't have swing top bottles, as well as a siphon for getting said beer into said bottles.
If you've ever made wine, beer sanitation is slightly different. Beer, with a lower acidity and alcohol level, requires a higher degree of sanitation. There are three products that every brewer needs to have to avoid a catastrophe:
- Sodium hypochlorite - for glass
- Powdered Brew Wash - for plastic
- No rinse sanitiser - for both
Sodium hypochlorite comes under a few names, but is usually a powder and pink. It will quickly loosen the gunk in your bottles, which should be at least rinsed as soon as you finish one to avoid mould or other caked-on soil. You absolutely must rinse sodium hypochlorite off of everything before using because chlorine reacts very badly with yeast and you will end up with a rubbery taste in your beer.
Powdered Brew Wash, is a mixture of unscented oxyclean and TSP, if you'd like to make it yourself, but it's cheap enough that it's rarely worth it. Use this on your plastic equipment and, as with sodium hypochlorite, rinse well.
No rinse sanitisers come under a few names, though the one most commonly available to homebrewers is called StarSan. Follow the directions and rinse everything your beer is about to touch with it. It works by lowering the pH below what most bacteria can tolerate and then degrades into a yeast nutrient.
- Soak your equipment in sodium hypochlorite or powdered brew wash (PBW) mixed with hot water to remove any gunk. If you can see it or feel it, it's not clean. This can be done at any time, but it's best to do it as soon as you finish using a piece of equipment.
- Immediately before using your equipment, rinse with a StarSan solution. Results are best if it remains in contact with your equipment for 1 minute.This may foam up, but it's okay to put beer directly on the foam.
Now that you've acquired your beer kit, it's time to brew!
Sanitise a knife with a no rinse sanitiser as well as your plastic bucket and open your bag of wort into the bucket. Some beer kits require water to be added. If you live in a place with high chlorine in the water, use bottled water instead, or boil the water first. If you bought a beer kit that requires cooking, like a can of extract, follow the directions on the can before adding to the fermenter. Place the lid on the fermenter and wait for the beer to cool before moving to the next step.
Pitch your yeast. Your beer kit should have come with a packet of dried yeast. Sprinkle lightly over the top of the wort and close the lid. If the yeast shows no signs of fermentation after 8 hours, the yeast has likely died and you need some more yeast. Place the fermenter in an area that remains consistently between 18-22 C. Though not necessary, if you have a hydrometer, you can use it to measure the SG, or Specific Gravity. Write this number down somewhere and it will allow you to calculate the alcohol content later.
Wait for a week. Maybe grab a beer or something.
Check on that beer. The head should have gone down and the yeast should be gathering at the bottom of the fermenter. In some cases, it's good to go, but in most cases, another week is better. Some people will transfer the beer to a glass carboy at this point, but it's not strictly necessary.
After two weeks, your beer should be pretty much done. If you have a hydrometer, you can take another measurement. Your beer should be somewhere between 1.015-1.010. If you don't, you can sample some. It should taste slightly sweet since it isn't carbonated yet, but not overly so. If your kit came with priming sugar, carefully add that now and stir gently with your sanitised brewing spoon. If your kit did not come with priming sugar, 3/4 cup of dextrose or sugar will also work for a standard 19L kit.
Siphon the beer carefully into your sanitised bottles and then cap them. On a standard kit, you should get between 45-50 bottles. Store the bottles for 2 weeks at room temperature, then move them into a refrigerated area for the best shelf life.
- Yeast didn't do anything
- Yeast is dead, repitch a fresh batch
- Temperature is too cold, move fermenter to a warmer area
- Beer tastes weird
- Yeast didn't take off quickly enough
- Cleaner wasn't rinsed enough
- Sanitiser wasn't used
- Some gunk in the bottles didn't get removed
- Fermenter or other plastic equipment has been contaminated
- Bottles exploded
- Used too much priming sugar
- Didn't mix priming sugar enough
- Beer is flat
- Caps weren't sealed tightly enough
- Bottles were stored in an area that was too cold
- Yeast died
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