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What is a 'session' beer?

What is a session beer?


What is the definition of session beer? 


I saw this question asked in a beer oriented Facebook group and I thought it seems such an obvious question that it didn't need an answer but then I realized not everyone drinks like a fish! 

A session beer is oft considered to be a beer which has an alcohol content of around 5 percent ABV or less.

The concept of this is that in a 'session' of beer drinking, you won't get hammered by drinking 5 beers at 5 percent as you may just do if you have 5 beers at eight percent.

So basically before the rise of craft beer, most beers were session beers - as history beers have been from 4 - 5 % ABV.

And there in lies the rub - the word session for beer has been totally abused by many craft brewers and their promotion campaigns and now it feels like every damn beer is pitched to beer drinkers as being a session beer. 

Even beer reviewers have started to throw it into their articles as if it adds a sense of romanticism to beer.

It doesn't and it devalues the meaning of the concept.

So a session beer is historically a beer of traditional strength. The more modern craft beer meaning of a session beer is any beer !

We wonder if the boys from U2 ever made homebrew? Check out their song You're The Best Thing About Me. It's a cracker of a tune. 

The best and cheapest beer wort chillers guide

how to cool a beer wort with a chiller
When making beer, the key part of the whole exercise is getting fermentation occurring as quickly as possible once the wort has been prepared.

The trouble is, the wort is usually bloody hot and if you add yeast to the wort, it will die a miserable death.

Like the T-100 in Terminator 2.

So what can you do?

It’s simple.

You may wish to consider investing in a wort chiller.

Let's cut through to the deal:

Our featured wort chiller - Copperhead Immersion Wort Chiller


copper head immersion wort chiller

The two stand out features of this chiller are that it comes with 25 foot copper coil for efficient cooling and its vinyl tubing comes with the standard garden hose connection that we mentioned above.

It also features:
  • All copper coil construction is easy to clean and will conduct heat better than other metals.
  • Ensure secure tubing with proprietary barbed fittings. Eradicate shooting streams of water that make a mess in your brew cave.
  • Drop-angle connections provide insurance against contamination.
  • Dimensions: 9 inches wide, 16 inches tall to the bend, 3/8 ID tubing
Check out the pricing on Amazon.

Here's a guide on why you might want to use a chiller


The use of one can improve the quality of your beer in several ways.

The first is to protect the beer against infections.

While the wort it is still hot bacteria and wild yeasts are inhibited from toying with your beer which is a good thing but it is very susceptible to oxidation damage as it slowly cools.

An efficient cool down can prevent this damage from occurring.

It also prevents the production of dimethyl sulphide. This compound can produce off flavourings in the beer so obviously, you’d want to remove the risk of this being produced as much as you can.

Ideally, the conscientious brewer should aim to get the wort to below 80°F ( 27°C) before oxidation or contamination has a chance to occur. The use of a wort chiller will get you there in no time.

The ‘cold break’ and ‘chill haze’


You may have heard of ‘chill haze’. This is a really common cause of beer cloudiness where the wort has been boiled and the cooling process has not generated enough ‘cold break’.

The cold break is the proteins from the beer that are precipated to the bottom of the beer by the cold temperature.

Using a copper wort chiller allows for an effective way to get more cold break forming and thus reduces the chance of chill haze in your finished beer.

The less crap in your beer, the better it will taste.

A tale of two chillers


There are actually two basic types of wort chillers: immersion and counter-flow.

Immersion chillers are the simplest and work by running cold water through the coil which immersed in the wort. The heat of the wort is transferred via the copper into the water which is quickly is carried away 

Counterflow chillers work in an opposite manner.

The hot wort is drained from the pot via the copper tubing while cold water flows around the outside of the chiller.

What does the garden hose have to do with chilling beer?


You should look to buy a wort chiller that has your standard garden hose connection. 

This allows for brewing outside on a nice summer's day or connecting to a laundry sink faucet as your chilling water source. 

That can give you some room to breathe outside rather than managing all kinds of cooling shenanigans in the kitchen!

Go for quality

You get what you pay for so look for wort chillers that cool efficiently, don’t leak and will last many brews so don't cheap out.

Just as you should always get the bigger brewing kettle, go for the quality but affordable wort chiller. 

In the long run, it will be wort(h) it.

What are hops and what effect do they have on beer?


What are hops and what do they do to beer?

Hops is what makes beer taste wonderful!

At their most basic form, hops are the cone-shaped flower of the plant known as 'Humulus lupulus'. 

Hops may be added to the beer wort to impart a bitterness which balances the sweet malt flavour of beer.

Hops can be used to create a variety of tastes and to offer unique aromas which enhance the drinking experience. 

Beer makers of the last millennium recognized that hops was a crucial element of brewing good beer. It was the Germans who were amongst the first beer makes to recognize their need. So much so, it became the law that only hops could be used in beer as opposed to other beer flavoring such as anice (aniseed), heather and roseword. 

The beauty of the hops plant is that its varieties give different qualities to the beer.

The climate and location of where the hops are grown help determine these qualities but most importantly, the alpha or beta acids of the hop causes the greatest contribution. 

Hops also offer the ability to act as stability agent, preventing spoilage of the beer (hence Indian Pale Ales were shipped to India from Great Brtitain were heavily hopped). It's properties allow the beer yeast to thrive over any other potential contaminants.

It also helps with head retention and acts as a natural clarifier agent.

Hops also contain oils which add to flavour. Hops can be added at different points in the brewing process and the differing temperatures will also have an affect on those oils and flavour. 

Hop associations to certain kinds of beers 

Certain kinds of hops are commonly associated with particular styles of beer or beer from certain regions.

Here's some common examples: 
  • Pilsner beers have became nearly synonymous with the four popular 'noble hops' being the varieties of hop called Terrnanger, Spalt, Hallertauer and Saaz. Saaz hops in particular are associated with the brewing of lagers, most for the aroma that has become associated with the beer. Pilsner beers are known as traditionally coming from the Czech Republic.
  • The English Golding hop has become the signature hops of English ale. The Fuggle hop is another popular hop used for ale. 
  • America has become a home for hop production and many new varieties from old favorites have been developed. American hops are recognized and appreciated all around the world for the bold, and often intense flavors they impart to beer. American hops are often described as being citrus like, however that's a most rudimentary description.
Hops in pellet form
Hops in pellet form

What form do hops come in for brewing?

Hops can distributed as pellets, plugs or whole leaf. 

What hops should I use in my beer brewing? 

It of course depends on what kind of beer you are trying to make. If you are making beer clones or following recipes, you probably want to follow what other brewers have found to work well. 

Here's a list of some common hops that are often used by home brewers and ones I have used myself:
  • Cascade: This is an extremely popular american hop. Known for it's floral hop trait, it is often liked to a grapefruit. Cascade is known as a versatile hop variety that is popular for bittering, finishing and dry hopping of pale ale and American style beers.
  • Czech Saaz: as mentioned a popular hop for pilsner and lager style beers. Saaz offers a delicate, mild floral aroma.
  • Green Bullet: offers a traditional bittering quality and hop flavour. A Kauri like giant of the New Zealand brewing industry this hop is closely associated with the world renowned Steinlager beer. Green bullets is best consider a bittering variety typically lager beers.
  • Motueka Hops: Hey, I'm a Kiwi so why not promote a second Kiwi hops? The Moteuka hops comes from the region it is grown in, being the top of the South Island of New Zealand. Very suitable for more traditional style lagers, especially the increasingly popular Bohemian Pilsener
  • Golding hops are good for bittering, finishing and dry hopping a range of ales
If you are a beginner brewer looking to use hops for the first time, we feel confident enough from our experience with using these hops that you won't go wrong -  as long as you match them to your intended style of beer.

We have a fond memory of a brew which used both cascade and green bullet hops to make a loosely approximate version of Steinlager.

It was a fine brew!

And so from that you can take that it is OK to add different hops together to get different flavours and aroma!

When do I add hops to my beer?

Typically the beer wort is boiled with hops before it is cooled down to begin the fermentation process. The timings of when to add the hops in the boil can be critical as the different timings can cause the hops to work differently on the beer.

If you are making your own wort (as is, not using a beer kit) then it's best practice to follow a tried and true recipe, at least as you start out.

You can of course become more adventurous when you have a bit of confidence in your beer making skills!

If you're at that point  you'll want to understand that the process is sometimes known as the “hop schedule”. A hop schedule will lists the length of time that the hops should be in the boil, not the amount of time you should wait to add the hops.

This allows you to making your timings correctly. The rough guide is the longer you boil the hops, the more bitterness they will impart. The shorter you boil them, the more flavour will be added.

If you are using a simple beer kit, you have two choices when to add hops. You may add them when you bring all the ingredients of the kit together, or you can add them near the end of the fermentation process. The choice is yours, and in our experience, there doesn't appear to be much of a difference in the end result. 

Where can I buy hops?

Your local brewshop will typically have a wide selection but there are online stores everywhere, we recommend NZ's Brewshop but internationally you'll have some good luck buying on Amazon.

Extra for Experts:


Recipe for making a substitute PBW beer equipment cleaner

There are many facets of beer making that are important:

The right hops.

The right temperature at which to brew.

The right yeast.

The right size kettle.

The right whatever else you think is important.

But as any cook, painter, website designer or astronaut will tell you, preparation is the key to success and the father of successful brewing is making sure that your beer making equipment is clean!

We've previously recommended PBW as a literal solution to cleaning your brewing equipment as it is a proven cleaner and degreaser.

But as a branded home brewers product, PBW can cost you some real cash money. Many brewers swear by and believe in it's value but if you are looking to get a substitute product at a cheaper price, there's a handy wee trick you may wish to try to make your own version of PBW.

What you are going to do is replicate the two main ingredients of PBW to make your own recipe.

We are looking to source these two active ingredients in PBW.
  • Sodium percarbonate 
  • Sodium metasilicate

So where does one find these ingredients in home products?


The good news is that you might already have the percarbonate on a shelf in your laundry at home!

Many washing machine soaker's main ingredient is the chemical we are after.

By example of brands we are talking Tide, Oxiclean, or Napisan.

For the metasilicate, we've found that many home DIY brewers use a cleaner called Red Devil TSP/90. You can find it on Amazon or local stores such as Walmart, Lowes or Home Depot.

using red devil to clean beer

The TSP stands for  tri-sodium phosphate. That chemical is not actually used much in America due to environmental concerns so the TSP/90 is actually a substitute product, hence the meta-silicate!

Confusing much?

So how to prepare this combo?



Now, mixing chemicals found in the kitchen or laundry can be dangerous but we are not using chlorine or ammonia here so we are on safe ground to mix our formula's ingredients.

The ratio prepare is 70% Oxiclean with 30% TSP/90 - by weight. This mixture gives you your DIY version of PBW.

How much to use?


The concentration is 1 ounce per gallon of water which equates to 30 grams per 3.5 litres which is basically about 10 gram per litre.


Safety precautions


While Red Devil TSP/90 contains no Phosphorous, lye or other abrasives and the laundry soaker is pretty benign, it is prudent to use gloves during use.

You can then use your cleaner in the usual manner to soak and scrub your fermenter and other brewing equipment. 

How to use Sodium Percarbonate to clean and sanitize beer brewing equipment


sodium percarbonate cleaning beer bottles


Using Sodium Percarbonate to clean and sanitise your beer brewing equipment


The first mantra of beer brewing goes something like this:

Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitized!

There are many ways of going about this and today we are going discuss our preferred method which is by using sodium percarbonate.

Usually provided in powered form, it is very soluble in water which makes it very handy for quick preparation and an easy soak of your equipment and fermenter.

This is our preferred method as it works well, no rinse is required and it's very easy to order in bulk online.

If you've ever tried to buy sodium percarbonate from a specialist beer brewery shop, you'll know that you can get a small bottle or container of it that will cost you a small fortune.

If you can buy it in bulk from an online supplier, you'll do well to nab some as using it will effectively bring down your cost per brew.


How to use sodium percarbonate?


To use sodium percarbonate you simply add it to water.

Be generous with it!

I like to add hot or even boiling water to the fermenter drum so as to get the action of the chemical happening pretty quickly.

sodium percarbonate to clean brewing gearThe boiling water also helps kill off any nasties hiding about as well.

I close the drum so the vapour gets up the sides and then when things have cooled a lil bit, I give it a pretty good shake. Watch out for hot water leaving the hole in the drum lid!

Or fill the drum all the way to the top and leave to soak overnight.

Don't confuse 'cleaning with chemicals' as 'cleaning your beer gear'


Don't confuse 'cleaning' with sodium percarbonate as cleaning your bottles and equipment or the fermenter.

For me, that is a very different process.

Your equipment needs to have as much gunk and much removed as you possibly can before you use the cleaner.

Get struck in with a soft brush and some really hot water and make sure your fermenter is really damn well cleaned and clear of any residue from your last brew. Pro tip - you can use PBW cleaner.

Giving your utensils a run around in the dishwasher never hurts as the heat kills bugs.

That line of scum that forms at the top of the water line?

You don't want to see it before you use the sodium percarbonate.



In my view, it's job is the final part of the cleaning process.

Once you are ready, give your beer making gear a really long soak.

I've seen people say a quick dip of ten minutes is all you need but I say at least half an hour and frankly If I remember before brew day, I soak the fermenter in the percarbonate solution over night.

My thinking is the longer you leave it, the more bugs that will be killed, in addition to the good oxidisation cleanse that will happen.

But an oxidisation clean is not sterilization right?


Fair question.

So if percarbonate is just a cleanser, do I need to sterilize as well?

You may wish to consider using a sterilizing agent like Star San but in my experience, if you have cleaned your equipment and then soaked it very well, you shouldn't really need to use a sterilizer. This is because the sanitiser should have killed most of the bugs, especially as there's argument that the percarbonate does all you need to provide excellent brewing conditions.

The choice is yours.

If you can get cheap steriliser and have the time, go for it.

You might already have sodium percarbonate in your laundry as a laundry soaker!


Here's a handy trick, this chemical is basically what you might know as Tide or Napisan or any product with a brand name that tries to use the word 'oxy' as in oxygen cleaning or oxidization agent. 

That's right, most of the fancy laundry soaking products have sodium percarbonate as a key ingredient!

Chances are you already have some in your home laundry so feel free to use that.
I have done so several times with no problems whatsoever.

Non scented house brands are awesome.

If you do use a scented brand, your fermenter might smell like some lovely lavender field so be wary of that and rinse with copious amounts of water if need be.


If in doubt about home cleaners, ask for the mandated information safety data sheet


If you are really worried about what's actually in your laundry soaker, you can ask your supplier for the information.

It's law in many countries that such documentation is available.

In New Zealand for instance, all such products must be registered by law and a safety data sheet be provided on demand which contains the ingredients used in the product.

You can then use that knowledge to decide if you wish to use it but we may be over thinking things a lil bit here. We've never had any issues and totally recommend using laundry soakers as a cheap source of percarbonate.

The Caustic Soda option


As an aside, if you've got say a really stubborn fermentation scum ring that just wont seem to wash off, you could consider using caustic soda.

Beer in mind that it is an extremely strong cleaning agent and it needs to be used with necessary precautions such as gloves and eye protection.

Do not get caustic soda in your eye, that agent will literally give you a chemical burn.

Believe me, when I was a young lad I worked in a chicken fast food style restaurant and while preparing a solution of caustic soda to clean the floor, a single drop got in my eye.

It burnnned so bad.

A hospital visit and eye patch for a week followed.

So clearly, you will need to do an excellent rinse after. Just be bloody careful.

Most beers shops or hardware stores stock the soda - it's commonly known as sodium hydroxide.

So is it safe to use every day laundry cleaner products with my beer?


If the thought of using what gets your 'whites whiter', Oxyclean or whatever Oxy style product you've found in your laundry freaks you out, take a step back and have a Kit-Kat.

These products are designed for washing clothes and yes, the percentage of sodium percarbonate is far less than buying percarbonate by itself in bulk.

So why do it? 

Because it's cheap and it works.

It really does.

If you are concerned that your 'off the supermarket shelf product' will leave strange smells or residues, you can do two things.

You can chose to not use it and get a 100% percent sodium percarbonate product (New Zealand brewers should check out Trade Me), or you could just rinse after the soak.

Flush your equipment and fermenter out with a lot of cold water. A trick I then do is boil the kettle and finish off the rinse with boiling water.

I'm not sure if it's a mental thing but I consider this to be the final thing that kills any lingering bugs.

I have used home brand sodium percarbonate laundry soaker products myself many times and have never had a problem.

Not once.


You could also consider using this next magical chemical: Star San


If you've ever read any internet forum about beer making and noticed that any time a keen beer brewer talks about cleaning or sterilising, along comes a dude claiming that Star San is the best product he's ever used!?

But what is it really and is it effective?

Star San is a bactericide and fungicide. It can be used without rinsing under the proper concentrations. Star Sans' main ingredients are a blend of phosphoric acid and dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid.

That's a long way from Kansas, Dorothy!

Many beer brewers swear by this product for their kill bug killing needs, so if all the other chat about percarbonate has put you off, you might want to consider this product.

If you can't find any Star San at your local beer shop or supermarket, it may be purchased online at Amazon.

What about the satchets that came with my home brew kit. Should I just buy more of those?


Your standard home brewing kits will come with a satchet of cleaner, and it's probably advertised as no rinsing required, the so called 'no rinse'. It is quite simply likely to be a sachet of sodium percarbonate.

Don't get sucked into buying a sachet at $1.50 a pop.

If you are going to continue to brew in the long term, like many of your ingredients, you'll want to consider buying in bulk.

One final tip for expert beer makers - Don't confuse sodium bicarbonate for percarbonate - you're not making a cake!

So there you have it, a brief summary of how to use sodium percarbonate and the ways to buy it online and also to find it in your home laundry.

If you're in the States, consider buying some sodium percarbonate from Amazon. 

How ordering bulk beer making ingredients will save you money



If you're a beer kit brewer like myself, you'll know that to make a good beer you really should use a beer enhancer as they give the body and taste that can tip a homebrew beer from 'just being a beer' into a really enjoyable brew, one that is worthy of being shared with family and friends.

But those beer enhancers are not cheap!

In my neck of the woods a beer kit can cost $18 - $22 and the enhancer will be ten dollars, about half the price of the extract kit!

It seems that enhancers are somewhat over priced but home brewers purchase them as they make OK beer into good beer.

So one way of saving money in the long term is to buy bulk ingredients so you can make your own beer enhancers.

So what goes into an enhancer?

Basically it's a ratio of three ingredients, Dextrose, Maltodextrin and DME which is dry malt extract.

Different ratios of the three suit different kinds of beer styles as below:

Beer style
Dextrose
Maltodextrin
DME
Light Beer 
60%
40%
0%
Ale, more malty beer
50%
25%
25%

So what you want to do is by these items in bulk as that's where you can make some great value savings.

Dextrose has a proper name of Dextrose monohydrate and often is referred to as corn sugar. So go on to Amazon and look for Corn Sugar (or Dextrose) in bulk and you will find plenty of options including 50 pounds! Which is about 22 KG.

We think anything that comes in a 50 pound sack has to be value for money! And if you can find your ingredient with free shipping, even better!

There are also plenty of Amazon based options to suit your maltodextrine budget as well.

Once you have your ingredients, you then get some large sealable bags and then make up the enhancer according to the above rations. You can then keep them in a safe place and pull one out every time you ready a kit for brewing.

Dead simple and an easy way to save money on your home brewing!

Using Baking Yeast to make home brew beer

using bakering yeast with beer brewing

I was doing the shopping last night and I came across a line row of baker's yeast and I wondered if you could use that to make home brew.

After all, I'd heard of beer a craft brewer made from yeast found on his hipster beard, so why not?

So I did some research, and it turns out you can use baking yeast.

The real question is should you?

Craft brewers are probably shuddering at the thought of using a yeast that's normally used to make bread but let's have a look at the idea.

You could use baking yeast for brewing, as both yeasts (beer and baking) are different strains of the same species, saccharomyces cerevisiae. Which sounds like a good starting base!

The difference between the two kinds of yeasts is their cultivation. Each has been grown for the the attributes they bring to the final product. In the case of beer yeast, the popular strains have been cultivated for hundreds of years to hone their specific attributes being flavor produced, attenuation, and consistency.

I found a great comparison of the two: brewer's yeast was bred to produce more alcohol and less carbon dioxide while baker's yeast was bred to make more CO2 and less alcohol.

So be warned using a baking yeast in place of a brewing yeast is like driving a Ford and expecting to drive like a Ferrari!

There is of course, nothing wrong with driving a Ford.

How much baker's yeast to use? 


I've read that 11 grams of baker's yeast per 5 gallon or 23 liter fermenter drum is recognised by many brewers as a fair amount to pitch in.  Too much more will probably be redundant. 

What percentage alcohol does bread yeast make?


Bread yeast tends to ferment alcohol up to about 8% without too much effort, but when trying to produce alcohol beyond this level, the bread yeast begin to struggle, very often stopping around 9% or 10%. And that's actually fine because beers are generally brewed between 4 and 8 per cent.

Clearing baker's yeast


When using this yeast, you just have to be conscious that your beer won't taste as clean or look as clear as beer that you may have become accustomed to brewing.

This is in part because the yeast doesn't settle quite as well as most brewer's yeast does. Careful pouring and chilling the bottles before pouring will help alleviate this somewhat.

If you are bottle conditioning, another trick you could try to clear the baker's yeast, is by cold crashing the fermented wort (often referred to as the primary) and then racking it to a bottling bucket and then bottling.

The reason is that the baker's yeast will likely stay suspended in the beer for a lot longer than brewing yeast does (it has a tendency to be awesome at floccing out and then sticking to the bottom of bottles). The cold temperature will force the baking yeast out of suspension and to the bottle of your beer.

Can I use baker's yeast to make mead?


You sure can. Wine too! Some specific mead recipies state to use baker's yeast!

Using it to rescue a beer


If you're worried your pitched beer yeast has run out of puff, in a pinch you could add some baker's yeast to help get things going again. Just remember by adding a second yeast, the intended nature of your beer will change. If you go down this path you may need to activate the yeast in water before you pitch it, just to give it a helping hand.