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What is the best beer brewing kit for beginners?

Did you ever hear your dad tell the story about how he tried to make homebrew in his glory days at university and it was just rubbish?
It was probably because the beer kits in his day were not really up to scratch.

Don't let this 30 year old story concern you.

Thankfully, the standard of beer kits is pretty good in this modern era and there's a massive range to choose from. We've been brewing with beer kits for a few years now, and frankly we've yet to have a dud kit.

So with that in mind, what is the best beer kit for beginning beer brewers?

There's a couple of things to think about.

The first is what kind of beer you may want to make. Our judgement is that if this is your first beer, you will want to get in there and just make beer.

Which is the point, we get that.

However you might not know that lagers are harder to get right that ales due to temperature and storage issues. For this reason (so to avoid any disappointment) we would recommend you do try an ale. That said, the difference in ale from lager quality isn't something to worry about too much. 

Ales are good tasting beers and there are plenty of beer kits that you can choice from. We are personally really into brewing nut brown ales. This is an old English style beer that originates from the dank and dirty pubs of London and beyond. Arguably one of the original working man's beers, a well brewed nut brown ale is a worthy beer for anyone that appreciates a cold beer after a hard day's yakka.

We recommend the Black Rock Nut Brown Ale kit for the beginner's choice beer kit. We've used this kit many times and it always produces a handy drinking beer. 

You could also try out the Munton's Connoisseur Nut Brown Kit. Its reviews on Amazon suggest that it is an ideal brewing kit for beginners if prepared with some DME or dry malt.


So, maybe you're still of the mind to try your hand at brewing a lager?

In our view, lagers are what the make the world go round. There's not much better than after a hot day in the sun mowing the lawns that raising a class of cold lager to your mouth and empyting it's contents down one's throat. 

It's even better if it's your own beer!

So what's a good first lager to brew?

Lagers can be a challenge to make as they need lower temperatures during fermentation to achieve the desire result. Since lagers are light in body it is very easy to tell a lager that has been fermented at too warm a temperature as they may taste too fruit or spicy due to too much ester production. This is why we suggested early that you may wish to try your hand at an ale first. 

But whatever, we often say learn lagers by brewing lagers..

The very first lager I ever made was a Black Rock Lager with beer enhancer and Dr Rudi Hops. I have no idea who Doctor Rudi is but he sure helped make a good beer! 

You could think of this kit as being your 'standard brewing' kit - nothing too fancy or ambitious but you can be confident they will help you produce good beer.



You’ll also find that Cooper’s DIY Lager is well worth a crack – we do recommend you add some hops of course! We did a great brew of a Cooper's larger with the combination of both Moteuka and Saaz hops

If you want to try a beer kit that could be perceived as having a bit more quality, you could consider brewing with the Williams Warn Bohemian Pilsner beer kit. This kit is described as having “a rich, complex maltiness and a crisp finish”. Our brew largely lived up to this claim so we would be happy to recommend this kit to the learner brewer. 

A handy thing about this kit is that if comes with a yeast that is tailored for the beer (being the Fermentis Saflager W34/70 lager yeast) whereas some of the kits like the Black Rock range have the same yeast across their whole range. 

The choice is of course yours. 

And the end of the day, you just need to start brewing. We all need to start some where and grabbing a quality beer kit for your first batch of beer will help give you a great insight into the beer making process. 

Our brewing guide has plenty of tips and tricks to keep you on the right path to brewing delicious beer. We offer you one piece of advice that you would be very wise to heed, always, always sterilize your fermenter and beer equipment

How to make your own beer enhancer







How to make your own beer enhancer


The key goal of any brew enhancer is to help the beer have more body, a great taste and good mouth feel

If you just use sugar for the yeast to feed on, you will get a thin, weak beer. 

Of course you do not need to buy brew enhancer, you can make your own. There is no right way to prepare the enhancer as different ratios and different ingredients can produce different effects on your beer.

If you are going to make your own enhancer, here’s some ingredient ratios which you could use as a guide:

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

The quantity to make is is 1Kg per 23 litre brew.

The beauty of using the dextrose is that it is apparently a more favoured food of the yeast when compared to ordinary sucrose sugar and so fermentation will commence more quickly. 


Whether that makes a difference to the end result, I don't know. 

You do not have to follow the above guide - you could simply make a 50/50 split of DME and brewing sugar (which is simply corn sugar).

Many beer supply shops will carry the ingredients you need. That way you can get the advantage of buying in bulk so to reduce your brewing costs. 

Check out the price of DME on Amazon.

Black Rock Nut Brown Ale Beer Kit Review

After my successful crack at a bohemian pilsner, I turned by beer googles to Black Rock’s ‘Nut Brown Ale’ beer kit. Like WilliamsWarn beer kits, it also made in the famous New Zealand Speights Brewery.

review nut brown ale beer kitThe kit is pitched by Black Rock as a “malty, deep amber coloured beer with a balanced harmony of crystal malt and hops to create a notably clean taste with a malt accented flavour.”

So shall we see if what I brew gets anywhere near that carefully crafted piece of PR spin?

The preparation of this beer is very standard. Santize your gear thoroughly. Add the kit and a beer enhancer. You will certainly need anenhancer else, your ale will be to thin and have poor mouth feel.

After pre hydrating it, I added the bog standard brewing yeast that comes with the kit. I understand that every yeast packet from the Black Rock contains the same  yeast which they call ‘Premium Dry Brewing Yeast Sachet’.

I could have got a yeast that was more properly matched to make an ale (such as may be the Nottingham) but I’m keen to see what the kit delivers.

And now I did something a little hypocritical.

While the Nut Brown Ale kit comes with green bullet and pacific gem hops, I added goldings hops to add a lil delight. They key thing for this beer is that it should be fairly light on hops so to not over bitter your beer.

Then I wrapped the fermenter in sheets and left it in the shed for a 9 days where it bubbled away quite nicely.

Let’s talk about this kind of beer for a moment.

The Brown Ale style originally gained popularity in the down and dirty pubs of England, where beer guzzlers expressed a need for beer that was both flavorful and complex, but at the same time mild enough to be a session beer.

Bottling day came and the beer was duly bottled.

And then I waited a whole two weeks before even trying my ale. For me that’s an eternity but this is what a patient beer brewer must do if he wants to make quality tasting beer.

So, how did the ale taste? Did it reach lofty heights of flavour as suggested by the PR spin?

I made a simple beer. It tasted earthy and brown. 

I can’t say that the goldings hops did anything amazing for the beer but they certainly helped leave a nice after taste on the tongue. One could certainly appreciate the malty flavour of the beer so the description of the product bears out somewhat.

The verdict: The Nut Brown Ale kit from Black Rock is a handy example of the beer. It’s not flash in the pan but for the home brewer that’s conscious that some beer kits can be ludicrously expensive, this particular kit gives good value for money.

How to prevent home brew beer gushers!

beer gusher explosion

Have you ever opened a home brewed beer and it just gushed out like a pent up volcano that just had to blow its load?


It's hugely disappointing.

You've put in all that effort to may you brew and then it literally just splashes all over the kitchen sink or worse in front of your mates you're having some beers and BBQ with.

So what can you do about bottle gushers or 'bottle bombs' ?

There's a couple of ways to prevent gushers and they are pretty simple.

Clean your brewing equipment to prevent gushers


The first one, which isn't a solution but a warning, is to ensure that you have maintained excellent santization practices with your brewing.

There is nothing more disappointing than realizing your brew has been contaminated with infection when you open bottle after bottle and be confronted with a mass off foam that gives Old Faithful in Yellowstone park a run for it's money.

So the lesson here is clean your brewing equipment!

The second way to prevent beer gushers is dead easy:

Don't put so much sugar in your bottles! 


I've learnt this one personally the hard way. If you place too much sugar into your bottles, the yeast will go to town on it as part of the secondary fermentation and produce an excess of CO2.

When that happens, you're on a trip to gusher town.

So, it doesn't matter if you are placing sugar in the individual bottles or priming the whole brew, cut down on that sugar.

My personal rule of thumb is that for a 750 mls bottle, a FLAT tea spoon of sugar is more than enough to get a great level of carbonation.

If you want to employ a quicker method, you could try using carbonation drops. If use those, put two in a 750 mls bottle and one for a 500 mls bottle.


You were not a patient grass hopper


If you bottled your beer before primary fermentation had finished you run the risk of gushers.

If this is the case, you can simply vent your beer by opening the beer cap very slightly letting the CO2 escape. You can then re cap the bottle.

It's getting hot in here...


I also have a theory about gushers but I don't have any proof or evidence that I'm right but I think that if you open 'warm' beer, it is more likely to gush. When I say warm beer, I simply mean beer that hasn't spent a day in a fridge chilling out. 

I did an accidental experiment the other week when I noticed I had a couple of gushers in a recent brew. It was the first opening of a new batch so I was a bit disappointed. The next night I put two bottles in the fridge and had a cracked one open the after work the next day. 

And no gusher!

I suspect warm beer temperature allows the carbon dioxide gas to escape quicker than cold beer. 

So it's hardly scientific proof but I'd be open to discussion on it!

Be careful


Several brews ago I walked into my 'man shed' where I keep my beer and I thought a nuclear bomb had been set off. There was green and brown glass every where and the smell of beer in the air. 

What had happened was my beer had actually become infected and the CO2 build up from a run away yeast had caused a beer to explode. 

I suspect that the explosion caused a minor chain reaction of sorts and the bottles closest to the the original exploding bottle blew up due to the fragments of glass that flew their way at presumably very hostile speeds!


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



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, I give it a pretty good shake.

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

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.

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.

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 restaurant and while preparing a solution of caustic soda to clean gear, I 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 percabonate 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 percarboante - 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. 

Review of William Warn's 'Bohemian' Pilsner beer kit


I decided to try the Williams Warn Bohemian Pilsner at the suggestion of a keen home brewer.

Williams Warn’s version of a traditional Bohemian Pilsner is touted as having “a rich, complex maltiness and a crisp finish”.

So that’s the challenge for this home brewer, can I produce a beer as described?

What is a bohemian pilsner?


There are basically two kinds of pilsners, the German and Bohemian. The difference between the two is often the  geographicsource of their ingredients.

Bohemian brews are said to have a more malty character that the German version and so I guess that's why WilliamsWarn is mentioning it in their product description.

Let’s talk about the actual kit


The kit includes a 3.75 pound can of pre-hopped Premium Bohemian Pilsner liquid malt extract, designed by Ian Williams and crafted at Lion Brewery in New Zealand. 

Lion is of course famous for producing it’s own world conquering beer, Steinlager.

I combined the beer kit with WilliamsWarn’s own DME pack which I think from memory was 1250 grams or about 3 pounds.

The yeast was the Fermentis Saflager W34/70 lager yeast which is a popular brewing yeast for lagers that originated from where else but Germany.  

Brewing the kit


The brewing was a pretty standard affair following the usual beer brewing practices, the only thing of note was I added some cascade hops. I should more properly use a noble hops such as sazz but the cascade was all I had!

I suspect this combination may give me a potentially fruity taste which could contradict the intended crisp taste that’s sought but we’ll see.

Let’s talk about the yeast


The first thing I noticed about the yeast packet was that it had approximately twice the amount of yeast of any other beer kit that I’ve ever used.

So I was not surprised when less than two hours after pitching the yeast I walked back into the man shed and heard the barrel happily bubbling away quite strongly.

I looked into the yeast a bit further and learned that the Williams Warn claims 'When you pitch these yeasts into your wort, you’ll see activity within hours.'

So their claims were true and that totally gives me confidence that this beer kit comes from a brewer who actually knows what they are talking about.

Good stuff.

The brew carried on bubbling very strongly  for three full days at a pretty good rate and then it slowly wound down.

Into the bottle goes the brown liquid


Bottling day came 6 days later.

The beer smelt and tasted good. 

I bottled into a variety of 750 and 500 mls bottles.  

I also tried to use as little sugar as possible as I’m quite conscious that I’ve had a few too many gushers of late.

That’s just a waste of beer and money eh?

So what's the verdict on the beer?


The pilsner proved to be quite a tasty drop. It had a nicely balanced body and left a great after taste.

Despite the addition of cascade hops, their effect was quite minimal. I perhaps should added more.

Being a pilsner it was drunk nice and cold, which is just what you need for some summer drinking. 

It also gave good head, which is always pleasing... 

How did the beer compare to Williams Warn's description? Did it have a “a rich, complex maltiness and a crisp finish” as touted by the brand?

Kind of!

The beer certainly did have a malt taste that I would not expect of a pilsner but that could be the effect of too many years drinking mass produced pilsners.

As for a crisp finish, I would not describe my brew as having one, none-the-less it was a very drinkable beer. 

And what of the beer's look?

Indeed, I made a fine, deep golden beer.

I would happily brew this beer again!

If you want more than my word for this beer kit, check out the reviews for it on Amazon.

If you don't want great beer, then don't cool your wort with a chiller

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.

That’s not the only reason you’d want to by a chiller though. 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.

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

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

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.