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Coopers Lager beer kit review - any good?

Coopers extract lager review
If you were forced on threat of being made to drink warm parsnip wine* to name one beer brewing kit brand, I think that Coopers would probably be the first one to come to many brewers minds. 

Even non-brewers will probably heard of Coopers as the the kit that their 'dad made a few brews with it back in the day'.

While I’ve been giving the Williams Warns and Black Rock kits a go of late, a chance find of a Coopers Lager while doing the supermarket shopping has led us to brewing one of their lagers.

Coopers is a large Australian owned brewery known for great sparkling ales and their original pale ale. They are also almost synonymous with home brewing and their brew kits are very popular.

So this extract kit we are brewing comes with a good reputation for quality and I'm are going to assume a great taste!

So is there anything special I need to know about brewing a lager from a kit?


There’s a general rule of home brewing that’s often stated as an absolute so take this with a great of grain of salt when I say that it’s easy to make an ale than a larger.

Or perhaps more accurately stated, it is easier to hide anything brewing mistakes with an ale than a larger. This is largely due to the strength of the beer's flavours.

The first thing to consider is that the word lager is derived from a German word, lagern. It means ‘to store’. This should be a strong clue on how to make a good lager – they were originally stored for a long period in cold caves – and thus the lagering process was born. 

Patience is an absolutely needed virtue here. 

Due to lager yeasts operating best at lower temperatures, they actually ferment the beer at a lower rate than compared to ales which often ferment at higher temperatures.

This can mean that to get a lager brewed from a kit to be at its best for drinking, you may need to let  it ‘lager’ for more weeks than you normally let an ale sit. So hide it in a dark corner of the garden shed.

And maybe brewing it during winter.

I digress. 

While I will be using the yeast that comes with the Cooper’s kit, when making a lager one could always use a yeast that is a true lager yeast. If you're feeling adventurous, you might want to order the Lager YeastWL833 - it's a popular yeast for lager brewing.

There’s plenty of more things to think about brewing lagers but I need to move on.

So to the actual preparation of the Coopers Lager kit


To get the true taste and worth of this extract kit, I'm are not adding any flavours and we used dextrose only. No beer enhancer and no additional hops were added.

This might be somewhat of a mistake but for once I felt the need to try the kit on its own merits where the true flavours and characteristics of the beer wort alone come out to play.

This is a standard brew. I'm are not doing anything special and I'm are basically following the instructions on the can. Not that you necessarily must do this.

As usual, I sanitised the heck out of our fermenter drum to make sure that no sneaky microbes were lurking. First up we added one KG of dextrose to one litre of freshly boiled water and made sure it was mixed well – easily enough to do when the water is that hot!

I then added the contents of the kit.

Before I actually poured the malty goodness into the fermenter as well, I boiled the kettle. I then added the kit’s contents. I then added the boiled water into the can nearly all the way to the top. This way the extract would melt and I would be able to get all of it out from the can. 

Be careful though, the can will get very hot so I like to transfer it to the fermenter with a tea towel.

I then added 23 or so litres of water from the garden hose. This cools the wort to the point where the yeast has an environment to do its thing. If I added the yeast to the wort without the cool water, it would probably die.

Speaking of yeast, I should mention that before I did anything during this brew, I added it to a glass of warm water to activate it. The theory is that doing so gives the yeast more of a chance to compete with the wort itself. If that makes any sense.

Then I put the lit on the fermenter and placed it in the man cave covered in several sheets.

And then I waited.

I waited for 10 days and then I bottled.

And then I waited three weeks.

This felt like an eternity but I had some bohemian pilsners to keep my throat wet so it wasn’t such a hardship….

So what’s the verdict on my Cooper’s lager?



I made a decent homebrew beer! 

This was a no nonsense brew. No hops, no beer enhancer. To my mind this meant I got to get to try the true characteristics of the beer. Featuring a nice clear gold colour, it tasted like a standard beer. 

It had an OK head but fairly little body but no worse than some other beers I have made without enhancer (Coopers do their own enhancer if you're in the market for some). While this was not an amazing brew, I have produced a genuinely good drinking beer, if not one that needs some body.

This will be best served quite chilled and to that end, would be quite nice to drink at the end of a long hot day. 

I figure if you were going to add hops you would not going wrong with a combination of both Moteuka and Saaz hops.


* Having actually tasted parsnip wine, I can confirm it to be one of the most horrid liquids in existence. 

How to use carbonation drops for brewing


Once your home brew has fermented, you need to carbonate it.

The most common way to do this is by bottling the beer and adding sugar with it.

Many brewers use carbonation drops.

You may have heard of Coopers Carbonation Drops? They are pretty well known and are they are a reliable brand. Mangrove Jacks drops are also pretty popular.

Once the beers have been sealed, the process of secondary fermentation begins as the yeast eats the sugar in the carbonation drops.

What are the ingredients of carbonation drop?


Sugar.

That's it, sucrose is the only ingredient.

The reason for using them is simply ease of use.

You can try other methods of adding sugar to the beer - such as 'priming' the whole batch of beer or by adding sugar to each bottle using a funnel or spoon. That can be a bit messy though!

So, you should use carbonation drops if you want an easy process and wish to safe some time and keep things nice and clean.

Using drops also allows you to ensure that each bottle is given the same sugar dose - this will allow for a consistent brew and also will help prevent 'gushers' from occurring (more on avoiding beer gushers later on).

So how do you use carbonation drops? 


It's actually probably the easiest part of making beer!

Once you have added the beer to your sanitized bottles, all you need to do is literally drop a carbonation drop into the bottle. Instantly, you are done. 

You then cap the bottle so that carbonation can occur.

You might now be thinking, how many carbonation drops do I add to each bottle? It depends on how big the bottles are. 

It's not an exact piece of maths but here's the standard practices:
  • 1 drop for a beer bottle that is around 350 to 375 mls or 12 OZ
  • 2 drops for a 750 mls bottle (your standard crate size bottle) or 25 OZ
  • If you're doing anything bigger like a litre, you may wish to consider 2 and a half drops or possibly 3 but you're risking over sugaring your beer.
  • Another rough rule of thumb is one drop for one pint which is possibly on the light side if an Imperial pint equals 540 mls but prob OK for an American pint of 473 mls.
Once you have added the drops, give them a chance to dissolve. When they've had long enough after capping, give the bottle a firm shake to ensure each drop has dissolved completely.

You really shouldn't have any problems with drops dissolving so you can feel free to skip this step. 

Do I need to sterilize carbonation drops?


No, you do not need to take such a step.

If you take the drops straight from a freshly opened packet and use clean hands, you should be absolutely fine.

No one ever sterilizes their sugar when brewing so we don't see any reason to do this. 

Not sure how you would either, maybe dissolve them in boiling water? ...

Do different beer styles affect my use of drops?


Ales generally need less sugar than lagers however we really don't think you should worry too much about it when you are this stage of home brewing.

Can I use carbonation tablets instead of drops? 


You can also use 'carbonation tablets' for bottling which is a different way to carbonation glory.

The tablets usually contain tablets contain dextrose, dry malt extract and heading powder which is clearly different from using sugar for fermentation.

Carbonation tablets work in the same way as sugar in that the more you use, the more carbonation occurs. In that sense they are an equivalent product but given the ingredients, they will add more flavour and body to your beer.

This is important to keep in mind as some beers are better with more bubbles (lager) and others are more enjoyable to drink when they have less (heavy ales, bocks etc). The usage  is 3, 4 or 5 tablets per 12 ounce bottle (350 mls) for low, medium or high carbonation.

Popular brands are Muntons' 'Carbtabs' and Brewer's Best Conditioning Tablets.

Remember that after carbonating your beer, it's essential that you store the bottles properly so that optimal conditioning can occur.

Tips and tricks for when using drops:

  • You can use drops to carbonate apple cider. The measurements are the same. just be wary of over carbonating the cider. 
  • Once you have added the drops and bottled the beer, it will take about 7 days to condition. This is the bare minimum before which you can drink your beer. The patient beer brewer should wait about 3 weeks before sampling their brew.
  • Beware over priming your beer. If you add too much sugar, too much CO2 will be produced by the yeast and it will have no where to escape. It will escape in the form of a 'gusher' when you open your beer and it will gush out the next of the bottle like a geyser and go bloody every where - and ruin that beer experience you were about to enjoy!
  • Different temperatures will affect the carbonation process as well (the yeast generally enjoys a warmer temperature) - so if you are questioning whether the drops didn't produce enough CO2, bear in mind there are other factors at play.
  • If you do choose to not use drops and just wish to add granulated sugar to the bottle, we recommend the use of an ordinary kitchen funnel as it speeds things up and helps reduce the mess of sugar going everywhere.
  • We once tried using jelly beans as a substitute for carbonation drops. The results were quite interesting! Basically you can use any form of sugar lollies for carbonating beer - as long as it it fits down the neck of the beer you'll be right!
  • We've used Mangrove Jack's drops many times and had no problems so are very happy to recommend their use.
  • 60 carbonation drops, will be enough drops for one 23 litre brew.
  • You can use carbonation drops with your ginger beer as well!
  • If you are buying drops online, say Coopers Drops from Amazon, we suggest you order at least a couple of packets - that way the cost for delivery becomes more effective by price per unit.

How to properly use oak wood chips for home brewing


Aging beer in oak barrels is long standing practice for making beer. This is because the characteristics of the wood impart into the beer which can add to the drink-ability of the beer.

There's a reason why brewers seek out new ways to make beer taste better and that's because for them, the old days of getting smashed on Budweiser are done.

They constantly want to expert, try new ideas and just make better beers.

Using wood while conditioning or aging beer can impart a range of aromas to the beer, including floral, vanilla, caramel, or coconut tones. While it depends on the type of wood as to what happens, Oak is the generally the preferred kind of wood as it produces vanilla.

All that might sound like some kind of fancy wine snob speaking at a tasting session, but that vanilla thing is true!

I don't have any spare oak barrels lying around to use, so how can a small time home brewer use wood to their improve their brewing results?

Wood chips. 

That's the short of it. You can use oak wood chips by simply adding them to the wort. 

However, it's not that simple. There's some choices to make as to how you oak your beer and for how long and for what kind of beer. 

Let's explore the ins and outs of oaking homebrew. 

First of all, we should consider this question:

What kind of beer suits wood chips?


You can probably oak any beer you like but through the experiences of many other pioneering brewers it has been generally settled that English and some Scotch ales such as Old Ales, stouts, porters, browns, IPAs and some bitters benefit from going through this process.

That's not a finite grouping of beers though.

Brewers have been known to successfully uses oak in styles such as the darker Belgian ales, Farmhouse Ale, or even Saison.

And let's be frank so of the current generation of craft brewers are trying all kinds of combos and methods to make their mark on the world, so backyard brewers should explore and experiment as much as they dare!

There's also the theory the higher the ABV, the better result oaking will have.


This working theory is usually in reference to beers that are being aged in wooden oak barrels. It is considered that the alcohol serves to ensure a healthy environment in which the beer ages, free of those pesky bugs that can infect and ruin a beer.

If you are going to invest time and money in a barrel, you don't want to wait six months or a year to find your beer has gone off!   

High alcohol beers are also often sweet so an oakey vanilla tone can help counter that. 

What are the best kind of wood chips to use with the wort?


Not all oak chips are created equal

Oak usually comes in three varieties, American, Hungarian, and French. The American oak gives the strongest oak flavor, while French oak gives subtler notes with other sweeter flavors like vanilla.

Hungarian oak is considered in the middle between these two extremes.

There use depends on what types of beers you are making and what you’re going for with them.

One more thing about the kind of wood - charring. When oaks barrels are used for making bourbon the inside is charred as strangely this helps with aging. 

Different amounts of charting will have different effects on your beer. The more charred or burnt your wood is, the more strong the flavours and smells that are imparted into the beer. 

So a rough guide to this is..... add more here !!!!!!!

Should I use wood chips or cubes or spirals?


Instead of using an actual oak barrel, these three options are handy methods for a homebrewer to add wood flavor and aroma to ‘barrel age’ their beer.

Your local homebrew store may have all three readily available on hand but Amazon will see you right too.

Using chips


Wood chips are essentially shards of wood that you add to your fermenter or secondary in order to achieve the level of barrel flavor you desire.

Wood chips are probably going to float and that means a lot of oak will be making contact with the air in the fermenter and not imparting oaking goodness into the beer.

So a handy tip is to place place the chips into a clean & sterile hop bag and then weigh the bag down with something heavy and inert such as a glass marble or three.

Make sure the marbles are sterilized!

It's a really good idea to do this as picking stray oak chips out of your tubing or bottling wand will be a pain in the ass.

Wood cubes


Wood cubes are exactly as they sound  are cubes of wood (approximately ¼-½”in size). They will sink, won't get stuck in your tubing and many brewers prefer to use cubes over chips because the amount of surface area to beer ratio is easier to determine on a cube than a chip.

Not that it's really a big deal.

Spirals


Spirals are also a great way to get a high surface to beer wort ratio happening.  If you are looking for a hassle free clean up, then like cubes, oak spirals could be what you want to use for your beer.

They are more expensive than chips however due to the time required to manufacture them than compared to putting some oak logs through a chipper!

Do I need to sterilize my wood chips ?


All brewers fear introducing anything into their brew but their are a few things you will most definitely need to consider doing to ensure the health of your brew.

Here’s a summary of different approaches for adding bits of wood to beer:
  • The do nothing approach,  just pitch your chips in and see what happens.
  • Boil the chips in water to make a tea, then add the tea to the wort.
  • Soak the chips in spirit like rum or vodka for at least a day, and add it all to the beer. The strong alcohol content in the booze will kill off any microbes present in the wood. 
  • Use a pressure cooker to cook them
  • Sanitize wood with chemicals such as campden tablet solution (we don't recommend this method as you'd likely be transferring the solution you made (potassium metabisulfite) into your wort as the wood absorbs it

How much oak chips should I add to my wort?


The amount of chips to use is not an exact science. I've seen recommendations that range from 10-60 grams per 5 gallons.

Remember this is largely to taste - especially if you are using the tea making method.

We would however recommend you start light and add more as you get more experienced and learn the effect of whatever form of oak you are using.

Soaking wood chips in bourbon


You could be forgiven for wondering why the spirit of bourbon is suddenly being mentioned.

Brewers have discovered that if you are going to age beer in oak barrels, then those that have been previously used to age bourbon do a wonderful job.

The idea then is that if you soak your oak wood chips in bourbon, you're going to somewhat re-create the effect of a good old fashion barrel soak.

We'd recommend that you soak your chips in bourbon for at the very least 24 hours.

As we noted above spirits in general also helps kill any bugs that could be present in the wood chips so using a good bourbon will ensure you do not accidentally infect your beer.

Making an oak tea


There are a few ways to add the oak flavor to your beer and making an oak tea is an easy way.

Simply boil the oak chips and make sure they are covered in an inch of water.

Once the tea is made, add a bit of the water to your beer in the fermenter and then taste it. Continue to add the oak tea until you reach the flavor you’re looking for.

Making a tea is much faster than aging with oak, and also lets you more closely control the flavor.

The boiled tea will also be sterile.

Speaking of tea - did you know you can make hops tea for brewing?

How long do I leave the wood chips in the fermenter?


Chips impart flavour pretty quickly, and usually 7-10 days in fermenter is about as long many brewers go before the effect on the beer becomes overpowering.

Taste tests along the way will help as it all comes down to a matter of taste! 

If you've put your chips or cubes in a bag, they'll be easy to remove with a clean pair of tongs.

Just like a good cook doesn't over egg the pudding, the discerning home brew should not over oak the beer. Too much oak doesn’t allow for complex flavors to emerge in your brew before an overwhelming wood flavor takes over the batch.

So, timings wise, if you know you are going to bottle you beer in a week, then add the chips seven days before you intend to bottle.

How can I tell the difference between and oaked an unoaked beer?


Generally comparing beer that has been oaked to one that hasn’t will show subtle variations.

A beer that has been properly oaked beer will often have what can be described as a having a smooth backbone and after taste.

If the oak has been toasted just right, you might get some of those vanilla notes we mentioned above.

Can you re-use oak chips?


The question is can one re-use the wood chips? Can I just dry them out and store them until the next time?

We've read that beer makers often just leave them to sit on a paper towel to dry, then into storage in something like a mason jar.

Make sure they are thoroughly dry though as any moisture could help microbes or mould etc thrive.

We imagine that the more you re-use chips, the qualities they possess will reduce. 

I found this totally pro tip which I'll share as found:

"I keep a 1.75 LT bottle of Jim Beam half full with bourbon and the rest with medium toast French oak chips so they are always soaking up that great flavor to add to bourbon stouts. The chips pick up a lot of the great bourbon flavor and stay sanitized due to the high alcohol."

So for that brewer, they don't really care about how long they soak their chips in bourbon!

Easy beginner's guide to home brewing from a beer kit


beginner's guide to making home brew from a kit
A beginner's guide to easy brewing beer from a malt kit

Well done you on deciding to brew some home brew. This guide will help guide through making your first batch of beer, step by step.

There can be nothing finer that a delicious home made beer. This beginner's guide is a 'how to' for using beer kits.

There is no boiling of the wort wizardry here, just some brewing 101 tips.

That fancy 'brewing day' in a pot stuff will come later, when you've got a couple of brews under belt and you're ready to go up a grade.

If you are genuinely interested in learning how to brew beer, then a beer kit is a great way to start as you can quickly learn the fundamentals beer making in the comfort of your own kitchen or man shed...

The brewing of beer is actually an act of scientific exploration.

Now get to it!


Getting ready, at which point I assume you are ready to make beer

I'm going to assume you have a brand new beer kit for making beer.

Your loving partner may have given it to you for Christmas (mine did!) or maybe you got there yourself out of curiosity. Either way good on your for giving beer making a go.

You have all the ingredients and supplies. A can of malt extract with some yeast (and it's not an old can). Some brewing sugar, dextrose or a brew enhancer (we really recommend the use of an enhancer).

You will have all the equipment. You'll have a fermenter  - possibly a 30 litre drum or 5 gallon glass carboy).

You have access to boiling water and also to cold water. You might even have bought some beer hops to add to your wort.

You'll have a clean working space such as a kitchen bench and you'll have enough time to not be interrupted. When I brew from home brew kits I do it after dinner when the kids are in bed and the dishes are done.

I might even have a couple of beers while I do the job, because it seems a natural enough thing to do right?

It's time to clean and sanitize your equipment

In case you hadn't heard, your beer wort needs a warm and clean environment in which to ferment. That means all that nasty bacteria that's on your stirring spoon and on the inside of your fermenter drum or bottle needs to be thoroughly cleaned and then sanitized.

Your home brew starter kit should have provided you with a sachet of a cleanser and also a sanitizer (people often refer to this process as sterilization, just go with it).

Leave your drum to soak for as long as possible (even though it's new, it's likely had all the equipment stored inside it if it's a drum, so heaps of opportunity for nasties to find a home in there).

If you plan on continuing to brew beers, this is the start of your habit of cleaning and sanitizing all your equipment every single time you make beer.

Every. Single. Time.

So once you are sure everything has had a good soak, carry on my wayward son to making a top rated beer.

The rest is easy.

There are plenty of beer making methods. We can do it in four steps.

Step 1 - Malt Up

beer extract kit sitting in a pot of water
If you're smart, you may have already put your opened tin of extract malt into a pot of boiling water so that it's warmed up and can be easily poured into your fermenter.

Sometimes I leave it sitting on the top of my closed fireplace, this works well too.

At this point I like to put on some fancy surgical gloves so as to avoid the mess that's probably about to happen all over your kitchen bench.

Add your extract malt and about 3 litres of boiling water to your fermenter. Stir with a sterilized stirring device until it's all dissolved.

Don't accidentally leave the spoon in your kit...

Your brew kit probably came with a beer enhancer, now is the time to add it and dissolve as well. If your kit did not have an enhancer, you really should think about adding some and you will get a better mouth feel and enjoy your beer that much better.

Step 2 - Water is the essence of aqua...

It's time to add the water.

I like to use the garden hose so I carry the fermenter to the kitchen back door and go for gold. The water in NZ where I'm from is pretty good. If the water is of poor quality, where you come from, you may wish to find a better source of water, at the least boil it maybe.

I guess the basic rule is if you can handle drinking a glass of water from it, that's your source.

Fill your fermenter to 5 gallons of water or to the 23 litre mark. Stick with that, your malt kit has been designed with exactly this amount of water in mind.

Step 3 - Yeastie Boys

It's time to add the yeast. This is called 'pitching'.

Seasoned pros will tell you to never use the yeast that comes in your start kit or with your can of malt as it may be old or damaged or whatever.

I'm thinking you just want to make some bloody beer so throw what came with your kit into to your fermenter and worry about that kind of issue when it actually occurs.

But wait!

Make sure the temperature of the water is close to in line with the instructions on the tin of malt - you want to give the yeast a chance to activate so don't put it in or 'pitch' it if you're out of whack. That said in my experience just pitch it in when you're ready.

But be warned, only pitch your yeast when you've added the extra water - if you pitch your yeast into the boiled wort, you will kill the yeast.

You're not making Panhead Supercharger here, you're making your first batch of home brew.

Step 4 - Hop to it

If your kit came with some hops or you were smart enough to procure some, chuck them in now, maybe half the packet. This is called dry hopping.

Some might recommend to add the hops 5 days into the fermentation process but we say just get on with it.

Close up the fermenter, make sure the drum or cap is on firmly. Add your airlock with water inside. You'll use this to keep track of fermentation by observing the CO2 bubbles as they are released during fermentation.

A failure to see bubbles does not mean fermentation has failed!

Step 5 - Let fermenting beer lie 

This is now a waiting game. Once you've put your be an a suitable place where the temperature will be fairly consistent, leave her alone.

Set and forget...
working out alcohol content
Taking a hydrometer reading

Well not quite - if you have a hydrometer, take a reading and write it down. You will need it to be able to work out when fermentation is complete and also the alcohol content of your beer.

A loose guide is when the bubbles are finished, fermentation is usually complete. Once you are sure this is the case, you can think about bottling your beer.

This is an occasion where you should consider completely ignore the instructions on the can and leave your brew in the fermenter for about 2 weeks.

While at face value fermentation is complete, the yeast will still be interacting with everything and this extra time will greatly improve the quality of your beer.

Be patient!

Let me know when you are ready to bottle!

So the short summary on how to make your home made beer

1. Add your malt from the can to 3 litres of hot water
2. Add any brew enhancer or dextrose as well as any hops. Stir it all up.
3. Fill fermenter to 23 litres or 6 gallons.
4. Pitch in your yeast in
5. Add the airlock, firmly seal the drum and place in a cool position.
6. Ensure fermentation is complete. You may want to use a hydrometer during this stage
7. Bottle when ready but it's best to let your brew sit for a while

So that's the rough guide to brewing beer from a kit. As you can read, it's a pretty straight forward exercise and you don't need a Bachelor of Food Technology to get it right.

It's about good old home economics and it's a little bit about applying some common sense.

You might want to bear these easy to make mistakes in mind.

The absolute key things to bear in mind are having properly sanitized equipment, follow this guide and it's hopefully helpful beer making instructions more or less and don't stress.

Beer can be a tough mistress, but it can be pretty forgiving...

How to save time and make beer bottling easier


There's no doubt that the care and maintenance of beer bottles to ensure a good brew can be a pain in the ass to keep up and get right.

From cleaning the bottles, removing label, sanitising, filling and capping there's a lot to take care of and it can take a fair amount of time to get bottling done.

The obvious answer to save time is to keg your beer but for many brewers, that's a step too far both in the scale of their brewing and expense.

So for those keen beer bottlers, here's 5 ways to cut down on bottling time and getting your beer in the bottle more easily

Sanitize all your bottles at once in a big enough bucket


Sanitizing your beer bottles is a key element of beer brewing to keep those bugs at bay. A trick I like to do is dump all my bottles in a giant plastic washing basket, drop in some sodium percarbonate and fill it all up with the garden hose.

It's a pretty efficient way of ensuring you have healthy clean bottles ready because of you are bottling 23 liters of beer, a 30 or 35 liter bucket will be enough for all the necessary bottles to be covered in percarbonate solution.

The beauty of the sodium percarbonate is that it's 'no rinse' so you just need to empty the bottles and you are good to begin bottling.

So, now your bottles are sanitised, you may now wish to consider batch priming.

Batch Priming Beer to save time


In short, priming the batch is when one adds the entire amount of sugar needed to the fermenter so that when you fill each bottle, you don't need to add sugar as well, it's already in the beer wort. 

It saves you time as you don't need to add sugar to each individual bottle and it also saves you mess as we all know how sugar can end up everywhere when bottling!

This sounds simple right?

It really is. Here's how to do it but for this easy, the consideration of how much sugar to use is really important because if you add too much sugar you will suffer the terrible fate of beer gushers!

How much sugar do I need to prime a batch or beer?


Batch priming benefits from some simple calculations that can be made to get that sugar just right.

If you're using a kit, you've probably used 23 litres (5 gallons) so the focus is on how much sugar you need to use. 

So first up, different beers need different levels of sugar. Advice from people who have brewed many beers suggests that ales need less sugar than lager style beers.

This is because many drinkers prefer a lager to have more carbonation and ales are quite drinkable with less.

Our analysis of beer brewing forums suggests these are the commonly used amounts of sugars to use for priming for a 23 liter brew.
  • Dextrose (Corn sugar) 3/4 cup or 4 or 5 oz / 95 grams
  • Cane sugar 2/3 cup or 3.8 - 4.8 oz / 86 grams
  • Dry Malt Extract - 130 grams
If you are priming with a different volume of beer, I suggest you try this priming calculator.

There's a reason Cinderella's Fairy God Mother used a wand


A bottling wand can help make bottling beer so easy. You stick the wand into the tap. You can then bottle without the need to turn the fermenter tap on and off because the wand's automatic foot-valve can control the flow of beer into the bottle when you touch the bottom of it to the bottom of the beer bottle!

Using a bottling wand also very handily keeps too much oxygen from entering your beer!

Capping your beer - two tools to do it


Beer cappers come in two forms being the hand held and the bench capper, one is easier than the other.

The 'wing' hand held capper


The hand held wing capper is a popular way to cap your beer. Often referred to as universal Rigamonti cappers  or the Red Baron, they are pretty handy and durable to use.

They do have a couple of draw backs - they can sometimes be hard to separate from the capped bottle if you've applied too much pressure and if you do apply to much force, then you can break the glass bottle, which is something that really bugs me.

It's actually very satisfying getting a cap on a bottle properly, there's this sudden 'thump' moment when the crown bends down and forms the seal.

If you get into a good rhythm, you can cap bottles very quickly, especially if you line them up with the caps on the top and go down them like a factory line.

The bench capper method of bottling

The bench capper can be easier to use because it's a simple pull down lever action that one does with one hand whilst the other hand holds the bottle firmly in place. 

If you think a bench capper is for you we suggest that you buy one that accommodates different sized bottles. 

The Ferrari model does exactly that which can be quite handy if your bottle collection is all kinds of different shapes and sized.

Any decent beer cap should have a magnet where the cap goes so that it doesn't fall out just as you go to clamp it down!

So well done, you have easily bottled your beer and hopefully saved yourself some time. 

Your work is not finished 


No, you need to properly condition your beer and that doesn't mean you hide it in a under a tired blanket in an old swap-a-crate box and forget about it for a few weeks. 

Well actually you can do this if you want to be a reckless beer brewer, but it you want beer that you would be proud to share with friends,  there's a few things to think about when storing beer.

Here's some things to think about when storing your beer.
  • It's really good to have a storage place where the temperature is maintained at a steady rate.
  • Ales are condition best at lower temperatures
  • Lagers are happier to condition under higher temperatures
  • The middle of your house is probably cooler than nearer the outside. That could be a factor where you store beer.
  • If you find your beers are in too hot a place, move them!
  • Whatever you do, keep them away from direct sunlight. 
Now let that beer rest quietly for at least three weeks. Before you enjoy that first taste test, refrigerate your beer for at least a few hours. 

Mistakes I've made brewing beer and how I made better beer as a result

Mistakes I've made brewing beer


When you drill it down, the concept of beer is deed easy. The Germans nailed it with their purity laws - beer comes down to water, hops, malt and some yeast to make the action happen.

Get it right, and you have beer.

Get it wrong and you can have the most rancid tasting thing you have ever put to your lips which was...

kinda like that time I made two kits and got two infections.


I'd prepared two beer kits together at the same time, in a fermenter each. Both had become  infected and the bottled results were completely undrinkable.

The fact that each bottle I opened spewed forth like an overshaken bottle of champagne suggest to me fermentation continued to occur in the bottles but with something else other than beer yeast doing the carbonation.

I made a mistake somewhere, presumably with the tools and utensils I used not being clean, and suffered the cost of losing 40 odd liters of beer, the expense of producing it, and my time.

It was crushing.

Given that error, I've never done two batches on the same day again, to hopefully cut out such user error mistakes.

But there have been other mistakes made!

Not sanitizing beer bottles


Related to the above incident is that time I chanced my arm one times to many on not sanitizing my beer bottles.

Bottling beer can become a drag and that's why so many backyward brewers turning to keg operations. Well, I don't have the time or patience for that so I continue to bottle.

I mentioned that time and patience thing right?

So even though I am fairly scrupulous with ensuring I have a well cleaned and sanitized fermenter, when it comes to bottling, I often do not sanitize my clean glass bottles.

And then I started to get the odd infected bottle and I knew it was time to go back to the ways of the wise and properly sanitize my beer bottles.

This one seems kinda like a no brainer of what not to do but there you go.

Handy tips - to clean bottles use the dishwasher and use sodium percarbonate to santize (though if bottling straight from the dishwasher, the heat should have done the trick killing those pesky beer bugs).

Getting the bottle conditioning storage temperature wrong


Let me share with you a tale.

In the middle of a cold and desperate New Zealand winter I bottled a lager brew and left it in the man-shed for about a month. It was damn cold and the sun didn't warm the shed at all. 

I could have happily used the shed as a morgue it was that frigid.

So I think to myself, these beers are ready bit when I when to crack open the first beer, I did not hear that usually reassuring hiss of CO2 gas as it escapes from the bottle.

The silence was cold news to my ears.

The beer was flat.

So I opened another bottle and had the same result. 

And again for a third.

Fark. 

My beer been left in a place where it was to cold for the yeast to begin secondary fermentation. 

What a noob mistake?!

If you intend to lager your beer you must wait until secondary fermentation has begun and carbonation has occurred. If you cool your beer too soon, you run the risk of disrupting the yeast from its secondary fermentation process and carbonation may not occur (or it will be very slow to do so).

So the lesson is clear.

So, just like when you did the first round of fermentation, the yeast does its best work at a warm temperature. So, to properly store your beer so that it is carbonated, the beer needs to be kept warm for a few days. 

In my situation that means bringing the bottles inside the house for a few days just to give the yeast a chance to start doing it's thing. 

Then it's straight back out to the shed with them.

There's a good benefit to this as well. Keeping your lagers cold will result in the production of fewer esters and fusel alcohols, giving your beer a better taste balance. And that's basically why lagers are 'lagered' or conditioned over winter. 

No more green bottles for me


I love drinking Steinlager as it is an excellent beer and one I would recommend to any discerning beer drinker.

I'd collected a few fair green bottles and began using them regularly. However they soon refused to easily cap as the grippy bit at the top of the bottle neck cracked.

You see, as the pressure of the bottle capper comes down, the glass simply gives way.

This then makes it harder to cap so one applies a little bit more pressure and then snap! The neck of the beer bottle snaps, sending glass shards everywhere and most importantly, wasting good beer!

So now I have a firm no Steinlager bottle policy and that's that.

Drinking your beer too early


It's my view that it's a mistake to imbibe your beer too early.

Post bottling, your beer needs time to carbonate. It also needs time to chill and do its thing. The fermentation process is in a sense a simple chemical reaction but there is a complex relationship going on with the beer's ingredients that need time to sort themselves out.

The patient beer drinker who leaves his beer at least three weeks before indulging will be a better beer maker for it. If you can make it to 5 or 6 weeks before you taste, the better your beer should taste.

Sure you can drink it earlier but you are wasting the opportunity of having a much better beer than you are actually drinking.

It's for this reason that brewers will often have a cycle of beer going though so that they always have a brew brewing, a set or three conditioning and a batch ready for drinking.  

Pitching your yeast into a hot wort has the same effect as throwing Frodo's ring into the lava of Mount Doom! 


Yes, I once absent mindedly pitched my yeast when the wort was too hot, right after mixing the ingredients with boiling water. I knew what I'd done the moment I'd done it but what a waste of yeast.

A genius moment in my beer making career for sure. 

No yeast means no fermentation.

And well, that just sucks right.

Lucky I had a spare packed of good old Safale US-05 and was able to pitch that when my wort was properly cooled. 

Cooling your beer down is not just to assist with removing nasty bugs from your beer and reducing the risk of any infection, it helps with ensuring that your yeast finds itself in a hospitable environment - that is to say if you pitch your yeast too early, you run the risk of killing it (it’s a living microorganism after all).

As an aside if you want to get really fancy with cooling your wort, you might want to invest in a wort chiller.


Here's some other things to do to avoid bad outcomes


Not that I've necessarily made them myself...
  • Give your wort a chance to aerate. Still it, shake it. Whatever. Give it a chance to get some oxygen so the yeast has something to work with. 
  • Conversely, when bottling, avoid getting oxygen in your beer. Using a beer bottling wand thingy can help with this as it helps with a smooth poor from the fermenter into the bottle. If you are racking into a secondary, try to avoid stirring up the beer to much at this point as well. 
  • Sanitize. Sanitize. Sanitize.
  • Don't allow fermentation to occur at too high a temperature. A standard, consistent temperature allows for a well made beer. A temperature that is too high will cause the fermentation to result in beer that tastes too fruity.
  • Adding to much sugar will cause your beer to over ferment and of course leave it with a sugary taste. We know beer enhancers can add to the cost of making beer but we think they are totally worth it and use them with most beer kit brewing combos. 
  • The quality of the water you use will have a direct bearing on the quality of your beer. I live in clean green as New Zealand so our water quality is mint so I simply fill up from the garden hose. For those not so lucky, you may want to consider filtering your water if you are able. If your water quality is poor, you could make some heavy ales which could help mask tell tale chlorine and the like.

How to work out the alcohol ABV of your home brew beer

work out alcohol content of beer

How to use a hydrometer correctly to determine the alcohol content of your beer

A trick of the home brewer's craft is to keep a hydrometer handy. This tool will help any beer brewer to make great beer.

What is a hydrometer?

At its most basic scientific purpose, a hydrometer is an instrument that measures the specific gravity of liquids, that is to say it measures the ratio of the density of the liquid to the density of water.

Did you get that?

Why would a home brewer use a hydrometer?

A home brewer uses the hydrometer to monitor the fermentation progress and measure the alcohol content of his produce.

Hydrometers can measure specific gravity, potential alcohol and the approximate sugar per litre content.



So the big question then, how does one use a hydrometer?

If you float the hydrometer in a test tube of water you will find it gives you a gravity reading of 1.000. This makes sense as there is no water displacement occurring.

Not let's assume we are at the point where you have prepared your beer wort. It's time to add the hydrometer to the beer wort in a test tube. Not only is there water in the wort but other mixed in ingredients including sugar, thus meaning some displacement can occur.

Spin the hydrometer around in the tube - this will dislodge any bubbles that are helping to float the hydrometer above what should be the actual reading. 

Take note of the reading which is where the hydrometer crosses the water / air line and write it down as you will need it for your equations later on. It's called the starting or original gravity. 

Let the brew ferment.

When you think fermentation is complete, take a reading. Then wait 24 hours and take a second reading.

If they are the same, you have your final gravity measurement.

A handy rule of thumb to beer in mind is when the final gravity is approximately a quarter of the starting gravity you’re done with fermentation. 

Let your beer 'chill out' in the drum a bit longer. While the bubbles may have stopped, chemical reactions are still occurring and they will help make your beer taste even better.

How to work out the alcohol content of your beer using the hydrometer's specific and final gravity readings

It's a crude or rough measurement but the equation is simple:

(starting reading minus final reading ) x 131 = alcohol by volume (ABV)

Given that hydrometers are calibrated to be used at specific temperatures one needs to use the taken readings a guide rather than a wholly accurate value. For example if your hydrometer is calibrated to be used in an environment of 15 degrees centigrade but it's warmed to 20 degrees, there's a chance your readings will be slightly out.

To be frank, for the average home brewer, it hardly matters if you 5 per cent beer if actually 4. 8 per cent!

And there you have it. Well the simple version anyway. There's quite a bit of science behind how the units are calibrated but provided your readings are semi accurate, you shouldn't need to worry about it too much!

A single caution though. You shouldn't feel the need to take readings all day every day as you wait for fermentation to finish. Exposing your beer to the atmosphere does raise the possibility of a contaminant getting in so beer that in mind.

Order a hydrometer from Amazon now!

Image credit to Daniel Spiess via Creative Commons Licence