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How to make dog biscuits with your spent grain mash

beer dog biscuits

Did you ever finish brewing your beer and then think, man there's a lot of the grain left over, what should I do with it? You can do a lot of things actually, you can make bread or crackers, or it to your compost or garden.

But I found a recipe that's pretty novel - you can make dog biscuits with it!

That's right, give your dog a treat by making them some yummy dog biscuits out of left over grain mash.

Here's the biscuit mash recipe
  • 4 cups of spent grain mash 
  • 4 cups of ordinary flour 
  • 1 cup peanut butter (or oil or pizza sauce) 
  • 1 egg 
Mix the ingredients together thoroughly, place onto a lined baking tray at normal dog biscuit shaped sizes.

Bake the doggy treats for 30 minutes at 350F/180C. Then reduce heat to around 225F/110C and leave in oven until the biscuits have completely dried out.

It's been pointed out by other brewers that hops can potentially be harmful to some breeds of dog, don't use grain that has been first wort hopped to make the dog biscuits.

Other ideas to dispose of beer mash
  • Feed to chickens or pigs
  • Add to your compost or mix into your garden directly.
  • Throw it on the lawn or birdfeeder, the local birds will love the feast
  • Add some to your own bread making recipe
Well done you for recycling some food. Why not reward yourself with a read of this awesome list of Star Wars movies trivia.

What is the German Beer Purity Law and is it still obeyed?

German beer law stamp
The Germans are so serious about their beer they made a stamp!
What are the German Beer Purity Laws?

Have you ever been drinking a commercially brewer German beer, been bored with the conversation and decided to read the bottle label? 

Did you spy the wording 'brewed according to the German Beer Purity Law'? 

Did you wonder what the law meant? 

If you thought it meant your beer was brewed by beautiful virgins with long blonde hair, you're probably on the wrong website.

The German (read that as Bavarian) beer purity laws showed just how serious they were (and still) are about brewing their beer. Introduced by Bavarian officials in 1516,  the 'Reinheitsgebot' (as it eventually became known 300 years later) was designed to try and control price competition in the market place. 

German economists, not understanding the complex dynamic of market pricing required that only barely could be used in beer brewing so as to not increase the price of other produce that could be used to make bread, namely rye and wheat.

The key rule of the law is the ingredients:

According to the Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. 

And that's it. Note that yeast is not mentioned. This came much later  in the 19th century when it was realised that yeast was pretty vital when making beer!

Anti-competition

The Reinheitsgebot law also made rules about the price that beer could be sold as in the bars. This pricing strategy was intended to reduced competition for the ingredients that went into bread being rye and wheat. 

By making the law, the effect was to exclude beer from the wider German states that may have contained other ingredients thus helping reduce competition and allow local Bavarian beer producers to continue as they were. 

To keep in line with the beer law, making pilsner beers became the order of the day, thus laying the foundation for German's proud history of making pilsner.

As a public health measure


It’s often claimed that the beer purity law was the first food safety legislation in the world. This is because the law prevented brewers from adding ingredients that could be considered unhealthy such as rushes, roots, mushrooms, and animal products.

The mushrooms could have some severe consequences for the drinker as the point of imbibing was to a) enjoy a beer and b) enjoy the effect of alcohol and not experience a hallucinogenic experience caused by the mushrooms!

It’s mused that the original intent of the law did not really entertain health concerns but it’s focus was ensuring profits for local Bavarian brewers by keeping out competitive beer makers. 

So is the beer purity law still observed? 

This law was taken very seriously and was observed for 300 years. Eventually it spread across the whole of Germany.

Yeast was later added to the law when it was identified how vital it was in the beer making process.

When Bavaria entered the German Unification of 1871, it was a condition of their entry that the beer law was carried through. Not even ruler such as Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich dared change the way beer was made.

Even in the more modern era, the law is still strictly applied and this had lead to various court cases taken by brewers who want to try new ingredients and brewing processes. 

This has led to several products being made that are beers but cannot have the word 'bier' on their label and also variations on malt and production techniques may be used. 

Faced with the reality international trading obligations, Germany allows the importation of beer that does not comply with the local legislation, however local brewers must still observe the requirements. They are however, less stringent that they used to be!

Feel good marketing

The reality of the modern world is that there is no reason to have a beer purity law - local and international competition sort all that out, especially when there is greater supply of product like wheat and rye around the world - so the consumption of beer doesn't effect the price of bread! 

Instead, a passionate beer fraternity still follow the methods for reasons of tradition and more arguably, for a competitive marketing benefit!

Now-a-days, beer brands like Heineken use the reference to the purity law as a means to identify with quality and to align their beer with good bear making ideals - thus giving comfort to the beer drinker they are drinking a quality product. 

It's quite a good tactic given that beer is a global product and traded freely around the world. 

German beer can be held out as being brewed in a certain way and without ingredients that the health (!) conscious beer drinker may be keen to avoid. 

How to use honey in beer brewing

using honey to make home brew

How to use honey in your beer brewing

Using honey to make beer is a trick of the trade that’s as old as hills but just as awesome an idea today as it was when the hills where made.

Adding bee honey to your home brew efforts is a splendid way to add interesting aromas and flavours to your beer. 

Let’s clarify that adding honey to your beer doesn’t make it mead. Mead is made wholly from honey whereas for our purposes, we are simply adding honey to the beer to help impart flavour. Doing this results in a drop known as a braggot, which is arguably a kind of mead. 

It’s also an interesting way to increase the alcohol content (ABV) of your beer.

For the sakes of keeping things simple, the casual or novice brewer will probably simply want to use honey of the kind from a supermarket. The pros might want to use some wild honey sourced from a local supplier or bee specialist however it’s not without risk in terms of bacteria in wild honey having a wrestling match with the yeast in the beer wort as it ferments. 

There are also health risks about using honey, as for example in New Zealand honey can have Tutin contamination, which causes toxicity in honey. So make sure your honey supplier knows what they are doing.

We suggest you stick with ordinary honey that you would be happy to feed your children. 

So when do I add honey to my beer?

In the most basic sense, to add honey to your beer, simply add it when you are preparing your beer kit. One you’ve added in the malt extract, hops, DME or dextrose etc, this is the time to add your honey.

You may want to soften the honey by placing the jar in some warm water (don’t boil it!). This way it will pour easily into your fermenter.

You’re probably now asking how much honey do you add to your brew?

I’ve seen recommendations that suggest anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of your total wort can be honey. I’ve also read it expressed in that you can add up to 50% of your total fermentable sugars as honey.  Either way, there’s room for you to experiment.

Take note that adding too much honey to your brew may increase fermentation time (but as a patient brewer, this should be no problem for you!).  Also, the more honey you add, the more akin to mead your beer may taste. 

What kind of honey to use? 

We said anything from the supermarket, just beer in mind that different honey will have different characteristics.

A brewer, who actually knows what they are doing have written that you might want to consider adding an increased amount of bittering hops  to somewhat counter the sharper, more sweet flavour that could result if you use a lot of honey.

Can I use honey to carbonate my beer?

Honey sure can be used to bottle condition and carbonate beer. Don't add too much or you may end up with too much secondary fermentation and get a gusher beer. 

Image credit to Jason Riedy via Creative Commons Licence

How to keep track of your home brew records & history


An idea to track beer making history

If you are looking to improve the results of your home brewing, you might like to think about keeping a record of what and how you brew.

If you write down what you did, what you used, when you did it and why, you'll have a good basis on which to make a honest assessment about your beer brewing failures and successes.

If you find that you've pulled off a stunner of a beer, you might be able to remember just exactly how you brewed that beer. It could be the difference between remembering that you used a certain kind of hops in your brew or used a 50/ 50 split of them.

Or that you left the spoon in the fermenter.

I just wanted to share how I keep my beer brewing records. I use Google Sheets.

It looks something like this:
Beer brewing record keeping

This is basically an excel sheet that allows me to have a set of handy columns as below:

Date Down Brand of MaltMixed with Date BottledNotesFirst taste Final thoughts

Recording the date you got the brew down is hugely important because you need to know how long you've left the brew to ferment. Same for bottling. Has it been 12 days or three weeks? 

I also like to know what brand of kit I used and whether it was an ale or pilsner. And of course, did I use a brew enhancer or just dextrose? 

In my summary notes I record my first taste experience and also final thoughts.

This is because I usually get stuck into the beer at the three week mark but over time the beer will mature and take on different characteristics - that serves as a reminder to let the beer 'bottle condition' as much as you be patient for!

The beauty of using Google Sheets to record your beer adventures is that you can download the application to your smart phone.

This means you can quickly add records as you go (maybe you're just hiding in the shed?) and you'll reduce the need to remember to add notes to an exercise book somewhere else later on. 

This is just the way I do it, an exercise book is of course just a fine solution!

Once you are a more experienced brewer you might not need to record so much as you'll know everything.

Or will you? 

What equipment do I need to start home brewing?

What equipment do I need to start home brewing?

What equipment do I need to start home brewing?


If you’ve decided to brew beer, you’re in great company.

Einstein, Churchill, the mighty Thor himself and every man with a shed has at one point or another brewed some tasty beverages.

But they all had to start somewhere, and so here’s a list of what equipment you might need to get started brewing beer.

We’re talking about brewing using a beer kit here, the kind of brewing where you ‘beer wort’ basically comes in a can.

You get to choose what hops or sugar you add (jelly beans maybe?) and the rest is simply following some good brewing instructions.

But what do you need to brew some good home made beer?


This list is just the basics, you could probably actually get away with using less but at the very least, this guide should help you decide what you need to get that golden ale flowing down your gullet. 


What equipment you might use on Brew day



Ingredients
Equipment for brewing
  • Sanitizer - To sanitize all of your equipment. It’s a must. If you don’t your beer might die. 
  • 6 gallon / 23 litre fermenter (drum or bottle). You will use this for making your beer in 
  • Thermometer - To monitor the temperature of the wort – this is so you can add the yeast at the correct temperature and avoid killing it. *
  • Hydrometer - Used test the original gravity of your batch *
  • Paddle or spoon - Something to stir the boil with, maybe not your wife’s best spoon. A long handle is what you need. 
  • Gloves – making beer can get a little messy *
  • Can opener – to open the beer kit 
  • Water - Access to both boiling and cold water 
  • Bubble Airlock – to allow the release of CO2 and to assist with the observation of fermentation

Bottling day - what you need

  • Bottles! – cleaned and free of dirt and spiders or slugs or bird shit (trust us on this, it’s happened) 
  • Sanitizer – Yes, one again you need sanitize all equipment and bottles and caps 
  • Bottle caps - Make sure they are not twist-off bottles 
  • Bottle capper – speaks for it self, helps you place the caps on bottles 
  • Hydrometer - To measure the final gravity *
  • Priming sugar – Sucrose which is to carbonate the beer while in the bottle (called beer conditioning
  • Bottling wand - This allows you to easily control the flow while bottling and means less spillage will occur. *
  • Patience. Shit will go wrong, learn from the experience and move on. 
* denotes an optional item of equipment which you may find below:

Guess who left the spoon in the beer fermenter

Just a week after I wrote the 'I think I've contaminated my beer' post, this classic mistake happened. I'd just bottled a handy Black Rock NZ ale and went to clean the fermenter.

I found this inside:

Spoon left in brew fermenter

My wife and I had been looking for that spoon for weeks! I'd looked high and low and even behind the dishwasher with clearly no luck, and not even thinking that I had used the spoon to stir the beer wort.

I'm fairly confident the brew will be fine, a taste test proved it tasted like beer! Especially as I was a diligent brew master and sterilized everything before brewing.

How do I increase the alcohol content of my home brew beer?

Increasing alcohol content of your homebrew beer

How do I increase the alcohol content of my home brew? 

In the beer realm, the phrase Alcohol By Volume is used to measure alcohol content. As in that is, what is the percentage of 'alcohol by volume' of the total beer.

Commonly shortened to ABV, the question becomes how do I raise the ABV of my beer?

By simply using more Sugar and or DME

The beer yeast eats the sugar and that produces more alcohol. Some brewers will use dry malt extract (DME) as their sugar source. You could of course just use ordinary home baking sugar. That will contribute to a sweeter beer than DME.

As a rough guide, an extra  pound or 1/2 kg of DME will add an extra half percent to your beer. Doubling that will give you an extra whole percent.

Roughly.

Maple syrup, honey and brown sugar can all be used as well but remember, like jelly beans, they will influence the taste of your beer. Of course if you've ever tried an 8 percent commercial beer such King Fisher or Elephant, you may have noted how sweet such beers are.

A big caution is that the more sugar you put in, the more pressure that you place on the yeast. The more alcohol that is produced, the slower the rate at which fermentation occurs. You may also feel your beer tastes somewhat sweater. But that could be in your head, I have no idea what goes on in there.

A keen player will consider adding more yeast nutrients to the wort which may give the original yeast a new lease of life and extend fermentation.

Too much alcohol may actually end up killing of the yeast. Some yeasts do handle the presence of alcohol better than others so shop around for those advertised as being tough.

You could also add a second round of yeast to your brew if you were keen. You'd want to add the kind of yeast that has a higher alcohol tolerance. We suggest you talk to your local brewshop for advice on what particular yeast will meet your needs in this scenario.

In terms of your beer preparation, exposing your wort to an appropriate amount of oxygen will help - make sure everything gets a good stir.

Temperature regulation will come into play as well.

So, what you've got to think about to raise the alcohol content is that there are lot of variables that can help you but at the same time they may also hinder your beer.

If we were to put our 'Science Officer' hat on we would suggest you only make one change at a time from your normal routine and measure your results and make judgement accordingly.

For example - you've made your standard ale brew often enough and you know from using your hydrometer that the alcohol content is usually say 4.5 ABV. You may wish to add an extra half KG of DME to your brew and see if that raises the ABV to 5 ABV. If that's the case, you win!

Knowing that method works, you could continually make changes in increments to get that ABV to 5.5 or higher.

Just remember, the more sugars you put in, the great the chance of hindering the yeast, at which point you would need to consider yeast based modifications to your recipe and practices.

In summary to increase the alcohol or ABV of your beer you can consider:
  • Adding extra DME, sugar or produce like honey and maple syrup
  • Adding extra to yeast to your initial pitch.
  • Adding extra yeast and yeast nutrients late in the usual fermentation process. 
  • Using a yeast that can handle a high alcohol content
  • Make sure the wort gets invigorated with oxygen
  • Keep good temperature control, don't allow wild fluctuations
Image credit to Martin Garrido via Creative Commons Licence. We don't know if Martin likes the idea of a Mortal Engines movie but we sure do!

How and when to add hops to your home brew kit the easy way



Adding hops to your home brew beer 



It is dead easy to add hops to your wort.

All you have to do is throw those precious green bullets of bliss into your drum once you have mixed all your ingredients together.

This is called, dry hopping.

Boom, you have done your beer a wonderful service by adding a magical green plant that will help give you beer a more discerning and bitter beer taste.

But that's the easy way out to adding hops to your beer kit brew.

There are some other methods that you might wish to try. 

The 'wait 5 days after fermentation method' 


Some beer brewers insist that you will get a better bang for your buck if you add the hops in 5 or so days after your beer has begun fermenting.

From what I can figure out, the rationale is that the 'aromatic oils' that can be lost in the popular boiling process of beer are retained in the beer.

The dry hopping method does not add any bitterness to the beer itself. So if you're after a real bitter bear, you'll need a kit that has been designed with that in mind or you could try making a hops tea that removes the bitterness from the hops and then add the tea to your wort.

This method of adding hops to your beer will give your beer a nice hoppy aroma which will surely add to your drinking experience.

Dry hopping apparently works well with IPA style beers.

The negative of simply adding dry hops into your wort is that it does increase the likely hood of there being sediment in your beer.

To try and counter that from occurring, you may wish to consider:

Placing Hops in muslin bags

The other method of adding hops to your fermenter is adding the hops secured inside in a muslin cloth.

We are not kidding. If you wrap your hops up into a muslin cloth, the idea is that the sediment stays in the bag, but all the flavours get out and into your beer. But there's some arguments that this technique will actually hamper the effect of the hops.

If you feel this is a fair point then I suggest you consider the:

The 'Hop Tea' technique to add bitterness to beer

That's right, before you make beer, you are going to make a cup of hop tea. Put the hops in the muslin bag (or tie up a square of it) and then boil it for several minutes. The hop pellets will quickly disintegrate. This is normal.

During the boil, have a good smell and enjoy the aromas. That's the deliciousness you want to impart into your beer.

When you've boiled the hops for long enough, turn the pan off but leave everything right where it is.

At this time, you'll also have prepared you wort, so now put everything you've boiled - the whole muslin bag and the bittered tea that you've made. It will be a green mess, like the Hulk puked up or something.

The idea here is that the great hops aromas and oils have been removed from bullets and will mix easily with your brew. You're throwing in the muslin bag for good measure.

The bag itself will not have any effect on the beer or fermentation process, it can be disposed of on bottling day.

The key thing is to not over-think things. Sure you could use a hop chart and worry about boiling times but really, if you a starting out, just relax.

If you are using a starter kit, or have done a few brews, what you are wanting to do is make a good, first up time beer and not worry too much.

Using extra hops already shows you are ahead of the curve, just get them into the fermenter and sit back and wait for the hops magic to happen until you are ready to bottle your beer.

Now you've got a nice brew ready, sit back and watch the Mortal Engines movie!

How to make jelly bean beer

how to make jelly bean beer

Did you know you can use Jelly Beans as the sugar for the secondary fermentation? 

It's an amusing exercise to make Jelly Bean beer. The effect on the beer flavoring is interesting as I found that different coloured jelly beans produce different flavours...

First up I would suggest if you are making a 'fancy' beer where you've paid for a more specialist beer kit and you have a pretty sweet hop combo in mind that you don't try to make jelly bean beer with that particular brew.  This is because the bean will likely over power any hop subtleties you might be going for!

However, if you're doing a run-of-the-mill beer kit then while you are doing your normal bottling routine, you may want to have a crack at making beer with jelly beans.

The jelly bean is a substitute for your normal sugar so acts as the carbonation agent in the 2nd fermentation that occurs during bottle conditioning.

First, a wee caution.

It is very easy to over carbonate with jelly beans!

In my personal experience, you should not put more than three beans in one 750 ml bottle. Any more and you will probably get a classic gusher situation when you open the bottle.

So what are the best colours to use? First up, do not use the black ones if you like green beer that tastes pretty horrid! In my experience, black jelly beans are usually aniseed based so are not really a complementary flavour for beer.

That said, it hasn't stopped people from adding aniseed to beer....

Instead, for this home brew enthusiast, oranges, reds and yellows seem to be fairly fun flavours to carbonate with. That flavour being a sweet sugary taste - albeit one that doesn't overwhelm the whole beer itself.

Greens, blues and purples will be OK but the colour of your brew might be a bit off putting! Maybe if you were making an ale rather than a lager then the colour wouldn't be too off putting.

So yes, despite what you may have heard, you can successfully make home brew with jelly beans, just add them when doing your bottling.

Your results however, may vary!

How to easily bottle your home brew beer

green beer bottles for home brew

How to bottle home brew beer using recycled bottles

So once you are sure that fermentation is complete and you've let your beer sit for at least a week after the bubbles have stopped coming through the airlock, then you're ready to bottle your home brew.

Welcome to the big leagues boys, you're about to bottle beer!

What you need to bottle your beer
  • Enough bottles. If you have done 23 litres of beer then you would need 30 x 750 ml bottles. 
  • Bottle caps
  • A bottle capper
  • sanitizing agent
  • A big bucket receptacle for soaking bottles in
  • Ordinary sugar
What kind of bottles do I need to use for bottling?

You can use plastic or glass. I use glass so I can recycle and feel good about saving the planet. If you hate the planet you can use plastic.

The beauty of using plastic bottles is that if they over carbonate due to non complete fermentation or excessive priming sugar they will only split and not explode. If you've even seen a beer bottle explode spontaneously, you'll know what a damn mess it makes with glass everywhere!

You should also bear in mind that not all glass bottles are intended to be used for home brewing so may not be strong enough for both the fermentation process and the capping process so choose wisely - maybe even practice on the odd bottle to make sure it won't crack when you do the capping.

It's time to sterilise again

Just like you did when you prepared the beer batch, you are going to need to sterilize the beer bottles.

This is because a second round of fermentation is going to occur and again the yeast needs an opportunity do to it's thing, free of microbes.

It's this secondary fermentation that puts the CO2 in your beer.

So get all your bottles in the receptacle that you are going to soak them in. I use a plastic washing basket that's big enough to hold all the bottles I need. I then get some sodium percarbonate and add it to a cup of boiling water so it dissolves quickly.

I then add it to the basket and then get the garden hose and fill it up to the brim.

You will need to wrangle your bottles as they will try and float. Push them down with your hands and make sure they are all submerged to they they all get the sanitiser in them.

The say you only need a minimum of 10 minutes to let them soak but having been burned before with a contaminate getting into my beer, I make sure there's little chance at the bottling stage. I leave them in to soak for a few hours and in direct sunlight if bottle.

As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. That' or run them through the dishwasher on a hot setting.

If all that seems just too difficult, you just get a bucket and fill it with your sterilizing powder. You can then just dunk the bottles in, give them a quick swirl, drain the water back into the bucket. You can get the water out of the bottle quickly by giving it a couple of flicks of the wrist in a circular motion - the water will swirl out rather than 'bubbling out.

What ever you do, when you're happy, drain your bottles and place them where you wish to do the bottling.

Filling the beer bottles

There are two ways you can add the sugar to your beer - you can prime the whole batch in one go by siphoning your beer into a second container and add your liquid sugar as you do so or you can add sugar to each bottle individually.

This is our preferred method as in our experience, it's less mucking around, which seems counter-intuitive but there you go.

A benefit of siphoning and them priming the batch is that there will be less sediment in your beer.

While many beer brewers will suggest that you use a slightly heaped tea spoon of sugar for each bottle. I personally try and do a little less as some of my beers in the past have been over carbonated, due I think to too much sugar.

I like to use a small funnel to add the sugar in - it's quicker and less messy than trying to get the sugar in using just a spoon!

You are then ready to add the beer.

Simply place the bottle under the tap of your drum and you are good to go. Be wary of fast flowing beer.

Fill the bottles a level that you would normally expect to see for commercial beer. That's about 40 mm from the top. As I understand it, that will assist with optimum secondary fermentation.

If you have a bottling valve, feel free to use it! Place it inside the tap. You'll need to be firm with it and also be aware that they can suddenly fly out with an open tap - meaning you'll lose beer.

So for that reason I'd never wander away from the drum when there's a bottling valve in play.

It's also capping day!

When you've filled all your bottles it's now time to cap the bottles. That process should be self explanatory and relative to the kind of capper you have. The key thing to remember is to check that each cap as made a satisfactory seal.

If you can hear hissing from a bottle, the seal was not done correctly. Remove the cap and try again with a new cap.

I also mark all the seals with a Vivid or Sharpie so that I know what the particular batch is. This is pretty important when you have different batches and different kinds of beers on the go!

You may wish to give the successfully bottles a gentle tip or to to make sure that all the sugar is in the liquid (not stuck on the inside of the beer neck) and has a chance to dissolve.

This is also an opportunity to inspect for broken seals. Listen for the sounds of any gas / air escaping.

Bottling beer can be a time consuming exercise so either make sure you can be free from interruptions or you can choose to bottle in small groups e.g. 5 bottles at a time when you have a spare moment. This won't cause any problems.

Storage of your beer

It's best to store your beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning).

The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days.

HOWEVER after that period, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C.

You should then leave the beer for a total minimum of three weeks since bottling date before some well deserved consumption.

You should not easily dismiss this advice about correct temperature storage of your beer. I had an experience last year when in the middle of winter I just bottled the beer and left it in the shed for about a month.

When I when to crack open the first beer, there was no fizz, just cold flat beer.

No fizz on the second or third either.

I thought I had ruined my beer somehow. 'Had fermentation actually occurred'? I wondered. Of course it had. The problem was the cold. I brought the beers inside and left them in the living room. I waited a week for the yeast to warm up and do its thing, and boom I had fizzy beer!

Winning.

The longer you wait, the better your beer will be. So while you're waiting, check out these awesome Star Wars lego sets...

I think I accidentally contaminated my beer. What can I do? Do I have to start again?

Help, I think I have ruined my beer!

Have I really contaminated my beer?

It only takes one bad batch of contaminated beer for beer enthusiasts to be converted to the mantra of 'sterilization is mandatory'.

And that's the best approach you can have when brewing beer.

Keeping your equipment and preparation space clean and sanitary will keep you on course for a fine tasting brew.

Things do go wrong. You might accidentally drop something into your batch.

Maybe your three-year-old son thought he was helping Dad out by throwing the air lock into it (yes, that actually happened).

Maybe you managed to drop some bottle caps or a stirring spoon into it.

Does this mean you've contaminated and ruined your batch?

The short answer is no, yes and maybe.

But the chances are that you haven't screwed things up. If you've done diligent preparation so that everything else is clean, then the chances are that dropping the odd utensil into your batch is not going to ruin it.

On a couple of occasions, I have been pushing the airlock into the whole in the top of the fermenter lid. As I have done this, I managed to push the rubber bung through the hole and into the batch.

Quelle Horreur! 

I was left with no choice each time to grab a large metal spoon from the kitchen drawer to try and fish the bung out. I had no time to sterilize the spoon - I'd pitched the yeast already and wanted to lock that drum down tight.

Did I ruin my beer by exposing it to a rubber bung and an unsanitized spoon? I possibly could have but in the end my brews turned out absolutely fine.

Here's my reason why this scenario worked out OK.

If you make sure that you have already produced an hospitable environment for your yeast to take charge of your brew, it's like any introduction of foreign micro-organisms will not be calamitous.

The yeast you use is beer yeast. It's been cultivated for many years to brew the best kind of beers and it knows how to do its job. If it's just a minor contamination by way of a spoon or dropped airlock (chances are they were actually quite clean as opposed to say a Matchbox toy car) its more than likely your yeast will win the tussle for beer fermenting supremacy.

I think it's fair to say that a small mistake is not fatal to your beer.

A large mistake such as not preparing your fermenter properly would probably have dire results. If your beer is actually contaminated (smells of rotten eggs, a taste test reveals a disgusting taste) then you may have to consider dumping your brew.

Update: Believe it or not, shortly after writing this post, I managed to find this in my fermenter.

Image credit to ellai via Creative Commons Licence

How do I tell if my beer fermented properly?

how to tell if beer fermented

How do I tell if my beer fermented properly?

Fermentation is the name of the game when making beer. It you don't have fermentation taking place, you simply don't have beer.

You have just have a 23 litre bucket of watery malt.

Home brewers can face fermentation stage issues and a common problem is that fermentation has not begun. A typical sign is that there is no bubbles coming through the airlock.

Is no bubbles in the airlock really a sign of a lack of fermentation?


The first thing to bear in mind is that it can take at least 15 hours of your Earth time before the CO2 bubbles start gurgling through the airlock. 

So don't go drowning your sorrows just yet if the bubbles haven't started. If you think that your beer hasn't started brewing there's some problem solving you can do. 

If you are using a glass fermenter you can look for a dark scum that rings around the water level mark. You can probably see it through the standard white fermenter drum as well.

Or check for signs of foam or the krausen as it is affectionatly known as. Give it 20 - 48 hours before you start to worry.

If using a plastic drum you might be able to see through to check for the scum. Another trick is to take out the air lock and try and peek through the whole to identify scum or foam.

You could also check the gravity by using a hydrometer.

I'll assume you know how to use one.  The beer has usually finished fermenting if the final gravity reading is is 1/3 to 1/4 of the original gravity. This of course means you took an original reading when you first prepared your beer.

If you have the same reading 24 hours apart - that's your final reading and an indication that the fermentation is finished. 

Don't bottle your beer just yet, let it mellow for a bit longer.

The longer the better your brew will probably be. If you are a beginner brewer, trust me on this. Let you brew rest up just a little bit longer than you may have the patience for. Brewing is a game of patience, and those who wait are rewarded with good tasting, clear beer

So why wasn't there any bubbles in the airlock? 

That's a fair question to ask. It could be that there was a leak that allows the CO2 to escape (to teach you to suck rotten eggs, those bubbles in the air lock are carbon dioxide gas, the bi-product of fermentation).

You may have not tightened the drum enough or possible not screwed in the tap properly. It's a good idea to check this is the case before you worry too much

  • If you didn't see any signs of fermentation it could be that it's too cold to brew.
  • Is your batch of beer in a warm enough place?
  • If your brewing during summer months, it's probably not too cold.

If you've left your beer in a cold place in the shed, then it may be too cold. If it's too cold to brew in your 'man shed' - say it's the middle of winter, you might want to bring your brew inside the house.

You could consider wrapping it in blankets. This is a handy trick and will help to keep the chill of your beer. I think this trick works best if the beer is already warm enough to brew. 

Maybe leave it in the laundry if it's a warm place?

When I brew in winter I will often leave the fermenter in the warm kitchen or living room at least overnight so that the fermentation process has a decent chance to start. 

Some brewers like to use heat pads or panels to keep the beer at a consistent warm temperature. If you do wish to use a pad, you'll need to be able to store your brew close to a power socket so the heat pad can operate.

Yeast issues?

Another more serious reason for beer failing to ferment is yeast failure.

This may occur if the yeast has become dry. This is why you will hear a constant refrain from expert beer users to only use fresh ingredients.

In the case of a beer kit brewer, this means to not purchase old stock as the yeast could be too old (I do suspect however this is a bit of a housewives tale - as stock should rotate fairly we. 

However, in our experience we haven't had this problem from a beer kit yet. 

A key trick is to add (pitch) the yeast at the appropriate temperature - if using a beer kit ou a generally well off by follow the temp instructions - you especially do not want to add the yeast if the solution is too cold as it may be hard for the yeast to get traction - and what ever you do, don't add yeast to boiling water (if that's what you are using to mix everything together) - as that will almost certainly kill the yeast and ruin any chance of your beer successfully fermenting.

So in summary here's some problem solving tips:
  • Check for leaks that allow the CO2 to escape - tighten the drum
  • Look for foamy residue
  • Look for scum residue
  • Make sure the temperature is appropriate to the kind of beer you are making
  • Consider using a heat pad to ensure a consistent temperature
Image credit to Quinn Dombrowski via Creative Commons Licence

7 simple tips for the beginner beer brewer

Home brew beer brewing tips and tricks

7 tips for the beginner beer brewer to think about before they start brewing


If you're about to take the plunge and brew your first batch of home brew beer, good on you!

If you take the time to do it right, you will be rewarded with a refreshingly good beverage. A good start to your 'brewing campaign' will give you the confidence that brewing home brew is actually easy and you might continue with it as a hobby.

There's certainly a lot to learn, so if you are a first time beer brewer, you might want to have a read of these tips and tricks.

1. That starter beer kit your wife gave your for Christmas is not enough


While the beer kit you were given for Christmas by your loving wife will help you on your way to making a good home brew beer, you can do better.

Kits that only come with a bag of sugar or dextrose alone will contribute to a beer that's weak in the sense that it will seem thin in terms of its 'mouth feel'.

Think of mouth feel as that sense of 'full heartiness' that you get from that first mouthful of a well deserved beer. In response to this need, the home brewer should consider adding more malt - either liquid or dry malt.

For the dry malt, a 'brew enhancer' pack is what you need.

In this writer's experience, making a home brew beer kit without the enhancer most definitely results in a weaker feeling beer, so make sure your starter kit comes with it or at the least, head to your local brew shop and grab a packet. It shouldn't cost more than ten bucks.

2. You'd best best to brew an ale than a lager


The truth is that the darker the beer, the more forgiving it will be in the home brewing process. It's very easy to make a brewing mistake with your first home brew so a beer style that's good to drink and is also easy to take care of is the brew you are after. Basically the heavier flavor of the beer will mask things such as 'off' bi-products of the fermentation process cause by things such as temperature mismanagement.

While you should feel free to start with a lager, and yes, many beer kits do come with lagers, bear in mind that lagers need to be cooled rather more quickly than an ale and they also require a bit more yeast in the fermentation process.

We love brewing Nut Brown Ales for this reason!

3. In the cold cold, night.

Fermentation is a process that requires just the right kind of temperatures and the right kind of times.

Different temperatures brew different kinds of beers.

A constant temperature is also very important as the yeast can react to a temperature variance in ways that are not good for tasty beer! So when doing your first brews, make sure it can be done in a warmish area and one that's going to keep that temperature.

A very rough guide is that you should aim to brew lagers between 10-14 degrees, and get those ales done between 18-21 degrees.

You got that White Stripes reference right?

4. You don't need to bottle straight away, just because the fermentation bottle has stopped bubbling


If the bubbles in the airlock have stopped completely, this is not necessarily a sign that the fermentation process has completed. It's quite likely that there's still some fermentation quietly happening in the drum.

So let that play out a bit longer. It could be that you let your beer rest longer than the written instructions that came with your beer kit. Then bottle away.

5. Don't bottle to early as well!


Simply put, don't bottle too early. This is basically point four repeated. If you bottle before fermentation has completed too early, you could be in for some trouble.

Did you ever see that Breaking Bad episode where Hank woke up in the night thinking he was being shot at but in reality it was just his home brew exploding?

That's what happens if you bottle your beer to early. Don't be like Hank, let your beer mellow just a bit longer. Chances are it will taste better too!

6. Using a hydrometer will help you develop your home brewer's 'Sixth Sense' about how your brew is going.


A hydrometer, correctly used will help you to determine if your batch has finished fermenting. If you get the same reading twice in a row, the fermentation process has finished - but leave it just a little bit longer before you bottle.

Trust us on this one.

You can also use the hydrometer to work out the alcohol content of your beer.

7. Good things come to those who wait


Once you've managed to get your precious liquid gold into your well sterilized bottles we can only imagine how keen you are to sample your efforts. You're going to have to wait.

The instructions in your beer kit may suggest you need to wait two or three weeks.

Believe them. Or not.

Let your beer have time to make those bubbles.

You will be rewarded with a better tasting beer. If you can't wait, get yourself busy with a second brew and at the very least, give your equipment a good clean.

So that's plenty of things to think about. Once you've done that, get brewing!

Beer image courtesy James Palinsad by way of Creative Commons licence.