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Why I'm never using Steinlager bottles for home brewing again

I was bottling beer in the weekend (a nice Miner's Stout) when for the 50th time, the Steinlager bottle I was capping refused to cap as the grippy bit at the top of the bottle neck cracked.

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

I suspect this is a time / use related issue. Over time, the pressure gets too strong for the glass and it simply breaks.

I've also had plenty of bottle necks completely snap too.

I'm sick of this shit.

So I dumped every green Steinlager bottle that I had into the recycling bin. About 30 of them, collected (and drank!) over the last few years.

Good riddance.

But it's a real shame as the 750 ml Steinlager bottle is a really nice bottle to hold when pouring a beer into a glass. There's something really aesthetically pleasing about it too.

Don't get me wrong though, Steinlager is an excellent beer and one I would recommend to any discerning beer drinker.

So this got me thinking, what beer bottles are really good for using with home brew?

Well, for this brewer, a side effect of the rise in craft beer is that there's a plethora of bottles out there to choose from.

I found that most brown bottles from craft beers in New Zealand are able to be capped really quite well.

But you know what works the best?

750 ml Tui crate bottles.

That's right, the other classic NZ working man's beer has the best bottles for capping homebrew.

While I'm at it, I found a great source of getting bottles for home brew conditioning is by raiding the recycling bins of my neighbours!

Also, I'm still pretty happy about my discovery on how to easily remove beer bottle labels.

How to use a dish washing machine to remove beer labels

If there's one thing that's a pain in the ass when bottling beer, it's removing labels from the bottles. 

Some days it feels like some bastard at the local craft brewery has said,

"Hey James let's get the most gnarly and sticky glue ever invented and use it with our bottles. And while we're add it, let's at a second layer of the world's second strongest glue. Just to be sure"

At least that's how it feels.

Now I've bitched about this before but I recently came across the best way to remove labels from beer bottles.

Use the dishwasher to remove sticky beer labels!


Seriously.

Just run them through a cycle in your dishwasher and that glue becomes unstuck.

The labels can then be easily peeled off in one satisfying motion.

Here's the proof.

I have pair of Panhead and Garage Project bottles prior to going into the dishwasher:

removing beer labels from Garage Project bottle

And here's the after photo removal of the Garage Project Bright Side:

peeling off the beer label

removal of whole beer label bright side

And here we have the shot of the Panhead Culture Vulture fresh out of the dishwasher and the too easy removal:

using a dish washer to remove label from beer bottle

removal of beer  label in one piece

So that's that.

Probably the easiest tip you'll come across for when getting your bottles ready for bottling. Remember, you will still need to sanitise your bottles before filling them with glorious beer.

Using Mackintosh lollies as a beer enhancer

mackintosh toffee lollies

You may have heard of beer kit brewers using 'beer enhancer' before. It's a handy way of giving your beer more body and flavour thus making your beer a more enjoyable drinking experience.

But where I come from, a quality beer enhancer will cost you anything from 7 to 14 dollars. Check out the prices on Amazon if you don't believe me!

If if you're a bit like me, you want to make good beer but you also want to do it fairly cheaply. Now you could simply use sugar instead of a beer enhancer but then your beer might feel thin and watery.

So I had an idea, what if I used a bag of Mackintosh Toffee Lollies as an enhancer?

Where I come from in New Zealand, these malty chews are probably one of the most popular treats around.

If you haven't picked why I would have this crazy idea, it's because of the malt and sugars that are in them. Given beer enhancer has a main ingredient of malt and dextrose, would this lolly be a good substitute for a beer enhancer?

So here's the experiment I ran. I knew I needed to test the effectiveness of the Mackintosh Lollies and I reasoned I needed to use a lager so that any malty flavours from a tin of ale or stout wouldn't mask or overpower any effect of the Mackintosh lollies.

A packet of Mackintosh Toffees costs about three dollars in NZ and for your trouble you get 250 grams in the 'farm pack' size.

So I figured I would need two packets as my enhancer substitute. That still comes in at 6 bucks and is a buck or two cheaper than a standard enhancer I would use.

So given one usually uses about 1 KG of beer enhancer, I also added another variable to the experient. I made up the difference with 500 g of dextrose. Dextrose will be wholly consumed the yeast in the fermentation process so will not effect the 'mouth feel' of the beer but will help the yeast do its job.

I wondered about just throwing lollies into the wort but thought better of it. I melted them in a pot on low heat. While removing the wrappers from two packets worth, I wondered if this experiment was even worth my time and effort.

So I prepared a lager brew using a Coopers Lager (as I've previously noted how these kits are fairly weak in body without enhancers). I let the batch ferment for a week and then bottled and stored them in the man shed. Two weeks later I placed a couple of bottles in the fridge and the next evening I sampled my experient.

Had the toffee lollies worked as a beer enhancer?


My first impressions were how sweet the beer was.

And then I realised the mistake I had made.

Or was it one?

The Mackinstosh lollies had all kinds of flavours such as mint, harrogate and coconut. I could certainly get a sense of these flavours. Not bothersome but there none-the-less.

And then I noticed that the lager had a small amount of body to it. Nothing huge but it was there. The head didn't retain for very long.

From my experience of using a Cooper's lager kit with an enhancer, I could tell that the toffees had added some substance to the beer.

So, a successful experiment from the point of view that the lollies added some mouthfeel to the beer but would I recommend this for future efforts? If I wanted to save a couple of bucks off the price of a standard enhancer, then sure.

But in terms of time and result, it's not worth it. It took about ten minutes alone to remove the wrappers and then a similar amount of time to melt down. If I'm making beer from a kit, I just want to get it done as quickly as possible.

And given that a beer enhancer does a more efficient job, I don't really recommend you use Mackintosh toffees as beer enhancer!

The best way to get labels off beer bottles is by...

The best way to get labels off beer bottles is by... putting them in the dishwasher.

It's that simple.

soaking beer labels to remove themNow you can get on with easily bottling your beer.

Wait. 

You don't believe me?

Trust me, I've considered how to remove labels from beer and wine bottles before.

I had ideas along the lines of giving the bottles a good old overnight soak in products such as sodium percarbonate, powdered Brewery Wash, ammonia and even baking soda.

I'd even contemplated using steam from a kettle.

And they all work to a certain degree but all involve labour and mess and scrubbing to various degrees.

But using the dish washer makes peeling off labels so easy!

Here's how I discovered this most obvious solution to a problem that frustrates many brewers. 


I was rinsing the dishes last night and on the window ledge above me was a bottle with a label that I'd placed their the night before - and it had label I knew was going to be a real pain to remove as I'd suffered through that brand before (Boundary Road from NZ). 

A soak would not be enough, some firm scrubbing was going to be required.

Sigh.

So as I loaded the dishes into the dishwasher, on a whim I placed the bottle into the dishwasher and let it do it's thing. I was thinking about that steaming idea. You know how people apparently use to open letters by using the steam from a kettle as the glue would soften? That's the idea.

Now, I'm the kind of guy that likes to have the dish washer emptied before I go to bed so I don't have to empty it in the morning.

So I opened it up when the wash was through and the first thing I noticed was the brown bottle, with the label 9/10 removed and slipping down the bottle.

The dishwasher trick had worked!

I was able to quickly peel off the label while the bottle was still warm from the heat of the dish-washing process. There was a little bit of residual glue on the glass. A quick scrub with the dish-washing brush and it was removed. Not a challenge at all.

The easiest removal of a beer bottle label I'd ever done.

So now I'm convinced.

No more soaking bottles with chemicals for me. When I need to remove the labels, I'll simply use the dishwasher to help. This will also have the benefit of helping clean the bottles (not so much the inside maybe) and at the very least, the heat of the dish washer will help sanitize and even sterilize the bottles too.

Off course for those without a dishwasher, soaking is still going to be the best way to peel those labels off!

How to properly store your bottled homebrew beer

How to properly store your bottled homebrew beer

You've done the hard work.

You've prepared a nice wort and it fermented well.

Then bottling day came and you got your golden brew safely away under cap.

Now what?

It's time to bottle condition your beer and that doesn't mean you hide it in a under blanket in an old swap-a-crate box and forget about it for a few weeks. 

Well actually you can do this, but it you want great tasting beer there's a few things to think about when storing beer. 

First with the warm and then with the cold


When you are bottle conditioning, you are adding a second round of sugar to your beer. This is so that a second round of fermentation can take place. 

The yeast still present in the beer will eat the sugar and convert it to more alcohol and CO2 - this gas is what carbonates the beer. 

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. 

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

After week or so, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C. This will allow the beers to condition quite nicely. 

This thing about the correct temperature is real. 

Let me tell you a story. 

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

When I when to crack open the first beer, I did not hear that usually reassuring hiss of gas as it escapes from the bottle. 

The silence was brutal. 

My beer was flat. 

So I opened another bottle and had the same result. And again for a third.

I wondered if I had destroyed my beer somehow. 'Had fermentation actually occurred'? I wondered.

Of course it had. What I had done was wrap the fermenter in plenty of old painting sheets which kept the beer warn enough to allow the the first round of fermentation to occur. 

For the bottled beer, the problem was the freezing cold. They had sat in the shed naked as the day they were bottled and bitterly cold. The yeast became inactive and no fermentation occurred. 

The solution was to bring the beers inside. I placed them in the living room and gradually they warmed up. After two weeks I opened a beer and boon, I was rewarded with the sound of CO2 releasing from the beer. The yeast had appreciated the warmer temperature, came out of hibernation and got to work on the sucrose. 

Problem solved. 

Conversely, it is unwise to store beer in too hot a place. For example, don't leave it in a hot attic room all summer. The beer will simply get cooked and probably taste like mouldy cardboard. 

Some points to ponder about bottle storage

  • It's really good to have a storage place where the temperature is maintained at a steady rate.
  • Ales are happy with lower temperatures
  • Lagers are happy with 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!

There's two other important things that can help with properly conditioning beer


1. Don't be afraid of the dark


Like a vampire, you should embrace the darkness. 

Beer does not like sunlight at all. Especially if you are using recycled green beer bottles. If your beer is exposed to too much light, it is said to be 'light struck' or 'skunked'. 

The UV light causes yet another chemical reaction in the beer - the hops are broken down by the light and they form a new compound when mixed with the proteins in the beer - giving off a horrid smell just like a skunk can do.

2. Now comes the hard part - waiting 


You have to let you beer condition. The rule of thumb is that your beer is probably drinkable after one week but is only beginning to get close to its best tastings at three weeks.

If you've ever found a forgotten beer in the shed that's had three months conditioning, you probably really enjoyed it right? 

That's just proof you need to give your beer time to mature.

How to make beer in less than 20 minutes


If you've ever heard anyone go on and on about 'brewing day' and the 'perfect hoppy IPA' they made, you could be forgiven for thinking that making beer takes all day and only the keenest enthusiasts make beer.

But if you don't have all day to muck around like you're Luke in The Last Jedi and you don't need a milk stout but just want beer, let me assure you that you can make beer in 20 minutes.

That's right, you can make beer in 20 minutes if you're organised.

Here's how to make beer in 20 minutes


Boil the kettle

Take your fermenter. 

Sanitise it with sodium percarbonate. Rinse. 

Add your can of malt to the fermeneter. 

Add your beer enhancer.

Add the boiled water from the kettle

Stir it. 

Add hops

Add water to the 23 litre level. 

Pitch the yeast

Put the fermenter in a warm place. 

Congratulations, you have made beer in less than 20 minutes.

Now store it properly for 3 weeks and then enjoy with my regards.  




Why is there no bubbles in the airlock?

no bubbles, no fermentation?

If you're a new brewer, you might be pretty keen to see some bubbles in the airlock after you've made your first beer.

We can also imagine your concern when you check your beer the day after you've brewed and hear and see no bubbles. 

And you'll have asked yourself:


 Why is there not any bubbles in the airlock? 



That's a fair question to ask and there are often some simple answers which should arrest any concerns.

It could be that there was a leak that allows the CO2 to escape from the fermenter. To teach you to suck rotten eggs, those bubbles in the air lock are carbon dioxide gas, the bi-product of fermentation and so could easily escape of the fermenter is not properly sealed.

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

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 you're brewing during summer months, it's probably not too cold and your beer will ferment just fine and the bubbles will share in your beer making joy. 

If you've left your beer in a cold place in the shed, then it may be too cold for fermentation to begin. If this is the base then you might want to consider moving your fermenter inside to a warmer place.

If you insist on keeping the fermenter in your man shed, you could consider wrapping it with blankets or old painting sheets like I do. 

This is a handy trick and will help to keep the chill off your homebrew. 

You've checked and you have no leaks so 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 very easy problem solving you can try. 

Look for the scum


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. If the scum is sticking to the side, at the top of the water line, you can be pretty confident that fermentation is under way and your beer will be just fine!

You can also check for signs of foam. 

A nice foam at the top of the water line also indicates that fermentation is taking place. 

So I'm pretty sure fermentation has not occurred. What happened?


Give it 20 - 48 hours before you start to worry about a lack of bubbles or signs of fermentation. 

Then you may wish to consider other things that could have occurred. 

When you pitched the yeast, did you add it to a wort that was at the right temperature? If your wort was too hot and not cooled properly, your yeast may have died due to the heat. 

If you think you killed your yeast, you can always re pitch with another set. 

Was your yeast fresh? If you were using an old packet, the yeast may have lost its spark and not have enough viable units to begin fermenting. 

Did you rinse out the sanitiser? 


As an expert beer brewer, we KNOW you carefully sanitised the fermenter and all the equipment you used. But did you rinse if off it was the kind that needed it? If you cleaned with bleach, you need to rinse other wise the residue could have killed your yeast. 

11 tips and tricks for when using carbonation drops:

easy tips to use carbonation drops

11 handy tips and tricks for when using carbonation drops on bottling day

  1. 60 carbonation drops, will be enough drops for one 23 litre brew.
  2. 1 dop for a 300 - 500 ml bottle, two for anything over 750 mls.
  3. 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 but we know you won't listen...
  4. Beware over priming your beer. If you add too much sugar or dextrose, too much CO2 will be produced by the yeast and it will have nowhere to escape. It will escape in the form of a 'beer bomb' when you open your beer and it will gush out the next of the bottle like a geyser and go all over the place and you will have committed a cardinal sin, wasting beer!
  5. You can use drops to carbonate apple cider as well as beer. The measurements are the same to get the same amount of carbonation.
  6. Different temperatures will play on how well the carbonation process goes. The yeast in beer generally enjoys a warmer temperature to do its thing - so if you are questioning whether the drops didn't produce enough CO2, bear in mind there are other factors at play such as being too cold! Beer should be kept warm for a few days after adding the sugar. Then move to a cool place. 
  7. 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. You could also consider batch priming your brew
  8. 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! You can also use honey!
  9. We've used Mangrove Jack's drops many times and had no problems so are very happy to recommend their use.
  10. You can use carbonation drops with your ginger beer as well!
  11. If you are buying drops on line, 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.

What is 'skunked' beer?

cute shunks

What is 'skunked' beer?


You can probably guess that if you're beer is skunked, your beer is done for.

Just like your clothes are ruined if a skunk manages to offload the contents of their anal glands over you, skunked beer can be undrinkable.

So how does beer become skunked?


It occurs when a chemical reaction happens in the bottled beer due to exposure to sunlight.

This 'lightstruck' beer is caused by the UV radiation in light from the sun. 

If a beer has been left too long in a store under the shops lights, it can happen as well.

What actually happens is the so-alpha acids in the beer (which come from hops) are broken down and form a new compound in the beer by joining with any proteins floating around. 

This compound stinks! Kind of like a skunk's odorous spray.

So how can you prevent skunked beer?


It seems pretty obvious eh, keep your beer in the dark and at the very least, out of direct sunlight. 

Brown glass is pretty handy at preventing this from occurring but not so much green bottles or clear glass. 

So, the trick to avoiding skunked beer is clearly to store your beer in the dark.

To sum up:
  • If you are brewing a lager, bear in mind a strange smell could be 'normal' and may disappear after the beer has been conditioned. 
  • It could well be your beer is contaminated by bacteria, in which case nothing will save it. Head to the pub for a self pitying pint.
  • Lightstruck or skunked beer can happen when bottled beer is left in sunlight too long so leave your homebrew in a cool and dark place. 

How can I best store spare hops?

What's the best way to properly store spare  hops?

What's the best way to properly store opened hops?


This is a fair enough question. Hops are expensive and if you've got some spare, keeping them as fresh as possible is a good idea.

The short answer to the question is that it turns out that turns out freezing hops is actually a common method of beer brewers!

If you've purchased a vacuum sealed packet of hops and have some leftover, then freezing them is a tried and true method of keeping spare hops fresh.

If you like me to teach you to suck eggs, this is how you do it.take your leftover beer hops and place them in a clean, unused zip-lock bag.

Remove the excess air by folding it over and then seal the bag. If you happen to possess a vacuum sealer we suggest you use it to remove all the air.

Grab a Sharpie pen and write on the name of the hops on the bag so you don't forget what they are and then chuck them in the freezer until required for your next brew day.

In such cases, you might not need to freeze the hops if the sealing has been done properly, but it wouldn't hurt just the same.

You can also refrigerate the hops


Again, put them in a fresh zip lock bag or something else airtight (like a clean lunch box). I read somewhere that hops can stay fresh for up to a year this way.

How to get cheap hops 


Specialty brewing shops will off load older hops fairly regularly to their regular customers. A handy trick is to follow your local brewing specialists on Facebook and other social media and keep an eye out for hops give-a-ways.

The ones I follow often announce that they are giving away their old hops stock because they have a fresh order coming in.


Signing off 

I reckon that as long as your hops has not been exposed to too much oxygen, they will keep well enough for the average homebrewer to not have to worry about hops going stale.

When do I add hops pellets to my beer wort?

When do I add hops pellets to my beer wort?

There are two times when you need to add the hops to your beer brew. For each, it depends on how you are making your beer batch. 

All grain boil ups


The beer wort is often boiled with the hops added at crucial moments just prior to being cooled.

The timings of when to add the hops in the boil can be critical because the different boil times cause the hops to work differently on the beer by imparting differing qualities.

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

This part of the process is often referred to the “hop schedule”. A hop schedule will lists the length of time that the hops should be in the boil, not the amount of time you should wait to add the hops. So pay attention to what you are reading!

Following the schedule properly will allows you to making your timings correctly. It's basically the rule of 'follow the recipe' - until you are experimenting with hops!

The rough guide to using hops on the boil is the longer you boil the hops, the more bitterness they will impart into the wort.

The shorter time frame you boil them, the more flavours will be added to the beer.

It all depends on how you want your beer to benefit from the hops addition.

Adding hops with a beer kit wort


If you are using a simple beer extract kit then you can add the hops when you are preparing the batch of wort. Just add it to your wort and fermentation will do the rest.

This is known as dry hopping.

Some people like to delay adding the hops until a few days later. This is fine, but in our experience of using brewing kits, it makes little difference to the end result in the hop aromas and taste your beer will have.

Dry hopping is often considered in efficient as not all the bittering components of the hops are released into the beer - one way to increase the efficiency of the release is by making a hop tea.


How do I make a hops tea for brewing with a kit?

How to I make a hops tea for brewing with a kit?

How to make a hops tea for brewing with a beer kit

Sometimes when making homebrew, beer makers also like to make a cup of hop tea!

Why would we do this?


The idea here is that the great hops aromas and oils have been removed from the bullets due to the boiling and will then mix more easily with your wort brew. You are not making a tea to drink but rather simple trying to better extract the oil from the hop bud or pellet.


This means you have extracted more of the hops from the bullet than you would if you simply dry hopped them

How to make a hops tea for homebrewing


Put the hops in a muslin bag (or tie up a square of it) and then boil it for several minutes. 

During the boil, have a good smell and enjoy the aromas as it wafts around your kitchen. 

That's the deliciousness you want to impart into your beer. 

We love using Cascade hops as we think they give the best smell in the world! It's also a damn fine hops for making beer with, particularly pilsners and lagers. 

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

Try not to let any thing get into the pot as everything that's in their is going into your beer wort. I say this with experience as I did this the other month - made the tea over the stove with the back door open late at night and somehow a moth managed to land it. 

Too bad, I made a hops and moth tea!

You have probably already prepared your wort, so now put everything you've boiled - the whole muslin bag and the tea that you've made into the primary fermenter. 

You are good to go on and now pitch your yeast - as long as the wort is at the correct temperature. 

You can also drink your own hops tea too!

It's done slightly differently to the above method for beer - you let the hops steep as you would any other tea and then drink when cool enough. It's not for us though, too bitter!

How to easily prime your homebrew with sugar

how to batch prime homebrew beer

After about 2 years of brewing beer in my man shed I was getting a little bit tired of dropping sugar all over my workbench as I bottled my beer.

There's nothing more annoying than picking up your hammer to realise it's all sticky. My own bad of course, I should stop dropping the spoon and spilling sugar.

But also ants.

So I decided to do something I'd always thought about doing but never got round too.

I primed my beer batch with sugar.

And what the heck is that?

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.

So, that sounds simple right?

On face of it yes, but there are some things so consider!

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.

I usually brew in 23 litre (5 gallon) batches so my focus on my first batch priming was working out how much sugar I needed to use. 

My intention was to use even less than I normally would as I feel I tended to over sugar my bottles which has resulted in my fair share of bottle bombs and even then, just brews which produce too much head (which means waiting time before drinking as the beer then needs to settle).

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.

So, here's what may I analysis of beer brewing forums suggests are the common amounts of sugars to use for priming:

  • 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.

Some beers go better with different CO2 levels - using a nomograph


I think we mentioned above that some beers just feel better when they have the right amount of carbon dioxide in them.

Too much fizz and that mouth feel doesn't work, too little and that lager might seem flat. 

priming beer nomongraph sugar levels
This nomograph can help you work out how much sugar you need for your particular kind of beer.

The advice on using it is from howtobrew:

"To use the nomograph, draw a line from the temperature of your beer through the volumes of CO2 that you want, to the scale for sugar. The intersection of your line and the sugar scale gives the weight of either corn or cane sugar in ounces to be added to five gallons of beer to achieve the desired carbonation level."

Here is a list of typical volumes of CO2 for various beer styles:
  • British ales 1.5-2.0
  • Porter, Stout 1.7-2.3
  • Belgian ales 1.9-2.4
  • American ales 2.2-2.7
  • European lagers 2.2-2.7
  • Belgian Lambic 2.4-2.8
  • American wheat 2.7-3.3
  • German wheat 3.3-4.5

Don't over prime!

home brew too much sugar explosion
Try to avoid over sugaring beer!

I'm trying to avoid using too much sugar in my beers as I don't want them to be too fizzy or explode in a mess all over the kitchen. So, beer this in mind.

If you add too much sugar, you will cause these problems so we recommend you follow the numbers above.

How to prepare the sugar to add to the batch


There are a couple of ways to do this. 

You could simply add sugar to your fermenter and wait for it to dissolve. It's a pretty simple method but not very efficient.

I suggest you mix some up with hot water in a sterilised pot (maybe even boil it) and let it cool a bit. You then open up the fermenter and gently stir it in, without disturbing the sediment.

Leave it to sit for 10 - 20 minutes and then begin your normal bottling process. Indeed, you could sanitise your bottles while you wait.

I suspect you could also use icing sugar as well as that's just finely cut up sucrose so it should dissolve easily.

Try not to stir up the sediment.

Using a 'secondary' or bottling bucket


There's a fair argument to be made that when batch priming your beer, using a secondary fermenter or bottling bucket is the way to go.

The concept is that you siphon the beer from the original fermenter into a second vessel.

This way you are able to bottle without disturbing the yeast and other brewing bi-products that have fallen to the bottom of the original fermenter. 

The idea is that this improves beer clarity and further reduces the amount of sediment that will form in the conditioned beer bottles (and on pouring from those, again reduced the chance of sediment going into the beer glass).

If you are siphoning into a secondary, I suggest you have your sugar solution all prepared and in the secondary before you add the beer as this will help ensure the sugar dissolves properly in brew.

This will also help ensure that your batch brewed beer will have a consistent sugar volume and each beer should behave the same - i.e. produce the same amount of fizz and head with each pour.

Priming with other flavours


Dextrose and sucrose do not add any flavours to the beer. They simply are eaten by the yeast and converted into more alcohol and CO2 which goes into the beer.

You can prime with other things such as honey and brown sugar. Some brewers have been known to use brown sugar with stouts. Honey can be used with hefeweizens and blondes.

You could even melt down some jelly beans if you want to give your beer a really sweet flavour!

You can also use molasses. If you're brave...

Remember, temperature can affect CO2 production


Once you have bottled your beer, you need to consider storage temperature. 

It's best to initially store your beer in a warm place. 

This will encourage secondary fermentation to commence (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning). The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days. 

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

The beer should also be kept out of the light to avoid light strike.

And then as per standard conditioning practice, we recommend wait three weeks before having a wee sample.

Success!


Very happy to report the ale I primed is very drinkable, with no bottle bombs occurring and a very consistent level of bubbles! 

11 best brewing tips for beer kits in 2017

11 great tricks for brewing beer in 2017

11 best brewing tips for beer kits in 2017


Beer is beer, and the principles behind making it will never change.

In 2017, you still want to get the best quality beer you can make with your beer kit and so here’s the best tips and trips we have to help you make great tasting beer. 

While often seen by many beer snobs as the ‘stupid homes schooled cousin’ of those who make all grain beer, those snobs are simply wrong. You can make great beer with kits. 

This is a great guide for first time novice beer brewers but seasoned pros may find a nugget of gold to help you make better homebrew!

1. You need to run a lean clean machine


You've chosen your beer kit and are ready to begin. The first thing you are going to do is ‘Keep it Clean’. This was the same for 1917 and it will be for 2117. If you are making beer, you gear needs to be cleaned and sanitised. Your fermenter and the gear you use to prepare your wort must be in a tip top state of
cleanliness. 

Sure, you can get away with not cleaning your beer bottles but you can’t get away without having a clean and sanitised fermenter. Sure, the Vikings who made lager in barrels in caves had never heard of using sodium percarbonate but you have and you need to use it to prevent your beer getting infected. The best part about using sodium percarbonate? You’ve probably already got some as it’s found in ordinary laundry soak

I’ve had brews get infected and I know it was my fault as I did two kit brews and the same time and both got infected. I am a 1000 percent sure if I had of done a proper job of cleaning my gear (including stirring spoons and washing my hands) I would not have ruined 80 bucks worth of malt and hops. That said, don’t stress too much about accidental contamination….

2. Brewing temperature will have a massive effect on your beer


Fermentation is a process that requires just the right kind of temperatures and the right kind of times. Different temperatures suit the differing kinds of beers. 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. 

A constant correct 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.

I often use blankets to ensure that the beer is kept at a fairly even temperature. 

3. Be a patient beer brewer


Your wort will take about a week to properly ferment. You can tell when fermentation has finished by taking readings with a hydrometer. When you get two or three consecutive days of the same reading, fermentation is probably complete. 

And if you are properly following the instructions of the beer kit (don’t), you might think it was time to bottle your beer.

It’s not. Wait another week.

While the yeast may have eaten all the sugars, it will move on to other parts of the wort and in doing so it will clean up your beer, helping to remove unwanted products of the fermentation process. The yeast will slowly drop to the bottom of the fermenter thus improving the clarity of your beer

4. Hops are like the magical ingredient of beer


If you just used malt and sugar and yeast you would get beer. Add hops and you get BEER! Different hop varieties suit different kinds of beer. After hundreds of years developing beer, there are now some well-established rules of thumb for what kinds of hops brewers should use. This guide to using hops will help you find the hops that’s right for you.

5. Want clearer beer? 


Trying using gelatin as a fining agent. It combines with the 'leftovers' of the beer brewing process and they fall to the bottom of the fermenter thus clearing the beer.

You can add it any time after fermentation and word on the street that it actually works best when the beer is quite cool. A common timing is to add it a couple of days before you intend to bottle your beer.

But just remember gelatin can come from the hoof of a horse, so if you are trying to make a beer suitable for vegans, think again.

6. Change up the yeast?


Making lagers can be a tricky business as they don’t have a strong flavour that can mask problems like a strong stout can.

A way to improve the chances of a successful lager brew, you may want to consider discarding the standard yeast that comes with a beer kit you might want to order the lager yeast known as WL833 - it's a popular yeast for lager brewing and is proven amongst the beer brewing industry.

7. The sweet taste of success


When bottling your beer, ensure that you use the right amount of sugar. If you use too much, you will no doubt suffer the pain of beer gushers. These happen when you open the beer and whoosh! It blasts out like a volcano going all over the place. 

Another handy trick to reduce the chance of a gusher beer is to have chilled your beer for at least a couple of hours before you intend to drink it.

I have personally experimented this with a troublesome batch and cooling your beer before you consume it definitely reduces the chances to too fizzy beer.

Using carbonation drops is a handy way to make sure you get the right amount of sugar in the bottles.

8. Oxygen exposure can impede the bottle conditioning of your beer

Too much oxygen in the bottle can give the beer a quality that you may not want in your beer. Too much oxygen can allow any organisms left in the beer to flourish, giving an unwanted vinegar like quality. While not a massive risk, you can reduce the change of it by using a beer bottling wand.

By adding it into the tap of you beer you are able to easily fill your beer without causing too much oxygenation. Make sure you firmly install the wand as I’ve had personal experience where I haven’t and spilled beer all over my garden shed floor…. Bottling wands also make bottling easier and faster as the valve at the bottom means you do not need to turn the tap on and off for each bottle when filling. 

If you don’t use a wand, we suggest you fill your bottles by angling them so the beer pours down the side of the bottle to reduce agitation.

9. Use a beer enhancer


There’s no easier way to making better beer kit beer. Beer enhancers are made of basic ingredients, being a mix of fermentable and non-fermentable. They usually contain a mix of dextrose and maltodextrin. 

Such beer enhancers work by the dextrose being the food for the yeast and are thus used in the fermentation process. Some beer enhancers also have hops added to match the kind of beer style so if you are ordering from an online store, check that the particular enhancer's hops matches the kind of beer you are trying to make. 

If you want a good creamy mouth feel, beer enhancers that have a high percentage of malt or DME will do the trick. This is because you are adding more ‘unfermentables’ in your beer. The more malt you add, the 'creamier' your beer will be. This is in the sense that your beer will be more viscous, making it feel thicker in your mouth

10. Storage temperature is also important 


Once you have bottled your beer, that’s not the end of the matter. It's often best to initially store your beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation to commence (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning). The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days. 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 tasting.

11. Note what you did down


Keeping a record of what you have been brewing will give you an insight into what has worked, what didn’t and what your personal preferences are.

Tips on how to easily grow your own hops

growing hops plants at home

Have you ever thought, gosh, I'm sick of paying so much for hops. I wish there was a cheaper way?

There is.

And it so so very easy.

You can grown your own hops!

Even if your green thumb is decidedly lack in green, you can cultivate your won hops in your own garden. Using fresh hops in your homebrewing efforts is an awesome feeling and adds to that sense of 'master of your own beer brewing destiny' that many beer makers seek.

It's also fairly organic if that's what you're into.

Here's our guide to growing hops.

Where can I get hops plants from?


Hops grow best from root-like cuttings which are known as rhizomes. Rhizomes can be purchased online but homebrewers that grow their own share with each other, or sell them cheaply. A great way to source these contacts is on social media groups such as Facebook and beer forums. There's plenty available to purchase on Amazon too.

You can always try growing hops from seed, though this is not considered as easy as using a rhizome.

What is the best season to plant hops in?


Hops may be grown in any moderate climate if given proper maintenance and care but the best to plant the rhizome is during spring to allow for the plant to take advantage of the summer growing period.

Where should I plant my hops rhizome?


Hops plants are best served by being planted in a sunny location. A site exposed to many hours of sun in the day is ideal. 

The hop vines (known as bines) grow upright at quite a rate so they will need something like a trellis to climb up. Tall poles can be used  together with strong string or twine are often used to support the growing bines.

Hops grow at a fast rate and really take advantage of the soil's properties - being  nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. Home growers can choose to use commercial products that add these elements or by making manure compost.

How to harvest hops from the bine


So if you've planted in spring, you'll be harvesting in summer. While it depends on where you live, autumn will likely be too late.  So hops can take 4 - 6 months in the growing cycle to be ready for harvesting. 
lupulin powder inside hops cone
Lupulin powder in the hop

A hops that is ready to be picked will feel dry to the touch, be somewhat 'stringy' and have a strong hop smell. The lupulin powder will be left on the fingers. 

If you open the hop cone up, it should release the powder if it is matured properly.  It it will be a warm yellow - goldish colour. 

I heard hops plants have male and female versions?


Yes, it's true. Just like kiwifuit. Male and female flowers of the hop plant usually develop on separate plants Because viable seeds are unwanted for brewing beer, only female plants are grown in hop commercial fields, thus preventing pollination.

It's not time time to light up


Light is the natural enemy of hops. Hop cones are susceptible to breaking down due the effects of the sun and light from the first moment they are harvest. You should do your best to avoid light exposure as much as possible so store hops in a dark place. A hops that has broken down due to light exposure can impart off flavours into the beer.

Experience has shown that hop makers have about 24 hours to begin to process hops before it begins to break down like a vegetable naturally wood. The keenest brewers get their hops into a kiln and dried asap. 

Homebrewers can actually dry their hops in an ordinary fruit dehydrator.

You can also leave them to dry on a mesh screen in an airy location (with little light). I've read that some people have been known to dry their hops in the oven using a low heat.

Tips on storing fresh hops


It turns out that turns out freezing hops is actually a popular trick with beer brewers!

Quite simply, take your dried beer hops and place them in a zip-lock bag. Remove the excess air and then seal. Grab a Sharpie pen and write on the name of the hops on the bag so you don't forget and then place in the freezer until required.

If you want to go all 'professional' you could use a vacuum sealer to remove all the air.

In such cases, you might not need to freeze the hops if the sealing has been done properly, but it wouldn't hurt.

How to use fresh hops with your beer


You've probably heard of dry hopping right? That's when you add hops in pellet form to the wort. So if you ever wondered what wet hopping is, it's adding fresh hops to your beer. And in this case, it's fresh hops you've grown yourself.

Wet hops can be used anywhere in the brewing process, including as a boil addition, whirlpool addition or for dry hopping.

What are some good varieties of hops to grow?


There are all kinds of hop varieties that one can choose from. We recommend these two for simplicities' sake:

Cascade is a very popular choice of hops. This is an extremely popular american hop. Known for it's floral hop trait, it is often likened to a grapefruit. Cascade is known as a versatile hop variety that is popular for bittering, finishing and dry hopping of pale ale and American style beers. It produces a good yield and is considered fairly resistant to diseases. The rhizomes can be ordered from Amazon.

Fuggle is another popular hop. It has a classic English aroma and provides a well balanced bitterness which makes it a great choice for English and American-Style Ales. It's described as being mild and pleasant, spicy, soft, woody, with some fruit tones.

Basically it will depend on where you live, what's popular and how easy it is to obtain. Many specialty hoops delivery websites have popped up as the demand for hops plants has grown. Kiwis could try Wild About Hops while many rhizomes can be found on Amazon.

Some hops are protected by intellectual property rights so cannot be grown by those who do not have permission to do so. For this reason, hop plants that are in the public domain are fairly popular with hops growers.

How much wet hops to use with a brew?


This can be a bit of a tricky measurement because fresh hops are called wet hops for a reason - they are made mostly of water - and that can mean all the tables and measurements go out the window if you are trying to work out the exact alpha acid rating for your hops.

That said a general rule has been established - use anywhere between 6 - 10 times the amount of dry hops you would normally use.

Generally speaking you are using fresh hops to promote aroma and flavor additions to your brew. If you are trying to add bitterness, store brought hops where you can identify their bittering qualities could be the way to go.

Beware the creeping vine of hops!


Hops have a tendency to grow quite rampantly when placed in good growing conditions. They tend to spread and take up very inch of soil that's open to them. That's why many growers recommend that after the final harvest of the hops cones, the plant should be cut back to about three feat and then left to grow back. A good time to do this is at the beginning of winter.

A further trick is to plant your hops 'above ground' that is to say in a container of some kind such as a tub or old kitchen sink so as to help contain the plant's movements across your garden.

10 questions about using hops one way or the other

what bear hops to use with beer

If you know a thing or two about beer, you'll know that the hops plant is so crucial to making good beer that the Germans made it the law for it to be an ingredient of beer.

There's a bit of mystery and magic about hops. They are like the secret ingredient that make everything taste and smell so delicious. 

Honestly, having a sniff of a freshly opened packet of hops is one of the best smells in the world.

It smells like...victory. 

While you can't go terribly wrong with hops, you can go even better when you learn all the tricks and tips of using them. And that means questions need to be answered about how and when to use them. Questions like: 

What kind and where from? 

What's a hop tea?

What is dry hopping? 

We have the answers!

Let's start with one of the most common questions about hops, what kind you might want to use.

What kind of hops should I use with my beer?


using beer hops with homebrewDifferent hop varieties suit different kinds of beer. After hundreds of years developing beer, there are now some well established rules of thumb for what kinds of hops brewers should use. 

Here's a wee guide for what hops to use.

  • The English Golding hop has become the signature hops of English ales. The popular Fuggle hop is another popular hop used for ale beer. 
  • Saaz hops are closely aligned with the brewing of lagers, mostly for the delicious aroma that has become associated with the beer. Saaz hops are an excellent choice of hop for the enthusiastic homebrewer.
  • Pilsner beers have become nearly synonymous with the four so called 'noble hops'. These are varieties of hop called Terrnanger, Spalt, Hallertauer and of already mentioned Saaz. As an aside, pilsner beers are known as traditionally coming from the Czech Republic.
  • If you're looking for hops that might help your beer taste a bit like the classic New Zealand beer, Steinlager, you might buy Green Bullet hops. 
  • America, the land of the free beer drinker, has become a home for hop production and many new varieties from old favorites have been developed. American hops are recognized and appreciated all around the world for their bold, and often intense flavors they imbue in beer. American hops are often described as being citrus like, however that's a most elementary description. Cascade hops are a very popular choice.
  • Chinook is another popular 'north western' hop.

What is a 'hops tea'?


Sometimes when making homebrew, beer makes also like to make a cup of hop tea!

Why would we do this?

The idea here is that the great hops aromas and oils have been removed from bullets due to the boiling and will then mix easily with your wort brew.

How to make a hops tea for homebrewing


Put the hops in a muslin bag (or tie up a square of it) and then boil it for several minutes. During the boil, have a good smell and enjoy the aromas as it wafts around the kitchen. 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 to cool.

If you have already prepared your wort, so now put everything you've boiled - the whole muslin bag and the tea that you've made into the primary fermenter.

You can also drink your own hops tea too! It's done slightly differently to the above method for beer - you let the hops steep as you would any other tea and then drink when cool enough.

When should I add the hops pellets to my beer?


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

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

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

This allows you to making your timings correctly.

The rough guide is the longer you boil the hops, the more bitterness they will impart. The shorter you boil them, the more flavour will be added. It depends on how you want your beer to benefit from the hops addition.

If you are using a simple beer extract kit then you can add the hops when you are preparing the batch of wort. Just throw it with your wort and nature will do the rest.

Some people like to delay adding the hops until a few days later. This is fine, but in our experience of using brewing kits, it makes little difference to the end result in the hop aromas and taste your beer will have. 

What's the best way to properly store hops?


It turns out that turns out freezing hops is actually a popular trick with beer brewers!

If you've purchased a vacuum sealed packet of hops and have some leftover, then we do firmly recommend that you freeze them.

Quite simply, take your leftover beer hops and place them in a zip-lock bag. Remove the excess air and then seal. Grab a Sharpie and write on the name of the hops on the bag so you don't forget and then place in the freezer until required.

If you want to go all 'professional' you could use a vacuum sealer to remove all the air.

In such cases, you might not need to freeze the hops if the sealing has been done properly, but it wouldn't hurt.

You can also refrigerate the hops. Again, put them in a zip lock bag or something airtight and remove as much air as possible if you can. I read that hops can stay fresh for up to a year this way but I know specialty brewing shops off load older hops much more regularly (handy trick, follow brewing specialists on Facebook - the ones I follow often announce that they are giving away their old hops stock because they have a fresh order coming in).

I reckon that as long as your hops has not been exposed to too much oxygen, it will keep well enough for the average homebrewer to not have to worry about hops going stale.

I've made a very hoppy beer, how long should I let it bottle condition?


We would recommend you start drinking your beer when it's ready to be drunk rather than saving it for a rainy day. Bottle conditioned beer starts to become very drinkable from around the 3 week mark, depending on the storage conditions so any time around then would be a good time to start drinking your beer.

Go on, you deserve it!

The longer you wait beyond this period, the strength of the hops begins to dissipate. Your beer of course will not be ruined, it will just be less hoppy than you may have expected.

What is the practice of dry hopping beer?


It sounds like a fancy technical term but 'dry hopping' is simply the moment when the brewer adds hops in (dry) pellet form to the fermenter after the wort has been prepared.

The brewer is of course using hops to improve the aroma of the beer and to add some bitterness to the brew (bitterness is best produced by the boiling of hops though).

This ‘dry’ practice is often done later in the fermentation cycle of the beer. The thinking behind adding the hops later is that the hops aroma is more likely to stay with the beer brew through to the bottling process.

This is because the bubbling process and emission of carbon dioxide via the air lock allows the aromas to escape.

Bearing in mind that one should leave one’s beer to sit quietly for a couple of weeks before brewing to ensure that the yeast has had a chance to do it’s thing, this is a great opportunity for the oils and bitterness of the hops to also transfuse into the beer. It’s for that reason why dry hopping is a popular practice.

So if that's dry hopping, what is wet hopping?


wet hopsWet hopping is simply adding in freshly grown hops into the primary. Homebrewers have been known to grow their own hops, harvest it and then add it to their beer. It's the natural way to use hops.

Turning hops into pellets has become popular as an easy means of distribution and serves as a way to preserve the life of the hops - it's a plant after all and just like when you don't eat the carrots in the fridge, they become rotten.

You can actually grow your own hops in your backyard garden too. All you need is to get your hands on some rhizomes, get your green fingers out and plant them in a spot that will let them grow like crazy. A good source of hops rhizomes is from local Facebook groups. Home brewers often sell them to one another quite cheaply or just for shipping costs.

My hops is just floating in the primary fermenter. Is this normal?


Yes, when you first add hops to your wort it breaks apart from its pellet form and generally just floats at the top of the wort and this is normal. Given a few days, it will impart its wondrous qualities to the beer and then fall to the bottom of the fermenter, its job done.

If you don't want this to occur, you could think about placing your hops in a muslin bag and dropping them in. Maybe put a glass marble in the bag so it weights down.

Can I add hop pellets into the beer before bottling?


If you've ever wondered if you could simply add a hop pellet to each bottle of beer when bottling your batch, think some more.

You're setting yourself up for a potential disaster. While it can work, you are at serious risk of causing beer gushers. If it merely foams you are likely to experience your beer head to suffer from hop stuck in the head and floating in the beer.

Ideally you want the hops to fall to the bottom of the fermenter so that when you fill your bottles you do not get the residue.

That said, if you leave your beer to condition for long enough so the hops drops to the bottom and becomes part of the sediment that usually forms, you might just get yourself a fairly hoppy beer. That said, leave your hoppy beer too long and you will lose the hoppiness.....

At the end of the day, if you're cool with your beer being a bit messy and prepared to run the risk of bottle bombs, you might get good result.

Where can I buy hops?


There's two ways to buy hops - in person or online. If you are going to do it in person, you need to find a local specialty beer brewing shop. I love going into specialty beer shops as the owners and staff are usually beer enthusiasts and give the best service and advice. 

Seriously, if you live close by to one, using a specialty store can save you delivery and postage costs and it's worth it to get that personal contact and ask any questions too! My personal favourite in Wellington is Brewtopia and the lads at The Brewhouse have been very helpful too. 

However if you're a busy brewer or live in the outback somewhere, shopping for hops online is a breeze. If you live in New Zealand we recommend Brewshop as they have fair prices and a very impressive delivery time.

For you Americans wanting to drowning in cascade hops just order hops from Amazon. There are plenty of reputable beer brewing equipment experts on there and between them, they have a large selection of the best hops to buy.