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Kit lager with Riwaka hops and Golden Syrup


brewing lager with riwaka hops
I sniff around a couple of homebrew Facebook groups and every time a beginner pops up asking for a really simple beer recipe for using a kit, this dude pops up says something like:

"Mate, I've had some amazing brews with a lager, riwaka hops and golden syrup!"

I was like, hmmm. 

Would this really work?

I prodded the guy a little bit and he then added that he also would use a beer enhancer. 

Which makes sense as enhancers really do wonders for your beer's performance - both in body, taste and mouth feel. 

So, I put this idea to the test. 

I used the following ingredients for what I'm going to call the Golden Riwaka Lager recipe :

·      Black Rock's Lager Kit and standard yeast
·      One whole packet of Riwaka hops
·      One 300 ml bottle of golden syrup
·      One beer enhancer which contained dextrose and DME.

To clarify, golden syrup is treacle, not molasses, nor maple syrup. 

I prepared the brew as per standard beer practices - cleaning and sanitizing the fermenting drum with sodiumpercarbonate, using boiling water and making sure my stirring spoon was nice and clean.

I made my wort and then I dryhopped the whole packet of Riwaka hops pellets. Gosh, they smelled like beer heaven. At a pinch you could probably substitute some Saaz hops as Riwaka was born out of the Saaz variety but the point of this exercise is to try what the random dude on social media suggested...

I then wrapped the fermenter in some old sheets and left it in my man shed for a week. 

The first day I went in to check that fermentation was occurring, my nostrils were swamped with that delicious hops smell that had just enveloped the whole room and I could hear the airlock bubbling away quite happily. 

Winning. 

So, after one week the bubbling had died down to a slow occasional blip, so I decided to bottle. 

I've recently been doing a bit of a cheat when it comes to bottling my beer. Despite recommending it elsewhere on this site, I've become lazy in a sense. What I do after each bottle has been emptied of its liquid gold, I rinse it out at the kitchen bench, adding in some washing up soap and using the bottle brush as need be. 

The bottle then gets a spin in the dishwasher. My theory is the heat from the dishwasher kills any nasty germs that are lurking. Be clear though, it's not likely much hot water is getting into the bottles to help clean them, it's the heat that I am after. 

I then store the washed bottles in a 50 litre washing basket with a sheet over the top and use as required.

If I start to notice a few bottles tasting a little off, I know that it's time to do a proper santisization where the bottles are soaked in sodium percarbonate for a couple of hours at a minimum. 

Phew, we wondered off the track there a bit!

Where was I?

Ah yes bottling.

I batch primed the brew with 80 grams of sugar, capped the bottles and put them back in the shed for some alone time in the dark.

Now, I know that the seasonal warmth coming into summer is not really the ideal time for making a lager. Anyways, this patient brewer will wait and see how my Golden Riwaka Lager pans out.

-

So, it’s been a couple of weeks and I’ve had a chance to sample the batch.

I placed a bottle in the fridge overnight and sampled it with my dinner. 

Holy shit, I made a damn good beer. That random dude on social media has stumbled on an amazing combination of ingredients.

lager with riwaka hopsIt's a little fruity as the hops are quite strong. It has a good mouth feel for a kit lager. It feels fresh on the mouth and as a real summer beer vibe. 

It looks like the 80 grams of sugar was just right as the beer has good amount of bubbles that continue to rise up in the glass. 

Given it's nature, this beer is definitely best served cold. 

Would I brew this again? 

Most definitely but I would reduce the hop level, a whole bag of Riwaka feels like overkill but that's down to personal taste. The choice is yours. 

How to get that bottle washing done quickly!

how to attach a brush to a drill for bottle washing

Not a bad way to help get those glass bottles clean!

Bottle washing sure can be a chore but with a bit of DIY, problem solved.

Take your bottle brush, cut the end off and then add it to your electric drill as you would your drill bit.

You do need to make sure that the brush is well set into the drill so make sure you have enough width for the drill head to really clamp down on.

Photo Credit: Ryan @ Home Brew Blog NZ

The horror, the horror of Garage Project's decision to withdraw Death From Above

death from above garage project


"Death from Above" has been one of Garage Project's most well known beers for a couple of years now. We've extremely enjoyed the odd bottle when we've had the cash to spare for it was a pricey wee brew, often cited at 12 dollars a bottle in the Supermarkets of Wellington.

It was officially described by Garage Project in it's tasting notes:

"Big, juicy, death. The ultimate combination of fruity, herbal, spicy, and citrus. DFA is largely herbal on the nose with the Vietnamese Mint rearing to go, being pushed up and out of the glass by the also bold mango aroma."

And it was paired with a label which had flash backs to Vietnam War era imagery of a Helicopter reigning Death From Above with Napalm.

It quickly became a very popular beer around Wellington and beyond.

Well it used be popular until Garage Project brewer and co-founder Pete Gillespie completely lost his nerve and withdrew his companies most popular beer from sale as a result of a single contact by an Australian woman.

Brewer Pete Gillespie is reported by Stuff as saying that "ending the beer was his personal reaction to the letter from a Australian woman of Vietnamese descent."

He's also on the record as saying "She wrote a very long and detailed letter to us explaining how upset she was and how the imagery and name had triggered things in her."

I wonder if this woman has also written to every Hollywood film producer who ever released a movie about Vietnam. I wonder if she has written to every author of everybook about the Vietnam War? Has she asked for any books or films in her local library to be removed so that young children are not triggered too? Has she written to Netflix to ask the to stop streaming it's war films?

It's my view that while one can defend movies and books as really exploring the issues surrounding Vietnam as being more 'proper' in taste and treatment of the issue, the moment you publish for profit, everything is in the camp, whether it a beer or the Platoon movie.

I appreciate the letter writer may well have some residual issues with her possible experience with the Vietnam War (it's not made clear and the use of 'Vietnamese decent' suggest may may have born in Australia) but come on.

Unlike Death From Above, Gillespie appears to lack some balls.

What's quite amusing is that when the beer was first released to the market 4 years ago, it was met with some quite verbal resistance from the Returned Servicemen Association.

At the time of release the RSA president Don McIver, who served in the Vietnam War, said he found the advertisement "cheap" and "disrespectful", although he noted New Zealand never used napalm. "It seems to me this is almost celebrating it. It's terrible stuff - I don't agree with it."

Garage Project's other co-founder Jos Ruffell responded at the time that the promotion was "a playful pop culture reference" to to the classic war film "Apocalypse Now". That movie famously opens with an attack which uses napalm.

So let's get this straight.

On release of the beer, the RSA, a respected New Zealand society group that represents soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war makes their displeasure known and Garage Project responds by say it's just referencing a movie.

But now when an AUSTRALIAN of Vietnamese decent says she was 'TRIGGERED', they take their beer off the market?

It just makes Garage Project look like hypocrites and their decision is almost a double insult to the RSA!

We imagine Death from Above clones are about to become pretty popular recipes!

I note that Garage project have deleted all references to the beer from their website however by the power of google cache, I found a deleted blog which actually covered the inspiration of the name:

"The beer was originally going to be called Hopocalypse Now, a hoppy pun pop reference to the cult movie by Francis Ford Coppola. The only problem was that there are 12 other Hopocalypse beers in the world. Perhaps one more wouldn’t have mattered - but not everyone agreed with us. So we made the decision to change the name to Death from Above, the motto of the US Airborne Division, a lateral reference to the famous Ride of the Valkyries scene from Apocalypse Now… and the name of a jolly good band into the bargain"

The post also said "It was never meant to be a controversial brew. It is just meant to be a good beer."

So there's that.


Maybe Gillespie and Reffell can reconsidered their decision and come back with the originally intended name?

Either way, based on comments around the social media traps, I suspect that Garage Project has lost a small amount of goodwill.

There is another possible, less 'genuine' reason - simple marketing and brand promotion.

 It could be that Garage Project have decided withdraw the beer from the mark - maybe it was too expensive to make, not actually selling well. To make this call by way of 'The Letter' gives the brand some publicity - and a chance to increase short term sales before they sell out of the drop - and thus giving extra interest in what ever new beer the team has up their sleeve.

Time will tell. 

Article has been edited slightly in response to some thoughts raised on social media.

Brewing ideas for a Winter Christmas

winter christmas brew ideas

Mistletoe and Wine?

No, it's time for some brewing if you get the chance!

But what are some good brews to have a crack at over Christmas?

Depending on where you live, you're either in the heart of winter or you're enjoying t-shirts and shorts under the summer sky.

But if you're at the top of the world, perhaps somewhere in the latitude of the North Pole, winter naturally suggests that it's time for some winter ales!

A winter Christmas the diet might consist of figgy puddings, mince pies, toffee treats, caramel chews and the odd bit of dried fruit. And these food items contain 'note flavours ' that can be fairy good in an ale.

And that's not to forget cookies, mulled wine and other spices like cinnamon and orange zest.

All these things and more can go into your winter beer.

So what am I blathering on about?

Basically I'm suggesting one could make a beer which matches the food fare served on Christmas day!

Let's start with the basics. You're going to need to consider what your 'base beer' should be. Here's some traditional ideas for a Christmas or winter brew:
  • Ales!
  • Stouts, Porters
  • Wheat
  • Scotch Ale
  • Old Ale
  • Dark malty beer!
  • Nut Brown Ale
  • An old fashioned doppelbock 
One you've decided on the base you need to think about how you are going to impart some of those holiday season flavour characteristics.

There are several options to choose from...
  • Spice Up Your Life was not just an amazing mega hit song for the Spice Girls, it's a way of life for many brewers. The beer most suited to the addition of spice is a moderately dark, alcoholic beer (often an Old Ale) that has a good body to complement the cold weather and choice of spices. Just make sure you don't add the spice from Dune or your eyes will go blue! Certainly. never over spice your beer. 
  • A Belgian-style ale can be flavored with cherries and honey. Goes well with waffles, I'm told.
  • This next one may seem odd but people do seem to love a batch of Christmas cookies and if for some unfathomable reason you want your beer to taste like a biscuit, make a sweet ale and a hint of lactic acidic to get that 'warm biscuit feel'. If you're brave add a hint of maple syrup.  
  • If you're going for that classic Christmas cake vibe, why not try using some dried (or zest) citrus peel (orange and lemon), or dried fruit such as raisins or plums?
  • Coriander. It adds a lemony, spicy flavor and aroma. Coriander is typically used in Belgian ales, especially witbiers. Crush the seeds well before adding to the wort.
  • Try a combo of a cranberry and orange zest.
  • Gingerbread spices
  • Juniper berries (wanna make some gin?)
  • Mint (actUally this sounds bloody awful - Ed)
  • Mulled wine
  • Chocolate. There's many a recipe out there that incorporates chocolate.

It's important to not overspice your homebrew! How much spice is too much? 


Let's look to what the much vaunted brewer John Palmer says. For his "Ol' Yule Loggy" Christmas beer, he uses 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, and 1/8 teaspoon each of nutmeg and allspice. You can find the recipe in Palmer's Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew.

When should I brew my winter ale?


If you want to be drinking on Christmas Day, we suggest you brew two months in advance.

That is to say, you should get your brew down by the last week of October so that it has time to bottle condition nicely. There's nothing like a well condition ale so ensure you stick to this time table, especially if you want the characteristics you've worked so hard to product to really shine.

A last few points:


  • When brewing your holiday beer, consider that you might want to use as an additional fermentable such as honey, molasses, golden or maple syrup. 
  • What you may want to use less of is hops. This is beacause a beer with too much hops character would contradict the spices. 
  • You'll have to think of a cool name for your Christmas beer. Ruddolph's Revenge, Sozzled Santa, Who ate all the pies? 

Using Baking Yeast to make home brew beer

using bakering yeast with beer brewing

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

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

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

The real question is should you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much baker's yeast to use? 


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

What percentage alcohol does bread yeast make?


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

Clearing baker's yeast


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

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

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

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

Can I use baker's yeast to make mead?


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

Using it to rescue a beer


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

How to save time and make beer bottling easier


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

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

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

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

Sanitize all your bottles at once in a big enough bucket


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

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

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

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

Batch Priming Beer to save time


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

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

This sounds simple right?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Capping your beer - two tools to do it


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

The 'wing' hand held capper


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

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

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

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

The bench capper method of bottling

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

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

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

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

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

Your work is not finished 


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

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

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

Should you use plastic instead of glass to ferment beer?

using plastic for brewing
I saw on the 'net there had been some debate on NOT using plastic fermenters because of the risk of beer infection.

I thought this was a subject worth investigation further.

All I ever use is plastic fermenters and having only ever had once incident of infection which occurred to two different fermenters used in the same batch, I could be confident that I've never had an infection caused by using a plastic fermenter.

So what's the argument from the naysayers?

The reasoning is that given plastic is more easily scratched than glass those scratches can harbor bacteria  So, the risk of infection is greater.

This seems a reasonable argument right?

And the simple solution would be to not scratch the plastic as you are cleaning and sanitizing right?

Given my experience and the fact there are millions of plastic fermenters safely and happily in use around all corners of the globe, then there is nothing much to worry about.

That's provided of course that you follow a proper cleaning process before you add your beer wort for primary fermentation. 


Any decent beer brewer will tell you that the number one key to beer making success is by adopting methodical cleaning and sanitisation practices every time you make beer.

We've covered this need before, but our favorite trick is to use sodium percarbonate and not being shy about using boiling water to kill bugs. Home brewers around the world often swear by the ability of PBW to get their brewing gear brew ready.

So, to be clear I don't see the threat of infection as a reason to not use a plastic fermenter. Sure, if they get too old or scratched the you might totally want to replace one but on a cost basis when compared to glass carboys, they are a lot cheaper, indeed a check on Amazon shows that a carboy is generally roughly twice the price.

Indeed, if you are new to home brewing, the use of a plastic drum is a great way to start where you don't have to worry about damaging the glass!

Oxygen and beer aging


Aging beer is perhaps a reason that you may wish to use something other than a plastic fermenter. The reasoning here is that it's a bit easier for oxygen to enter the beer via plastic than it is beer.

If you weren't aware, other then when first mixing the wort, beer is best brewed with minimal exposure to O2 - and it's the same when bottling your beer as well.

That said the difference in permeability between glass and plastic arguably negligible when you consider most oxygen exchange is occurring through the bung and airlock.

ALSO, if you are trying to mimic the effect of a barrel aged beer using oak, then some brewers do consider that some oxygen will help!

What you could do is do your primary fermentation in plastic and then if you intend to age a stout or whatever for a long time, you can transfer it to a secondary glass carboy.

Also bare in mind that by making such a transfer you do create an opportunity for oxygen to enter the beer.

What ever way you go, you totally need to keep your vessel free from a large amount of oxygen entering as it can assist with the growth of mould or other nasties and we really don't want that do we?

As you can see, it's a vicious cycle of contradictory information!

When to add more sugar to your beer and when to use less



Sugar!

It's a silent killer say the health specialists.

It's the devil's food!

Diabetus!

And yet we need sugar to make beer.

The real question is how much do we need to use?

That answer to that question is kind of like when Gandalf says to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Rings: "A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.”

Which kind of says to me you should use as much sugar as you need or as little as you need depending on what you need to make great beer.

Sounds like some ropey logic right? 

Hear me out.

Have you ever had a beer gusher

It's when you open your beer and whoosh! the beer zings out in a foaming stream and your beer drinking experience is ruined. 

It looks a bit like this:



So in that sense, you don't want to add too much sugar to your beer if you are bottle conditioning with sugar.

But if you are wanting to increase the alcohol content (ABV) of your beer, then you will need to add more sugar at the primary fermentation stage.

And thus it's about knowing when to add sugar to the beer and when not to.

Let's talking about increasing the ABV of your beer


When when your beer wort is undergoing fermentation what happens is that the beer yeast eats the sugar and that produces alcohol.

More sugar for the yeast to eat should mean more alcohol production right?

Too easy.

Yes, adding extra sugar to your beer will, in in the main, increase your ABV.

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. 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.

Remember though, the more sugar you add, the more sweet your beer will taste and the greater chance your beer will have that classic 'bad homebrew' taste.

Instead of sugar being used in the primary fermentation stage, many (most?) brewers will use dry malt extract (DME) as their sugar source. If you are wondering where to get some DME, your local brewing shop will have some - it's usually the main ingredient found in beer enhancers!

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.

There are some alternative sources of sugar that you might be interested in using too.

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.


So that was adding sugar to beer but what about using less?


Perhaps you are looking to drop some weight and might want to have a lower calorie beer to help with that. 

Is adding less sugar to your beer the solution?

No.

The best solution is to cut back on your drinking and get out in the sun and do some fun shit with friends and family.

But if you're looking to get a well conditioned beer that won't explode when you open it, cutting back on the sugar when it's time to bottle your beer is a fine idea.

There are two main schools of thought when bottling beer. One is that you can 'batch prime' the entire batch of beer in one hit or you can add sugar individually to each bottle.

I've been a fan of the latter as doing it feels like I'm really being involved in the process of making beer.

However after many gushers over the past year or so, I've come to the conclusion that for myself, batch priming beer is the way to go.

It also means that I'm adding less sugar to my beer as I am using a single measured amount of sugar to carbonate my beer rather than by adding random teaspoons measures of sugar.

What is a 'session' beer?

What is a session beer?


What is the definition of session beer? 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best and cheapest beer wort chillers guide

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

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

Like the T-100 in Terminator 2.

So what can you do?

It’s simple.

You may wish to consider investing in a wort chiller.

Let's cut through to the deal:

Our featured wort chiller - Copperhead Immersion Wort Chiller


copper head immersion wort chiller

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

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

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


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

The first is to protect the beer against infections.

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

An efficient cool down can prevent this damage from occurring.

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

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

The ‘cold break’ and ‘chill haze’


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

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

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

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

A tale of two chillers


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

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

Counterflow chillers work in an opposite manner.

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

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


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

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

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

Go for quality

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

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

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

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


What are hops and what do they do to beer?

Hops is what makes beer taste wonderful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hop associations to certain kinds of beers 

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

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

What form do hops come in for brewing?

Hops can distributed as pellets, plugs or whole leaf. 

What hops should I use in my beer brewing? 

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

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

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

It was a fine brew!

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

When do I add hops to my beer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where can I buy hops?

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

Extra for Experts:


Recipe for making a substitute PBW beer equipment cleaner

There are many facets of beer making that are important:

The right hops.

The right temperature at which to brew.

The right yeast.

The right size kettle.

The right whatever else you think is important.

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

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

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

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

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

So where does one find these ingredients in home products?


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

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

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

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

using red devil to clean beer

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

Confusing much?

So how to prepare this combo?



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

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

How much to use?


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


Safety precautions


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

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

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


sodium percarbonate cleaning beer bottles


Using Sodium Percarbonate to clean and sanitise your beer brewing equipment


The first mantra of beer brewing goes something like this:

Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitized!

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

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

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

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

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


How to use sodium percarbonate?


Your mixing instructions are simple. To use sodium percarbonate you simply add it to water.

Be generous with it! A health scoop or spoonful is awesome.

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

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

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

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

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


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

For me, that is a very different process.

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

But an oxidisation clean is not sterilization right?


Fair question.

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

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

The choice is yours.

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

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


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

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

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

Non scented house brands are awesome.

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

Or maybe you'll add a nice trait to your beer!


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


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

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

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

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

The Caustic Soda option


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

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

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

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

It burnnned so bad.

A hospital visit and eye patch for a week followed.

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

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

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


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

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

So why do it? 

Because it's cheap and it works.

It really does.

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

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

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

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

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

Not once.


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


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

But what is it really and is it effective?

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

That's a long way from Kansas, Dorothy!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus tip! You can clean your deck with oxygen bleach!

Use approx 4 liters of water and 1 cup of sodium percarbonate to clean your outdoor wooden deck. That would suit a deck size of about 10 square meters. 

How ordering bulk beer making ingredients will save you money



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

But those beer enhancers are not cheap!

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

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

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

So what goes into an enhancer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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