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15 tips to help improve your home brewing results

tips to have better home brew results

Whether you've made a few beers with home brews with kits or it's your first time brewing with a kit, there are plenty of  tips to help improve your beer.

Even the professional back yard beer brewing is constantly looking for the best way to improve a recipe, technique and taste.

You should be no different.

Simply following a standard set of beer brewing instructions will result in a OK beer. However, if you implement some of these brewing tips, you will surely get better results both in taste and mouth feel of your beer!

These tips and trick are handy to use even if you are using a kit or going all grain.

Here's the tip list and the explanation behind them follow
  • Keep it clean! - Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitized!
  • Use a beer enhancer to give your beer a stronger body
  • Consider using oak chips
  • Don't put so much sugar in your bottles
  • 'Batch Priming' beer to save time when bottling
  • Match the right hops to the right beer
  • Gelatin is a handy fining agent to clear your beer
  • If you pitch your yeast when the wort is hot you will kill the yeast
  • Consider using a blow off to prevent the Krausen going everywhere
  • Increase the alcohol content of your beer by adding more sugars
  • To avoid chill haze, use a copper wort chiller
  • Oxygen is good when preparing the wort, bad when bottling. 
  • Temperature control will have an affect on the quality of your beer both when fermenting and conditioning your beer
  • Get the bigger kettle or pot, in the long run you’ll save money
  • Just because the fermentation bottle has stopped bubbling, that doesn't mean you need to bottle your beer straight away
That all made sense right but you want more detail?

Let's start with a most basic basic.

Keep it clean! - Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitized!


There are many ways of keeping your gear  and today we are going discuss our preferred method of sanitization 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. No rinsing 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. 

Use a beer enhancer to give your beer a stronger body



The thing about craft and home brew beer is that is that while there’s so much variety in style and taste but there is one thing they all have in common:

It's the ‘mouth feel’ which makes a beer feel like it has 'body'. A beer with no body is a sad drinking experience.

If you simply brewed malt with sugar you will get a beer but your beer’s mouth feel with be closer to feeling like water. Which is just wrong, as a full bodied beer enhances the drinking experience!

To get an improved mouth feel, many beer brewers follow the simple tip of using an ‘enhancer’ to do exactly what it says it will do – enhance the beer by giving it greater body and mouthfeel.

Consider using oak chips


There's a reason why home brewers brewers seek out new ways to make beer taste better and that's because for them, the old days of getting smashed on Budweiser are over. A great tip for improving beer taste is by aging beer in oak barrels has been a long standing practice for making beer. This is because the characteristics of the wood impart into the beer which can add to the drink-ability of the beer.


But who has oak barrels just casually lying around in the shed?

Homebrewers can use oak chip to replicate aging beer in barrels. 

Using wood chips while conditioning or aging beer your beer can impart a range of aromas to the beer, including floral, vanilla, caramel, or coconut tones.

glass of home brew

To prevent beer gushers:

Don't put so much sugar in your bottles! 


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

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

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

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

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

Speaking off adding sugar, let's talk about:

'Batch Priming' beer to save time when bottling


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.

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.

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 some of the most common hops to beer matches:
  • The English Golding hophas 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 the hops called Terrnanger, Spalt, Hallertauer and the 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 trying using Green Bullet hops and maybe through in some Pacific Jade and pair it with a Black Rock lager kit.  
  • America, the land of the free beer drinker, has become quite well respected for it's 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 from the Americas. 
  • Chinook is another popular 'north western' hop.

clearing beer with gelatin

Using gelatin as a fining agent


Basically gelatin acts 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.

So how much gelatin should I add to my beer?


Many beer brewers have found that between half and a whole teaspoon per 23 litres or 5 gallons will be a sufficient amount. You will probably get diminishing returns if you use much more.

When and how do I add the gelatin?


You can add it any time after fermentation and word on the street that it actually works best when the beer is quite cool.

The suggest time of addition is to add it a couple of days before you intend to bottle your beer.

A good trick is to dissolve it in a half a glass of hot water. You then open up the fermenter or carboy, add the liquid and then shut the fermenter back up.

For many people, clarity of beer is important to them. If you are making a dark ale, clarity may not be so important to you.

However, finings do remove leftovers that can impinge on the taste of the beer too. The gelatin helps remove the unneeded proteins and polyphenols from the beer.

This next tip is more of what not to do.

If you pitch your yeast when the wort is hot you will kill the yeast


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

A genius moment in my beer making career for sure. 

No yeast means no fermentation.

And well, that just sucks right.

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

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

So check that the wort is at the right temperature before you pitch. If you are using a kit, the instructions will have a temperature range noted. If you have a plastic fermenting drum, it's quite likely there will be a handy temperature guide stuck to the side which you should use.

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

Hydration of the yeast before pitching


how to rehydrate yeast
Hydrating yeast
If you want to be really serious about pitching yeast, you could try the yeast hydration technique.

It's a handy method that many earnest brewers follow so as to hydrate the dry yeast in water before pitching. The reasoning behind this is that it gives the yeast a good chance to get started properly. We are not wholly convinced by our own experience that the is necessary but some brewers seem to do this as a best practice measure. 

How to increase the alcohol content of your beer


The shortest version of this tip is the more sugar you add, the higher your alcohol content. 

The theory is simple.

Beer yeast eats the sugar and that produces more alcohol. Some brewers will use dry malt extract (DME) as their additional sugar source. You could of course just use ordinary home baking sugar. That will contribute to a sweeter beer than DME (indeed historic use of sucrose it's why homebrew got a bad name as over sugared brewed were two sweet).

But it's more complicated than that and adding extra sugar should not be blindly done. 

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.

You can add other sweet things too


Maple syruphoney and brown sugar can all be used as well but remember, like jelly beans, they will influence the taste of your beer. 

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

Too much alcohol may actually end up killing of the yeast. Some yeasts do handle the presence of alcohol better than others so shop around for those advertised as being tough if you are really going to go for it.

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

Remember too that the temperature at which your wort ferments will have an affect too. A warm temperature will allow the yeast to chug away quite nicely. A cooler, winter temperature will mean an extra long fermentation time if you have added extra food for the yeast to eat.

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

In summary, to increase the alcohol or ABV of your beer you can consider:
  • Adding extra DME, sugar or produce like honey and maple syrup
  • Adding extra to yeast to your initial pitch.
  • Adding extra yeast and yeast nutrients late in the usual fermentation process. 
  • Using a yeast that can handle a high alcohol content
  • Make sure the wort gets invigorated with oxygen
  • Keep good temperature control, don't allow wild fluctuations
 

Try to not release the "Krausen"!


Occasionally brewing conditions mean that the yeast is so active, the krausen behaves like it is a kraken released from the gates of hell and it foams up like a fiery tempest and blows out the airlock, just making a heck of a mess all over your brewing equipment!

These beer explosions typically occur with glass carboys which allow pressure to build.

krausen blow off tubeA solution to krausen 'blow out' is a using a blowoff tube

One simply replaces the standard carboy airlock with the tubing.

The tubing can then release into a bottle, bucket or whatever to help with reducing any blow off mess.

Check out the image to the right for an idea on how to set up the blow off tubing. This example uses a steel tube.

If you're not convinced this tubing is worth the effort, consider this.

A common krausen issue is that the the airlock can get clogged with foam and any added hops. This leads to a strong pressure buildup in the fermenter which when is it great, the barrel lid, bung or airlock blows off, spewing stuff everywhere and making for a very messy and frustrating cleanup.

There's even the potential for damaging your equipment.

We suggest if you have brewing conditions where this has happened more than once, you may wish to consider grabbing some tubing from Amazon!

Chill haze and the 'cold break'


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 precipitated 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.

Cooling and refrigeration


One of the reasons why beer does go cloudy is due to improper refrigeration timings and techniques. 

The process of storing beer is called laagering (sounds like lager eh?). Lagers are lagers because they are best stored cold. Nordic Vikings learned this method years ago when they laagered their beer barrels in cold caves over the winter or something...

Refrigeration of storing beer in a cool place helps to clear beer rapidly. The science behind this is at lower temperatures it is more difficult for the yeast, tannins and proteins in the beer to remain suspended. 

Cold stored beer will also clear much more rapidly than beer stored at a normal room temperature. 

If you intend to laager your beer you must wait until that first round of initial carbonation has occurred. This is usually done at a warmer temperature that required for lagering. If you cool your beer too soon, you run the risk of disrupting the yeast from its secondary fermentation process and carbonation may not occur (or it will be very slow to do so).


Get the bigger kettle or pot, in the long run you’ll save money

For many first time homebrewers, the first purchase is a starter equipment kit. Once they have that, all they need is a brew kettle or pot and ingredients. So they get the cheap, smaller size kettle – and then suddenly they find they want to keep going with beer making and so need to purchase the bigger kettle or brewing pot. 

If you have in inkling you are going to do a bit of brewing, get the 5 or 8 gallon size unit, save the smaller ones for making jam! Big is better for most of your brewing equipment needs.

O is for Oxygen, get that element away from your beer

We mentioned oxygen above as being good for fermentation. This is true. 

But no longer when you are ready to begin fermentation or when bottling your beer.

Once your beer is ready to have the yeast pitched in, this is the last chance for oxygen to be exposed to the beer. Once the yeast is in, the fermenter needs to be properly sealed.

The presence of excess oxygen can result in poor smelling beer.

Allowing the fermenting beer to be exposed to oxygen can allow beer spoiling bugs and organisms such acetobactor to sour your beer by using the oxygen to ferment the alcohol into acetic acid – commonly known as vinegar. Keep your fermenter well sealed!

This has actually never happened to us but if you are following best practice with your beer, then do you best to keep the air away your wort. 

Same goes for bottling – try to avoid getting too many bubbles in the bottle as your pour.

 

The best time to add hops to your 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.

But what about adding hops to beer kits?


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. 



Just because the fermentation bottle has stopped bubbling, that doesn't mean you need to bottle your beer straight away


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


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

This is because there are still things happening in your beer. The yeast may have consumed all the sugar but additional processes are still occurring - let them because the will make your beer taste better! 


bottling home brew tips

How to properly condition your beer bottles


The short advice is that it's best store your beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning).

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

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

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

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

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

No fizz on the second or third either!

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

Now what are you waiting for? Take these tips and make great tasting beer!

Coopers Lager beer kit review - any good?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Patience is an absolutely needed virtue here. 

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

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

And maybe brewing it during winter.

I digress. 

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

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

So to the actual preparation of the Coopers Lager kit


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

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

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

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

I then added the contents of the kit.

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

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

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

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

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

And then I waited.

I waited for 10 days and then I bottled.

And then I waited three weeks.

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

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



I made a decent homebrew beer! 

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

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

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

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


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

How to use carbonation drops for brewing beer and cider


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

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

Many brewers use carbonation drops to do this.

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

Too easy!

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



What are the ingredients of carbonation drop?


Sugar.

That's it, sucrose is the only ingredient.

The reason for using them is simply ease of use.

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

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

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

So how do you use carbonation drops? 


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

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

You then cap the bottle so that carbonation can occur.

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

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

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

Do I need to sterilize carbonation drops?


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

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

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

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

Do different beer styles affect my use of drops?


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


How long do carbonation drops take to work?

The same amount of time as simply adding sugar does! Basically carbonation will take place fairly quickly, a matter of days. Real time is needed to let your beer condition properly and we recommend a minimum of 2 weeks for that.

At three weeks your beer should be beginning to become quite drinkable.

Can I use carbonation tablets instead of drops? 


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips and tricks for when using drops:

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

How to properly use oak wood chips for home brewing


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wood chips. 

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

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

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

First of all, we should consider this question:

What kind of beer suits wood chips?


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

That's not a finite grouping of beers though.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Not all oak chips are created equal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should I use wood chips or cubes or spirals?


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

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

Using chips


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

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

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

Make sure the marbles are sterilized!

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

Wood cubes


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

Not that it's really a big deal.

Spirals


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

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

Do I need to sterilize my wood chips ?


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

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

How much oak chips should I add to my wort?


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

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

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

Soaking wood chips in bourbon


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

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

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

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

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

Making an oak tea


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

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

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

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

The boiled tea will also be sterile.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Can you re-use oak chips?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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