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11 best brewing tips for beer kits in 2017

11 great tricks for brewing beer in 2017

11 best brewing tips for beer kits in 2017


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

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

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

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

1. You need to run a lean clean machine


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

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

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

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


Fermentation is a process that requires just the right kind of temperatures and the right kind of times. Different temperatures suit the differing kinds of beers. A very rough guide is that you should aim to brew lagers between 10-14 degrees, and get those ales done between 18-21 degrees. 

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

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

3. Be a patient beer brewer


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

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

It’s not. Wait another week.

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

4. Hops are like the magical ingredient of beer


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

5. Want clearer beer? 


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

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

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

6. Change up the yeast?


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

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

7. The sweet taste of success


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Use a beer enhancer


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

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

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

10. Storage temperature is also important 


Once you have bottled your beer, that’s not the end of the matter. It's often best to initially store your beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation to commence (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning). The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days. After that period, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C. 

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

11. Note what you did down


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

Tips on how to easily grow your own hops

growing hops plants at home

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

There is.

And it so so very easy.

You can grown your own hops!

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

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

Here's our guide to growing hops.

Where can I get hops plants from?


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

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

What is the best season to plant hops in?


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

Where should I plant my hops rhizome?


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

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

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

How to harvest hops from the bine


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

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

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

I heard hops plants have male and female versions?


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

It's not time time to light up


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

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

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

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

Tips on storing fresh hops


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

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

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

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

How to use fresh hops with your beer


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

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

What are some good varieties of hops to grow?


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

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

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

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

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

How much wet hops to use with a brew?


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

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

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

Beware the creeping vine of hops!


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

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

6 ways to easily remove beer bottle labels

Once more unto the breech...

Removing labels from beer bottles can be the most frustrating exercise in the world right?


What if I told you I've learnt the secret of easily removing those damn sticky labels.

You'd be thinking I pulling your leg.

I'm not though.

I've done the research. I've done the experiments. I have scrubbed labels. I have licked labels. I have oxicleaned and I have used my damn finger nails to get those last stubborn bits of residue off. I have also pulled labels off completely intact in one move.

So much so, I hate beer labels.

But, due to my work, for you dear home brewer, I've got 6 or maybe 7 tricks and tips on removing beer labels from bottles. They are not magical fixes but they sure make things a lot easier and less frustrating.

The good old overnight soak


The first thing you need to do is accept that life is like a box of shitty beer labels, you never know and some of them are as stubborn as your mother in law after a couple of gins. Some labels will simply come off after a 24 hour soak in cold water. Others will not even soften after three weeks in the bucket.

That's just the way is. Accept it, and you will feel so much better for it.

Yes, the most simple way to remove a beer label is to let the glass bottle soak in a bucket or tub overnight. Fully submerged. If you get a beer label that's willing to soak up water and with a glue that dissolves easily enough, there's good odds you will be able to pull the whole label off from the bottle 100 percent intact and leaving no residue.

Such occasions are rare and must be celebrated by sharing your home brew with your neighbours and workmates.

Baking soda is not just for making hokey pokey


But if the overnight soak doesn't float your label off intact, you might want to try baking soda. Baking soda is like a magical cooking ingredient that housewives from back in the day is also good for using as toothpaste and removing axel grease.

Baking soda is actually a handy chemical called sodium bicarbonate and it's true and time tested remedy - it will help remove labels. With your soak, add in a few table spoons of the soda, stir and leave to soak for 24 hours.

If there is some residue after removing the label, a quick scrub with a steel wool or plastic kitchen scrubber (think 3M cleaners) should do the trick.


Ammonia


Did you ever see Robocob?

The first one, not the shitty remake. I saw that as a young lad and one scene that stuck with me forever was when one of the bad guy's henchmen gets his comeuppance with a bath of toxic waste.

It melts his skin right off!

Like sucking chicken of a slow cooked chicken drum.

And see as that's how we really would like our labels to come off, let's rachet the solution up.

Ammonia.

It's a hydrogen and nitrogen compound (NH3 is the scientific name) and it dissolve your label like it was human flesh bathed in toxic waste. Be warned though, ammonia is a HARSH chemical as it is very caustic. Don't get it on you or inhale it and we suggest your do the soak outside.

It doesn't do anything to the glass bottle though, so it's a viable trick.

Never mix it with bleach as a chemical reaction will occur, exposing you to a poisonous gas.

So maybe only try to use ammonia if you have the most stubborn of beer bottle labels. Before using the bottles you will need to thoroughly rinse them in plenty of water.

And then rinse again just to be sure.

So if the suggestion above scared you, let's slow down and have a think about some other chemical agents that might be handy.

Have you ever heard of Oxiclean? 


It's a massively popular laundry cleaner / stain remover. It's good because it makes whites whiter and brighter brighter or something. Maybe it's good because one of the active ingredients in OxiClean is sodium percarbonate.

This wonder chemical is an adduct of sodium carbonate  and hydrogen peroxide, the active ingredients of OxiClean and many other popular laundry soakers.

I typically use sodium percarbonate  all the time and this is the actual truth, about an hour ago I was adding sodium percarbonate to a tub of beer bottles that needed the labels removed. As I was standing outside in the dark, garden hose in hand I thought, you know, it would probably be a good idea make a good post about how to remove beer labels).

So, I personally can vouch for using sodium percarbonate to remove beer labels.

It still can be a dog though. If you get a stubborn beer label, you're going to need to use some elbow grease.

Steam cleaning


You could also try using hot steam from a kettle. We haven't done this but we think this idea would probably work if given enough time. If you had to do twenty bottles, it wouldn't be worth the energy.

PBW - Powdered Brewery Wash


This cleaning product is widely used in commercial breweries and microbreweries a like but countless home brewers across the country have twigged that they can use it for cleaning their own brewing equipment. Because PBW is so strong it will also make short work of beer labels as well.  Give it a soak overnight and you might just be surprised at how easy it will be to get the labels off.

So in summary here's the ways you can remove beer labels:

You could also try using a jet blaster but you'd need to be able to securely hold the bottles!

These tricks also work just as well for wine bottles but you will have to be prepared to get in there and do some scrubbing on those stuborn labels, it's just a fact of life.