How to properly use oak wood chips for home brewing


Using oak wood chips to age and flavor beer


Aging beer in oak barrels is long-standing practice for making beer.

This is because the characteristics of the wood impart to the beer which can add to the drinkability of the beer. Which a reason why wine tastes so good too!

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 over.

They constantly want to experiment, 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 generally the preferred kind of wood as it produces the desired vanilla notes

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 improve their brewing results?



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 are 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 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 use oak in styles such as the darker Belgian ales, Farmhouse Ale, or even Saison.

And let's be frank, some of the current generations 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 produce


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 oaky vanilla tone can help counter or balance that. 

What is the best kind of wood chip 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 charring will have different effects on your beer. The more charred or burnt your wood is, the more strong the flavors and smells that are imparted into the beer. 



Should I use wood chips or cubes or spirals?


Instead of using an actual oak barrel or the staves of one, these three options are handy methods for a homebrewer to add wood flavor and aroma to ‘barrel age’ their beer. We prefer chips over cubes as you get more surface area exposure.

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

Using oak 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. Chips offer a greater surface area that's exposed to the beer than cubes.

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 oaky goodness into the beer.

So a handy tip is to place the chips into a clean and 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.

Using wood cubes


Wood cubes are exactly as they sound - they are cubes of wood (approximately ¼-½”in size).

They will sink to the bottom of your fermenter, 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.

Using 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 there 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 the 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 (just like you would a hops tea).  You could use your propane gas burner if it's handy.
  • Soak the chips in a 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. That said, campden tablets are great for removing chlorine from your beer. 

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.

How long should I soak oak chips in bourbon before using?


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 or imitate 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 but we have read online that some brewers wait as long as four weeks!

As we noted above spirits in general also help 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. You good just drop them in some boiling water too.

You can probably do the same trick with sherry or any similar spirit. Cognac?

I've never done it but you could potentially skip the oak and just add bourbon to your brew directly!

You'd have to experiment a bit so maybe split your wort into a few small units, or add a small amount in the first instance and build to taste.

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 and don't confuse it for some medicinal brew!

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 flavor pretty quickly, and usually, 7-10 days in the 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 brewer 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 your beer within the week, then add the chips seven days before you intend to bottle. You'll be seeing 'red' if you add too much!

How can I tell the difference between an 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 having a smooth backbone and aftertaste.

If the oak has been toasted/charred 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 place into storage in something like a mason jar.

Make sure they are thoroughly dry though as any moisture could help microbes or mold 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 of 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!

Check the price ranges on Amazon.

Best yeast energizer for beer brewing

best yeast energizer stalled fermentation

How to fix a stalled fermentation with Yeast Energizer


Yeast is the 'live' part of part of beer.

It's a living organism and just like your friends, you gotta treat them right. If the yeast is going to turn your wort's sugars into alcohol, it's going to need a nice home where it feels comfortable.

If you think your yeast might need a helping hand either at the beginning of fermentation or due to a stalled fermentation then a 'yeast energizer' might just be the extra ingredient you'll need to add to your brew day shopping list.

What are yeast energizers and why use them?


At it's most basic description, a yeast energizer serves two purposes - they are used to stimulate or restart a stalled fermentation.

The effect they have is that they can help with more efficient fermentation which means a faster time to the completion of fermentation and also improve the chances of an improved final gravity - that is to say, increase the alcohol content of your batch. 

Yeast energizers have also been demonstrated to also help reduce fusel alcohol and hydrogen sulfide production. 

Fusel alcohols are the alcohols responsible for the 'burning sensation' and can contribute to hangovers. 

H2S will impart a sulfur smell (rotten eggs) and bad taste. 

These two problems may be caused by when the yeast is stressed (such as by having too many sugars in the wort or the temperature is too hot

Yeast energizer also works well in meads and honey brews to help speed fermentation. It will also help cider batches to get to that dry state quicker!

Generally speaking, you'll probably only need to add an energizer if your yeast will face very high sugar worts. 

Does 'yeast energizer' affect beer taste?


There is a bit of debate amongst brewers about the effect an energizer can have on taste. It seems to be fairly negligible if there is one. 

We believe there are more overriding factors in the brewing process (such as the number of hops used and grain profile) that affect the taste, so we wouldn't factor in 'taste effect' as part of your decision making process on whether to add yeast energizer (and you don't really have a choice of your fermentation has stalled!).

What are the ingredients of yeast energizers?


Energizers are usually found to be composed of:

Is an energizer the same as yeast nutrient?


A yeast nutrient is somewhat different from an energizer. Yeast nutrients can be considered to be the "vitamins and minerals" to help yeast grow and ferment. Yeast energizer is like a catalyst to kick start a stuck fermentation back into gear.

How much yeast energizer should I add to my beer wort?


Use approx 1/4 teaspoon per gallon in beer to revive a slow or stuck fermentation.

When to add yeast energizer?


At the beginning of the brew


If you are doing a boil, it can be added in the last 10 minutes of the boil.

If doing a malt kit, pitch it the same time as you do the yeast. 

When you have a 'stuck fermentation'


If you are hugely confident that your fermentation hasn't completed properly (such as by having a vastly incorrect expected final gravity) then you make have a stalled fermentation. 

You can re-ignite your yeast's performance by adding the energizer. 

Before you do that, you should ensure that your drum or carboy is at a sufficient temperature to support fermentation. If you're brewing in a cold shed in winter, it's likely your yeast has gone to sleep rather than you have a stalled fermentation. 

Add one quarter teaspoon or a half teaspoon per gallon to your wort and give it a wee stir. The instructions on the label should give good directions as to the amount to use if unsure. 

↠ Best Grain Mills crusher

best grain mills for malt and barley


Best mill for crushing beer grains


Have you ever heard the expression, "that's grist for the mill?"

Its origins relate to corn being the grist that was taken to the mill. In the more modern use, grist is something that it is useful for a particular purpose. 

Which is just an excuse to talk about the best grist mills to mill grain with so that you can brew fabulous beers!

There's a little bit to think about when buying a mill and you should ask yourself the following kinds of questions
  • Can the mill handle the volume of grain you want to run through?
  • Can you adjust the mill gap to ensure the grains are cracked and not crushed?
  • Can you upgrade it as you go along?
  • How does it get mounted? Does it need or come with screws?
  • How affordable is the unit? 
  • Do you plan to use it long-term, what are quality considerations?
Or you can just have a look and compare between these top-rated units:


Here's some specifications of these three handy mills.

The 'Barley Crusher'


barley crusher malt mill
The Malt Mill 'Barly Crusher' is Northern Brewer's most popular mill due to it being a high-quality mill that is clean, durable and most importantly, it's hop will help you crush 7 pounds of grain.

Features:
  • Solid base fits easily on a standard 6.5 gallon fermenting bucket.
  • Adjustable rollers with a .015 to .070 range.
  • Materials that will last a lifetime: 1018 Cold Rolled Steel for the rollers, 6061 Aluminum for the mill body and hopper, tool steel for the axles with oil-impregnated bronze bushings.
  • 5-inch rollers have a 12 TPI knurl that pulls grain through while leaving the hull intact to form an excellent filter bed for sparging.
  • Large hopper holds approximately 7 pounds of grain.
  • Includes a hand-crank but no adapters are needed to use a 3/8 drill motor; using a 3/8 drill motor at 500 RPM gives a throughput of 6 pounds a minute.

Genuine Amazon reviews left by happy grain millers:

  • "This mill pounds through grain like a champ. There's no going back to my old Corona mill."
  • "The malt was nicely crushed, with husks moderately broken up, and endosperms exposed and cracked. My efficiency got a big boost- I got roughly 81% compared to the 63 to 73% I was getting before."
  • "Far more than looks, this thing consistently and smoothly grinds my grains. I run the grain through twice and have the husks beautifully unbroken and ready for mashing."
  • "Great barley crusher, very fast. This is great for increasing your mash efficiency."



Kegco KM7GM-2R Grain Mill 



The Kegco KM7GM-2R Grain Mill is a sturdy mill with an aluminium hopper that can hold up to 7 lbs of grains.

Featuring an alloy block frame that houses two steel rollers on stainless steel ball bearings. The drive shaft and all axles are integral to the roller, which makes it possible to drive the mill clockwise or counter-clockwise. 

A traditional hand crank is included, but a handy feature is that the mill can be easily motorized with a drill. No extra parts or attachments are required, you simply attach the drill as you would a drill bit. Charge your drill battery well!

Stainless knurled knobs allow a gap spacing adjustment range of .070". 

This unit is designed to crack grain, not flour.

Adjusting is simple - just loosen the adjustment screws, adjust the gap and tighten the adjustment screws. You will need to supply or build a base to set the mill over a grain bin or 5 gallon bucket. Sounds like a deal!

Ferroday Stainless 2-roller Homebrew Grinder

ferroday grain mill
The Ferroday is a no-nonsense mill is made of hardened stainless steel, The roller size is 5" long and 1.25" in diameter and the crank shaft has a 3/8" diameter.

The roller is adjustable so you can select your crush settings. The unit weighs 6.6 pounds.


If you've got some questions about using mills, we've got the answers:

Why do I need to mill my grain?


A beer mill allows you to crack your grains right before you brew so that you can retain freshness. Possession of a mill will allow you enable you to purchase more affordable unmilled grain in bulk thus saving you money in the long run.

When should I mill the grain?


It's best to mill your grain as close as possible to brewing day. Many brewers do it a couple of days beforehand so that they don't have to do it on brewing day. It's a long process which just adds to the length of brew days - and those brewers who don't have eight hours on a Saturday to play around with, shorten the process by milling earlier.

If you are unable to actually mill your grain,  you may want to delay your purchase as long as possible so that you can be confident that you have the freshest grains. If you are happy buying milled grain, then you may want to consider investing in a wort chiller or decent mash tun as they are crucial to brewing success.

Coarse or finely milled grain milling?


A grain mill that is appropriate for crushing barley for a mash is usually referred to as a 'grist mill'.

The mill needs to be set 'open' enough that the husk of the barley seed will crack open, but will not be torn apart. The goal of milling is to crack the grain kernels open, rather than pulverizing them into dust. By leaving the husks intact they serve as a filter bed during the sparge process.

Should you grind the grain much too finely, you run the risk of developing a stuck sparge, where the wort will not flow as intended through the grain.

Where should I mill grain?


Most brewers choose to mill outside, over a big bucket. The mess can begin when you dump the grain out of its sack - and that alone can justify your decision to mill outside!

Can I mash grain without a mill?


If you find yourself without a mill, you can try using a rolling pin. The rolling pin should at least crack the grain open. You might try crushing the grain on top of a thin towel. The towel will stop the grain from rolling around while you try to crush it. This 'rolling pin method' is very time consuming so I'd personally discount it as a method for the long term. 

Many a brave brewer has used a food processor and you can give it a whirl but be wary of over processing the grain.

How can I hook my drill up to the mill?


It's a simple trick to use your ordinary handyman drill to get the mill turning over. Here's a great example of how to set up the drill:

how to connect a drill to a mill

Can I interest you in a ph Meter or the best burner for brewing with?


↠ Buyer's Guide to ph Testing Meters for beer brewing

ph meter tester buying guide


Just want to pick a pH meter?


Choose from our recommend ph Meters list:

Choosing a pH tester for making beer, a buyer's guide


Once upon a time as a young lad, I used to work in a fast food restaurant that served chicken. It was a great gig as a student as I was never hungry - sweet deal eh?

Having never really paid much attention in school science, it was at this job I learned about pH.

How did I learn about pH levels and why are they so important?

You see I accidentally splashed some Sodium Hydroxide cleaning agent in my eye. In layman's terms, I bathed my eye in Caustic Soda!

It was a pain not worth knowing and resulted in a trip to the hospital and a saline bath and an eye patch for a week while my eye healed.

So after having learned that a strong alkali like NaOH has a high pH, it was no surprise to later learn that homebrewers care just as much about the ph of their beer as I do not want to blind myself with industrial strength chicken grease cleaner!

Brewers (and kombucha brewers would you believe) are interested in the pH of their beer because different levels cause the beer to have different characteristics of flavor. There are many other reasons to use ph meters of course. Those in the food and beverage industry need to ensure food is not to tart and the agricultural uses are plenty - soil acidity testing and hydroponic uses are pretty common. This is why testing water quality properly is so important.


How do beer brewers test their ph levels of beer wort?


They test their water and beer by using calibrated pH meters.

There's two approaches to this part of making beer - the cheap and cheerful units that will give a fairly accurate reading but not forever, or the more sturdy units that will give you a finely accurate reading and go the distance with a seasoned brewer.

Here are three of the cheaper options on the market.

Jellas Pocket Size pH Meter Digital Water Quality Tester



The Jellas pH meter is very affordable and useful for those who need a PH tester for household and laboratory use, it's not only ideal for household or laboratory use, also suitable for testing pH balance of drinking water, pool, aquariums and of course beer. 
Jellas Pocket Size pH Meter Digital Water Quality Tester
Fair warning, as it's a cheap device, it's not suitable for all day everyday use.

The manufacturer claims it's highly accurate for measuring a range of 0-14 PH, 0.1 PH resolution, measure & display pH results simultaneously with LCD display and that it does a reliable and quick reading.

It's easy to use - you just simply remove the protective cap and immerse the pH meter electrode in your solution and turn on the pH meter.

The manufacturer does give fair warning that the glass probe can be fragile and that it should be gently wiped down after use with a clean, soft cloth before capping it again for storage.

The Jellas water tester comes with:
  • 1 * pH Tester 
  • 1 * Carry case 
  • 1 * Calibration screwdriver 
  • 2 * ph buffer powder (for calibration) 
  • 1 * User manual 

Reviews on Amazon have said,

"I would absolutely recommend this meter to anybody that is looking for a PH meter/tester." "I love it as it is easy to use and takes the guesswork out of the PH of your brew"

 "Was spot on with calibration out of the box".

While you could always drive to Walmart and not get a car park, you'd do well to check out the price on Amazon.


Sharkk Basics PH Tester Full Spectrum Multi-Function Portable pH Tester with Calibration Button


Boasting a handy portable design, the Sharkk Basics ph Tester measures the full spectrum from 0-14, the pH Tester. The manufacturer states their product is guaranteed to display accurate results after each and every use.

Use of the Sharrk is dead simple, simply place the pH tester in any liquid to be tested and wait for the reading to display. The calibration button resets the tester in between reads.

A handy backlit LCD display means you can easily see acidity/alkaline levels of beer. You can of course also use it on your swimming pool, drinking water and even your food!

A user on Amazon gave a review and said of the Sharkk: "Nice quality and accurate, was able to calibrate and check aquarium pH in minutes.

Comes with a nice translucent plastic case.


If you are looking for affordable, quality devices, check out the below suggestions.

Bluelab Combo Meter


If you looking for an upmarket solution to measure your pH solutions then the tried and true Bluelabs brand has the measuring device you are looking for

The Bluelab Combo Meter is a portable pH, conductivity and temperature meter all in one. 

The meter has two probes, a Bluelab pH Probe and a Bluelab Conductivity/Temperature Probe. When taking a reading, simply place them into the solution and the selected reading is displayed on the screen.

Calibration of the pH probe is simple as instructions are supplied on the back of the meter and the easy push button method makes this one of the simplest meters to use.

The pH probe is replaceable so you can use this meter for years to come and you should be able to do as Bluelab offer a 5-year warranty on their product which should give you an idea as the quality of the product and the faith the brand has in it. 

The Bluelab has the following features:
  • Measures pH, conductivity/nutrient (EC, CF, ppm 500 and ppm 700) and temperature (°C, °F)
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Large easy to read display
  • Simple push button pH calibration
  • Successful pH calibration indicator
  • No calibration required for conductivity and temperature
  • Replaceable double junction pH probe included
  • Over range and under range indicators
  • Low battery indicator
  • 2 x AAA alkaline batteries included
  • Auto-off function
This is a pricey unit. If you are looking for a mid range device, Blue Lab's portable pens are in the hundred dollar range.

Check out the price on Amazon.

One of the most popular testers that brewers use and swear by is the Milwaukee MW102 PH. If you check out any decent homebrewing forum, you'll find backyard operators only too happy to sing its praises:

Milwaukee MW102 pH Meter


The MW102 Standard Portable pH / Temperature Meter Standard is a standard portable meter that does the business for many home brewers.

Milwaukee MW102 PH water tester
The Milwaukee brand is recognized as having a reputation for producing low cost durable meters which give quick readings and ones on which you can depend. 

Milwaukee’s manufacturer boasts that their devices are "manufactured to be easy to use, practical and accurate. Ideal for the classroom, laboratory or for general field use". 

Which is code for, yes you can use it to check the pH of your water or wort!

The MW102 is a microprocessor-based pH and temperature meter with extended range (-2.00 to 16.00 pH).

Featuring Automatic Temperature Compensation, automatic calibration in 2 points and ±0.02 pH accuracy. The meter is supplied with a pH electrode and the necessary calibration solutions.

The full package comes with the following:

  • MW102 Unit
  • 9 Volt Battery
  • Temperature Probe (MA830r)
  • PH Probe (MA911B/1)
  • PH Probe cover (a small bottle that fits on the PH Probe when not in use that holds storage solution)
  • User Instruction Manual
  • Calibration Solution sachets
  • Storage Solution Packet

The battery life features a whopping 300 hours so that's a lot of brewing time! Especially as the Milwaukee features an auto-off that kicks in after 8 minutes of inactivity.

A keen brewer on Amazon reviewed the Milwaukee 102 as a "fantastic tool to have in my brewing arsenal. I originally bought it for taking readings while kettle souring, but it's been invaluable as I dove deeper into water profile and mash pH adjustment. It's a bit more expensive than some of the cheaper meters out there, but you get what you pay for. Worth every penny in my book, and I regularly recommend it to those in the market for a high-quality meter."

That's some fair praise indeed. Check out the price on Amazon.

What is 'calibration solution' and why do I need it?


Calibration is a comparison between a known pH measurement (was referred to as 'the standard') and the measurement using your instrument. A properly calibrated pH water tester will ensure that you have an accurate reading.

To get a proper reading, calibration solution or 'buffer' is used. Standard pH calibration solutions are great for use in virtually any application and with most meters.

It's the absolute truth when we say the Milwaukee is the biggest seller on this site via Amazon, 

Don't forget to clean your electrode probes!


Electrodes can and will wear out after sustained use. To prolong their life, it is essential that you get into the practice of cleaning them after every use. A careful wipe with a clean cloth and ionized water is often recommended. 

A probe that has become 'dry' needs to be hydrated by placing in storage solution before calibration. The hydrated layer takes 3-4 hours to form.

What is the definition of pH?


pH is a figure that expresses the acidity or alkalinity of a solution on a logarithmic scale on which 7 is considered neutral, the lower values are more acid and higher values more alkaline. It is a measure of hydrogen in the solution so pH stands for 'potential hydrogen'.

How do I lower pH levels?

If you've found your wort has a pH level that is too high there are several steps you can choose to take:


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 have heard of Coopers as 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 brew 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 home microbrewing 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 as storing beer properly is really important.

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 which is possibly a little longer brewing time than needed 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. 

By my reckoning, the beer was a shade over 4 percent alcohol by volume.

I figure if you were going to add hops you would not going wrong with a combination of both Moteuka and Saaz hops. (speaking of Saaz, check out my Riwika hops and lager experiment)

Grab a kit from Amazon today.


Update:

I also have now taken a couple of turns with the Coopers Pale Ale kits. I found they are pretty basic kits. To get the best out of them you definitely need to use an enhancer and the kit strongly benefits from the use of hops. I found the Pale Ales take a while to be drinkable and from 4 weeks on after conditioning, they were fine to drink when served cold.

Overall, I would not recommend brewing with a Coopers Pale Ale kit - unless you want cheap beer, because the kits I found were quite cheap.  

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

⇒ How do I tell if my beer fermented properly? (I really want to drink it)

how to tell if beer fermented

How to tell if beer brew has fermented?

Fermentation is the name of the game when making beer.

If you don't have fermentation taking place, you simply don't have beer.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Also, did you firmly seal your fermenter? If not, the Co2 is possibly passing out via the lid and not the airlock meaning the pressure build up is not sufficient for gas to pass out the water trap.

We're going to assume your fermenter is in a warm place and not in some shed where the temperatures are approaching zero degrees centigrade. Your yeast will go to sleep if this is the case.

You could also check the gravity by using a hydrometer.

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

You did do that right?

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

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

The longer the better your brew will probably be. If you are a beginner brewer, trust me on this. Let you brew rest up just a little bit longer than you may have the patience for.

Brewing is a game of patience, and those who wait are rewarded with good tasting, clear beer

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

That's a fair question to ask.

It could be that there was a leak that allows the CO2 to escape (to teach you to suck rotten eggs, those bubbles in the airlock are carbon dioxide gas, the bi-product of fermentation).

You may have not tightened the drum enough or possible not screwed in the tap properly.

It's a good idea to check this is the case before you worry too much.
  • If you didn't see any signs of fermentation it could be that it's too cold to brew.
  • Is your batch of beer in a warm enough place?
  • If you're brewing during summer months, it's probably not too cold.
If you've left your beer in a cold place in the shed, then it may be too cold. If it's too cold to brew in your 'man shed' - say it's the middle of winter, you might want to bring your brew inside the house.

You could consider wrapping it in blankets or old sheets (I do this all the time just because that's what I learned to do at University in the cold, windy town of Palmerston North, NZ. This is a handy trick and will help to keep the chill off your beer. I think this trick works best if the beer is already warm enough to brew. 

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

When I brew in winter I will often leave the fermenter our the warm kitchen or living room at least overnight so that the fermentation process has a decent chance to start. My wife hates that but still drinks the beer so go figure. 

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

Yeast issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to identify and prevent 'off flavors' and smells in homebrew beer

how to identify bad flavors in beer


How to identify the 'off flavors' and smells in your beer


Brewing is not just boiling up some grains, throwing in some hops and bottling.

It's not that simple.

Brewing is a bit of science.

It's a bit of practice.

It's also a bit of experimentation.

You can do all that right but sometimes it's still a bit of luck.

Which is why when a brew batch goes wrong, it can sometimes be considered bad luck that your brew tastes like cabbage, butter or stinks of rotten eggs.

But is it really bad luck that your beer tastes like wet cardboard?

There are all kinds of chemical reactions happening in a brew and this is very normal and nothing to worry about.

It could be that for many brewers the smell of the hops over powers these smells and so when they are finally smelled, they get flagged as a concern.

For this brewer, I'd only be worried when it came time to bottle beer. And even then the first thing I would be asking is should I simply delay bottling another week? As every brewer knows, time is your friend when making beer!

There are many elements that can shunt the beer train off its brewing tracks, particularly improper preparation prior to making the beer and during fermentation and then bottling or kegging.

Working out what went wrong and what it means that you will be a better brewer for it.

And you know what?

The best way to learn is by tasting your beer and understanding what the 'off-flavors' of your beer are and how you might prevent them from happening with your next brew.

Here's a brief guide to help you trouble shoot common off flavors and what the smells mean for your beer!

When your beer tastes like green or rotten apples


I've never eaten a rotten apple but I know what a sour green apple tastes like.

Tart and bitter.

In an apple, this is delicious.

In a beer, this probably means you have a fair amount of acetaldehyde present. This chemical forms at the beginning of the fermentation process. The yeast will eventually convert it to ethanol (alcohol).

This is why it's good to let primary fermentation continue for a fair time and to let your beer condition for at least three weeks. The longer you condition your beer, the greater the reduction in acetaldehyde that will occur and the beer your beer will take.

It will also help to ensure that you correct a fair amount of yeast. If there is not enough yeast present in the beer, it will take longer for the acetaldehyde to be converted.

how do hops cause off flavors in beer

Who cut the cheese?


If your beer has a cheesy taste, you're probably getting a sample of isolaveric acid. Often described as tasting like old socks, the acid occurs naturally all over the place, including, funnily enough, in the sweat of socks. 

In the case of beer brewing this acid develops when the alpha acids in hops oxide. 

The fix is too use fresh hops - both in leaf and pellet form and ensure they have been stored properly. 

If you do find it in your beer, once again, let the beer condition further and this will mellow it somewhat. 

Another way isolaveric acid can get into beer is when you are using fruit. If you get a 'Brettanomyces' infection from the skin, you'll run into trouble.

What we do in the shadows


Ever heard of skunked beer?

This is when a chemical reaction happens in the bottled beer due to over exposure to direct sunlight.

So named after the smell a skunk can release, 'lightstruck' beer is caused by the UV radiation in light from the sun and retailer's lights.

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

This compound stinks!

The solution is to condition and then store your beer out of sunlight or from under UV Light (why you would be doing that anyway?).

Brown glass bottles are can preventing this from occurring as they can mute the effects of the light but not so many green bottles or clear glass. I have no idea why this occurs.

Refraction maybe?

So, the trick to avoiding skunked smelling beer is clearly to store your beer in the dark.
Funny how that's a solution to many of these flavoring issues eh?


This is why your beer tastes like wet cardboard


If your brew tastes a bit like cardboard or wet paper or simply feels stale, you've let in too much oxygen and your beer was over oxygenated

Here's the rule of thumb and oxygen when making beer. 

Before primary fermentation, it's encouraged. During fermentation and after it's discouraged. 

If this happens to you, you can't fix the beer. It is what it is. Drink it with some lime? 

The only way to prevent oxidized beer from occurring is preventing it from getting into your fermenter. Ensure the drum or carboy is tightly sealed and that your bubble airlock / airvent has water in it. 

When preparing the wort, oxygen is good because the yeast uses it before fermentation. When the yeast is doing its job, it doesn't need it.



why does beer taste like cardboard



Rotten eggs !!


I once went to bottle a brew. The moment the beer came out out of the tap, a rank smell began to permeate throughout my man shed. It was disgusting, like some kind of vile stink bomb had been let off or I had dropped a case of rotten eggs on the floor.

My brew was somehow contaminated. That rotten egg smell can most likely be identified as the gas hydrogen sulfide  - which was the by-product of fermentation gone wrong.

It is the by-product of the yeast strain or bacteria that have snuck into your brew (did we ever mention you've got to sanitize your equipment?).

The thing about lagers and rotten smells is that all is not necessarily lost.

You can fix this problem if the sulfide was produced by the yeast and not bad bacteria.

Lager yeast strains are quite prone to producing sulfide odors. This is quite normal. If you properly condition your bottled beer (the lagering process) by letting in stand for a few weeks, the smell should go away before it's time to drink. 

Let your beer sit and be patient about it!

The news is not so good if you have a bacterial infection


I didn't tell you the whole story above. I was a very novice home brewer and I decided to bottle the batch anyway. I left them for a fair time and then cracked one open.

Did you ever make a volcano for a school experiment when you add baking soda to vinegar? You get an explosion of foam and that's what happened to my beer. 

They were giant gushers

This was most likely caused by the unwanted bacteria continuing to work its own fermenting magic on the malt in the beer.

What a waste of time, energy and money!

So to prevent the smell of rotten eggs, you have to stop the infection from occurring in the first place. You must ensure that you have clean equipment and that you've done your best to sanitize it, and kept it clean during the beer brewing process.

Why does my beer taste like chlorine?

Or more rather, are you asking why your beer tastes like plastic or iodine? 

If you used chlorine to sanitize your brewing equipment, you may have over done things, especially if you didn't rinse properly afterward (which is why we recommend using sodium percarbonate instead of bleach products).

You may also have a water supply that is overly chlorinated. If you used this to rinse equipment of brew with, that's most likely the cause. 

The simple solution is to not use such water, however, it may be that kind of water is your only source. What can do then is either filter it or boil it for 15 minutes, leave to cool (we don't want you burning yourself or killing the yeast!) and then using it. 

If you do need to use a chlorine-based bleach, then use no more than half an ounce per gallon of water and rinse with said filtered or boiled water.

Or move town. 

Why does my beer taste like grass?


You could be forgiven for thinking we are just naming every kind of flavor there can be and say that it can be found in beer.

So forgive us when we say that beer can taste like grass.

This can be caused by using old ingredients like malt and grains that have been exposed to moisture. The best way to prevent this grass flavor is to use fresh ingredients and to store them in dry but dark places.

Or it could be that if you've used fresh hops, you've added too much leaf and stem material. It should be obvious what to do.

Grass taste should not be confused with some of the qualities that certain hops impart into beer. Cascade hops are often commented on by brewers as having this effect.

What could be the case here is that the beer has been hopped too long. It depends on what you are going for off course but a lot of home brewers dry hop shortly before bottling to try and capture as much hop flavour as they can. A beer that has aged for a longer time with hops may lose some of its zesty-ness and be construed as being more grassy than hops. It possibly depends on how bitter the hops are as well.


Why does my beer taste like cider?


This one is a classic result.

One of the reasons home brewing in the 'bad old days' was because beer tasted too sugary sweet like cider.

And what was the cause of this?

Too much sugar.

If you make your beer with too much corn or cane sugar, cider like flavours will develop.

Brewers looking to increase the ABV of their beer will often add extra fermentables (extra as in more than the beer recipe required). Sugar is cheap and fermentable so they will add an extra kilo or pound of it and get the cider result as a bi-product.

What you can do is off course reduce the sugar and supplement with other fermentables like honey or more malt extract (DME) - basically use more beer enhancer!

what causes fruit smells in beer

Help! My beer has nice fruity smells!


First of all, check that you aren't making a nice stout with raspberry because that would just be awkward....

Brewers often report that their beer smells like fruit - banana, strawberry,  pear and even raspberry.

This fruity smell is quite likely to be an ester called isoamyl acetate. The occurrence of it in beer is extremely common. Like many of the flavours and smells in this guide, they are a by-product of fermentation where the temperature was too high for the yeast, or there was too little yeast pitched.

Generally speaking, the higher the temperature of the beer, the more ester that is produced during fermentation. They are caused by acids in the wort combining with alcohol.

The concentration level of ester will also depend on the kind of beer that is being made. German style wheat beers and Belgian ales tend to possess theses as a deliberate beer aesthetic. Go Bavaria!

One way to reduce the production of esters in your beer is to use a tall and narrow fermenter than shallower vessels. According to the American Homebrewers Association "this is because high hydrostatic pressure and levels of CO2 in the tall, narrow vessels inhibit ester formation."

We did say beer was a science!

To remove your unwanted esters the solution you have to prevent them from occurring in the first place so try and brew your beer at the recommended temperature for your yeast, favoring the colder side of the spectrum. This is especially so if you are brewing a lager because esters to nod add to the drinking experience of a lager.

The other option is to overpitch your yeast to ensure that there is no deficiency >> a low amount of yeast tends to make the yeast work harder and produce more esters.

Finally, ensuring your wort is properly oxygenated prior to primary fermentation will help the yeast function as intended.

A final amusing point on isoamyl acetate is that it is actually used as an artificial flavoring for things like banana milkshakes!


That delicious paint thinner taste is a fusel alcohol


Now I've never drunk paint thinner but I've sure smelled them! They are strong and pungent.

'Paint thinner' is a term for solvents that are used to thin oil based paint or for cleaning up paint brushes and maintaining equipment like chainsaws. They are usually referred to as white spirits , turpentine or acetone. Either way, you recognize them as smelling quite harsh - and you can imagine the taste.

While most people do not drink solvents, many brewers often report that their beer has a 'paint thinner' taste.

What is most likely the cause of this flavor are fusel alcohols. They are sometimes referred to as fusel oils.

These occur naturally in home brewing and will occur at noticeable levels to the palate when the beer is fermented at too high a temperature of the beer is left in contact with the trub for too long.

The way to prevent fusel alcohols occurring in your beer is to ferment at the recommended temperature for the beer you are making.

Most certainly do not leave your beer to ferment for a week in a closed shed at the height of summer! It will surely be too hot.

Ensuring you use the correct amount of yeast can help. If you have difficulty controlling the temperature of your brewing situation you could try using yeasts known for their ability to handle higher temperatures, such as Belgian yeasts.

Letting the bottle beer condition for a good length of time will also give the fusels a chance to break down.

Here's some other common flavors and what they mean:

  • Tart tastes can be caused by polyphenols which are caused by over milled grains that are steeped too long.
  • Butterscotch or buttery flavors can be diacetyl and is naturally occuring. Affected by temperature and over oxygenation post pitching of the yeast.
  • Cough Syrup - possibly phenol which can be caused by a variety of things including improper sparging and mashing techniques, temperature ranges, and sanitizers and cleaning products that utilize iodine or chlorine.
  • Metal, pennies - a contaminant from nonstainless metal kettles and poor water. 
  • Salt - you probably added salt to your beer. WTF?
  • Soap - you probably added soap to your beer (again WTF) or you left it to soak too long in the primary fermenter and your beer is literally turning into a form of soap. No, you can't shower with it.

Final words


If you've made it this far, you will appreciate there are many factors and processes which can contribute to off flavors in your home brew (and of course ciders and wine). We haven't even covered them all!

Some of them occur naturally and will fade away as part of the normal practice of brewing is followed. Others will be fatal to you beer (such as a bacteria infected or skunked beer). 

Using well-established brewing practices will help alleviate many of these problems from occurring.

So yes, clean and santize your equipment, use fresh hops, brew at correct temperatures and let your beer condition properly and you will have a good tasting beer. 
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