How to Home Brew Beer

Learn how to easily brew great tasting beer.

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Review of Mangrove Jack's New Zealand Brewers Series Beer Kit

mangrove jacks new zealand brewers series review

Review of Mangrove Jack's New Zealand Brewers Series beer pouch kit


I was in checking out Brewshop the other week and I saw that Mangrove Jack's (an Aussie based company) had a new kit on the market called the "New Zealand Brewer's Series".

This piqued my curiosity as what is uniquely New Zealand about beer kits? 

Other than Black Rock and Williams Warn being made in the Speights factory, Nothing is the answer so this means the kit is probably just a rebrand of their existing products for the NZ market.

I spied their Golden Ale, which purports to be "A clear golden ale with subtle malt and fruit undertones, finished with a pleasing bitterness."

At 20 NZ bucks, it was a competitive price so I thought I'd give it a brew and review.

So, what do we do first? I cleaned and sanitized the fermenter drum with boiling water and sodium percarbonate.

I then added the brew enhancer from Brewshop and added a kettle of boiling water.

pouch kit review mangrove jacksI then opened the Mangrove Jack's box pack and to my surprise, it was actually a pouch inside the box. This actually should have been no surprise as Mangrove Jack's are well known for their kits being in pouch form rather than tin can!

I cut open the pouch with a sharp knife and added it to the drum. Perhaps the kit's contents were a bit cold as I really had to squeeze it out.

Indeed, I felt there was quite a lot left in the pouch so I added some boiling water to it to help melt the remainder and made sure I got most of it out it and into the wort.

This process was a bit more difficult than doing it with a tin can kit. I venture a complete novice at brewing would have made a huge mess!

I then gave it all a good stir and then added water so that there were about 23 liters in the drum. I then added the yeast that I had set aside in a glass of warm water to help hydrate it.

I noticed when adding the yeast that it all came out pretty easily and there were not many bits of it stuck to the inside of the packet (which happens a lot with Blackrock kits for example).

I then chucked the drum into the shed.

It's currently the start of winter so it will be a bit cold out there so we'll see how the fermentation goes!

Let's check back in about ten days after primary fermentation.

...and we're back.

It's actually been two whole weeks and tonight I have just bottled the beer. Instead of batch priming, I sugared each bottle individually. This is because I have somehow managed to over prime my last two stouts and those were some wee fizzy buggers which kind of ruined the beer drinking experience.

So, let's check back in another two weeks for a taste test.

...and we're back.

Honestly, this is an 'average' result. Not average in the sense people say that word to not mean good but average in the mathematical sense. It's not an inspiring brew by any means however it feels like a stock standard beer.

Another two weeks conditioning will improve this beer but I've made enough of these brews to know where the beer is headed.

So, what we've got here is a good result in the sense this Mangrove's Jack offering is a stock standard homebrew kit and for the price, you can't complain if that's the kind of beer you want to make!

Can I get methanol poisoning from home brew beer?

methanol poisoning from beer

Can I accidentally make methanol when home brewing?


From time to time I see potential brewers ask if they will accidentally make methanol when foraying into beer production.

This is because methanol is quite a dangerous alcohol.

It is toxic to the human body and can have some very nasty effects - ranging from blindness to the worst of which is death.

Everyone has heard the stories of some Russian sailors on a fishing boat going blind from drinking homemade spirits right? Drinking this kind of 'rocket fuel' is just a hazard of the job eh?

First up, the answer to the question is that the ordinary beer home brewing process makes the alcohol called ethanol - not methanol. So you can't get methanol poisoning, no matter how much extra sugar you add.

That's in general though - some methanol can be produced but at such minor levels that have no effect on the beer or effect on the body when consumed.

Fruit beers which contain pectin could have slightly higher levels of the spirit but the effect is still negligible.

So from that perspective, there's no risk of making a beer batch of methanol and going blind. It's more likely that you will just get blind drunk or meet Darth Vader!!

There are however some genuine risks if one is distilling alcohol - backyard operations can indeed produce batches where the methanol content can be lethal (or more sinisterly methanol is added deliberately and sold on the bootleg market). It's for this reason, most countries in the world have made the distillation of spirits illegal.

It is allowed in New Zealand but only for personal consumption.

The science of distillation is quite complicated and there appears to be an of myth around methanol production. They key point to understand that if you are homebrew brewing beer, there's no risk of making a killer brew.

Distillation on the other hand...

What is the treatment for methanol poisoning?


Methanol toxicity is the result of consuming from methanol.

The horrific symptoms may include a decreased level of consciousness, poor coordination, vomiting, abdominal pain, and a specific smell on the breath. The famous effect of decreased vision or blindness may start as early as twelve hours after exposure.

The blindness is caused by the methanol being broken down by the body into formic acid when then has a debilitating and damaging effect on the optic nerve.

Is there a cure for methanol poisoning?


There is a cure!

The sooner the antidote, fomepizole, is taken, the increased likelihood of a good outcome for the victim.

Other treatment options include dialysis and consumption of sodium bicarbonate, folate, and thiamine.

This is of course, not medical advice. If you have a consumption incident, seek medical services assistance immeadiately.

I saw a query from a gentleman who decided to drink a glass wine after having left the bottle opened for 2 months. The wine was disgusting, he burned his throat and he described that he felt like he had a headache. He wondered if the wine had turned into methanol so as to explain his condition.

It's more than likely that the wine's ethanol had not converted to methanol, instead, it was probably oxygenated and had become a vile vinegar!

7 reasons homebrewers are allowed to be a little smug


7 reasons why as a home beer brewer, you’re allowed to be smug.


Just a little bit smug though.

No one likes a smug ass, no matter how good their beer tastes.

1. You’ve put in the damn hard work, and dammit Jim, you're a beer brewer not a doctor! That’s right as a brewer, you’ve slogged and sweated over your beer. It's just reward.

2. You’re a back yard pioneer. Yes, you invented that stout based, Fuggles hopped, honey and raspberry recipe by hard graft of experiment. Yes, you found a way to convert your fridge into a keg dispenser.

3. You’re like a beer wizard, Harry. You make the magic happen! You got the yeast choice just right. You found a way to keep your wort fermenting at just the right temperature and you are the one you added that secret ingredient that gave your beer that 'hallowed be thy' beer drinking experience.

4. You can be smug because suddenly your partner who hardly ever drinks beer suddenly starts ‘tasting’ your beers more frequently.

5. You can be a little bit smug because you are part of the beer revolution. You are sticking it to the corporate beer brewer who for years has refused to change. They have awoken from their stupor because of brewers like you.

6. No longer will young men and woman learn and continue to drink mass produced beer that was marketed to them on the television by some big hot shot sports star. No, they will know that the key to a great beer drinking experience is by discovering delicious craft beer beverages – and your demand for quality beer has driven this sea change.

7. You made beer. Enough said.

Why does my beer smell like rotten eggs?

Why does my beer smell like rotten eggs?


Who likes the smell of rotten eggs in their beer?

No one


There was a time last year when I went to bottle my beer.

I'd just sterilized the bottles within an inch of their lives and I was ready to get the precious amber fluid into them.

And with that first pour from the fermenter into the green glass bottle, I got the most rank smell.

Rank.

Smell.

Of.

Rotten Eggs.

It was like I had cracked open a rotten egg and fanned it right up my nose!

It was disgusting like some kind of vile hydrogen sulfide bomb had been let off and the aroma was trying to burn my nostrils.


My brew was contaminated and I was gutted


There could have been a couple of reasons why the rotten eggy smell was happening. That rotten egg smell can usually be identified as the gas hydrogen sulfide.

It's probably the most obvious symptom that your beer has become contaminated.

It is the bi-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...


All is not necessarily lost, however.

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 odours.

This is normal.

If you properly condition your bottled beer (the lagering process) by letting it stand for a few weeks, the smell should go away before it's time to drink.

This why we also recommend that new brewers try an ale or two first to avoid this problem and being disappointed with their foray into brewing. 

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


When is such news ever good?

In my case, I think it was clear that the beer was infected. The smell was pungent and a wee taste test suggested worse things were on offer.

But even though I was pretty sour, I was a stubborn bugger and bottled anyway on the off chance a bit of time conditioning would let everything sort itself out.

How wrong was I?!

The beer I tasted after two weeks was probably the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth and I once lost a beer drinking game involving a rinsed out kitchen cloth...

I reckon this bad beer would have made me sick if I had drunk a whole glass.

The rest of the brews were opened and tipped out. What was very interesting was there was a massive amount of CO2 / bubbles foam released when each cap was removed. They were giant gushers!  I imagine this was due to the unwanted bacteria continuing to work its own fermenting magic on the malt.

Either way, the lesson here as always is to do your absolute best to 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.

If you find your beer in this condition before bottling, I'm afraid all you can do is dump the batch.

And then clean the heck of your fermenter and bottles!

This was a brewing lesson I will never forget. I'll be lax in some areas but will always make sure my equipment is clean and sanitized!

Skunked beer


While we're here talking about ruined beer, let's talk about skunked beer. This is when a chemical reaction happens in the bottled beer due to exposure to 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!

Brown glass is pretty handy at preventing this from occurring but not so much green bottles or clear glass. So, the trick to avoiding skunked beer is clearly to store your beer in the dark.

In summary:
  • If you are brewing a lager, the smell could be 'normal' and may disappear after the beer has been conditioned
  • It could well be your beer is contaminated by bacteria, in which case nothing will save it. Head to the pub for a self-pitying pint.
  • Lightstruck or skunked beer can happen when the bottled beer is left in sunlight too long.
  • Let your beer condition properly so that the yeast has time to work it's magic properly.

Best brewing thermostats for temperature control

inkbird temperature controller


Using thermostat controllers for temperature control when brewing beer


Once a brewer has mastered the process of all grain brewing they often start to wonder about the other factors that make a good beer.

Most brewers of any experience know how important temperature to making a good beer is but it's the keenest brewer that wants to regulate the temperate that their beer ferments and conditions.

Keeping a beer consistently at the desired temperature is a boon for beer quality as this allows the yeast to perform to it's best characteristics. This is because, generally speaking, ales and lagers perform better at different temperatures (lagers lower than ales) and also because brewing conditions have often meant that beer is brewed too warm.

Hence, the experienced brewer will often elect to use a brewing thermostat to maintain the correct temperature for the yeast strain. The most popular choices are from the Inkbird range and devices which use the STC-1000 software such as the Ketotek and Elitech.

There's many an argument out there that making yourself a controlled fermentation chamber is one of the best things you can do for your beer, over and above using fancy (though vital) wort chillers and the like.


What then, is a controlled fermentation chamber?


Basically, it's a fridge of which you control the temperature.

Here's a common scenario for lagering at a consistent temperature.

By using an external overriding thermostat installed on a fridge (or even a freezer) you control the temp as you need and prevent the fridge from making your beer to cold, thus hindering fermentation from occurring. It means you can lager your beer all year around!

The beauty of this is, you can simply use an old fridge - cold is cold so you don't need to splurge out on a big showroom deal, as long as it works and there's room in which to place your fermenter or carboy, you are good to go. Pro tip - if your fridge has its own thermostat, then set it to the coldest setting.

Old fridges are probably less energy efficient than newer ones, the choice is, of course, yours to make.

If you are using a freezer, you'll want to make sure that it is ice / frost free.

Using the probe correctly


Your thermostat will come with a probe - this is placed inside the fridge so the sensor reads the temperature inside the fridge.

Obvious right?

 OR you could tape the probe to the fermenter so as to get a close reading of the beer's actual temperature, rather than the ambient temperature of the beer. 

Why would you do this? 

In the long run, the temperature of the beer will probably equal that of the fridge, however, given you want the yeast to have the best environment to ferment, it will get to the desired temperature quicker. 

Here's a handy trick - if the probe is waterproof, you could consider placing it in water inside the fridge. The water will approximate the beer's temperature reading meaning you can mix and match and move fermenters in an out as you need. 

Cold crashing 


When fermentation is complete and you are ready to bottle or keg, you can of course cold crash with the fridge or freezer and you can use the controller to keep the temperature low as you need.

How to set up a thermostat controller for a fridge or freezer


It's a fairly simple system to set up - place the fridge's power cord plug into the controller. Place the probe inside the fridge. Now, having selected your desired temperature to match your beer's yeast recommendations, you set the temperature controller to that temperature.

The controller will control the internal temperature of the fridge by turning the fridge itself on and off as conditions change. The fridge itself will, of course, need to be set to be able to go as cold as you need.

I do wonder how good it is for the fridge to be regularly turned off and off - if you are concerned about this, go with the old fridge.

Using the thermostat to control a heating space


Thermostats are just as handy for heating your beer as well and again you can use a fridge or a specifically designed heating box.

Obviously, you need a heating source and your fridge most definitely must be turned off! A popular choice for a heat source is a heating pad or a heating belt. Some dudes use lightbulbs!

Simply plug your heating source into the controller and place the sensor probe in the fridge as you would with when using trying to keep your beer cold. Select the desired temperature on your thermostat and you're ready to go.

Your chosen heating device will turn on when the temperature of your heating space falls below the selected temperature.

The fridge freezer trap


Don't get caught out by using a fridge freezer combo. If you want to keep your meat and veges frozen, you won't be able to as the freezer will be subject to the whims of the controller.

Pssst, do you want a unit that can control both cooling and heating?

Sure you do and the Elitech STC-1000 might just be the kind of controller you are looking for. 

elictech stc-1000 controller

The Elitech branded version of the STC model has the following features:
  • Temperature calibration; Refrigerating control output delay protection.
  • Auto switch between refrigerating and heating, with a return difference value.
  • Control temperature by setting the temperature setting value and the difference value.
  • Alarm activates when the temperature exceeds temperature limit or if there is sensor error.
  • Accuracy: ±1°C (-50~70°C)
  • 110 volt
Note the Elitech comes with the centigrade measurement. If you are looking to use use a thermostat with a Fahrenheit measurement then the bird's the word for the Inkbird range.

Search on Amazon for an STC-1000 controller and you might pause when you see there are all kinds of brands that offer the STC-1000. So what is it? It's actually the name of the software that runs these units. The software is open source so the firmware of your unit should be able to be easily updated.

Units which use the STC-1000 can be fiddly to set up, especially if they need wiring. This bloke has some great tips on successful installations.

Inkbird Pre-Wired Dual Stage Digital Temperature Controller


Probably Inkbird's most popular controller is the ITC-308. This unit is fairly cheap, easy to install and is tried and true for keeping your beer fermenting at the desired temperature.

  • Simple to use: plug it in, set the temp ranges, place the probe, plug in the heater/cooler into the marked outlet.
  • Easy to read manual
  • Be able to connect with refrigeration and heating equipment at the same time.
  • Easily calibrated with the press of a few buttons
  • Can display the temperature on in Centigrade or Fahrenheit.
  • Versatile enough for many different uses. Whether you need temperature control for fermentation, humidity control, greenhouse, kombucha control or to set up your temperature project system, the ITC-308 temperature controller is a great choice.
Check out this review from real users who brought the Inkbird on Amazon:

"I ordered this for my fermentation chamber I just built and so far this thing is pretty great. It keeps the temps within about a degree of my target temp and was pretty simple to set up. I presume the instructions have been improved as they weren't as difficult as some reviews had stated. If you are electrically inept such as me and just want to get your system up and running this will do the job extremely well for the price."

"This seems to be working great for a chest freezer converted to a fermenting chamber. Literally set this up in about 5 minutes, it's that easy. Put the temp probe in the freezer. Plug the freezer into the cooling plug, and plug the Inkbird unit into the electrical outlet. Works exactly as described. My Oktoberfest lager beer is bubbling quite happily at 52°F."

inkbird dual plug system"What can I say, this is the best value out there! excellent range of temps, very customizable and accurate, lets me stay within a degree. I use this for fermentation control and the price allows a practical solution. Very durable and the probe and cord are waterproof. I poked a hole in the carboy stopper and forced this prob and a small length of the cord through and now it hovers in the middle of the carboy for the most accurate control of temps. Highly recommend for beer brewers!

So there you have it, some genuinely pleased users of the Inkbird  plug and play temperature controller. Check out the prices on Amazon

Kegco 5 Gallon Ball Lock Keg is great for homebrewing

When a brewer gets tired of bottling their beer, sick of gushers and dreading cleaning bottles over and over again, they might decide that kegging their beer with a ball lock keg so they can have a beer when they want it and not have to worry about a beer gusher or an exploding bottle ever again...

There are plenty of ways to keg home brew but a popular choice is to use a 5-gallon ball lock keg.

They are an ideal size for standard brews made in a 5-gallon fermenter and are easily connected to a jockey box and stainless steel faucet for an efficient pour!

So what is the best ball lock keg to keg with?

best ball lock keg for brewing

Kegco's rubber handle home brew beer keg is a popular choice for American beer makers. It torpedoes the other's out of the water, leaving them in a foamy mess!

This corny keg is designed for use with ball lock keg couplers and features a 304-grade stainless steel construction.

That just means the Kegco is a durable beast!

This keg has a permanently molded rubber bottom skirt and top handle that makes it easy to carry and stack, making it ideal for smaller breweries and home brewers with limited available storage space. The stainless steel lid also fastens tightly to the body and features an integrated pressure release valve that allows you to easily depressurize the keg.

The ball lock fittings that are naturally designed for use with ball lock keg couplers. The ball lock fittings can be easily accessed to make cleaning and maintenance fast and simple.

The beauty of this pepsi keg is that it can also be used to store not only beer, but also wine, soda, kombucha, and cold brew coffee.

Here's what some actual users of this keg have had to say about how it works and whether it's worth the purchase:

"I have been bottling my beer for over 20 years. I received the two 5 gallon kegs today and I was happy both were shipped with positive pressure. So I immediately knew that all the seals were good without pressurizing. The kegs were new and had no dents. I then immediately cleaned and sanitized a keg and transferred a batch of Peach Ale from secondary. Within minutes I had an amazing beer. I’m not going back to bottling. The next keg is going to be filled with a stout so I’ll have some variety on tap. I’m so happy."

"This product arrived in great condition. Everything seals tight and the ball lock valves are very nice. The keg is obviously high quality and will be a great addition to my home brew equipment - I'm just sorry this will be hidden in my kegerator. :)"

"Shiny, shiny. In recent years, used soda kegs have become scarce enough the price for one that merely holds pressure has risen pretty high. Might as well buy a new one, and get it clean, with fresh seals and O-rings all round, to boot. Kegco offers a solid product, and I like the rubber all around the perimeter of the top."

If those reviews float your boat, check out the price on Amazon:

↣ How long can beer be left in the primary fermenter?


What is the risk of leaving a beer in the primary fermenter too long?


As a general rule of thumb, one can leave the beer in the primary fermenter as long as one needs.

There is no set maximum time limit, though there a couple of risks to keep in mind.

Many brewers simply follow the beer recipe or instructions on the malt kit and leave their wort to ferment for around a week to ten days. This usually allows enough time for fermentation to have completed.

And technically that's OK, and it's time to bottle.

But the mystery and muscle of brewing beer are that there is a whole range of chemical processes happening in that wort you're fermenting. Sure the yeast may have produced enough alcohol to make a good drop of beer but there are still a few things that happen.

The longer you leave your beer, the more chance the yeast has to get rid of smells and other leftovers from the fermentation process.

A great example of this is the presence of acetaldehyde in the wort. This chemicals forms at the beginning of the fermentation process. It tastes like sour green apple and is not really conducive to a good brew.

What's the best way to get rid of this apple taste from  beer? 

Let the yeast take the time to convert it into ethanol (alcohol).

So leaving your beer for longer than the recommended instructions on the tin of the beer kit is pretty much a smart move. Frankly, given the benefit to the beer and thus the kit manufacturer's reputation, I do not know why they don't frame the time as a minimum.

That said, when I followed Te Aro's brewing instructions for their Obligatory ale, I made damn good beer.

Exceptions aside, the longer you condition your beer, the greater reduction in acetaldehyde that will occur and the beer your beer will take.

Stout beers have even more to work through so they can happily take longer in the primary.

Another benefit of leaving the beer in the primary for longer is that there is a greater chance that your beer will clear more sediment, thus giving you clear beer

Many a brewer likes to see their lager look like a lager - that classic light yellow / orange combo. Sure, some wheat beers can be a bit hazy. And the end of the day this comes down to personal preference as the beer taste is not generally affected.

What about extra long times?

Many brewers have reported leaving batches for months and suffered no issues. I'd reason though that the beer was stored in a cool place - a beer wort left in a hot environment is sure to fail as the yeast would probably get cooked. 

There is an issue that can happen called autolysis. 

This is when the yeast cells die, giving off some potentially off flavours. These could be hydrolytic enzymes, lipids, and metal cations that can contribute to off flavour. If you've made a healthy batch with a quality yeast, pitched at a good temperature and brewed in a stable environment, then the risks of autolysis are quite low. 

If you are quite concerned about this, you could counter by racking your beer to a secondary, thus removing the yeast cake from the equation.

It's important to note, the same process begins again when the beer is bottle conditioned - more sugar is added to the beer for the yeast to eat - this is because CO2 is the by-product of fermentation and is trapped in the beer. Most beers strongly benefit from being bottle conditioned for three weeks before consumption.