How to choose the best brewing spoon

choosing the best brewing spoon

This next question might cause a bit of a stir but what is the most useful item to have when brewing?

Is it a big kettle?

A giant mash tun?

A ph meter?

Those are nice things to have and all but we think the most useful item to have ready to hand on brew day is a spoon.

That’s right, a big spoon.

A big spoon to stir everything up just right. A spoon to unstick a stuck mash tun. A spoon to stir in hops. A spoon to stir in yeast. A paddle to break up clumped together ingredients.

Spoon or paddle, it doesn’t matter but the best ones do have a few factors about them that make them ideal for using on brew day.

They’ve got to be sturdy enough to stir with. Too weak and they’ll snap. This is why some brewers like steel spoons. Many of them have a corrugated design to prevent bending.

The only drawback is the steel can scratch your gear. If that’s a problem for you, use a plastic paddle if it’s strong enough. 

If you do choose the plastic fantastic, then ensure it’s food grade quality and that it is resistant to heat. 
Some of those brews can get pretty hot so if they are not heat resistant, they are more liable to break. Some smartly designed spoons will have a small head on the top of the spoon which can fit inside the next of a carboy which can be quite handy if you want to mix things up.

Conversely, steel spoons often have a bent top so they may be easily hung up on the side of a kettle or whatever. Else, they will have a hole in the top so they may be hung on a hook.

A great thing about stainless steel spoons is that they are easy to clean and will not retain odour. Handy if you’re also cooking crawfish or doing a turkey in a brewing kettle.

Wooden spoons can snap easily and can carry bacteria. No one wants a wooden spoon eh?

When stirring a mash, some prefer the paddle as they can be more effective in moving the grains around. 

You will of course what your brewing spoon to be a long enough length so that it can reach to the bottom of your kettle or drum. To that end, a 21 - 24 inch long brewing spoon should generally see you right for your stirring needs. Such spoons will work best with 4 to 10 gallon size brewing kettles.

As with all brewing equipment, you should only use a spoon that is clean. It doesn’t need to be sterilized when using before or after the boil as the heat should have killed any microbes that may have been lurking about. If however, you need to stir anything afterwards, then you will need to have sanitized your gear (we totally recommend you use sodium percarbonate for this task). This is especially true if you a simply mixing up a beer kit with some beer enhancer as there won’t be any heat to kill the bigs.

Check out some options on Amazon.

How to accurately use a refractometer to check specific gravity

beer brewing refractometer

What is a refractometer?

A refractometer is a tool used for measuring concentrations of aqueous solutions. It has many applications across food, agricultural, chemical, and manufacturing industries. A refractometer can be used to measure things like the total plasma protein in a blood sample, the salinity of water and even the amount of water content in honey.

They work by measuring the angle of refraction as light shines through the solution. Don’t ask me to explain the actual science behind it, I just work here man.

What I do know is the Brix scale is used as the means by which the measurement taken is assessed. Given we are talking measurements here, it should be no surprise that the Brix scale measures the sugar content of an aqueous solution.

This is when you might exclaim “Ha! I got you mate, wort is mostly malt sugars (maltose) and not sucrose so how does the Brix scale apply to beer?”

And I’d say you’d be right and you can account for this learning how to apply a wort ‘correction factor’. Frankly, this can be a bit of pain and is one of the reasons why some brewers prefer to use a hydrometer to calculate ABV.

Refractometers also only use a very small beer sample, especially less than a hydrometer which is why some brewers prefer them - especially if they are only brewing small batches of beer.

How is a refractometer used in homebrewing?

In terms of homebrewing, a refractometer used to measure the specific gravity of the wort before fermentation commences.

You probably already know what specific gravity is. If you don’t, a quick lesson from Wikipedia.

“Specific gravity is the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a reference substance; equivalently, it is the ratio of the mass of a substance to the mass of a reference substance for the same given volume.”

Simple right?

In terms of brewing, one uses a refractometer to determine the amount of fermentable sugars which will be converted to alcohol.

What is the best refractometer to use when brewing beer?

There are many kinds of refractometers, and they serve different functions. As a brewer, you want one that is designed to measure sugar. Most brewers use is kind that fruit growers use to measure the sugar concentrations of their fruit to assess ripeness. This way you get a close approximation to wort, but it’s not exact and this needs to be factored when using the Brix scale as mentioned above.

Check out some options on Amazon.

How to properly calibrate a refractometer for testing beer

Just like when you use a pH meter, refractometers need to be calibrated.  There’s no way out of this.

Add distilled water (if you have it) close the plate. Ensuring the liquid to spreads completely across the prism without any dry spots. Allow 30 seconds so that the water can reach the same temperature as the refractometer.

This is important as the readings are temperature dependent.

You simply then aim the refractometer toward a natural light source. Look into the eyepiece and adjust it so that the scale is in focus.

Then adjust the unit’s calibration screw so that the refractometer reads exactly zero.

Now you are ready to sample your wort.

Testing wort with the refractometer

It’s fairly easy to use a refractometer, it’s largely the same process as setting up for calibration.

Once the unit has been properly cleaned of residue and correctly calibrated, place a small sample of wort on the glass. 

Shut the cover and take note that the glass is fully wet and has no stuck air bubbles. Give time for the same to warm to the same temperature as the unit.

Turn the refractometer to a natural light source. The refractometer should be held level with the window pointed at the light source. You can take the reading by checking via the eyepiece. Bob’s your uncle.

I should not have to advise you do look at the sun directly but as some of you drink and brew...

Check out some options on Amazon.

Bonus fact!

The first refractometer was invented by Enst Abbe. It was a complex device that included built-in thermometers and required a circulated water mechanism to keep the instrument cold. 

While the devices have been refined and digitised in the hundred years since Abbe’s invention, the principle of how they work remains the same.

Best no rinse brewing santizers

using no rinse sanitizer for brewing

Every brewer wants to make good beer.

There are many ways to achieve this but there is one thing you have to do and that is to sanitize your beer brewing equipment.

If you don't, you run the real risk of infected beer which turns out to be undrinkable.

And where's the fun in that?

So using so-called 'no rinse' brewing sanitzers is an excellent way to keep your beer free of unwanted microorganisms in your beer.

So what is a 'no rinse' brewing sanitizer?

It's a solution that once you have sanitized your brewing equipment and beer bottles, you do not need to rinse off. In contrast, if you've used caustic soda or bleach, you will need to rinse your equipment and that just takes precious time that not many brewers have. I have read that some people consider bleach a no-rinse sanitizer but I think it can leave a smell behind which most people would want to remove by rinsing so we can discount it as an option.

So 'no rinse' sanitizer it is then.

So what are the best ones to use? Are they all the same or do some do a better job than others?

There's a couple of schools on how to go about choosing the nest brewing sanitizer. You can go with commercially oriented solutions like Star San and my personal favourite, home-based options from your laundry like sodium percarbonate.

Let's start with Star San as it is a well-known option within the brewing community for cleaning and sanitzing brewing equipment.

This proven bug killer that will lay waste to all the microorganisms that could screw up your beer.

It is described by its maker as being a "self-foaming acid sanitizer ideal for brewing, dairy and other food and beverage equipment." The key ingredients of it are a mix of phosphoric acid and dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid.

We say it is a very effective bactericide and fungicide!

So about this no rinsing business? It can be used without rinsing under the proper concentrations. This means following the amount per litre instructions! Star San should be used at a ratio of one ounce to 5 gallons of water.

This means Star San is perfect for sanitizing your empty beer bottles or the carboy.

The beauty of Star San is that it can be used both for the 'spray on' method or for soaking equipment and beer bottles in a tub or bath.

It is probably the most well known and well recommended sanitizing product known for home brewers. Check out the price on Amazon.

Using Iodophor as a no rinse sanitizer

Iodophor is very popular one rinse sanitiser used by many a home brewer. Iodophor is well established in the food and beverage industry as a go-to sanitizer and it works just fine on your brewing gear.

The key active ingredient is iodine, an element that's been found to be wonderfully good at killing germs and preventing contamination.

It's so good, hospitals and doctors use it during surgery to keep the human body free of bugs. Home users often use it with cotton buds for simple first aid hygiene.

So you know it's safe to use on your children, it will work pretty well on your beer kit!

It doesn't work well as a spray solution - it's best to soak your gear with Idophor for at least 10 minutes to sanitize your equipment properly. When it is used at the recommended concentration level with water, it is a no rinse brewing solution.

While Idophor is odourless, tasteless, and easy on your hands it's very colour fast and will stain your clothes so be careful when mixing up your solution!

Why don't you One-Step into my office?

With One Step powdered wash you can lean your beer and wine making equipment quickly and easily with this non-toxic, oxygen-based cleaner. 

Your mixing directions are to use 1 tablespoon with your water and wait 2 minutes of contact time (so it's a bit faster working than iodine based sanitizers). Once your gear has been soaked long enough, it is ready to use.

one step no rinse cleaner

The main ingredient of One Step is sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate aka sodium percarbonate. How it works is quite clever. The powder obviously dissolves when combined with water, which in turn releases the oxygen from the carbonate to form hydrogen peroxide – a chemical which is well known for its sanitizing and disinfectant abilities. And that's a point we should make - this product is marketed mainly as a cleaner, however the hydrogen peroxide does double duty as a sanitizer.

This product a one step, no rinse because once hydrogen peroxide completes its work and it breaks down simply into oxygen and water which is safe as houses. Check out the price on Amazon.

Speaking of oxygen based cleaners, here's my personal favourite:

Sodium Percarbonate - as a no rinse solution found in your laundry

Go and have a look in your laundry right now. 

Go on.

I'm waiting. 

Did you find a laundry soaker? Some Oxi-CleanTide or Napisan or any other Oxi-named cleaner perhaps? If you did, chances are you've got a cleaner that does double duty as a sanitizer in the form of sodium hydroxide. We've have raved and raved for years about how good sodium percarbonate is as a sanitizer. If it's safe enough to use on your clothes, it's safe enough to use on your beer gear. 

If you are a bit nervous about using a laundry powder, you can buy sodium percarbonate in a pure powdered form quite cheaply and easily on Amazon.

So there you have it, a few suggestions on some easy to use, cost effective no rinse sanitizers for brewing. There are plenty of other options out there  - you can use other cleaners like PBW to the same effect. Whichever way you choose to sanitizer your beer, do it well, do it properly and just do it. If you don't, you will genuinely increase the odds of getting an infected beer, and frankly, if you've had it happen to you, you'll know what a stink and unpleasant experience that is! 

Using pH strips to test beer

ph scale for strip reference

pH strips

They are perhaps one of the oldest tricks of the trade that chemists have.

While you're testing for the number of hydrogen ions in a solution with a strip, you can actually pretty much test them for anything.

Salvia, soap, urine, wine and beer to name a few things. Swimming pools, fish aquariums, hot tubs and the ever popular kombucha are a few more!

But we want to focus on how you can use pH strips with your brewing.

Let's assume for the moment, you don't have access to a really good battery powered pH meter or you don't want to outlay the cash to buy one. The good news is that pH strips are really cheap as chips to buy.

So why do you want to use a pH strip for testing beer?

The pH level of your beer (both mash and wort) affects the way your beer turns out in several ways. Enzyme function is affected by an out of whack pH level, the efficiency of your hops can be manipulated and it affects how well your yeast ferments your brew.

So quite important then eh?

So the short version of using strip is the result you are looking for is a measurement of between pH 5.2 and 5.5. This is a general, ballpark, 'rule of thumb' number.

How then does one use a pH strip to test beer?

Fill a beaker or glass with the sample of wort or mash that you are testing. Your vessel must be very clean and free of any contaminants that may affect the test result.

Take a strip from the pack and add it to the solution. It will then change color.

You should then immediately compare this colour change to the colour chart that came with your strips. This chart will indicate the pH of your solution.

Your strips may have a recommended length of time to leave the strip in your solution, we suggest you follow that recommendation!

Are pH strips just litmus paper?

It's a fair question to ask. 

The difference lies in the intent of what one is trying to achieve by using either. 

By using litmus paper one is conducting a 'pass or fail' of test that determines if a substance is acidic or basic. 

When one uses a pH strip, one is determining the actual pH value.

pH strips are thus more sensitive than litmus paper as they give you a more quantitative result - that said, it is still only indicative. If you need a precise measurement, then a quality pH meter will serve your needs.

Extra for Experts

If you are fairly pretty Scrouge McDuck like kind of character, you can double the number of strips you have by carefully cutting them in half (down the length!) and then use as normal. Or, you can just stock up on Amazon, as they are really quite affordable. 

How do I make a hops tea for home brewing?

How to I make a hops tea for brewing with a kit?

How to make a hops tea for brewing with a beer kit

Sometimes when making homebrew, beer makers also like to make a cup of hop tea!

Why would we do this?

The idea here is that the great hops aromas and oils have been removed from the bullets due to the boiling and will then mix more easily with your wort brew. You are not making a tea to drink but rather simply trying to better extract the oil from the hop bud or pellet.

This means you have extracted more of the hops from the bullet than you would if you simply dry hopped them

How to make a hops tea for homebrewing

Put the hops in a muslin bag (or tie up a square of it) and then boil it for several minutes. 

During the boil, have a good smell and enjoy the aromas as it wafts around your kitchen. 

That's the deliciousness you want to impart into your beer. 

We love using Cascade hops as we think they give the best smell in the world! It's also damn fine hops for making beer with, particularly pilsners and lagers. 

When you've boiled the hops for long enough, turn the pan off but leave everything right where it is to cool. 

Try not to let anything get into the pot as everything that's in there is going into your beer wort. I say this with experience as I did this the other month - made the tea over the stove with the back door open late at night and somehow a moth managed to land it. 

Too bad, I made a hops and moth tea!

You have probably already prepared your wort, so now put everything you've boiled - the whole muslin bag and the tea that you've made into the primary fermenter. 

You are good to go on and now pitch your yeast - as long as the wort is at the correct temperature. 

You can also drink your own hops tea too!

It's done slightly differently to the above method for beer - you let the hops steep as you would any other tea and then drink when cool enough. It's not for us though, too bitter!

3 best value "Jockey Box" for cooling keg beer

Jockey boxes - coil or plate, copper or steel?

If you want to serve your beer nice and cold at a party or BBQ, then a jockey box beer dispenser is a great way to share your nut brown ales.

The jockey box, is a container filled with ice and water. A long coil of hollow tubing is connected to an external supply of beer, the other end, to the beer faucet.

As the beer is drawn from the box through the coil, the beer is cooled by the cold temperature of the water.

A simple, yet handy solution.

The longer the coil, the more contact time the beer has with the cold, thus allowing the beer to get to a nice serving temperature.

A good jockey box will be insulated to ensure the ice remains frozen as long as possible. An ideal temperature is considered to be 32°-33° Fahrenheit. If your ice melts and you've got an all-day event you may wish to have a supply of spare ice to top the box up with.

NY Brew Supply 50' Stainless Steel Coils Jockey Box Cooler with Double Faucet

plastic -7 -gallon -jockey -box

This 28 quart / seven gallons jockey box cooler features stainless steel coils that are superior to boxes with cold plates because there is much more tubing, allowing for a much greater cooling capacity.

This unit is double trouble as it comes with two 50' stainless coils that are 5/16" outside diameter meaning you will get good beer flow.

Featuring two chrome faucets with black handles this unit also comes with includes bonus faucet wrench.

This is a basic set up, for fair value. Check out the price on Amazon.

stainless steel best jockey box

Coldbreak Jockey Box - Bartender / BJB54SBE2

Coldbreak is slowly but surely earning itself a fine reputation for selling quality brewing gear. They state that their jockey boxes are built specifically for the craft beer industry and designed so your beer has 100 per cent contact with stainless steel. Which is just what you should be looking for.

All the shanks, coils, ferrules, and faucets of this unit are all made from stainless steel. Their Bartender Edition line of jockey boxes have the liquid inputs on the same side as the faucets. This gives your jockey box a clean look from the 'patron' side and also allows your bartenders to see if your keg is about to blow.

Check the specs:
  • 2 taps, stainless steel shanks
  • Includes stainless steel faucets with black tap handles
  • 2X50-foot stainless steel coils (5/16-inch od)
  • Stainless steel belted cold break cooler with stainless drain plug
  • Note this unit does not include a dispensing kit
Check out the price on Amazon.

Three's not a crowd? Try New York Brewers Triple Faucet↦

NY Brewing proclaim their jockey box cooler is perfect for dispensing ice cold beer at any party or event. Simply fill the cooler with ice and water, attach your keg(s), and you are ready to pour cold beer. They also reckon that their stainless steel coil jockey boxes are superior to those with cold plates because there is much more tubing, allowing for a much greater cooling capacity. It's a sensible argument...
  • Three 50' stainless coils, 5/16" outside diameter tubing
  • Three chrome faucets with black handles
  • 48 quart cooler, with hinged lid and drain
  • Includes bonus faucet wrench
  • Comes assembled with instructions for use and care.
Check out the price on Amazon.

What's better, a stainless steel or plastic jockey box?

There are pros and cons of using each.

Plastic is lighter but less durable.

Stainless is heavier and stronger.

A quality jockey box made of steel would have had all its shanks, coils, ferrules⇉, and faucets made from stainless steel. Shank plates should be in place to reinforce the cooler's walls to prevent buckling of the unit which is really important as this will help ensure that you are properly able to tighten your faucets.

Nothing worse than a leaky faucet than when beer is involved!

Why can't I just place my keg in a bucket of ice rather than use a jockey box?

There are two schools of thought on this and the thinking can get muddled.

You sure are very free to cool down your keg with ice but it's an intensive process which requires a lot of ice and time to cool the whole keg, especially if it's full of delicious beer. If you can get the beer cold enough, you might not need a jockey box but they are still handy for serving.

A jockey box is an easy setup, doesn't require as much ice and arguably it cools the beer faster due to the coil system which means the beer gets exposed to a lot of coldness. 

THAT said, warm kegs will likely serve foamy beer. That means there's nothing wrong with keeping your keg out of the sun when using a jockey box - try and keep it in the shade, or use an umbrella or at least a towel to prevent the sun heating the keg too much, thus countering the effect of the dispenser!

This is actually quite an important thing to consider because as the temperature of the keg rises, the PSI changes with it, thus affect the pouring of the beer.

So to round off, if you are using a jockey box, it also helps to keep the keg cool, at the very least, try and prevent it from warming in say direct sunlight. 

How do I set up a jockey box?

Do I need a regulator? 

What kind of PSI is required?

These three questions are lumped together as they go together. 

The beer line from the keg goes from a shank into the keg and then into the coil and out the faucet. The keg should be connected to a CO2 tank to carbonate the beer and assist with pouring the beer. If you need a quick pour, you'll want to use a shorter coil system, say the standard 50' foot length. 

However if you are doing a continuous poor, then you could perhaps go up to 120' feet and get a cooler beer depending on your conditions. 

This difference may mean you need to adjust the PSI pressure of the CO2 up a little higher for the longer coil. 

Typically, a PSI of 25 is used.

Here's a great instructional video which clearly demonstrates how to hook up the CO2 regulator to the keg and then the piping to the jockey box.

Cleaning the jockey box after use

You need to flush the pipes out! If you don't clean the piping and coil, you'll get nasty residue left over which is just gross. Flush them out with water until they run clean. Consider using some pipe cleaner, especially after several uses to prevent and remove any build up.

What about using a plate cooler over a coil?

You can totally use a plate cooler - however, there's a real drawback with them in that you can only have ice and you'll need to keep in refreshed with ice and drain any melted water. As I understand it, cold plate coolers work best if the keg itself is cooled, which as we've discussed is good practice.

The coil system, of course, loves ice and water.

What's the difference between a kegerator and jockey box?

A kegerator is a permanent set up which is basically a fridge. It's perfect for the man cave. The jockey box is a portable unit, designed to allow for pouring stations at parties, beer tastings and the like.

Using Campden tablets to clean water and sanitise brewing equipment

campden tablets for beer

Using Campden tablets is an 'old school' method of making better-tasting beer

These tablets can be used to remove chlorine from your water, to kill bacteria on brewing equipment, and to protect your beer by preventing unwanted foreign bacteria fermenting in your beer.

So what is this, some kind of super pill?

Campden tablets are basically potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite. When added to the beer or even cider or wine, they instantly react with the chlorine (or chloramine), removing it from the water solution. 

All this is done without adding any unwanted flavours to your water or beer.

How many Campden tablets should I use?

  • If using for sterilization of equipment, use 16 tablets to one gallon
  • If removing chlorine from water, half a tablet to 5 or 6 gallons will break it down in less than 10 minutes.
  • If stabilizing apple juice when making cider to kill of wild yeast, deploy one crushed tablet per gallon of juice. You should wait for approximately for 24 hours before you pitch your yeast.
  • If trying to stave off an infection in cider or wine, then 1 or 2 smashed up tablets dissolved in your product, rack if you need. You will then probably want to bottle your cider asap and hope the tablets can overtake the infection. This trick may or may not work. 
  • Cambden tablets can be used 

Are Campden tablets safe to use? What about the release of sulphur dioxide?

Yes, the tablets break down into very drinkable compounds - remember this product has been used for many years, if it did cause any harm, it wouldn't be such a successful product.

You may have heard that sulphur dioxide is released into the water. This is very true, however, when it reacts with the chlorine and chloramine it quickly breaks down. By the time your beer is to be drunk, the concentration in terms of parts per million is massively diminished.

So your beer is safe as houses to drink.

When to use Campden tablets for making cider

Producers of cider know full well that a batch of juiced apples can easily succumb to acetobacter bacteria contamination which causes the classic turn-to-vinegar spoilage of the apples.

Yeast is resistant to the tablets but the acetobacter is easily killed off, hence treatment with an agent like a Campden tablet is important in cider production.

Why are campden tablets used with wine?

In addition to preventing stray bacteria talking hold of a homemade wine, Campden tablets can also be utilised as an anti-oxidizing agent when transferring wine between containers. The sodium metabisulfite in the Campden tablets will trap oxygen that enters the wine, preventing it from doing any harm.

Do Camden tablets halt fermentation?

It is a fairly common misconception that Campden tablets can be used to halt the fermenting process in wine or beer before all the sugar is converted by the yeast, hence controlling the amount of residual sweetness in the final product.

It is simply not true though.

To truly completely stop fermentation, you'd need too many Campden tablets to do so, which would then actually make your produce undrinkable. 

Where do Campden tablets get their name from?

The original solution was developed in the 1920s by the Fruit and Vegetable Preserving Research Station which came from the English town of 'Chipping Campden'. The Boots UK pharmacy chain then made the product popular when they developed it as a tablet. 

Do I have to use these tablets, are they necessary for brewing?

No, the use of Campden tablets is totally your choice as a brewer. If you live in an area where the municipal water supply is not heavily dosed with chlorine, then you might not need to.

Brewers in Havelock North, New Zealand will sure tell you how bad the chlorine is in the water after the local Council managed to poison so many residents, so in such regions, you would seriously want to consider using them.

There are other means of removing chlorine and chloramine in the form of active carbon filters. In the context of a home or residence, these units are generally only good for producing tap water. If you need larger volumes of water for brewing with, a carbon filter will take a fair bit of time to filter your water. 

Patience is a virtue, they say. 

If you are using Campden tablets for sanitizing your brewing equipment or wooden barrels that you age your beer in, there are many other options out there, including sodium percarbonate (it's cheap as chips) or something more professional like Powdered Brewery Wash

Fun fact: Campden tablets are also useful in decontamination and neutralization after exposure to tear gas!