How to brew ginger beer


A guide to brewing alcoholic ginger beer


Despite what many recipe sites on the internet may claim, ginger ale and ginger beer are completely different drinks.

The root of it is that Ginger ale is basically fizzy water that's been flavoured with ginger. 

Ale is not brewed.

Alcoholic Ginger beer is a more 'involved' drink that is created by the fermentation of ginger spice, yeast and sugar.

Sounds like making ginger beer is a lot like making beer eh?

The most basic way to make ginger beer is pretty simple:

Ferment a mixture of water, brewer's or baker's yeast, ginger, and sugar; this is kept for a week or longer, with sugar added daily to increase the alcohol content. When ready, this concentrated mix is strained, diluted with water and lemon juice, and then bottled.

how to brew alcoholic ginger beer

How to make alcoholic ginger beer


Here's a stock standard recipe:

  • 2kg ginger
  • 1 kg brown sugar
  • 1/2 kg castor sugar
  • 2 limes
  • 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • Use an 'ale' yeast

This DIY recipe will make 5 gallons of hard ginger beer - simply add the ingredients to your water (which is in a clean, sanitized vessel, a standard beer brewing fermenter or carboy is fine!).

You'll want to shred the ginger in a food processor and then juice your lemon and limes if you're adding them.

Feed the brew a little sugar twice a for three days to feed the brew and allow the yeast something to feed on. The more you do this, the higher the ABV your brew will be.

If you want to 'brew' your ginger beer in a more traditional beer-making sense:


You need to bring your ginger to the boil in a boiling kettle - add the ginger and sugar when the 5 gallons of water is boiling. You can put the ginger in a mesh bag if you like - this will mean fewer bits of it in your final product, making for a clear poor.

Boil your ginger wort for about 60 minutes, watching to ensure you don't get a boil over (this is less likely than with a grain boil, however).

While you're doing the boil, take the time to sanitize your carboy or fermenting drum. I like to use sodium percarbonate, it's cheap and does the job well. Many brewers will use tried and true Star San.

If you are serious about ginger beer clarity, then add some Whirfloc tablets (Irish moss) into your wort just before the end of the boil. Don't add it early or the effectiveness of the Whirlfloc will be reduced.

If you have the equipment, it's time to cool your wort using a counterflow or an immersion coil - this is good for the beer how, if you don't you can simply transfer your wort to your fermenter and let it cool naturally to room temperature.

When your wort is at a room temp, you can pitch your yeast. It is important that your ginger wort is cool as a hot boiling wort will kill the yeast, meaning fermentation will not occur.

You can then let the ginger beer ferment for at least a week. If you are keen, taking readings with a hydrometer so you can work out the final gravity and thus ABV of your ginger beer.

After that week, you can bottle but as with making beer, we'd let it sit for a bit longer to let the yeast do its thing. This increases the chances of any odd off-tastes lingering in your ginger beer.

Before you bottle, you may wish to sweeten your ginger beer. If you do not, it's quite likely that it will be extremely dry, making for a tough drinking experience.

root ginger


If you want to bottle and cap for the long term, pasteurize your ginger beer


Many a brewer has learned the hard way about over carbonation of bottled beer - gushers and exploding glass bottles. The same can happen when brewing ginger beer - so many brewers will use plastic bottles with loosely tightened tops to ensure gas release or tin foil over the top. 

But if you want to bottle and cap for a long term storage solution.

Once you've done your boil up of the ingredients, and pitched your yeast, bottle & cap and let it brew for 2-3 days.

If you let your ginger brew continue to ferment longer than that, you're probably going to get some exploding glass bottles.

So, you need to kill the fermentation process.

Bring a large pot of water to 180F, turn the heat OFF, and add your bottles to the hot bath. Make sure your water level is high enough that it will reach the top of your ginger beer level inside the bottles.

What you are doing is pasteurizing your ginger beer. Let the bottles stand in the hot water for at least 10 - 15 minutes. Remove from the bath and let cool.

Your brew is now pasteurized and 'shelf-stable', meaning you can store it without fear of exploding bottles.  

Your beer will probably have a minimum alcohol content given it fermented to only three days.

If you are really worried about exploding ginger beer, you can condition in plastic bottles, you can also use campden tablets to halt the fermentation process. This does mean your beer will be quite flat as no secondary carbonation will occur in the bottle.  

What yeasts can you use to brew ginger beer?


To make ginger beer you can use brewing yeast or baker's yeast. That said, many homebrewers tend to use the well respected 'Safale US-05', ale yeasts or champagne yeast.

How to make a ginger bug

  • Add 20 grams of grated ginger (leave the skin on) and 30 grams of granulated sugar to a mason jar. Add 300ml of water, and place a cheesecloth on the lid. Store in a place where it will not get disturbed.
  • Over the next 2-4 days (until you see yeast activity in the form of bubbles), keep adding the same amount of grated ginger and sugar. Stir with a clean item to mix up.

Fun facts about ginger beer

  • Used in cocktails like Dark 'n Stormy and the Moscow Mule
  • Brewed ginger beer originated in the Yorkshire region of the UK during the Victorian Era
  • The ginger plant is sometimes known as "bees wine"

Other interesting brews you can make are 'prison hooch', hard seltzer with a kit and of course the classic apple, brew, cider. 

How to use yeast nutrient for beer brewing

Yeast, that magnificent beast of an organism that converts sugars to alcohol, is the key to fermentation 

Fermentation itself is a fairly straightforward process but there are a lot of variables at play to ensure that you get a good tasting beer, let alone a brew that tastes like you intended!

Temperature, time, pH levels and oxygen are key factors.

An overlooked one is often yeast nutrition.

brewing beer with yeast nutrients

Does your beer yeast need nutrients? 


The malt in your beer is usually enough to sustain the yeast cells but in order to thrive (and thus efficiently ferment your beer wort and achieve a high attenuation) other elements such as levels of free amino nitrogen, fatty acids, and even vitamins and other minerals come into play and become factors in a successful brew. 

The truth is though, you could do a hundred brews and never need it but if you a looking for high attenuation rates (how much sugar is consumed by the yeast) or a brewing a beer with a high ABV, it may help as you need a strong yeast to achieve those two goals.  

When should I use a yeast nutrient?


You may also consider using a nutrient if your water is lacking in calcium, magnesium, and zinc as these metals. 

Zinc can help with the cell count while magnesium helps with cellular metabolism.

If your beer is using a high proportion of 'adjuncts', you'll want to consider supporting the yeast too. Sugar alone does not support the yeast so if there's a higher concentration of sugars in your beer, then a nutrient may assist yeast development. 

If you are making wine or cider or mead, you would be more likely to use nutrients as there is less for the yeast to make do with than in the malty beer wort. Honey, for instance, contains no nitrogen.

To cover some of these factors off, many home brewers choose to add yeast nutrient to their beer batch.

The other benefits of adding a yeast 'energizer' include the shortening of the 'lag phase' of fermentation can contribute to a reduction in off-flavours in beer or wine.

Yeast food may also help reduce the final gravity by invigorating the yeast pushing it to a more complete fermentation leading to a reduction of diacetyl or acetaldehyde (that apple flavour). 

There are three modes of yeast nutrition:


  • Nitrogen supplements -  usually in the form of di-ammonium phosphate which is a water soluble salt and or urea, this should be used when there's a lack of free amino nitrogen. Can be used for mead, cider, wine, and beer. Fermax and Fermaid are popular brands used by brewers as it contains the phosphate as well as magnesium sulfate and autolyzed yeast
  • Yeast hulls - dead yeast of which the residue acts as a home for live yeast. Live yeast will eat the hulls and feed on the nutrients contained therein. 
  • Yeast energizers are used to stimulate or restart a stalled fermentation.

Can I add yeast nutrient to my starter?


You sure can. Brewers will often add about a quarter teaspoon to their starters.

Bread bakers have been known to add it to their sourdough starters!

When should I add yeast nutrient to my brew?


It should usually be added at the start of fermentation. If you are using an energizer you will most likely be adding it when fermentation has failed or halted. 

How much yeast nutrient should I add?


Manufacturers typically recommend 1 gram per litre or 1 teaspoon for 5 litres/1 gallon. There should be instructions on the packaging.


What are Servomyces?


This is a yeast supplement produced by the famed yeast developers, White Labs. They boast that 

"Servomyces enables any yeast strain’s ability to incorporate essential nutrients into its cellular structure. It is propagated in a micronutrient rich environment and then killed off prior to packaging.  
Boiling incorporates the servomyces into the wort. The benefit of servomyces is that micronutrients, e.g., zinc are able to pass through its cell walls to your live cell yeast cell, thereby delivering the micronutrients without toxicity."
Check out what White Labs have to offer on Amazon.

So if your beer batch is short of zinc, then using Servomyces may be the right option for you. If you are doing a boil, it is recommended you add one capsule ten minutes prior to the end of the boil. If doing a kit brew, you can open the capsule up and add the Servomyces directly to the wort. 

How to properly store and condition your bottled homebrew

How to properly store your bottled homebrew beer


Proper storage and conditioning of homebrew beer - for better tasting beer


You've done the hard work.

You've prepared a nice wort, added some hops, maybe used a yeast energizer and a beer enhancer and it fermented well. You let it ferment in the drum for a good amount of time.

Then bottling day came and you got your golden brew safely away under the cap.

Now what?

It's time to bottle condition your beer and that doesn't mean you hide it under a blanket in an old swap-a-crate box and forget about it for a few weeks. 

Well actually you can do this, but if you want great tasting beer there are a few things to think about when storing and conditioning beer. 

I'm gonna assume you bottled, left a good level of space in the bottle neck and you've capped the beer and are ready to place the beer somewhere safe. 

First with the warm and then with the cold


When you are bottle conditioning, you are adding a second addition of sugar to your beer. This is so that the second round of fermentation can take place. 

The yeast still present in the beer will eat the sugar and convert it into more alcohol and CO2 - this gas is what carbonates the beer. 

So, just like when you did the first round of fermentation, the yeast does its best work at a warm temperature. So, to properly store your beer so that it is carbonated, the beer needs to be kept warm for a few days. 

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

After a week or so, you can leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C. This will allow the beers to condition quite nicely. 

This thing about the correct temperature is real. 

Let me tell you a story. 

In the middle of a New Zealand winter, I bottled a lager beer and left it in the shed for about a month. It was cold and the sun didn't warm the shed at all. It was actually colder in the shed than outside. 

When I went to crack open the first beer, I did not hear that usually reassuring hiss of gas as it escapes from the bottle. 

The silence was brutal. 

My beer was flat. 

So I opened another bottle and had the same result. And again for a third.

I wondered if I had destroyed my beer somehow but then more sensibly I asked my self 'had fermentation actually occurred'?

It had.

What I had done was wrap the fermenter in plenty of old painting sheets which kept the beer warn enough to allow the first round of fermentation to occur. 

For the bottled beer, the problem was the freezing cold. They had sat in the shed naked as the day they were bottled and bitterly cold. The yeast became inactive and no fermentation occurred. 

The solution was to bring the beers inside where it was warmer.

I placed them in the living room and gradually they warmed up. After two weeks I opened a beer and boom, I was rewarded with the sound of CO2 releasing from the beer. The yeast had appreciated the warmer temperature, came out of hibernation and got to work on the sucrose. 

Problem solved!

Conversely, it is unwise to store beer in too hot a place. For example, don't leave it in a hot attic room all summer. The beer will simply get cooked and probably taste like mouldy cardboard

yeast temperature for beer
Treat your yeast with temperature love


Two important things that can help with proper conditioning of beer:


1. Don't be afraid of the dark


Like a vampire, you should embrace the darkness. 

Beer does not like sunlight at all. Especially if you are using recycled green beer bottles. If your beer is exposed to too much light, it is said to be 'light struck' or 'skunked'. 

The UV light causes yet another chemical reaction in the beer - the hops are broken down by the light and they form a new compound when mixed with the proteins in the beer - giving off a horrid smell just like a skunk can do.

how long to condition beer


2. How long do I let beer condition for?


You have to let your beer condition. The rule of thumb is that your beer is probably drinkable after one week but is only beginning to get close to its best tasting at three weeks. 5 and 6 weeks is even better.

If you've ever found a forgotten beer in the shed that's had three months of conditioning, you probably really enjoyed it right? 

That's just proof you need to give your beer time to mature. Sit back and relax, maybe read Dune or read some Star Wars trivia.

When you are ready to drink your beer, remember it is best served chilled. This reduces the chances of foam pouring out from the top of the bottleneck. This is why placing beers in the fridge overnight works best for serving homebrew. 

Some points to ponder about bottle storage

  • It's really good to have a storage place where the temperature is maintained at a steady & consistent rate.
  • Ales are happy with lower temperatures
  • Lagers are happy with higher temperatures
  • The middle of your house is probably cooler than nearer the outside. That could be a factor where you store beer.
  • If you find your beers are in too hot a place, move them! Seriously, if you leave your beers in an area where it is too hot the yeast produces a really volatile ether (I think) which makes the beer taste like methylated spirits or petrol. I know this occurs from my owner personal experience - I had TWO fermenting drums wrapped in sheets in my shed in a NZ summer and they cooked and the end result was I had to tip my bottled beers out (I didn't realise what had happened until after conditioning but put two and two together). 

Best pH meters for making homebrew in 2021

Want to make the best ph Meter buying choice in 2021?

Here are the 5 best portable pH meters to choose from:

What's the best pH tester for home beer brewing?

Coming from the clean and green wilds of New Zealand, I've never really bothered wondering or worrying about the quality of water I use with my home brewing.

In most places of NZ, the water from the tap is simply delicious, clean and quite perfect for homebrewing and testing is not generally required.

But not all water is the same.

Ever heard of a place called Flint, Michigan?

best -ph meter-testers -beer-2020

My vague recollections of 5th form science are that there's hard water, soft water and everything in between. 

And then there's the pH of water. 

But is that what we care about when making beer? 

Kind of. 

It's really the pH of the mash that brewers like to think about.

pH is the measurement of acidity or alkalinity of a solution, where the number of hydrogen ions is measured.

In the last 10 years or so, an increased understanding of the important role that the pH level of the mash plays in brewing really good beer has driven both commercial and backyard brewers to closely focus on monitoring and then adjusting their mash pH levels as required.

So what is a pH meter?


A pH meter is a calibrated scientific instrument that measures the hydrogen-ion activity in water-based solutions, indicating its acidity or alkalinity.

The pH meter measures the difference in 'electrical potential' between a pH electrode and a reference electrode. This page has an excellent explanation of how ph Meters actually work and explains the science behind them really well.

pH meters may be utilized in many applications ranging from laboratory experimentation to quality control and checking that your batch of wine or kombucha is on the correct fermentation path but for the beer brewer, we are concentrating on the beer mash. The modern food and beverage industries cannot exist without them!

In terms of the home environment, their many uses include soil, aquariums, hot pools, drinking water, swimming pools, home hydroponics, preparation of kombucha and the like.

The best meters are leak-proof, maintenance-free (other than the electrodes), are robust and sturdy in that they don't break easily, and they're not affected by dirt and electrode probe replacement must be straightforward!

They should also be affordable and in many instances work best if handheld.

Here's 5 of the best, mid range and mid price meters that you can find online:


Oakton EcoTestr pH 2+ Pocket pH Meter


Oakton EcoTestr pH 2+ Pocket pH Meter reviewThis is a fairly popular pocket product from Oakton. The display is fairly large with a good viewing angle.

It has indicators for battery life (1000 hours), readiness, and calibration (one touch), and shows both the parameter and temperature readings at the same time.

The cap was recently redesigned to be leak-proof and can be attached to the top of the meter when not being used— so no more lost caps for the homebrewers!

The cap features a fill line, so you know how much beer wort sample you need for an accurate reading when using the cap as a sample cup. It is also wider, providing a base to keep the meter upright for hands-free measurements.

The new housing is compatible with lanyards to prevent losing or dropping, but is still waterproof and floats just in case you drop it into your mash...

Takes four A76 1.5 V miniature alkaline batteries which can achieve a battery life of 100 hours. Why head to good old cheap Walmart when you can check the price on Amazon! Remember if you have Amazon Prime, you can get free shipping!

Milwaukee MW102 PH and Temperature Meter

<< This is our most popular seller! >>

Milwaukee MW102 PH and Temperature Meter
The MW102 Standard Portable pH / Temperature Meter Standard is a standard yet affordable portable meter with no frills. 

The Milwaukee brand is recognized as having a reputation for producing low-cost durable meters for quick and reliable measurements. 

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

The MW102 is a microprocessor-based pH/Temperature meter with extended range (-2.00 to 16.00 pH), Automatic Temperature Compensation, automatic calibration in 2 points and ±0.02 pH accuracy. The meter is supplied with pH electrode and calibration solutions.

It's thus quite ideal for anyone working on a low budget but still requiring fast and reliable measurements.

The full kit comes with:
  • MW102 Unit
  • 9v 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 Manual & Registration Card
  • 20 ml sachet of PH 4.01 Calibration Solution
  • 20 ml sachet of PH 7.01 Calibration Solution
  • 20 ml sachet of PH Storage Solution Packet
The battery life is estimated by at 300 hours and it features an auto-off after 8 minutes of inactivity.

A keen brewer who actually used the instrument reviewed the Milwaukee MW102 as being 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 a quality recommendation.



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.

It's the real deal analyzer.

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

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

The calibration of the pH probe is fairly simple as instructions are supplied on the back of the meter and the easy push button method makes this one of the no-brainer meters to try.

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

Hach Pocket Pro + Plus 9532000 with replacement electrode

hach pocket pro ph tester

Manufacturer Hach reckons that their digital Pocket Pro + will help "take the guesswork out of your measurements" which is entirely the point of a pH meter so a good start that we are on the same page.

Hach Pocket Pro+ is engineered to deliver accurate results. Hach boasts the Pro is backed up with built-in performance diagnostics, you never have to guess when to clean or calibrate the sensor.

Featuring a large, easy-to-read LCD screen, the pH range covers 0 to 14 pH meaning it can be used for more than beer brewing, like hydroponics.

The unit takes 4 Triple AAA batteries which are easy to replace. Hach recommends that the electrodes are replaced every 6 months. This unit comes with a replacement unit.

Hanna Instruments HI98128 pHep 5pH / Temperature Tester


Hanna Instruments HI98128 testerThe Hanna Instruments HI 98128 is a popular compact pH tester used in the laboratory and for industrial applications.

It features:
  • Automatic Temperature Compensation
  • Automatic calibration
  • Dual-line LCD reader screen
  • Replaceable electrode cartridge
  • PPM readings
  • Housing that floats in case you drop it. 
The dual-line LCD screen simultaneously shows the current measurement and the current temperature, and a hold function freezes readings for recording. 

The meter has automatic calibration at one or two points with two sets of standard buffers (pH 4.01/7.01/10.01 or pH 4.01/6.86/9.18). 

The meter has a water-resistant housing, a tactile grip casing, and floats. 

The unit requires four 1.5V AA batteries which provide approximately 300 hours of continuous use. The Hanna meter switches off after eight minutes of inactivity to preserve battery life. 

The meter also comes with an 'HI 73127 pH electrode', an electrode removal tool, and instructions on how to properly use and care for the unit.

This is a cheap and affordable unit so its long-term resilience may be questionable.

Check out the price on Amazon.

Apera Instruments AI312 PH60F Premium pH Pocket Tester

Apera is a well known and trusted brand and one we happily recommend. It's a step up from the cheapest units out there and is a popular selling mid-price model. Diligent maintenance of the electrode will see this unit last the distance.

This handy unit boasts the following features:
  • Easy-to-install Replaceable flat sensor
  • Triple-Junction structure prevents clogging, works great for regular pH measurement
  • Easy Auto Calibration with auto buffer recognition
  • Auto Temperature Compensation 
  • Unique High/ Low-Value HEADS-UP function, instantly reminding you of any results that need your attention with a red backlight; 
  • Auto recognition of stable values (with optional AUTO HOLD function) 
  • Large, clear Liquid Crystal Display with 3 backlit color (indicating 3 different modes)
  • Display both temp and pH simultaneously 
  • Also comes with calibration buffer solutions, calibration bottles, storage solutions, AAA batteries, and a lanyard all in a portable carrying case!
Check out the price on Amazon

But why do brewers care about mash pH?


First of all, beers brewed within a general range of ph tend to brew better than beers that are too acidic or too low in pH.

So, brewers like to take the ph of their mash to determine if it is in the optimal range for the beer they are trying to make.

The optimal range is generally considered to be pH 5.2 to 5.4. A high reading means the beer is too alkaline.

If a brewer's meter determines the pH is too high, they will then need to adjust the level downward by adding acid or calcium sulfate.

Hopbrewer shares their advice: “The conventional wisdom is that a mash pH of 5.0-5.2 is pushing a crisper beer — you’d aim for that with a pilsner or IPA or pale ale. Once you get to a pH of 5.3-5.6, you might get more roundness and less of that tart character. But you also run the risk of extracting tannins.”

So how do I use a Ph Meter to test my beer mash?


pH meters are basically glorified voltmeters that measure the 'electrical potential' produced by a special pH probe.

Using a pH meter is a fairly simple process.

One should generally draw a small sample of the wort and put it in a clean holding vessel such as a shot glass. Dip the probes fully into it to get a pH reading. 

Make sure your device is turned on and that you have calibrated the meter first!

And remember, the mash can be hot, so be careful not to burn yourself.

THAT said, pH levels should be measured at near room temperature to get an accurate result (that's just good science). So if you could cool your sample quickly (a short time in the fridge), maybe give a stir, you'll get a genuine reading.

Don't cool it too much as you'll go below room temperature. I've read that one dude keeps shot glasses ready in the freezer to help with cooling!

Eh, that's a bit of mucking around, maybe do not worry too much...

THAT said, many of the best pH meters will have Automatic Temperature Calibration features and speaking of features...


Why do I have to calibrate my ph Meter?


You need an accurate reading so you can make the best decision for your beer!

To make a calibration curve at least three standards are needed. Without the standardized pH buffer to calibrate the meter, the results will not be accurate and thus give you the wrong impression.

PH meters can 'drift' from their calibrated settings. It is important to calibrate your pH meter often so that the accuracy of results is maintained.

What are the specifications of a good ph Meter?


The best ph Meters can have the following specifications or qualities:
  • Replaceable electrode 
  • 2-3 point automatic calibration 
  • Accuracy of 0.01 pH 
  • Portable or fixed or 'benched' depending on your need but most home brewers go portable
  • A price point between $100 - $150 gives confidence in the quality of the unit
  • Automatic Temperature Compensation (ATC)
  • Built to last
  • An easy to read digital display
  • Waterproof
  • Durable sensors

What is Automatic Temperature Compensation?


Many higher quality meters use ATC functionality. This is when the unit compensates for the response of the pH meter's electrode with varying temperature.

As mentioned elsewhere in this post the mash's pH measurement is ideally conducted at room-temperature. This helps avoid measurement errors that can be caused by temperature effects on the probe and chemically in the mash.

So ATC accounts for differing temperatures of the mash.

Probes can wear out so require proper storage


Probes wear out over time and you should expect that you’ll have to replace quality ones every 2-3 years if you take good care of it and how much use they get.

The probes should be stored in a pH storage solution to preserve their lifespan. Open, dry air ruins their potential. So when buying your pH meter you need to purchase a pH buffer or 'calibration kit'.

This is why units like the Milwaukee MW102 and Omega PHH-7011 come with solutions but replacement calibration kits can be separately brought online. You might see them called 'reference solutions'.

The Bluelab Combo Meter is very popular with horticulturalists and hydroponics enthusiasts (yes, even marijuana growers...)

Keeping the probe clean after each use will prolong their life - it's a good idea to clean the outside with a soft toothbrush and deionized water, being very gentle with the bulb part of the probe if this is the kind you have.

It's extremely important to never let the probe dry out and this is a common mistake when storing ph meters. To this end, it is imperative that you store the electrode as per the manufacturers' instructions.

The normal way to store the probe electrode is in the recommended storage solution which is normally a concentrated form of potassium chloride.

Be wary of buying cheap pH meters


I see the phrase "where can I buy a cheap pH meter for brewing?" all the time. While I understand money talks, I don't think cheapness should really be a motivation when buying a meter or indeed most brewing equipment for that matter

The cheaper the unit, the more likely you will get less than accurate readings and the units electrodes themselves will not last long if used frequently.

Many brewer has found that by investing in a better quality unit, they get the best results. To that end, we generally recommend a price point from 100 to 150 dollars. That said you can go 'cray cray' on price so if going high value, make sure you will get the benefit.

More serious brewers tend to go for benchtop units rather than the portable kind.

You could liken it to how beginner brewers start out. The first thing they buy is a brew kettle or pot and they usually get the cheaper, smaller size kettle – and then suddenly they find they want to keep going with beer making and so need to purchase the bigger kettle or brewing pot

It's the same with the pH meter - get the better one to save you having to buy another later on.

Finally, a word on pH strips


Did you ever get to use litmus paper in school science to determine if a solution was an acid or a base?

The red paper turned blue or something.

While litmus paper is a yes or no test if a solution is acidic or alkaline, the pH strip gives you an approximate measurement of the actual pH.

Thus, you can use ph strips to test your beer if you wish but those will only give an indication as to your water or brew's pH level, and will never be as accurate as a quality meter.

OK, so my pH level is too high, what do I do?


You can use gypsum to increase bitterness and reduce ph levels. You can also consider changing your water source if possible, bad luck if you live near Flint.

How to use a Soda Stream to carbonate flat beer

Can you use a Soda Stream to carbonate beer?


The short answer is yes. 


The slightly longer answer is yes but it's gonna get messy if you force carbonate homebrew beer without following the advice below. 


how to carbonate beer with a soda maker


Here's how to safely and cleanly use a Soda Stream machine to carbonate flat beer

Soda Stream machines are a classic piece of kitchen equipment. If there was one thing I was envious of my mate John as a kid, it was his soda machine. After school we'd head to his house, eat mountains of hot toast and butter and wash it down with homemade red fizzy. 

It was the best. 

But now I'm an adult and I've cracked open a home brew expecting to hear that wonderous sounding FITZZZ of CO2 escaping from my beer ... and nothing. 

The sound of silence. 

And defeat. 

Or am I defeated? 

A trick to fix/fizz a flat beer is to add a fresh beer to it! It's a handy rescue to be able to open a can of beer and pour into the flat beer. 

But what if I don't have a spare beer?

The soda stream machine is starting to look pretty good eh? 

So? Shall I pour my flat beer into a Soda Stream bottle, synch it with the machine and press the bubble maker? 

Only if you are a very brave brewer. 

One simply doesn't stuff the gas into the bottle at an explosive rate. Soda is generally carbonated to at least twice the pressure of beer so do this can be a risky little game.

Otherwise, this will happen:

beer carbonation explosion


With that in mind, you may want to do your initial testing outside. Ideally, before you begin these steps your flat beer will be as chilled as possible. 

1. Transfer the flat beer into a genuine Soda Steam bottle. You do not have to have it filled to the line on the bottle - a single bottle of beer will mix with the CO2...
2. Connect the bottle properly. This is a must. If you do not, the beer proteins will connect with the CO2 in ways that will cause a beer explosion. 
3. Give the machine ONE frim press of gas and then release your finger. Do not do an extended press of the button. Such a move will greatly increase your chances of beer spillage.
4. Let the newly carbonated beer 'settle' in the machine before you release the bottle from the Soda Stream. Trust me, let it sit a bit. Your bottle may be quite foamy and fizzy. Let it settle.
5. Remove from the device and pour your beer into a cold glass. 

This is the time to assess what you have done. 

Did it work? Did you put enough gas in?

Did you put too much? (You'll have learned quite quickly if you did!)

This is where some muscle memory comes in so that you learn just how much to press the Soda Stream button. Too little, you're beer will still be flat. Too much and it will be all over the floor. 

burping beer with CO2 soda maker


Pro tip: The more you burp CO2 in your beer, the greater the chance of an explosion of foam all over the ceiling and the odd chance an over-pressurized bottle goes flying off the Soda Stream! Also, the fresher or more filled the CO2 Cannister is, the greater the rate of release of CO2 into the beer. So hold back on massive depresses of the button if you have a fresh gas bottle!

Here's a handy video lesson that guides you step by step:

 



REMEMBER TO CLEAN YOUR SODA MACHINE

Rinse off the valve of the Soda Stream with water. Beer residue can get quite icky and reduce the efficiency of the valve and impact normal making soda practices. 

What about conditioning beer with Soda Stream?

All of the above advice has been to rescue a flat beer, not as part of the consideration of carbonating a whole fermenting drum with a view to capping the newly gassed beer for conditioning. 

I honestly have no idea if this would work. So, some 'google fu' tells me you can do this. This perhaps seems counterintuitive but there we go. I venture however using a Soda Stream for full carbonation is a costly way to carbonate beer. You are probably better off priming your fermenter drum with sugar and bottling. The choice, as always Dear Brewer, is yours. 

Fair Warning: The Soda Stream instruction manual CLEARLY states to not use their device for anything other than making soda water. You have been warned.  

Venting over carbonated beer bottles



Have you ever had a beer gusher


They damn well suck.

You casually open your beer and whoosh! There's beer foam all over the bloody place. 

Why did this happen? 

venting home brew beer gushers

The fizz is the result of over carbonation. 


There could be a few reasons for this. 

1. You bottled too soon and fermentation continued.
2. Your beer is infected by bacteria and they have overproduced on the CO2
3. You added too much sugar at bottling time.
4. You served your beer too warm

All these factors you have a strong degree of control over. 

If you've bottled too soon, you should have taken a final gravity reading and determined that matched the kind of beer your making and that you had the same reading two days in a row. 

If your beer is infected, it's quite likely you didn't clean and sterilize your equipment and bottles properly. I've said this a million times on these pages, you got do the basics and do them well

And if you added too much sugar, you might want to rethink your practices. If you batch primed, how much sugar did you add?

From my experience 40 - 60 grams is enough sugar to prime 23 litres of beer.

 Any more and you will quite likely get gushers. 

If you added sugar individually to each bottle, then you clearly added too much sugar. I used to use a good amount of sugar, now I try and use half a tea spoon of sugar. It's more than enough. 

If you want a consistent and safe measure, you can always consider using carbonation drops when bottling your brew

How to fix gusher beers by venting the bottle



To fix over carbonation, vent your beers individually. 

The technique is that you gently pry the bottle cap open so that only a part of the cap is exposed, let the CO2 escape and then quickly recap.

You need to all of this before the gusher occurs! If you are clever you should be able to use your bottle opener to both open and close the cap with the same action. 

It will be a long, painful process and you'll likely need to repeat the venting on each bottle if there is a lot of built up pressure. 

I have found in the past that the colder the beer is, the less likely it is to gush or be too fizzy or foamy.

Thus I would recommend that you leave your beers in a fridge for 24 hours before attempting this little rescue job of your beer.

Let's be clear though - if you've got gushers because you've got a bacteria problem, your beer is rooted and you'll need to tip it out and sterilize the bottles very well. Or you can store for a long time and hope the beer sorts itself out. That's kind of a Hail Mary move though...




A wee risk to bear in mind 


Over-pressurized beer can explode.

And that means glass can explode. I've seen the result in my man shed - green glass everywhere and the dank smell of wasted beer. 

If your under pressure beers are at that much of an extreme point you should ask yourself is it safe to vent?

While beer bottles are generally tough, the risk is there so I'd recommend you use gloves and a good pair of safety googles or glasses

What's the lesson here then? 


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

How to identify '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.

Like GNR, all we need is a little bit of patience. 

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

This 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.

how to identify bad flavors in beer

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 / air vent 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 odours. 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 making 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.

I have to admit, I made this mistake. It's so disappointing to discover when bottling your beer doesn't smell like when it started and a quick taste test reveals the truth...

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 bottled beer condition for a good length of time will also give the fusels a chance to break down. It's not a guarantee of fixing the problem. If you have a mild case, your odds get better with each day of conditioning. 

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 occurring. 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 non-stainless metal kettles and poor water. 
  • Salt - you probably added salt to your beer. Add too much and you wreck the taste balance.
  • 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 homebrew (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 your 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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