How to Home Brew Beer

Learn how to easily brew great tasting beer.

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Easy beginner's guide to home brewing from a beer kit

beginner's guide to making home brew from a kit

Beginner's guide to brewing beer from a kit


Well done you on deciding to brew some home brew.

This guide will help guide through making your first batch of beer using a kit, step by step. It's a 'how to' for using beer kits and not beer from 'scratch'.

There is no boiling of the wort wizardry here, just some brewing 101 tips as if they came from a brewing book!

That fancy 'brewing day' in a pot stuff will come later, probably when you've got a couple of brews under your belt and you're ready to go up a grade.

If you are genuinely interested in learning how to brew beer, then a beer kit is a great way to start as you can quickly learn the fundamentals beer making in the comfort of your own kitchen or man shed.

The brewing of beer is actually an act of scientific exploration.

Now get to it!

Getting ready, at which point I assume you are ready to make beer

I'm going to assume you have a brand new beer kit for making beer.

Your loving partner may have given it to you for Christmas (mine did!) or maybe you got there yourself out of curiosity. Either way good on your for giving beer making a go.

You have all the ingredients and supplies:


You will have all the equipment.

You'll have a fermenter  - possibly a 30 litre drum or 5 gallon glass carboy.

You have access to boiling water and also to cold water.

You'll have a clean working space such as a kitchen bench and you'll have enough time to not be interrupted.

When I brew from home brew kits I do it after dinner when the kids are in bed and the dishes are done. It's just easier that way.

I might even have a couple of beers while I do the job, because it seems a natural enough thing to do right?

It's time to clean and sanitize your equipment

In case you hadn't heard, your beer wort needs a warm and clean environment in which to ferment.

That means all that nasty bacteria that are on your stirring spoon and on the inside of your fermenter drum or bottle needs to be thoroughly cleaned and then sanitized.

Your homebrew starter kit should have provided you with a sachet of a cleanser and also a sanitizer (people often refer to this process as sterilization, just go with it).

Leave your drum to soak for as long as possible (even though it's new, it's likely had all the equipment stored inside it if it's a drum, so heaps of opportunity for nasties to find a home in there).

If you plan on continuing to brew beers, this is the start of your habit of cleaning and sanitizing all your equipment every single time you make beer.

Every.

Single.

Time.

So once you are sure everything has had a good soak, carry on my wayward son to making a top-rated beer.

The rest is easy...

There are plenty of beer making methods.

We can do it in four steps.

Step 1 - Malt Up


beer extract kit sitting in a pot of water
If you're smart, you may have already put your opened tin of extract malt into a pot of boiling water so that it's warmed up and can be easily poured into your fermenter.

Sometimes I leave it sitting on the top of my closed fireplace, this works well too.

At this point, I like to put on some fancy surgical gloves so as to avoid the mess that's probably about to happen all over your kitchen bench.

Add your extract malt and about 3 liters of boiling water to your fermenter.

Stir with a sterilized stirring device until it's all dissolved.

Don't accidentally leave the spoon in your kit...

Your brew kit probably came with a beer enhancer, now is the time to add it and dissolve as well.

If your kit did not have an enhancer, you really should think about adding some and you will get a better mouth feel and enjoy your beer that much better.

Otherwise, you're probably going to add 1kg of dextrose or ordinary sugar (we do not recommend that as it will affect how your beer tastes).

Step 2 - Water is the essence of aqua...


It's time to add the water.

I like to use the garden hose so I carry the fermenter to the kitchen back door and go for gold.

The water in NZ where I'm from is pretty good. If the water is of poor quality where you come from, you may wish to find a better source of water, at the least boil it maybe.

I guess the basic rule is if you can handle drinking a glass of water from it, that's your source. Expert brewers like to test the pH level to ensure it will suit the beer.

Fill your fermenter to 5 gallons of water or to the 23 liter mark. Stick with that, your malt kit has been designed with exactly this amount of water in mind. If you add to much water, your wort will be diluted and your beer's 'mouthfeel' will be unappealing. If you add to little, you will actually raise the 'alcohol by volume' content of your beer.

Which is fine if you like things like that but remember, in doing so you are changing the profile of your beer.

yeast cells for beer
Yeast

Step 3 - Yeastie Boys


It's time to add the yeast. This is called 'pitching'.

Seasoned pros will tell you to never use the yeast that comes in your starter kit or with your can of malt as it may be old or damaged or whatever.

I'm thinking you just want to make some bloody beer so throw what came with your kit into to your fermenter and worry about that kind of issue when it actually occurs.

But wait!

Make sure the temperature of the water is close to in line with the instructions on the tin of malt - you want to give the yeast a chance to activate so don't put it in or 'pitch' it if you're out of whack. That said in my experience just pitch it in when you're ready.

There are plenty of good brewing thermometers out there but your fermenter may have a heat sensitive sticker on the side which tells the temperature.

But be warned, only pitch your yeast when you've added the extra water and chilled the wort - if you pitch your yeast into the boiled wort, you will kill the yeast which means you'll have no fermentation happening and you'll have a malty drink on your hands.

You're not making Panhead Supercharger here, you're making your first batch of home brew.

Protip - aerate your wort with a pump prior to pitching yeast to give the yeast a performance boost (but when bottling, try to avoid aeration as much as possible).

hops for brewing with beer kits








Step 4 - Hop to it


If your kit came with some hops or you were smart enough to procure some, chuck them in now, maybe half the packet. This is called dry hopping.

Some might recommend adding the hops 5 days into the fermentation process but we say just get on with it.

Close up the fermenter, make sure the drum or cap is on firmly.

Add your airlock with water inside. You'll use this to keep track of fermentation by observing the CO2 bubbles as they are released during fermentation.

A failure to see bubbles does not mean fermentation has failed!

Take a hydrometer reading

Step 5 - Let fermenting beer lie


This has now become a waiting game.

Once you've put your beer in a suitable place where the temperature will be fairly consistently warm, leave her alone.

Set and forget...

Well not quite - if you have a hydrometer, take a reading and write it down. You will need it to be able to work out when fermentation is complete and also the alcohol content of your beer.

A loose guide is when the bubbles are finished, fermentation is usually complete. Once you are sure this is the case, you can think about bottling your beer.

This is an occasion where you should consider completely ignoring the instructions on the can and leave your brew in the fermenter for about 2 weeks.

While at face value fermentation is complete, the yeast will still be interacting with everything and this extra time will greatly improve the quality of your beer.

Be patient!

Let me know when you are ready to bottle!

So the short summary on how to make your home made beer:


1. Add your malt from the can to 3 litres of hot water
2. Add any brew enhancer or dextrose, as well as any hops. Stir it all up.
3. Fill fermenter to 23 litres or 6 gallons with cold.
4. Check the temperature is OK and then pitch in your yeast.
5. Add the airlock, firmly seal the drum and place in a cool position.
6. Ensure fermentation is complete. You may want to use a hydrometer during this stage.
7. Bottle when ready but it's best to let your brew sit for 2 to 3 weeks.

So that's the rough guide to brewing beer from a kit.

As you can read, it's a pretty straight forward exercise and you don't need a Bachelor of Food Technology to get it right.

It's about good old home economics and it's a little bit about applying some common sense.

You might want to bear these easy to make mistakes in mind.

The absolute key things to bear in mind are having properly sanitized equipment, follow this guide and it's hopefully helpful beer making instructions more or less and don't stress.

Beer can be a tough mistress, but it can be pretty forgiving...

When you've become an expert on making a good beer mash, you might want to start thinking about the pH levels of your beer.

What I'ved learned after 5 years of brewing



What I've learned 5 years in about brewing


There was a time a winter or two back when I was sitting in my man shed watching Star Trek: The Voyage Home and I was wrapped in a blanket but still freezing and I cracked open a beer I made -  a loose clone of Steinlager, which if you don't know is a very celebrated New Zealand beer - it's a commercially brewed beer that is actually quite an excellent drop.

Anyways, my cloned version tasted so damn good I had surprised myself with just how perfect homebrew it was, especially for a kit beer.

So I drank about 4 of them as Kirk and Spock saved the whales.

Who'd of thought kit beer would taste so good?

Actually millions of us, kit beers are really so handy an option these day's especially if time is a luxury and you don't have all the steel that you need to brew your grains all day.

Have you ever had 2-minute noodles?

They are fine in a pinch for a meal. But if you add a few things to them you can get a  really fine meal. Cut up some spring onion, some chives or garlic and drop it in. Maybe add some prawns and a hint of chili or even an egg and your two minute ramen noodles have a delicious meal.

And I've learned, it's the same when brewing with beer kits. Sure, you can make a nice beer with a kit, but it's all the extra things you do that can make a kit beer into something really delicious to drink, a beer that you won't mind sharing with friends.

Beer kits for brewing have had a long history and part of that is this legacy effect that they didn't make good beer. I've heard stories about people making home brew in bath tubs which probably explains why that beer tasted awful but probably the real reason they didn't come up to par was that they used ordinary sugar instead of dextrose during primary fermentation.

It's actually really easy to make beer using a kit - it's like making a cake.

And if it is one thing I have learned it's that when making a beer kit brew, you need a really good beer enhancer to ensure you get that brew rocking. A beer enhancer is a combination of dextrose and maltodextrin.

How these two ingredients condition the beer is key:

The dextrose serves as the food for the yeast and is thus excellent to use in the fermentation process.

The maltodextrin, however, does not ferment and thus forms part of the beer solution giving the beer it's mouthfeel and a true sense of body, both of which are important qualities that one can judge a quality beer by.

On the other hand, simply using a whole KG of sucrose if you're making 23 litres of beer means you yeast can go a bit crazy which results in your brew tasting too sweet or 'cidery' as the effect is commonly described.

That said, a handy trick for increasing the alcohol content of your beer is by adding additional sugars - you can get away with cane sugar or the by using honey but just note that too many sugars can 'thin your beer out meaning you get a less flavorsome beer and a weakened body.

If you do wish to add extra sugars to your beer, why not add them later - let the dextrose do it's thing with the yeast first.

One of the other things I learned really on was just how massive the part temperature plays on the brewing and fermentation processes.

I'd brewed and bottled a batch and left them to condition in the shed for a couple of weeks.

It was the middle of winter so you might be able to see where this is going.

hen I cracked open the first beer, I did not hear that usually reassuring hiss of CO2 gas and I thought something was up.

Sure enough, the beer had not carbonated.
Another bottle and had the same sad result.

And the third.

Dang!

I realised that there were some potential causes. Perhaps I had screwed up the brewing process. Maybe I had added the yeast when the wort was too hot and killed it? Maybe some kind of bacteria had killed the beer. 

Perhaps I forgot to add sugar for secondary fermentation?

I actually suspected the beer had not actually gone through secondary fermentation. 

Beer yeast does its best work at a warm temperature. Lager and ale yeasts work at different temps but for the home brewer that's bottle condition, the temperature cannot be so cold the yeast curls up and hides. 

In my situation, that meant bringing the bottles inside the house for a few days just to give the yeast a chance to start bottle fermentation.

After three days of warmth in the living room, I opened one to finally hear that satisfying escape of gas. Problem solved. 

The lesson I learned then is that to properly store your beer so that it is carbonated, the beer needs to be kept warm for a few days before it goes to a cooler part of the house or shed for lagering. 

There's a genuine benefit to condition bottled beer in a cool spot. By keeping your lagers cold, there's a strong likelihood there will be minimal production of unwanted esters and fusel alcohols.

Another big learning I had was about sanitization.

Where ever someone is making beer, you will find someone talking about the need to have clean brewing equipment that is properly sanitized. While I have found some of the 'chatter' over the top, one absolutely needs to have good sanitization practices when making beer.

There are many ways you can do this but very early on I took some advice about using sodium percarbonate as a 'cleaner' and found that's all I need to use on my carboys, gear and bottles.

The beauty of using sodium percabonate is that it's the main ingredient of laundry soak so you may already have some of this agent in your own home!

Let me elaborate:

These products, such as name brands like Oxyclean are designed for washing clothes and yes, the percentage of sodium percarbonate is far less than buying percarbonate by itself in bulk but it works.

It really works.

So why do it?

Because it's cheap and it works.

It really does.

I repeated myself so you get the message. And the message is clean your gear and sanitize the heck out of it.

I also like to add boiling water into the mix - the hot water will help kill any localised bacteria that might be lurking in the corners and hard to reach places.

You don't have to use sodium percarbonate, many brewers swear by a product known as PBW, which stands for powdered brewery wash.

If you looked up any beer brewing forum and you will find seasoned beer brewers raving about this product and they will be recommending it to all and sundry because they think it is so awesome.

PBW is ideal for use with carboys and fermentors. It will also get the crud of all the pots and kettles on brew day - all you gotta do is soak them in a solution of PBW.

It's also handy for removing pesky labels from beer bottles that you want to use for homebrew. Give them a good soak and those labels will come off in no time.

It will not necessarily kill the bugs that might linger, for which you need a good santizer but I suspect it's a bit like sodium percarbonate and once you've cleaned your gear with PBW, you'll be ready to rock and roll.

You can even make your own DIY version of PBW.

Batch priming beer and higher alcohol content


Another thing I have learned is that, on balance, it's an easier bottling day if you batch prime the whole of your beer with one dose of sugar rather than adding sugar individually to each bottle.

Batch priming will save you time as you simply add the right about of sugar into your fermenter when compared to bottling but the real benefit is that you get a consistent amount of sugar in each bottle - so if you get the amount of sugar right, each of your beers should each consistently taste the same.

A fan favourite trick is to give one's beer a bit of kick, that is to say, a higher alcohol content.

Sure, you can just add an extra 500 grams of sugar into the fermenter and let the yeast feed on that to boost the ABV up a bit but there's a little more to it than that, in that you have options.

You can add the following ingredients to boost your beer's buzz:
  • Hopped Malt Extract (HME)
  • Liquid Malt Extract (LME)
  • Dry Malt Extract (DME)
  • Table sugar
  • Corn sugar (dextrose)
  • Honey
  • Brown sugar
Adding extra sugars such as corn sugar (dextrose), table sugar, and brown sugar will all help to boost and increase the beer's ABV.

The potential downside is that extra sugars do intend to make a beer taste drier and thin out the body and mouthfeel of the beer.

You may also be able to taste more bitterness in any added hops.

Maple syrup, golden syrup and lollies like jelly beans can also be used but they will all influence the taste of your beer.

It's an oft-recommended practice that no more than 1/3 of your beer's ABV level should be a result of non-malt adjuncts or fermentable sugars. That is to say, don't over saturate your beer with extra sugars!

As an example, if you are making a 6 percent ABV beer then you shouldn't add extra products that will contribute 2 percent of that total.

The more sugar you put in, the more pressure that you place on the yeast as those cells will eat and eat. A keen player will consider adding more yeast nutrients to the wort which may give the original yeast a new lease of life and extend fermentation.

Making your beer clear


One of the goals of many a brewer is to get clear beer. A good clear beer, free of gunk and sediment has the benefits of tasting better and pouring better too. A good color also adds to the drinking experience.

I've learned there are a few ways to help clear your beer, so let's have a look three techniques you can use. 

Using finings to clear beer


Finings are agents that are added at or near the completion of brewing beer to the fermenter. Their chief goal is is to remove unwanted organic compounds to help improve the beer clarity - as no one likes cloudy beer. Finnings can also be for wine, cider and alcoholic ginger beer.

Finings act by precipitating and then binding with the compounds that reduce beer clarity. They then fall to the bottom of the brewing fermenter drum or carboy - when you bottle, you do not use the sediment, so there's a stronger chance your beer will have cleared just nicely.

If you have made a batch of beer in a drum or carboy, just add the contents of sachet to the beer, about 3 days before you intend to bottle the beer. Make sure you securely shut the lid on the fermenter.

If you have done a boil, you can simply add the finings at the end of that process.

Such a simple part of the process!

Cold crashing homebrew


It's when you make your beer so cold that all the yeast 'leftovers' in your brew fall to the bottom meaning you can bottle or keg your beer, safe in the knowledge there will be little sediment left in the bottles and it will be quite clear.

Cold crashing is a popular alternative to using finings.

When you are ready to bottle or keg your beer, now is the time to cold crash. If it's winter, you're in luck, place the fermenter or carboy in your extremely cold shed for a full 24 hours and that will effectively cold crash the beer.

What happens at this point is the beer cools to the point yeast can clump together (floccuate). Gravity will then do its 'thing' the newly formed clumps other impurities will fall to the bottom.

That's the old school method of cold crashing. There's a handy way to do it all year round by using a fridge.

Place your 23 litre drum in an old but working refrigerator which ideally the temperature going to be close to zero but no more than five degrees centigrade. 24 hours in the fridge will induce the cold crash and you can then bottle or keg.

The most important thing to remember when cold crashing is that it should only be done when primary fermentation is complete - to be sure this has occurred you can take readings with your hydrometer. When you have two readings the same on consecutive days, fermentation is complete (I do recommend you let your beer sit for a further week though - this will let the yeast work its magic a little more and help remove some unwanted smells and the like.

Cold conditioning or 'lagering' your homebrew


The lagering process was born when it was discovered by alcoholic vikings that beer left in cold caves turned out pretty good after it had been left for a fair period of time.

Due to lager yeasts operating best at lower temperatures, they actually ferment the beer at a lower rate than compared to ales which often ferment at higher temperatures.

This means you should let your lagers condition in a cold area as possible - this process will help with your beer clarity too!

If you are doing a boil, chilling your wort can also help remove unwanted items from your beer.

beer hops
Here's a few pointers on using hops

Understanding how temperature affects the beer


The final thing to think about is the other side of cold, and that's warmth. There are a few points in the fermentation process where your beer benefits from being warm.

If you know the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Beers, you'll know that she eats the bear's porridge and she finds it:

Too hot

Too cold

And just right!

Which is how the temperature of beer works in determining that beer tastes just right. A beer that is brewed at too high a temperature may produce unwanted fruity flavours (esters) or excessive diacetyl traits and it will not taste like you intended it to.

'Pitching yeast’ is simply what one does when adding your yeast to the wort. It needs to be done at the correct time in the brew so that it can activate properly and begin fermenting. If you pitch your yeast when your brew is too hot (say you’ve just boiled it), you will kill the yeast with the heat and fermentation will not occur.

Brewers use tools like wort chillers to bring boiled beer down to pitching range.

It's also a good practice to store your bottled beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning). As we discussed above, beer that's too cold won't even brew at all. And that's just no fun, even for Goldilocks.

↠ Tips on how to properly brew a good lager

brewing lager beer

How to easily make a great lager home brew


You might have heard that it's hard to home brew a good lager.

You might have heard beer kit lagers can be unforgiving beers to make and any mistakes will ruin the beer.

It's almost ironic that the world's most popular beer style is apparently too hard to make.

But, is this really the case?

What if I told you it was easy to make a great tasting kit lager brew?

Would you believe me?

The proof is in the tasting of course. Let me show you the secrets and tips of making a delicious lager from a beer kit.

I've made some great lagers and I look back fondly on the batch I called 'J' and just how good it came out. I was basically trying to make a Steinlager clone and it was truly superb.

If this backyard brewer can easily make a great lasting lager, you can too.

Are you ready for the secret of easily making a good lager?

Stop reading all the online nonsense and JUST BREW IT.

That's all you have to do. It's that easy a tip.

JUST BREW IT.

But just in case you think I'm pulling your leg, here's some tricks and tips for brewing lagers.

Don't rush in like a school boy


The key to making a good lager is patience.

Even if you think fermentation is complete, let your lager beer rest a few more days longer in the fermenter.

It's a chemical process after all. 

It's very common for lagers to exhibit sulfur like characters during fermentation (hence part of the rationale for people saying lagers are hard to brew).

Keaving your beer to sit for a bit longer will allow such characteristics to fade and largely disappear - which leaves you with a great tasting and smelling lager.

In the cold, cold night


In conjunction with time, lagers need the cold to condition and mature.

It's a lesson the Nordic people discovered long ago - they put their beer in cold caves over the winter and found they came out well ... lagered!

Indeed, the word lager actually means storeroom or warehouse so you can see how the cave thing / naming of the style happened.

Ideally, once you have bottled your lager, leave it in a warmish place to carbonate for a few days. If it's TOO cold at this stage, you won't get bubbles in your beer!

Once carbonation takes place, feel free to put your beer bottles in the garden shed for a few weeks where it's nice an cold.

For this reason, it's often considered good timing to make your lager near the end of autumn or the start of winter.

Keeping your lager cold will result in the production of fewer esters and fusel alcohols, giving your beer a better taste balance.

Expert brewers often refrigerate their lager.

Consider a using a well known lager yeasts 


It's a trait of lager that certain yeasts tend to suit being lagered. Your larger kit will come with a standard yeast - if you're feeling adventurous, you might want to order the Lager Yeast WL833 - it's a popular yeast for lager brewing.


Match your hops to well known lager hops


Saaz hops, in particular, are associated with the brewing of lagers as well as the classic German hop, Hallertauer . We've discovered New Zealand derived Green Bullet hop is also very handy.

Read more on good hop matches to beer.


You need to be  super vigilant with your sanitisation


Ales are more forgiving than lagers, it's true.

The taste of an ale can over power some of the niggles of brewing like unwanted smells.

So, to avoid these happen to your lager beer, the best cure is prevention.

That means being meticulously clean during the brew and ensuring your equipment is sanitized.

The tip here? Sanitize, sanitize and sanitize.

Remember what the word lager means! 


It means basically to store.

So once you have bottled your beer, leave it to store for as long as you can.

Maybe even over the whole of winter, in a cold place.

At a minimum three weeks but it could be worth leaving your lager alone for a couple of months.

Summary - how to easily brew a lager:

  • Leave your brew to ferment a little longer than you would and ale
  • Select a tried and true lager yeast
  • Match with appropriate hops
  • Watch your temperatures, especially post bottling for carbonation and conditioning.
So these have been a few basic tips that will help you easily make a fine tasting lager beer.

Forget the hysteria that it's hard to make a lager and JUST DO IT!

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.