What effect do hops have on beer?


What are hops and what do they do to beer?

Hops are what makes beer taste wonderful!

At their most basic form, hops are the cone-shaped flower of the plant known as 'Humulus lupulus'. 

Hops may be added to the beer wort to impart a bitterness which balances the sweet malt flavour of beer.

Hops can be used to create a variety of tastes and to offer unique aromas which enhance the drinking experience. 

Beer makers of the last millennium recognized that hops were a crucial element of brewing good beer. It was the Germans who were amongst the first beer makers to recognize their needs. So much so, it became the law that only hops could be used in beer as opposed to another beer flavoring such as anise (aniseed), heather and rosewood. 

The beauty of the hops plant is that its varieties give different qualities to the beer, meaning there are so many opportunities for making brewing discoveries.

The climate and location of where the hops are grown help determine these qualities but most importantly, the alpha or beta acids of the hop cause the greatest contribution. 

Hops also offer the ability to act as a stability agent, preventing spoilage of the beer (hence Indian Pale Ales shipped to India from Great Britain were heavily hopped). Its properties allow the beer yeast to thrive over any other potential contaminants.

It also helps with head retention and acts as a natural clarifier agent.

Hops also contain oils which add to the flavour. Hops can be added at different points in the brewing process and the differing temperatures will also have an effect on those oils and flavour. 

Hop associations with certain kinds of beers 

Certain kinds of hops are commonly associated with particular styles of beer or beer from certain regions.

Here's some common examples: 
  • Pilsner beers have become nearly synonymous with the four popular 'noble hops' being the varieties of hop called Terrnanger, Spalt, Hallertauer and Saaz. Saaz hops in particular are associated with the brewing of lagers, most for the aroma that has become associated with the beer. Pilsner beers are known to traditionally come from the Czech Republic.
  • The English Golding hop has become the signature hops of English ale. The Fuggle hop is another popular hop used for ale. 
  • America has become a home for hop production and many new varieties from old favorites have been developed. American hops are recognized and appreciated all around the world for the bold, and often intense flavors they impart to beer. American hops are often described as being citrus-like, however that's a most rudimentary description.
Hops in pellet form
Hops in pellet form

What form do hops come in for brewing?

Hops are traditionally distributed as pellets, plugs or whole leaf but they now can come in cyro hop form.

What hops should I use in my beer brewing? 

It of course depends on what kind of beer you are trying to make. If you are making beer clones or following recipes, you probably want to follow what other brewers have found to work well. 

Here's a list of some common hops that are often used by home brewers and ones I have used myself:
  • Cascade: This is an extremely popular American hop. Known for its floral hop trait, it is often liked to a grapefruit. Cascade is known as a versatile hop variety that is popular for bittering, finishing and dry hopping of pale ale and American-style beers.
  • Czech Saaz: as mentioned a popular hop for pilsner and lager style beers. Saaz offers a delicate, mild floral aroma.
  • Green Bullet offers a traditional bittering quality and hop flavour. A Kauri-like giant of the New Zealand brewing industry this hop is closely associated with the world renowned Steinlager beer. Green bullets is best considered a bittering variety typically lager beers.
  • Motueka Hops: Hey, I'm a Kiwi so why not promote a second Kiwi hops? The Moteuka hops comes from the region it is grown in, being the top of the South Island of New Zealand. Very suitable for more traditional style lagers, especially the increasingly popular Bohemian Pilsener
  • Golding hops are good for bittering, finishing and dry hopping a range of ales
If you are a beginner brewer looking to use hops for the first time, we feel confident enough from our experience with using these hops that you won't go wrong -  as long as you match them to your intended style of beer.

We have a fond memory of a brew which used both cascade and green bullet hops to make a loosely approximate version of Steinlager.

It was a fine brew!

And so from that, you can take that it is OK to add different hops together to get different flavours and aromas!

When do I add hops to my beer?

Typically the beer wort is boiled with hops before it is cooled down to begin the fermentation process. The timings of when to add the hops in the boil can be critical as the different timings can cause the hops to work differently on the beer.

If you are making your own wort (as is, not using a beer kit) then it's best practice to follow a tried and true recipe, at least as you start out.

You can of course become more adventurous when you have a bit of confidence in your beer making skills!

If you're at that point you'll want to understand that the process is sometimes known as the “hop schedule”. A hop schedule will list the length of time that the hops should be in the boil, not the amount of time you should wait to add the hops.

This allows you to make your timings correctly. The rough guide is the longer you boil the hops, the more bitterness they will impart. The shorter you boil them, the more flavour will be added.

If you are using a simple beer kit, you have two choices when to add hops. You may add them when you bring all the ingredients of the kit together, or you can add them near the end of the fermentation process. The choice is yours, and in our experience, there doesn't appear to be much of a difference in the end result. 

Where can I buy quality hops?

Your local brewshop will typically have a wide selection but there are online stores everywhere, we recommend NZ's Brewshop but internationally you'll have some good luck buying on Amazon.

Extra for Experts:

Can I get methanol poisoning from home brew beer?



Can I accidentally make methanol when home brewing beer?

Update: You may have arrived at this page because of the story coming out of South Africa during 2020 where a couple died after drinking homebrew. 

There are limited facts on this sad case - Fact checker site Snopes will sort it out one day for sure but until they do, we can be pretty confident there's no chance methanol from homebrew beer killed them.

methanol poisoning from beer

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

This is because methanol is quite a dangerous kind of alcohol.

It is toxic to the human body and can have some very nasty effects if poisoned - 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, it has a slightly different chemical formula. 

So you can't get methanol poisoning from your homebrew, 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 that 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 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). For this reason, most countries in the world have made the distillation of spirits illegal - plenty of stills can be bought on Amazon though!

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

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

Distillation on the other hand... stay away from that unless you've been properly trained or are operating a still under the supervision of an expert.

What is the treatment for methanol poisoning?


Methanol toxicity is the result of consuming 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 eye's 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 the consumption of sodium bicarbonate, folate, and thiamine.

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

I saw a query from a gentleman who decided to drink a glass of wine after having left the bottle open 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!

Using Amylase Enzyme to reduce starch in beer


Mashing enzymes such as Amylase powder convert the starch in beer malt into soluble sugars


With this knowledge, the home brewer can manipulate enzyme activity to can control the fermentability of their wort.

Amylase enzymes are proteins. Their specific role is to 'catalyze biochemical reactions', which means that they enable a reaction to occur quickly and crucially at the temperature of living organisms (talking yeast here).

While we are talking about brewing, it should be understood that enzymes are vital for human life as they significantly speed up the rate of virtually all of the chemical reactions that take place within the body's cells. Along with lipase, they are crucial for having a healthy digestive system and for metabolism. 

There is amylase in human saliva - digestion starts in the mouth after all!

So, brewers use amylase to ensure an efficient breakdown of the malt into maltose and sugars - meaning there is more food for the yeast to eat, meaning you get more alcohol - this is called attenuation.

using amylase to increase attenuation of beer
I'm a hungry enzyme...

The one-two punch of alpha and beta amylase in starch digestion

In a brewer’s mash, we are concerned with the activity of two main enzymes, alpha and beta amylase, and their effect on starch.

A starch molecule, as a basic description, is a group of glucose molecules linked together. Enzymes will break those links allowing yeast to better ferment.

Alpha-amylase contributes to the digestion of starch by breaking internal bonds between the glucose molecules. As the starch molecules are opened up, they break into a range of intermediate sizes.

In comes beta-amylase which further digests these newly sized molecules mostly into maltose—a sugar of two glucose units—but also to glucose itself and to the three-glucose molecule maltotriose. You can add glucoamylase instead of beta as it does the same job on starch.

This will occur effectively when the wort is properly pH balanced and the ideal temperature has been realised.

These two compounds are also great for breaking down corn-type adjuncts when making spirits (just watch that methanol production eh?)

When to add amylase enzyme to the wort


The temperature of your mash is key to how effective amylase.

In terms of timings, some brewers will add amylase immediately after adding strike water or about 30 minutes or so into an extended all-grain mash taking longer than 60 minutes.

If you increase the temperature immediately after adding amylase you're working against yourself.

Amylase works best at 150-155°F. Much higher than that and the enzyme is destroyed by the heat. 

A common practice is to hold it at its activation temperature for an hour to allow full conversion of starch, then cool it rapidly to your fermentation temperature once the gelatinization of the malt/starch is complete.

This wiki advises:

The ideal situation you want is to attain is one in which your mash rests at a temperature between 66° and 70° C (150°-158° F) to allow the amylase enzymes to do their work. The colder the rest, the more fermentable sugars will be available for fermenting, and therefore the higher alcohol content in the final beer. The hotter the temperature, the more unfermentable sugars will reach fermentation, and thus the fuller the mouth-feel. This is, of course a comparison of otherwise duplicate mashes. Remember, the enzymes will work outside their optimum temperatures, so given an adequate amount of time, all starches can be converted to fermentables.
We suggest you read the whole wiki as it gives a very sound scientific description of mash temperatures and the various methods use you can use enzymes with. This page is a great read too.

Why ph of the mash is important for enzyme action


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

Brewers test for pH using meters - a sample is taken from the work and an electrode is used to take the reading - pH is then adjusted accordingly using chemicals like calcium chloride or lactic acid.

This video gives a really great introduction in to using alpha and beta-amylase and its relationship to beer mash:



Extra for experts: Does adding enzyme to the mash influence the taste of the beer?

Best no rinse brewing sanitizers for beer and wine brewing

Every brewer wants to make good beer or wine. There are many ways to achieve a good brew but there is one thing you must do to 'make it so' and that is to sanitize your beer brewing equipment.

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

And where's the fun in that?

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

using no rinse sanitizer for brewing

So what is a 'no rinse' brewing sanitizer?


It's a solution that once you have sanitized your brewing equipment and beer bottles, you do not need to rinse off. 

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

So 'no rinse' sanitizer it is then.

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

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

Let's start with Star San as it is a well-known option within the brewing and wine making communities for cleaning and sanitizing brewing equipment.


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

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

We say it is a very effective bactericide and fungicide!

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

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

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

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


Using Iodophor as a no rinse sanitizer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

one step no rinse cleaner

The main ingredient of One Step is 'sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate' aka sodium percarbonate. How it works is quite clever. The powder obviously dissolves when combined with water, which in turn releases the oxygen from the carbonate to form hydrogen peroxide – a chemical which is well known for its sanitizing and disinfectant abilities. '

And that's a point we should make - this product is marketed mainly as a cleaner, however the hydrogen peroxide does double duty as a sanitizer.

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

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

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


Go and have a look in your laundry room right now. 

Go on.

I'm waiting...

Did you find a laundry soaker?

Some Oxi-Clean, Tide or Napisan or any other Oxi-named cleaner perhaps? If you did, chances are you've got a cleaner that does double duty as a sanitizer in the form of sodium hydroxide. We've have raved and raved for years about how good sodium percarbonate is as a sanitizer

If it's safe enough to use on your clothes, it's safe enough to use on your beer gear. 

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

So there you have it, a few suggestions on some easy to use, cost effective no rinse sanitizers for brewing. There are plenty of other options out there  - you can use other cleaners like PBW to the same effect. Whichever way you choose to sanitizer your beer, do it well, do it properly and just do it.

If you don't, you will genuinely increase the odds of getting an infected beer, and frankly, if you've had it happen to you, you'll know what a stink and unpleasant experience that is!

Many brewers are trying out Craftmeister's Alkaline Brewery Wash as they consider it performs quite well.

↠ When to add more sugar to your beer (and when to use less)

Brewing with Sugar! Are you adding too much to your beer?


It's a silent killer say the health specialists.

It's the devil's food!

Diabetus!

And yet we need to ferment sugar to make beer.

using to much sugar in beer brew

The real question is how much sugar do we need to use in beer?


That answer to that question is kind of like when Gandalf says to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Rings: "A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.”

Which kind of says to me that you should use as much sugar as you need or as little as you need depending on what you need to make great beer.

Sounds like some ropey logic right? 

Hear me out.

Have you ever had a beer gusher

It's when you open your beer and whoosh! the beer zings out in a foaming stream and your beer drinking experience is ruined. 

It looks a bit like this:



So in that sense, you don't want to add too much sugar to your beer if you are bottle conditioning with sugar.

But if you are wanting to increase the alcohol content (ABV) of your beer, then you will need to add more sugar at the primary fermentation stage.

And thus it's about knowing when to add sugar to the beer and when not to.

Let's talk about increasing the alcohol % /ABV of your beer


When your beer wort is undergoing fermentation what happens is that the beer yeast eats the sugar and that produces alcohol.

More sugar for the yeast to eat should mean more alcohol production right?

Too easy.

Yes, adding extra sugar to your beer will, in the main, increase your ABV.

A big caution is that the more sugar you put in, the more pressure you may place on the yeast. The more alcohol that is produced, the slower the rate at which fermentation occurs. 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.

Remember though, the more sugar you add, the sweeter your beer will taste and the greater chance your beer will have that classic 'bad homebrew' taste.

Instead of sugar being used in the primary fermentation stage, many (most?) brewers will use dry malt extract (DME) as their sugar source. If you are wondering where to get some DME, your local brewing shop will have some (it's a rarer find in a supermarket) - it's usually the main ingredient found in beer enhancers!

As a rough guide, an extra pound or 1/2 kg of DME will add an extra half percent to your beer. Doubling that will give you an extra whole percent.


Roughly.

There are some alternative sources of sugar that you might be interested in using too.

Maple syrup, honey and brown sugar can all be used as well but remember, like jelly beans, they will influence the taste of your beer.


carbonation sugar drops for brewing
Carbonation drops can be a way to get a uniform amount of sugar into your beer.

So that was adding sugar to beer but what about using less?


Perhaps you are looking to drop some weight and might want to have a lower calorie beer to help with that. 

Is adding less sugar to your beer the solution?

No.

The best solution is to cut back on your drinking and get out in the sun and do some fun shit with friends and family.

If you're looking to get a well-conditioned beer that won't explode when you open it, cutting back on the sugar when it's time to bottle your beer is a fine idea.

There are two main schools of thought when bottling beer. One is that you can 'batch prime' the entire batch of beer in one hit or you can add sugar individually to each bottle.

I've been a fan of the latter as doing it feels like I'm really being involved in the process of making beer.

However after many gushers over the past year or so, I've come to the conclusion that for myself, batch priming beer is the way to go.

It also means that I'm adding less sugar to my beer as I am using a single measured amount of sugar to carbonate my beer rather than adding random teaspoons measures of sugar.

How Bar Keeper's Friend really works on brewing equipment!

bar keepers friend cleanerWe often talk about how imperative it is that your brewing equipment is kept clean and sanitized, we've recently discovered the wonders of Bar Keepers Friend, a wonderful cleaning product that will clean your brewing kettles and keep them bright and shiny!

The beauty of Bar Keepers Friend is that while its name may refer to its use in keeping a bar clean (it began as a polish for brass rails in turn of the century taverns), it's an all-purpose product that is used to clean all kinds of stainless steel products such as pots and pans, acrylics like bathtubs and counters and cooktops.

It will literally clean the shit stains out of toilets and it can fix those bathroom tiles so they look good as new.

Barkeeper's friend users the original 1882 formula to deliver cleaning power for any stain on any non-porous surface. It's a bleach-free product that easily removes rust, tarnish, mineral deposits, and tough stains.

It's used by homeowners, hobbyists, musicians (such as drum cymbals), and professional cleaners worldwide and of course, bar keepers whose bars need their brass shined!

For beer brewing, you can use it to clean all your stainless steel gear like taps but its major use comes from cleaning your brewing kettles. 

Check out this before and after picture when used in a kettle:


Looks like this cleaner is the real deal eh?
Here's some Amazon reviews from actual users of this wonder cleaner:

"This stuff is amazing! It removes shower/faucet/commode scale and deposits like nothing else I have ever used. If used for the right cleaning jobs, this is a product that will surpass your expectations and have you thinking of new applications, such as cleaning tools and equipment that have gained a little rust. It restored luster to old faucets that I had given up on ever looking decent again.

As a retired PhD chemist, I am always interested in great home cleaning products and how they work. One active ingredient in Bar Keepers Friend is oxalic acid, an extremely strong chelating agent that I am familiar with from the laboratory. Without getting too technical, a chelating agent binds super strongly to metals (magnesium, calcium, iron, etc.). Since the bathroom scale is mainly magnesium carbonate with some calcium carbonate, oxalic acid reacts with the scale, sucking out the metal and turning the carbonate into carbon dioxide (a gas), making the scale magically disappear.

If you are interested, the chemical reaction for oxalic acid reacting with magnesium carbonate is HOOCCOOH + MgCO3 --> MgOOCCOO + CO2 + H2O. Similarly, rust is iron oxide, and the oxalic acid binds to the iron, breaking up the rust and making it disappear when rinsed away."

"I had got some gunk on the outside of a Cuisinart stainless steel pan which I was very fond of, and could NOT get the crap off. Not soaking, not detergent, not soaking in detergent, not scrubbers nor steel wool, not even painting it with ketchup and leaving it for several hours. Then the housekeeper put it in the dishwasher and the gunk turned into something like thick, permanent enamel.

So I went on Google and looked up gunk on stainless steel pans, got recommendations from real people, and ordered three things from Amazon. The first to arrive was Bar Keepers Friend, and I used it, and it worked. I’m sure I will enjoy Goof-Off and Goo Gone when they get here, but I don’t need them for this pan. I made a paste, painted it on half the pan, left it for an hour, came back, scrubbed with a no-scratch scrubber, and it came off. It did take some strength and real scrubbing, but that’s good for me. And it’s gone."


"This stuff is like magic! Straight up wizardry. I love it! I initially bought it to clean my sink, which is porcelain and even though it's not even a year old, is just holding on to all the coffee and tea staining. I'd say it took less than a minute after making a paste with Bar Keepers Friend to clean the sink up to a nearly new shine.

Taking a look at the can its easy to find bunches of ways to use this stuff and each application is better than the last. Stainless steel, porcelain, ceramic, copper, brass, fiberglass, corian, chrome and aluminum. See? Magic!

Anyhow, I've used it in the sink, in the bathroom, to clean stainless steel pots and pans on a 17 year old Revereware tea kettle (which I thought would never be restored to its former loveliness, btw). This is a product that I will buy again and again and will happily recommend to anyone."

How does Bar Keepers Friend Work?


Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser & Polish has become the premium house-hold cleanser used by many a home brewer. Using a non-bleach, plant based cleanser plus mineral scrubbing micro particles, BKF attacks tough stains from two directions. 

The oxalic acid, found in plants such as rhubarb, attacks hard rust and lime stains at the molecular level, breaking up the bonds that hold them together. Once those bonds are broken down, the mineral micro scrubbing particles move in to finish the job, polishing as they remove dirty brewing deposits. 

How to use Bar Keeper's friend on a brewing kettle

  • Wet surface to be cleaned, perhaps give the brewing kettle a rinse out with a hose so any debris is soaked.
  • Sprinkle a small amount of the cleanser on the dampened surface.
  • Rub with a wet cloth or sponge. You can add more BKF as you need and don't be afraid to use some elbow grease.
  • Rinse thoroughly with water within one minute of application.
  • Then wipe the surface dry.

15 tips to help improve your home brewing results



Whether you've made a few beers with home brews with kits or it's your first time brewing with a kit, there are plenty of tips to help improve your beer.

Even 'professional' back yard beer brewers are constantly looking for the best way to improve a recipe, technique and taste.

You should be no different.

Simply following a standard set of beer brewing instructions will result in an OK beer. However, if you implement some of these brewing tips, you will surely get better results both in the taste and mouth feel of your beer!

These tips and tricks are handy to use even if you are using a kit or going all grain.

tips to have better home brew results

Here's the tip list and the explanation behind them follow
  • Keep it clean! - Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitized!
  • Use a beer enhancer to give your beer a stronger body
  • Consider using oak chips
  • Don't put so much sugar in your bottles
  • 'Batch Priming' beer to save time when bottling
  • Match the right hops to the right beer
  • Gelatin is a handy fining agent to clear your beer
  • If you pitch your yeast when the wort is hot you will kill the yeast
  • Consider using a blow-off to prevent the Krausen going everywhere
  • Increase the alcohol content of your beer by adding more sugars
  • To avoid chill haze, use a quality copper wort chiller
  • Oxygen is good when preparing the wort, bad when bottling. 
  • Temperature control will have an effect on the quality of your beer both when fermenting and conditioning your beer
  • Get the bigger kettle or pot, in the long run, you’ll save money
  • Just because the fermentation bottle has stopped bubbling, that doesn't mean you need to bottle your beer straight away
That all made sense right but do you want more detail?

Let's start with the most basic rule of brewing beer:


Keep it clean! - Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitized!



There are many ways of keeping your gear clean and today we are going discuss our preferred method of sanitization which is by using sodium percarbonate.

Usually provided in powdered form, it is very soluble in water which makes it very handy for quick preparation and an easy soak of your equipment and fermenter. No rinsing is required and it's very easy to order in bulk online.

If you've ever tried to buy sodium percarbonate from a specialist beer brewery shop, you'll know that you can get a small bottle or container of it that will cost you a small fortune.

If you can buy it in bulk from an online supplier, you'll do well to nab some as using it will effectively bring down your cost per brew. 

Use a beer enhancer to give your beer a stronger body


The thing about craft and home brew beer is that while there’s so much variety in style and taste but there is one thing they all have in common:

It's the ‘mouth feel’ which makes a beer feel like it has 'body'. A beer with no body is a sad drinking experience.

If you simply brewed malt with sugar you will get a beer but your beer’s mouth feel with be closer to feeling like water. Which is just wrong, as a full bodied beer enhances the drinking experience!

To get an improved mouth feel, many beer brewers follow the simple tip of using an ‘enhancer’ to do exactly what it says it will do – enhance the beer by giving it greater body and mouthfeel.

Consider using oak chips to add flavor


There's a reason why home brewers seek out new ways to make beer taste better and that's because, for them, the old days of getting smashed on Budweiser are over. 

A great tip for improving beer taste is by aging beer in oak barrels has been a long standing practice for making beer. 

This is because the characteristics of the wood impart into the beer which can add to the drink-ability of the beer.

But who has oak barrels just casually lying around in the shed?

Homebrewers can use oak chips to replicate aging beer in barrels. 

Using wood chips while conditioning or aging beer your beer can impart a range of aromas to the beer, including floral, vanilla, caramel, or coconut tones.

glass of home brew

To prevent beer gushers:

Don't put so much sugar in your bottles! 


I've learnt this one personally the hard way. If you place too much sugar into your bottles, the yeast will go to town on it as part of the secondary fermentation and produce an excess of CO2.

When that happens, you're on a trip to gusher town.

So, it doesn't matter if you are placing sugar in the individual bottles or priming the whole brew, cut down on that sugar.

My personal rule of thumb is that for a 750 mls bottle, a FLAT teaspoon of sugar is more than enough to get a great level of carbonation.

If you want to employ a quicker method, you could try using carbonation drops. If using those, put two in a 750 mls bottle and one for a 500 mls bottle.

Speaking of adding sugar, let's talk about:

'Batch Priming' beer to save time when bottling


In short, priming the batch is when one adds the entire amount of sugar needed to the fermenter so that when you fill each bottle, you don't need to add sugar as well, it's already in the beer wort. 

It saves you time as you don't need to add sugar to each individual bottle and it also saves you mess as we all know how sugar can end up everywhere when bottling!

This sounds simple, right?

It really is. Here's how to do it.

How much sugar do I need to prime a batch of beer?


Batch priming benefits from some simple calculations that can be made to get that sugar just right.

If you're using a kit, you've probably used 23 litres (5 gallons) so the focus is on how much sugar you need to use. 

So first up, different beers need different levels of sugar. Advice from people who have brewed many beers suggests that ales need less sugar than lager-style beers.

This is because many drinkers prefer a lager to have more carbonation and ales are quite drinkable with less.

Our analysis of beer brewing forums suggests these are the commonly used amounts of sugars to use for priming for a 23 liter brew.
  • Dextrose (Corn sugar) 3/4 cup or 4 or 5 oz / 95 grams
  • Cane sugar 2/3 cup or 3.8 - 4.8 oz / 86 grams
  • Dry Malt Extract - 130 grams
If you are priming with a different volume of beer, I suggest you try this priming calculator.

What kind of hops should I use with my beer?


using beer hops with homebrewDifferent hop varieties suit different kinds of beer. After hundreds of years of developing beer, there are now some well-established rules of thumb for what kinds of hops brewers should use. Here are some of the most common hops to beer matches:
  • The English Golding hop has become the signature hops of English ales. The popular Fuggle hop is another popular hop used for ale beer.
  • Saaz hops are closely aligned with the brewing of lagers, mostly for the delicious aroma that has become associated with the beer. Saaz hops are an excellent choice of hop for the enthusiastic homebrewer.
  • Pilsner beers have become nearly synonymous with the four so called 'noble hops'. These are the hops called Terrnanger, Spalt, Hallertauer and the already-mentioned Saaz. As an aside, pilsner beers are known as traditionally coming from the Czech Republic.
  • If you're looking for hops that might help your beer taste a bit like the classic New Zealand beer, Steinlager, you might try using Green Bullet hops and maybe through in some Pacific Jade and pair it with a Black Rock lager kit.
  • America, the land of the free beer drinker, has become quite well respected for it's hop production and many new varieties from old favorites have been developed. American hops are recognized and appreciated all around the world for their bold, and often intense flavors they imbue in beer. American hops are often described as being citrus like, however that's a most elementary description. Cascade hops are a very popular choice from the Americas.
  • Chinook is another popular 'north western' hop.
clearing beer with gelatin

Using gelatin as a fining agent to help clear beer


Basically, gelatin acts as a fining agent. It combines with the 'leftovers' of the beer brewing process and they fall to the bottom of the fermenter thus clearing the beer.

So how much gelatin should I add to my beer?


Many beer brewers have found that between half and a whole teaspoon per 23 litres or 5 gallons will be a sufficient amount. You will probably get diminishing returns if you use much more.

When and how do I add the gelatin?


You can add it any time after fermentation and word on the street that it actually works best when the beer is quite cool.

The suggested time of addition is to add it a couple of days before you intend to bottle your beer.

A good trick is to dissolve it in a half a glass of hot water. You then open up the fermenter or carboy, add the liquid and then shut the fermenter back up.

For many people, clarity of the beer is important to them. If you are making a dark ale, clarity may not be so important to you.

However, finings do remove leftovers that can impinge on the taste of the beer too. The gelatin helps remove the unneeded proteins and polyphenols from the beer.

This next tip is more of what not to do.

If you pitch your yeast when the wort is hot you will kill the yeast


I once absent mindedly pitched my yeast when the wort was too hot, right after mixing the ingredients with boiling water. I knew what I'd done the moment I'd done it but what a waste of yeast!

A genius moment in my beer making career for sure. 

No yeast means no fermentation.

And well, that just sucks right.

Lucky I had a spare packet of good old Safale US-05 and was able to pitch that when my wort was properly cooled. 

Cooling your beer down is not just to assist with removing nasty bugs from your beer and reducing the risk of any infection, it helps with ensuring that your yeast finds itself in a hospitable environment - that is to say if you pitch your yeast too early, you run the risk of killing it (it’s a living microorganism after all). 

So check that the wort is at the right temperature before you pitch. If you are using a kit, the instructions will have a temperature range noted. If you have a plastic fermenting drum, it's quite likely there will be a handy temperature guide stuck to the side which you should use.

As an aside, if you want to get really fancy with cooling your wort, you might want to invest in a wort chiller.

Hydration of the yeast before pitching


how to rehydrate yeast
Hydrating yeast
If you want to be really serious about pitching yeast, you could try the yeast hydration technique.

It's a handy method that many earnest brewers follow so as to hydrate the dry yeast in water before pitching. The reasoning behind this is that it gives the yeast a good chance to get started properly. 

We are not wholly convinced by our own experience that this necessary but some brewers seem to do this as a best practice measure. 

How to increase the alcohol content of your beer


The shortest version of this tip is the more sugar you add, the higher your alcohol content

The theory is simple.

Beer yeast eats the sugar and that produces more alcohol. Some brewers will use dry malt extract (DME) as their additional sugar source. You could of course just use ordinary home baking sugar. That will contribute to a sweeter beer than DME (indeed the historic use of sucrose it's why homebrew got a bad name as over sugared brewed were too sweet).

But it's more complicated than that and adding extra sugar should not be blindly done. 

As a rough guide, an extra pound or 1/2 kg of DME will add an extra half per cent to your beer. 

Doubling that will give you an extra whole per cent.

Roughly.

You can add other sweet things too


Maple syruphoney and brown sugar can all be used as well but remember, like jelly beans, they will influence the taste of your beer. 

A big caution to heed is that the more sugar you put in, the more pressure that you place on the yeast. The more alcohol that is produced, the slower the rate at which fermentation occurs.  In such cases 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.

Too much alcohol may actually end up killing off the yeast. Some yeasts do handle the presence of alcohol better than others so shop around for those advertised as being tough if you are really going to go for it.

You could also add a second round of yeast to your brew if you were keen. You'd want to add the kind of yeast that has a higher alcohol tolerance. We suggest you talk to your local brewshop for advice on what particular yeast will meet your needs in this scenario.

Remember too that the temperature at which your wort ferments will have an affect too.

A warm temperature will allow the yeast to chug away quite nicely. A cooler, winter temperature will mean an extra long fermentation time if you have added extra food for the yeast to eat.

In terms of your beer preparation, exposing your wort to an appropriate amount of oxygen will help - make sure everything gets a good stir before you seal your fermenter.

In summary, to increase the alcohol or ABV of your beer you can consider:

Try to not release the "Krausen"!


Occasionally brewing conditions mean that the yeast is so active, the krausen behaves like it is a kraken released from the gates of hell and it foams up like a fiery tempest and blows out the airlock, just making a heck of a mess all over your brewing equipment!

These beer explosions typically occur with glass carboys which allow pressure to build.

krausen blow off tubeA solution to krausen 'blow out' is a using a blowoff tube

One simply replaces the standard carboy airlock with the tubing.

The tubing can then release into a bottle, bucket or whatever to help with reducing any blow off mess.

Check out the image to the right for an idea on how to set up the blow off tubing. This example uses a steel tube.

If you're not convinced this tubing is worth the effort, consider this.

A common krausen issue is that the the airlock can get clogged with foam and any added hops. This leads to a strong pressure buildup in the fermenter which when is it great, the barrel lid, bung or airlock blows off, spewing stuff everywhere and making for a very messy and frustrating clean up.

There's even the potential for damaging your equipment.

We suggest if you have brewing conditions where this has happened more than once, you may wish to consider grabbing some tubing from Amazon!

Chill haze and the 'cold break'


You may have heard of ‘chill haze’. This is a really common cause of beer cloudiness where the wort has been boiled and the cooling process has not generated enough ‘cold break’. 

The cold break is the proteins from the beer that are precipitated to the bottom of the beer by the cold temperature.

Using a copper wort chiller allows for an effective way to get more cold break forming and thus reduces the chance of chill haze in your finished beer.

Cooling and refrigeration


One of the reasons why beer does go cloudy is due to improper refrigeration timings and techniques. 

The process of storing beer is called laagering (sounds like lager eh?). Lagers are lagers because they are best stored cold. Nordic Vikings learned this method years ago when they laagered their beer barrels in cold caves over the winter or something...

Refrigeration of storing beer in a cool place helps to clear beer rapidly. The science behind this is at lower temperatures it is more difficult for the yeast, tannins and proteins in the beer to remain suspended. 

Cold stored beer will also clear much more rapidly than beer stored at a normal room temperature. 

If you intend to 'lager' your beer you must wait until that first round of initial carbonation has occurred. This is usually done at a warmer temperature than required for lagering. If you cool your beer too soon, you run the risk of disrupting the yeast from its secondary fermentation process and carbonation may not occur (or it will be very slow to do so).


Get the bigger kettle or pot, in the long run you’ll save money

For many first time homebrewers, the first purchase is a starter equipment kit. Once they have that, all they need is a brew kettle or pot and ingredients. So they get the cheap, 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. 

If you have an inkling you are going to do a bit of brewing, get the 5 or 8-gallon size unit, save the smaller ones for making jam! Big is better for most of your brewing equipment needs.

O is for Oxygen, get that element away from your beer

We mentioned oxygen above as being good for fermentation. This is true. 

But no longer when you are ready to begin fermentation or when bottling your beer.

Once your beer is ready to have the yeast pitched in, this is the last chance for oxygen to be exposed to the beer. Once the yeast is in, the fermenter needs to be properly sealed.

The presence of excess oxygen can result in poor smelling beer.

Allowing the fermenting beer to be exposed to oxygen can allow beer spoiling bugs and organisms such acetobactor to sour your beer by using the oxygen to ferment the alcohol into acetic acid – commonly known as vinegar. Keep your fermenter well sealed!

This has actually never happened to us but if you are following best practices with your beer, then do your best to keep the air away from your wort. 

The same goes for bottling – try to avoid getting too many bubbles in the bottle as your pour.

 

The best time to add hops to your beer


Typically the beer wort is boiled with the hops added at crucial moments before it is cooled down to begin the fermentation process. The timings of when to add the hops in the boil can be critical as the different timings can cause the hops to work differently on the beer.

If you are making your own wort (that is you are not using a beer kit) then it's best practice to follow a tried and true recipe, at least as you start out.

If you're at that point, you'll want to understand that the process is sometimes known as the “hop schedule”. A hop schedule will lists the length of time that the hops should be in the boil, not the amount of time you should wait to add the hops.

This allows you to making your timings correctly.

The rough guide is the longer you boil the hops, the more bitterness they will impart. The shorter you boil them, the more flavour will be added. It depends on how you want your beer to benefit from the hops addition.

But what about adding hops to beer kits?


If you are using a simple beer extract kit then you can add the hops when you are preparing the batch of wort. Just throw it with your wort and nature will do the rest.


Some people like to delay adding the hops until a few days later. This is fine, but in our experience of using brewing kits, it makes little difference to the end result in the hop aromas and taste your beer will have. 



Just because the fermentation bottle has stopped bubbling, that doesn't mean you need to bottle your beer straight away


If the bubbles in the airlock have stopped completely, this is not necessarily a sign that the fermentation process has completed. It's quite likely that there's still some fermentation quietly happening in the drum.


So let that play out a bit longer. It could be that you let your beer rest longer than the written instructions that came with your beer kit.



This is because there are still things happening in your beer. The yeast may have consumed all the sugar but additional processes are still occurring - let them because the will make your beer taste better! 


bottling home brew tips

How to properly condition your beer bottles


The short advice is that it's best store your beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning).

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

HOWEVER after that period, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C.

You should then leave the beer for a total minimum of three weeks since the bottling date before some well-deserved consumption.

You should not easily dismiss this advice about the correct temperature storage of your beer. I had an experience last year when in the middle of winter I just bottled the beer and left it in the shed for about a month.

When I when to crack open the first beer, there was no fizz, just cold flat beer.

No fizz on the second or third either!

I thought I had ruined my beer somehow. 'Had fermentation actually occurred'? I wondered. Of course it had. The problem was the cold. I brought the beers inside and left them in the living room. I waited a week for the yeast to warm up and do its thing, and boom I had fizzy beer!

If you are feeling like you want to try something new with your beer, try using oak chips.


pH testing


Smart beer brewers will test that their beer is within the ideal ranges for beer brewing. A beer with a pH balance that is out of whack will not produce the best results. You can test for pH using paper strips or for a very accurate result, use a digital pH tester



Now what are you waiting for? Take these tips and make great tasting beer!

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