↣ What is beerstone (and how to remove it)?

 'calcium oxalate' - beerstone buildup

There is a silent but deadly beer killer out there.

It creeps in slowly, like a silent assassin and you might not discover their presence until its too late...


The scourge of brewing kettles and kegs everywhere, beerstone can be a key element in causing off beer.

What is it?

Beerstone is a kind of scale known as 'calcium oxalate' (C2CaO4) in the brewing industry. 

This precipitate is largely due to a reaction between alkaline cleaners (e.g. caustic soda), hard water minerals (think calcium and magnesium) and protein in the form of amino acids.

It affects both the home brewer and commercial operations. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly once you've learned about the science, the milk industry has similar problems with buildup on milking machinery and milk vans. That industry calls it, yes you guessed it, milkstone!

How does beerstone ruin beer?

The development of beerstone leaves an unsanitary surface on the keg or kettle or other brewing equipment that offers an environment that can harbour microorganisms. 

At it's most minor interference with the beer, beerstone can cause those classic "off flavors" or even shorten the shelf life of your batch.

In the worst case scenario, unwanted micro-organisms can wreck an entire batch of beer which is a waste of good beer, a waste of money and a loss of your precious brewing time.

How does beerstone form?

The organic compounds found in the wort and beer will combine with metals in the water - usually calcium and magnesium to for the oxalate. It is a white, crystalline precipitate - which makes its initial appearance hard to detect with the naked eye. 

Beer bugs will then find a home in the calcium oxalate - and here's the kicker - this environment allows the microorganisms to avoid contact with your cleaning regime and, believe it or not, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) can then help form a cover by creating additional precipitate because the caustic agents react with the CO2 (given off by the fermentation process).

It's almost like you can't win!

So how do you remove beerstone?

The pros at Birkocorp have offered a pretty handy 5 step method for removing beerstone build up:
  1. Rinse out beer and yeast with ambient temperature water.
  2. Use a 1-2 ounce per gallon phosphoric/nitric acid mixture (140°F maximum temperature) for 15-30 minutes.
  3. Do not rinse the solution out.
  4. Use a noncaustic alkaline cleaner at 1-2 ounces per gallon of warm (120-140°F) to start. CIP for 15-30 minutes depending on conditions.
  5. Rinse with ambient temperature water until the pH of the rinse water is neutral (same pH as the tap water coming in).
If it's not clear, you'll need to fire up up your gas burner to get the solutions to the correct temperature.

Any residual 'soil' adhered to the metal can be removed with a high-pressure hot water rinse or simply wiped off as it should now be quite soft. If you need to do a scrub, use a sponge or scrubber that will not scour the metal. 

The entire method should be followed. This is because the acid mixture does not remove the stone, it softens up the scaling so that the alkaline cleaner has the chance to do its magic. 

Prevention is beer than cure

If it's so easy for brewers to not notice that beerstone is 'scaling up' how can it be prevented from occurring?

The key is to mix up your cleaning method by using strong acid solutions are the quickest and most effective way to remove beerstone from stainless steel surfaces. Hydrochloric acid is a popular choice but you should not use it every time as it could cause pitting.

When using strong acids, be wary of their corrosiveness on metal.

Brewclean is a product that can help prevent the buildup of brewstone. Specifically designed for cleaning homebrew kegs and brewing equipment, it is non-corrosive so it will not cause rust on kegs or other homebrew equipment. The wetting agent (surfactant) helps remove beerstone and other 'soils'. It's a good alternative to using sodium hydroxide.

You should be quite careful when using these kinds of acids and alkaline solutions as they are pretty potent and can do some real damage if you come into contact with them. A splash of chemical cleaner in the eye is pretty damaging and painful, trust me I learned this lesson some years ago and it cost me a trip to the hospital!

>>> How to choose the best brewing kettle (clue: go big)

best brewing day kettles for making beer

"You're gonna need a bigger boat"

That was the classic line Brody uttered in Jaws once he saw how large the shark was.

All grain brewing itself is a bit of a giant shark but instead of a boat, you're gonna need a bigger brewing kettle.

Things to consider when buying a brew kettle

  • There are several benefits to having a brew kettle (or brew pot) that's large in size. The obvious one is that you can brew more beer! There's also less risk of a boilover or overflow occurring.
  • If you want to do small batches of beer, you obviously don't need a massive 15 gallon kettle. However, once you get the taste for brewing, you may just find that 5 gallons just doesn't do it for you any more, and you want to make 12 gallons - so you'll need that bigger kettle. You can always fry a turkey in it for Thanksgiving too!
  • You may want to consider having a built-in thermometer as that can save you some hassle. 
  • A ball valve is almost essential. Stainless steel ball valves are used on your kettle to allow you to control the flow of your liquids during transfers. If you have the budget for it, we strongly recommend you get a brew pot which features the valve. They give you so much control and are easy to strip down and clean. 
  • A 'sight glass' which allows you to check the level of wort in your kettle. As the wort evaporates due to the boil, it's handy to keep your eye on the level without having to take the lid of the kettle. If you do not have a sight glass, fear not. Crafty brewers have many tricks up their sleeve and having a wooden spoon with marks for the desired wort levels is one of them.
  • pick up tube for brewing ketting
    Dip Tube
  • Some kettles come with a dip tube or pick up tube as they are known. These devices are used to extract the wort that lies below the ball valve, which makes for a more efficient collection of wort. These are often used with a hops screen which is used to filter out lumps and bumps from the wort.
And with that said, here's a selection of the best brewing kettles that we think cut the mustard that will do you a really good service on brewing day.

Bayou Classic 800-416 16 Gallon Stainless Steel 6 Piece Brew Kettle

Bayou Classic 800-416 16 Gallon Stainless Steel 6 Piece Brew Kettle

The Bayou Classic gas burner is one of Amazon's most popular sellers and that's because it is one of the best on the market. This is the same reason Bayou's gas burner is a big seller.

This unit is designed for the serious all-grain home brewer. The kettle features a tri-ply bottom and includes a domed lid, stainless spigot with Ball Valve, side-mount 3-inch Brew Thermometer ranging 60-220 degrees, stainless false bottom that sets 3.25 Inch above the bottom of the pot, and a tube shaped filter screen.

The bulkhead fittings enable easy attachment of thermometer and spigot for a water-tight seal. Side calibration measuring in gallon and quart that read from the inside of the kettle, enabling more accurate water level setting. 

The try-ply bottom promotes even heating and helps prevent against scorching, while the all stainless construction has no interaction with wort or acids. 

The narrow diameter and high side walls reduce the chance of boil overs, and the false bottom fits tightly on the low side indention to reduce particles and grain from entering the spigot chamber.

Here's some reviews from actual users of the Bayou:

"Kettle is very nice. Polished and huge. It's hard to imagine how large a 16gal kettle is until you get it. It's a monster. The included accessories make this a very versatile kettle. I am using mine as a boil kettle right now but plan on buying another in the future to use as an upgrade to my Mash Ton from a cooler."

"This is a quality kettle, and a decent price. I use it in tandem with a standard size keggle for my HLT, and can brew up to 15 gallons at a time if I feel incredibly strong and dedicated (15 gallons of wort weighs a lot). The thermometer works well, and has clear markings for various mash stages, if you do more than a single-step infusion."

"Great brew kettle. Very large with a tri-ply bottom. Have used it twice for brewing in a bag, thus far. Will hold a large grain bill - 16 lbs for me on my last brew. Screen will clog up, but not so much to not allow me to drain into the fermenter. Temp gauge required no calibration upon cross measuring. I did leave the kettle outside for a few days by accident and was pleased to see no signs of rust."

"The kettle held my mash at temp for the full hour, was easy to clean up and easy to transfer the wort to the boil kettle."

Check out the price on Amazon

Blichmann Gas Boilermaker G2 Brew Kettle

blichmann boiler maker kettle
This beast from Blichmann Engineering almost makes boiling up a wort too easy!

The BoilerMaker™G2 brew kettles have been completely redesigned from the ground up with world-class American engineering and quality US manufacturing! 

Bare bones kettles might lure you in with attractive prices but by the time you add extra equipment you need or want – all standard in the BoilerMaker G2 comes into its own.

All models carry a limited lifetime warranty and are available in Celsius or Fahrenheit models. 

Blichmann Engineering boasts that this fresh design reflects the passion they have for quality, ergonomics, aesthetics, performance, and simplicity.

The boilermaker features:
  • Heavy gauge, 304 single piece, deep drawn, weld-free American made construction
  • Made in America from high quality US stainless steel, single piece seamless construction, and 100% US labor.
  • Patent pending G2 linear flow valve allows you to easily fine tune your flow rate
  • A sleek brush finish to hide finger-prints and water stains
  • High-impact glass-filled nylon handles are extremely durable, high temperature resistant, comfortable, and cool to the touch.
  • Exclusive snap-in dip tube design installs without tools and drains to within 3/8” of the bottom of the kettle!
  • Includes adjustable viewing angle BrewMometer with unique, patented, brewing dial face 
  • Comes in 7.5, 10, 15 or 20 gallon size.
Don't take Blichman's word about there product alone, check out what actual reviewers on Amazon have said about the kettle:

"The design of the kettle is fantastic. Great lids, handles, and I love the sight glass. Makes it really easy to clean it.

"Only con is if you plan on using this on gas. My use is electric. The bottom doesn't have a nice thick plate in it, it is just as thick as the sides. This will cause it to heat up more slowly on gas. For the price I would expect it to be included but for me on electric it is actually a plus as it makes it easier to move the kettles around."

"I think my old 15G kettle is heavier than this 20G Blichmann one."

Check out the price on Amazon - these units have free shipping!

Tall Boy Home Brewing Kettle Stainless Steel Stock Pot

If you are looking for something with a more modest budget or lower value, you'll need to dispense with the thrills and spills of the Blichman and for your stock standard steel pot, And the 8 gallon Tall Boy does just that. This means you will be limited to a 5 gallon brew, which is to be fair, is a pretty standard brew. 

  • Made specifically for home brewing
  • Height to diameter ratio of 1.2:1 optimizes boil performance
  • Reduces evaporative losses
  • 4mm thick tri-clad bottom designed to stop bullets and prevent scorching by encouraging heat dispersion.
  • Perfect for boiling 5 to 6 gallons of wort
  • Made by the reputable Northern Brewer company (check out their wort chillers).
  • Can use it to deep fry turkey!
Here's what some genuine users of the Tall Boy have said in their Amazon reviews.

"BUILT FORD TOUGH! Seriously though, this thing is made like a tank everywhere and I love it, well worth the money!"

"Awesome. Thick bottom. Used to deep fry my 25 pound Thanksgivin turkey. Heated great no burnt crud on the bottom and easy clean up because nothing burned."

"Really good quality! Nice riveted and welded handles, extra thick bottom, strong sides, and is just right size for a 5 gallon brew. If you're doing a full 5 gal, be careful during the hot break, as the wort level is pretty close to the top. Stand guard at the gas valve! Excellent product, cleans well, and can also do a turkey or a beach boil. Get it!"

"I've brewed with it a few times now and it works great. I think it would be better if it had some volume markings."

Check out the price of the Tall Boy on Amazon - it comes with free shipping.

Northern Brewer's MegaPot 1.2

Northernbrewer brag that their MegaPot 1.2 "is a masterpiece, not just another steel pot.".

Apparently crafted of stainless steel for ease of cleaning. The unit features silicone handles on the kettle and lid serve to limit scorching.

The handles are riveted in place to aid in lifting a hot liquid-filled pot.  Northern brewer claims that there will be no weld failures.

The heart of the kettle is a 4mm thick Tri-Clad bottom- made specifically for even heat distribution.

The 1.2 proportion of MegaPot has been scientifically designed to promote a vigorous boil and reduce off-flavors.
  • 10 Gallon (40 quarts / 37.8 liters) capacity
  • 4mm Tri-Clad Bottom. All Stainless Steel Construction
  • Graduated Volume Markings inside the kettle
  • Silicone Covered Handles for Safety
  • Weld-less Ball Valve Assembly and Weld-less Thermometer
  • 14.1 Inches in Diameter and 16.3 Inches in Height
  • Available in 8, 10, 15, 20, and 30 gallon sizes, with or without ball valve and thermometer.
Here's what some geezers who have actually made wort with the kettle had to say about its performance:

"This pot has performed well during both batches I've made so far. The bottom of the pot is as solid as they say, about 4mm thick. No issues on a glass stove. The thermometer and spigot need to be assembled, but again, it wasn't hard to do and it hasn't leaked at all. It's nice to have a good sturdy pot for brewing."

"This kettle is everything I hoped it would be, and much more. The construction feels rock-solid, and all the elements of the pot, including the accessories that came with it (ball valve and thermometer), are first class. This is a pot meant to last a lifetime, and I feel it was money well spent for the long haul. After running my first batch with this pot over yesterday, it passed all my quality tests, and I am delighted with my purchase."

"This thing is very heavy duty, has a thick clad bottom for heat distribution, thick walls and also has very useful gallon markings on the inside of the pot where you can easily look at the liquid level and know your volume. Nice heavy lid, rubber grips, and heavy-duty ball valve included. This is a very high quality product."

What are you waiting for? With free shipping, you should check out the price on Amazon.

Should you buy Aluminium or steel? 

Brew kettles come in both metal forms, each having its own benefit.

Aluminium is lighter for example but is less durable than steel kettles.

They also need to be maintained well due to ensure that the oxide layer that forms is not broken. This is because the layer prevents the aluminium from passing off flavors into the wort or mash.

While aluminium kettles will transfer heat faster than steal, if you have a really good gas burner, this shouldn't really be a concern with your buying decision.

In our realm, we recommend you go for the steel kettle - the only drawback is they are more expensive than aluminium units.

Stainless steel is also fairly easy to clean.

What is the best way to clean a brew kettle?

The gunk that is left at the bottom of the kettle is called the trub and it's usually quite manageable to get off. Many brewers like to soak the trub in water with Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW).

Do not use steel wool or anything sharp to clean the unit, use something soft like a non-abrasive sponge or a soft plastic brush. You are trying to avoid putting scratches in the steel! A bit of elbow grease is all you really need!

It's also good to clean your kettle as soon as you can after brewing - this will give the trub less time to harden and should ensure a straightforward cleaning job.

If you have an aluminium kettle, you'll want to avoid anything caustic and stick with ordinary washing detergent.

I personally dispose of the trub on my vegetable garden!

Finally, once you have chosen your kettle and brewed with it, you'll need to keep an eye out for beerstone, which is a calcium based build up which can harbor microorganisms that will ruin your beer.

Brew day safety tips

Once that wort has been boiled, you've now got to cool it down so you can pitch the yeast - but what you've done is heated many gallons of water so hot it can give you a terrible scalding. So be careful!

Ensure your set up is sturdy. Your burner needs to be flat, and properly assembled if necessary. Your kettle should have handles (ones coated with silicon are perfect) to assist with moving. Even so, you may want to consider using an oven mitt and a waterproof apron.

This is especially so if you are deep frying a thanksgiving day turkey with oil.

And shoes, wear shoes! And finally, be wary of any children around your set up. Frankly, we recommend you let the kids stay inside and watch Frozen while you have the gas going!

How to sparge your mash to collect the wort

how to batch sparge


A lot of beer brewing is intuitive, you know you need malt and grains and you need to cook them up and you can sort of follow your nose from there.

But when I came across words like sparge and lautering I had no idea what on earth that means.

Once you know it's as simple in concept cracking open a well-earned beer.

Sparging is the process of separating the wort from the mash. Hot water is rinsed through to that as much of the sugars can be removed from the 'grain bed'.

And lautering? It's the same concept but is more a reference to the whole process itself and the movement of water. How about that eh?

While it is a simple idea, it's actually a three-step process if it's to be achieved properly.

Get ready to fire up those BTU on your gas burner!

But first, how do I know if my mash is ready to be sparged?

Your mash should have rested for an hour. This is so that the malt enzymes have had an opportunity to digest the starch into sugars. And Iodine test can be done for this. Take a sample from the mash and add a drop of iodine. 

If it goes black or purple, your mash needs more time.

If the iodine stays the same colour, your mash is ready.

Step 1 -  The Mashout

This is when you raise your mash to 170 degrees Fahrenheit or 77 Celcius. The reason for this temperature is that both stops the enzymatic conversion of starches to fermentable sugars, and makes the mash and wort more fluid and thus easier to sparge. 

To set this up, one pours the heated water into the mash tun. Slowly add the grist (crushed grain) to the water in the mash tun. You'll need to stir well the mash to prevent clumping. The temperature should stabilize at around 153 degrees.

You should then let the mash rest for an hour as the sugars are released from the grains and your wort forms.

If you undershoot the target mash temperature by more than 5° F, you may raise the mash temperature by adding heat. Stir the mash constantly while you are applying heat to avoid scorching.

Step 2 - Recirculation of the wort

The idea behind recirculation of the wort is to clear it of debris.

At first, it may seem odd that the idea is to put this cloudy liquid back into to the mash - well this is the beauty of recirculation,  the grain bed will begin to act as a filter and reduce the cloudiness of the runnings. This is why proper milling of the grain is so important so the husks can perform this task.

You may find your initial drawings from the lauter tun are cloudy and filled with what's known as  'draff' - these are small solid grain particles but repeated filtering through the grain will clear the wort.

To recirculate, your lauter tun should have a handy valve. Use it to collect the runoff in two clean intermediate vessels of say 1 quart or more in size.

As you are filling one vessel,  you are pouring the other gently down the side of the lauter tun. Keeping switching back and forth until the wort appears clear of debris.

This can take some time and you need to be patient and pour slowly.

You can now drain the wort into your kettle.

This process is sometimes called vorlauf.

Step 3 - The actual business of sparging

You can now 'rinse' the grain with fresh boiling hot water to collect any residual sugars. The water should be no more than 170°F to avoid tannins being released by the grains.

The trick is to work out the water required for the boil that matches your recipe.

Carefully add this second round of water to the grain mash and slowly drain it into the first wort you prepared.

Once fully drained, you are now ready to boil the wort as per your recipe.

This instructional video by the American Homebrewers Association is really well done and shows how straightforward the process is:

Do I have to sparge?

You do not, however, you will miss out on some efficiencies - a good deal of the potential fermentable sugars are not extracted from the mash,

If you are not sparging, you can simply drain the grain bed and get it ready for boiling by adding the required water.

Why should the sparge water temp not be higher than 180°F/82°C?

This is in order to avoid the extraction of tannins from the grain which is a chemical you simply do not want in your beer. Tannin can give your beer a kind of astringent taste and it simply ruins the drinking experience.

That said, a large factor is the ph level of your wort (which many suggest should be in the range of 5.2-5.8) as to whether you're gonna have a bad time with tannins or not.

Here are some ph meters that you may want to consider using.

Does milling grain technique affect the sparge?

A well milled and crushed grain will give you a good extraction efficiency.

A fine, but not too fine crush will offer more surface volume for the mashing process to release the sugars from the grain. If grains are crushed much then the grain bed can compact during the sparge which just disrupts the whole process.

If it's done just right, the grain better will act like its own filter and the lautering process should be straightforward. 

Can I simply cold water sparge?

Yes, you can. There are many brewers who swear that hot water sparges offer no greater utility than cold water efforts. Some brewers have done identical brewers, save for a hot or cold sparge and found when offering punters a blind taste test, they were unable to determine the difference. Go figure. 

I have also seen brewers suggest that a lower temperature will result in a lower body beer. Given body is quite a crucial party of the drinking experience, this is probably why most brewers sparge with hot water. 

I'd also suggest a higher temperature will mean you wort is more fluid and thus is more easily extracted from the grain bed - certainly, it will be a quicker process if your wort is not so viscous.

Your personal safety

When lautering and sparging you are using a lot of hot water, gas burners, mash tuns and kettles.

There are plenty of means and avenues for things to go wrong and you could literally end up getting burnt or scalded by hot water or wort.

Be careful. It's best to do your beer making in an area that gives you enough space. This is why many brewers often like to brew on an outside deck or sturdy table.

It's, of course, handy to teach children about the dangers of getting too close to gas burners and hot kettles. Better yet, you might want to keep the little ones away while the boil is on and when you are pouring hot water.

You yourself may wish to consider using some protective gloves and perhaps wear a waterproof apron and shoes!

While this may be teaching you to suck eggs, a new first-time brewer should be very mindful of these things. 

And for goodness sake, if you do burn yourself, get some cold water on the burn site pronto! Your skin is more important than your beer!

If I am doing a boil in a bag, do I need to sparge?

If you want to get all those sugars that might still be lurking in the bag, then it's wise to sparge.

Help, my mash has got clogged!

You may have over milled your grain and now the grain filter is too compact. This can also be caused by running the water off too fast. If this happens 's stop what you are doing and give the grain bed a gentle stir. Adding sum sparge water may help.

If things have gone really wrong, you may have to remove the mash, clean your tun and start again.

>> How to do small batch brewing

small batch brewing one gallon

Small Batch brewing - why do brewers even bother?

"Small Batch Brewing" sounds like one of those fancy brewing terms like 'attenuation', IBU or the line 'makes a great session beer'.

After all, when you're brewing 5 gallons of beer, that's just a small batch, right?

And that's kind of fair.

Some brewers like to go big with their batches or they go home.

When going in large (or even often) a key factor is that the brewer knows they have a tried and true recipe, one they themselves may have made many times before.

They might even have a sweet shed out the back where they can line up a row of conical fermenters, store their malt and condition their brewers. There might even be a keezer standing proudly in the corner.

And that's all good stuff as a dedicated beer maker - but if you want to experiment with your ingredients and hops and get some spice in your life as the Spice Girls suggested, then small batch brewing is a way to achieve that in terms of beer economy.

There's no point in spending plenty of your hard earned money to make 5 gallons of beer when you are only experimenting with some random chocolate raspberry stout with some random Yugoslavian yeast. If it turns out poor, who is going to drink it all?

So what level of volume are we talking here?

The common philosophy (brewlospophy?) of brewers is that a smaller batch of one or two gallons offers enough room to produce some good beers, that is worth the time and effort but also gives one the leeway to experiment by trying new ideas, timings and the like.

Small batches are also a great way to get some mastery over all grain brewing at a smaller scale.

For some beer makers, the cost of spices, fruits and fancy yeasts or hops can be out of reach or unjustified when brewing at scale, but at the smaller volume, it's worth it to try and see if the beer 's concept is worth pursuing.

Small batch brewing is also really useful for those without space.

Apartment dwellers across the world do not have sheds or garages they can pursue their hobby in. They are actually lucky if they have a dark wardrobe in which they can store their beer!

They also do not have space for 30 litre kettles, fermenters, mash tuns or wort chillers!

That way, that can get away with doing a wort boil in a small pot on the stove top or gas burner.

Things to think about when small batch brewing

Correct ingredient measurement

Correct measurements of your ingredients are extremely important. When brewing at scale, a little bit extra malt or a little less hops will not affect the beer too much but at the small scale, the differences can be quite notable which means that the beer you are intending to make, might not be the beer you produce.

You may wish to use a set of scales to measure out your ingredients and if you are converting from a larger 5-gallon recipe, make sure you get your conversion maths correct! E.g. if your 5-gallon recipe calls for 5kg of Gladfield Ale Malt but you are making one gallon, you need only one kilogram of the malt. 

Pot size

Small-scale mashing can easily be done in the typically small pots one has around the home. For every 1 gallon of space you have in your mashing vessel, you can mash 2.0 lbs of grain and collect about 1 gallon of precious wort.

A watched pot boils quicker

A smaller sized pot will get to the desired boiling temperature much quicker than normal, so to avoid boil overs, you'll need to be vigilant and eagle-eyed to catch it early.

You'll also want to make sure the wort doesn't get scorched or even evaporate too much!

If you are using a gas burner, we suggest you don't max out those BTU until you have a good feel for the timings of the wort coming to the boil.

Chilling the wort

You probably don't need to get your Copperhead out if you are doing a small brewing. You totally can of course if you kettle can accommodate the size of your chiller but you can also get away with an efficient ice bath. 

With a bag of ice in a sink or large bucket, you can reduce the wort temp pretty quickly - the smaller the wort size, the quicker it will be.

Pitch less yeast

Given the reduction in scale, it makes sense that you can pitch less yeast into the wort - same temperature rules apply though - only pitch when the wort is cooled to the appropriate temperature. 

We'd suggest that you actually use a yeast calculator to because that stuff can be expensive - if you can some yourself for the next brew, why not?

Another sweet benefit is that if you are a fan of liquid yeast, you may not need to use a yeast starter. 

What do I ferment the wort in if I'm doing a small batch?

You can totally use your standard sized carboy or plastic drum fermenter to do your micro batch.

A lot of brewers like to use 1 or 3 gallon glass carboys as well.

However, if you are microbrewing due to space restrictions, you can use anything smaller such as a bucket with a lid. I've even seen people use Coke bottles for small brews!

Whatever fermentation mechanism you use, you still need to apply standard cleaning and sanitization methods - bacteria doesn't give two hoots how big your unit is, they just want a space to do their thing. 

Small Batch Brewing is not Pico or Nano brewing

Pico is a little-used term is applied to breweries with systems 3bbls or smaller who produce less than 600 barrels of beer per annum. There is also a brand of beer brewing machine called a Pico, which frankly just seems like a waste of time as it reduces the brewing experience to effectively that of making filtered coffee.

↦ Using calibration buffer solutions to calibrate a pH meter

using ph buffer solutions

How to calibrate a ph meter using a buffer solution

While beer making is a bit of a science, taking the pH level of your beer is like some kind of advance astrophysics lesson because it seems so complicated, what with all the calculations and formula.

Some guy called Nernst apparently had a lot to do with it.

Anyways, taking a pH reading can be complicated because a serious brewer needs to properly calibrate their pH meter so it gives a correct reading which then means the brewer can make a good call about how their beer is going.

And to calibrate your meter, you need calibration or buffer solution.

What is a buffer solution?

A calibration or buffer solution is a chemical solution that is used to calibrate a pH meter.

A buffer solution is one which resists changes in pH when small amounts of acid or alkali are mixed with the buffer. Acidic buffer solutions are commonly made from a weak acid and one of its salts - often a sodium salt.

The buffer is used to develop a calibration curve. This a scientific method for determining the concentration of a substance in an unknown sample by comparing the unknown to a set of standard samples of known concentration

In the case of calibrating a pH meter, 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 tend 'drift away' from their calibrated settings, it's just their nature due to the product design. 

It thus very important to calibrate your pH meter often so that the accuracy of your results is maintained.

Devices other than pH meters need calibration with a solution too, such as refractometers and conductivity meters.

What are standard buffer solutions?

The definition is that Standard pH calibration solutions should have an accuracy of +/- 0.01 pH at 25°C (77°F) and come usually in seven different pH values from 1.68 to 10.01.

The most popular and commonly used buffers are (4.01, 7.01, and 10.01). Good brands are dyed different colors so they can be easily identified by the brewer and thus used in the correct order.

Standard buffer solutions can be used to calibrate almost any common pH meter so you don't need to fall into the trap of say, for example, using a Hanna brand buffer for a Hanna meter. You could of course because Hanna make quality meters! The Milwaukee MW102 is pretty popular too! And let's not get started on how big a seller the Apera is!

This does mean that you can look at price and value per mls when deciding what brand to use.

There are two other kinds of calibration standards - Technical and Millesimal

Technical solutions come with a certificate of analysis (COA) which affirms that the solution will absolutely perform to the standard as described.

Millesimal calibration solutions are used in labs where an accuracy down to three decimal places is required, think along the lines of municipal drinking water plants, and medical research facilities where readings can be absolutely crucial to good human health outcomes!

Homebrewers generally just stick with standard calibration solutions which they often order online from Amazon.

Why you need to use fresh calibration solution

Brewers and testers should always use fresh calibration solution when calibrating one's pH electrode. 

All pH measurements are based on the pH calibration solution as a reference point so the solution needs to be pure and not contaminated. 

Think of this like contact lens solution, when it gets old, you don't use it to clean your lenses, you bin it and go with fresh.

It's generally recommended then that opened bottles of buffer solution should be dispensed with after they have been opened for 6 months. The higher the buffer's pH ( from  > 7 ), the quicker it will degrade.

If you are calibrating fairly infrequently, you may wish to consider using single-use solution sachets rather than bottled.

using buffer solution to calibrate ph meter

How do I use a calibration solution?

Your meter's pH electrode should ideally be cleaned in purified water before placing it your pH calibration buffer. This reduces the chance of contaminating the solution

A good practice is to be to use two beakers/containers for each calibration buffer that you will use.

Your method would be to clean the pH electrode with purified water then rinse the probe in one of the beakers with the buffer then place the probe in the second beaker with buffer.

Repeat this practice for multiple calibration points.

For best results, the user must ensure the pH probe has been cleaned and that it is rinsed with clean water between calibration solutions to reduce contamination of the pH solutions.

Here's a handy video guide on how to use your meter with the buffer:

If your solutions are clear, make sure you mark them out before you begin calibrating! You could leave the bottle or sachet close to the beaker as a reference. 

To obtain a correct pH calibration reading, the unit's accuracy is very dependent on the accuracy and age of the calibration solutions used, and the condition and cleanliness of the pH probe tip. You will get a calibration error if the unit is not properly maintained as per the instruction manual.

Never reuse calibration solution

Once you have calibrated your device and then tested beer wort, you should dispose of the reference calibration solution.

Given it has been exposed to the environment and has had equipment placed in it, there's a fair risk of contamination - so adding that to your original sample can risk ruining all your fluid!

The same applies to reusing the test sample at a later date. Just don't chance it.

Check out these common ph testing mistakes for other ways to avoiding screwing up. 

Making homemade calibration solutions

While some brewers can try to make their own DIY solutions to save money, the results prove to be homemade buffers that are not accurate or stable. This is a wasted effort as the buffer can be guaranteed to interfere with the accuracy of the test results.

Thus, we don't recommend you try to make your own! Check out the options available on Amazon.

↠ How to use honey in beer brewing (if you want to increase your ABV)

using honey to make home brew alcoholic

How to use honey in your beer brewing

Using honey to make beer is a trick of the trade that’s as old as hills but is still just as awesome an idea today as it was when the hills where made.

Adding bee honey to your homebrew efforts is a splendid way to add interesting aromas and flavours to your beer. 

Let’s clarify that adding honey to your beer doesn’t make it mead.

Mead is made wholly from honey whereas, for our purposes, we are simply adding honey to the beer to help impart flavour. Doing this results in a drop known as a braggot, which is arguably a kind of mead. 

It’s also an interesting way to increase the alcohol content (ABV) of your beer.

For the sakes of keeping things simple, the casual or novice brewer will probably simply want to use honey of the kind from a supermarket. The pros might want to use some wild honey sourced from a local supplier or bee specialist however it’s not without risk in terms of bacteria in wild honey having a wrestling match with the yeast in the beer wort as it ferments. 

There are also health risks about using honey, as for example in New Zealand honey can have Tutin contamination, which causes toxicity in honey. So make sure your honey supplier knows what they are doing.

We suggest you stick with ordinary honey that you would be happy to feed your children. 

So when do I add honey to my beer?

In the most basic sense, to add honey to your beer, simply add it when you are preparing your beer kit. Once you’ve added in the malt extract, hops, DME or dextrose etc, this is the time to add your honey.

You may want to soften the honey by placing the jar in some warm water (don’t boil it!). This way it will pour easily into your fermenter.

You’re probably now asking how much honey do you add to your brew?

I’ve seen recommendations that suggest anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of your total wort can be honey. I’ve also read it expressed in that you can add up to 50% of your total fermentable sugars as honey.  Either way, there’s room for you to experiment.

Take note that adding too much honey to your brew may increase fermentation time (but as a patient brewer, this should be no problem for you!).  Also, the more honey you add, the more akin to mead your beer may taste. 

What kind of honey to use? 

We said anything from the supermarket, just bear in mind that different honey will have different characteristics.

A brewer, who actually knows what they are doing have written that you might want to consider adding an increased amount of bittering hops to somewhat counter the sharper, more sweet flavour that could result if you use a lot of honey.

Your beer may also have a somewhat drier mouthfeel.

Can I use honey to carbonate my beer?

Honey sure can be used to bottle condition and carbonate beer. Don't add too much or you may end up with too much secondary fermentation and get a gusher beer

Image credit to Jason Riedy via Creative Commons Licence

↠ 33 tips and tricks for home brewers (have a look, you don't know everything!)

tips for brewing beer

Moar tips for making good beer

Let's face it, you don't know everything but even Han Solo had room to improve so here's some brewing tips.
  1. If you're a kitchen based brewer, bottling beer over your dishwasher door; clean up is as simple as closing the door.
  2. Clean out your 'Boil in a Bag' brew bag by first shaking it out, then turning it inside out and holding it under the shower.
  3. Pour the contents of the bag into a bowl and use that to pour into boiling water. It is MUCH easier to scrape extract out of a bowl.
  4. The importance of brewing with fresh ingredients cannot be overstated. The quality of home brewed beer can only be as good as the quality of the ingredients going into the brew kettle.
  5. Be wary that if using dry malt extract, the steam from boiling water causes significant amounts of extract to cake onto the sides of the bag. If this is an issue for you, we suggest you put the DME in first before you add the water.
  6. Re-hydrate dry yeast that you've saved by pouring it into a plastic bottle of water (of the correct temperature of course), capping it, and shaking. Burp any excess gas by gently opening the bottle (as you would a bottle of soda). When it comes time to pitch the yeast, simply pour out of the bottle into your wort.
  7. Placing a packet of silica gel in your hydrometer case can help absorb any residual moisture that may be left after using it (we think this is a flight of fancy in some ways and not necessary).
  8. Use a ph Meter to test your mash.
  9. There are plenty of different kinds of hops, and for best results match the kind of beer you are brewing to the hops known to best compliment that style.
  10. Try to 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 the New Zealand derived Green Bullet hop is also very handy.
  11. When making a yeast starter, place the flask inside of a plastic grocery bag, and then place it on the stir plate. Should the starter overflow, the mess is contained within the plastic bag.
  12. 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.We love this idea. Put a book or other wedge under the back of your fermenter after sealing it up. On brewing day, gingerly slide the book/wedge to the front of the fermenter and you'll have a slanted yeast cake and a nice "deep end of the pool" in the back side of the fermenter to rack from.
  13. You can use a hydrometer to work out the alcohol content of your beer
  14. 60 carbonation drops, will be enough drops for one 23 litre brew.
  15. A few marbles, glass beads, or large SS ball bearings will reduce the risk of boil over dramatically. It works by providing nucleation points at the bottom so that large bubbles rise up and pop and less small bubbles are available to form foam. Of course, if you use foam inhibitor such as Fermcap-S, you probably don't need any other hacks! 
  16. Cool the Wort quickly -Doing this will increase the fallout of proteins and tannins that are bad for the beer.
  17. Using a spray bottle of Star San solution seems like a good hack. Doesn't waste time with dunking everything in a bucket when you can just spray it liberally and get good coverage.
  18. Put spigots in all of my fermenting buckets, so you need to use an auto syphon.
  19. When transferring out of a fermenter into a keg, fill 1 pint mason jars with the slurry, and refrigerate them so that you can use it as a yeast starter for another brew.
  20. Using sodium percarbonate is our preferred method to sanitize as it works well, no rinse is required and it's very easy to order in bulk online.
  21. You can make a 'hops tea' to ensure the hop flavours get into the beer.
  22. Buy hops in bulk to save money. Make sure you are going to use it though! You can store excess hops by keeping it frozen.
  23. Don't bottle your beer too early or you will suffer the rage of Darth Vader, cursing you out for not being patient. So when doing your first brews, make sure it can be done in a warmish area and one that's going to keep that temperature fairly constant - A very rough guide is that you should aim to brew lagers between 10-14 degrees, and get those ales done between 18-21 degrees.
  24. There are two ways you can add the sugar to your beer - you can prime the whole batch in one go by adding your liquid sugar into the fermenter or you can add sugar to each bottle individually.
  25. To get a creamy mouth feel, use more ‘unfermentables’ in your beer. In effect this is malt. The more malt you add, the 'creamier' your beer will be. This is in the sense that your beer will be more viscous, making it feel thicker in your mouth. Instead of hand cleaning your bottles and dunking them in sanitizer put them in the dishwasher bottom rack. USE NO DETERGENT, and put the dishwasher on the hottest cycle. The temperature is hot enough to kill the nasties that could infect your beer (we also add the dish washer is handy for removing bottle labels).
  26. You can add extra fermentables like DME, on top of what your recipe asks for, to increase the ABV of the beer.
  27. When we say clean we actually mean clean AND sterilized. Sterilize the heck out of everything you use. If you're starting out as a home brewer, your kit should contain a cleansing and sterilizing agent.
  28. Don't rush in like a schoolboy - leaving 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.
  29. When bottling, you may wish to give the successfully bottles a gentle tip or two to make sure that all the sugar is in the liquid and has a chance to dissolve. This is also an opportunity to inspect for broken seals. You don't need to bottle straight away, just because the fermentation bottle has stopped bubbling - If the bubbles in the airlock appear to have finished, this is not necessarily a sign that the fermentation process has halted. It's quite likely that there's still some fermentation quietly happening in the plastic fermenter drum or carboy.
  30. Batch priming is a great way to get the sugar levels for bottle carbonation correct and to reduce the chance of beer gushers.
  31. Get the bigger kettle or pot, in the long run, you’ll save money  - for many first homebrewers the 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.
  32. At a pinch, you can use baking yeast to make beer. 
  33. Try the odd jelly bean as a substitute carbonation drop!