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Simple Things to Avoid When Kit Brewing –A.K.A. Don’t Listen to the Can!

Simple Things to Avoid When Kit Brewing –A.K.A. Don’t Listen to the Can!

Hey guys, long time watcher first time poster. This is a resource I've been working on for a while - a do/don't resource for first time kit brewers. After starting on terrible kit beers for about a year and a half it dawned on me that the advice given on the cans is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. Many kit brewers brew terrible beers when in fact, they could brew good beers with very little extra effort, just a different method. I don't brew with kits any more but this should help those that do, and much of the advice transfers to well to extract/partial and AG brews. I've put this up as a resource on the Chch homebrew club facebook, as well as the UC brew club, and am after any advice  Most of the background info comes from Brewing Network podcasts, Jamil/JP etc, but some of it is based on personal experience and inference. If anyone has any suggestions/corrections post here, but keep it simple for first time brewers (ie yeast starters etc are probably a bit advanced/an extra step of effort for most first time kit brewers).

-         AVOID LAGER AND CERVESA KITS! As a general rule, the lighter the beer, the harder it is to hide mistakes in the brewing process. Cheap lager kits (think Coopers/Black Rock Lager) have nothing much in the way of flavour (like most commercial lagers!) and even when brewed well can come out thin. Regardless of your personal drinking habits, you are better to go for fuller flavour kits: amber, brown, real and dark ales, porters, stouts and IPAs. Anything but a lager. (JR - Realbeer): When it comes to kits fresh is best.  Get them as new as possible and if it is past its use by date then use it for making starters or throw it away.


-         CLEAN THEN SANITISE EVERYTHING that’s not being boiled. What Brewtec sells as ‘No Rinse Sanitiser’ is actually a cleaner, Sodium Percarbonate. You need to soak/store your fermenter/bottles/anything-that-needs-sanitation in this solution, then sanitise with a sanitiser. Sodium Metabisulphite is the most common, but it need to dry to be effective. Iodophor or Starsan are ideal, and can be purchased from brewshop.co.nz. The four most important things to remember about good brewing are: Cleaning, Sanitation, Sanitation, Sanitation!


-         DON’T USE A WHOLE KILO OF TABLE SUGAR/DEXTROSE in the boil or in the fermenter. Too much sugar (along with hot fermentation, see below) is the primary cause of acetaldehyde (a cidery ‘bad homebrew’ off-flavour) and diacetyl. The yeast will eat the sugar first and will not properly ferment the malt. You are better off to ditch the sugar and just brew a half batch (11.5L) with kit only, or stretch it to 15L with 150g sugar. If you want to make 23L, use two kits or get some malt extract!  (JR - Realbeer): Try a 1.5kg kit with 500g light DME and 500g brew enhancer for 18.9L. 2 kits can come out too bitter because you got twice the bittering hops. 


-         BOIL YOUR KIT (ARGUABLE) in as much water as you can for at least 15mins to sterilise and dissolve the malt extract properly, in a large pot with a decent amount of headspace. Pour the extract in slowly and stir vigorously to prevent burning.  Be careful as the extract will make the pot boil over very easily. Cool the pot in the sink and top up the fermenter with cold water (preferably pre-boiled and cooled or bottled bulk 10L spring water). You want the wort to be cold (17-18C) when you pitch the yeast. If you want to skip this step to save time you can. (From JR- Realbeer:) I would boil the dry malt extract in as much water as you can (and possibly any hops you want to add) then add you actual kit at flame out.  That gives it enough heat to dissolve and kill 99.??% of bugs while not messing with any late hops that were added in the kit making process.


-         DON’T USE KIT YEAST! Fermentis S-04 (English Ale) and US-05 (American Ale) are industry standard brewing yeasts that can be purchased for +/- $5 from Bin Inn and Your Shout. They are miles ahead of the yeast that tends to come with kits, giving cleaner flavours, better fermentation and more compacted yeast cake in the bottom of the fermenter and bottles. US-05 is my personal favourite and is used for most of 8 Wired’s beers now. Spend the $5 = better beer.


-         DON’T PITCH DRY YEAST STRAIGHT INTO THE FERMENTER!  Pitching dry kills about half of your yeast cells. If you’re only using a 5 gram kit yeast pack this means you will underpitch and the yeast will struggle to start fermenting quickly = possible infection, stuck fermentation and bad beer. Always rehydrate your yeast 20 mins before pitching in boiled, cooled water (20-30C – cool in the sink). This is not as essential if you buy 11.5g Fermentis yeast packs separately, but still very worthwhile. Healthy yeast = better beer.


-         DON’T FERMENT OVER 21C! The can often says to ferment between 22-28C, with a higher temp giving a ‘faster ferment’. Fast is BAD. You actually need to ferment ale yeasts between 17-19C. Don’t bother using a heat pad if your beer is in this range, just leave it! Your beer will be better for it. In fact in most situations (apart from May-June-July) you usually want to cool your fermenter down to 18C. The cooler and more stable the fermentation, the cleaner the beer. You want to avoid spikes and drops in temperature, so sitting it in a large bucket filled with cold water in an insulated area (center of the house, broken chest freezer) is ideal. Better still, you can wrap the fermenter in a wet towel and let it wick up the water in the bottom of the bucket, the evaporation with knock a few degrees off the fermentation temperature. If it gets really hot, use a fan. 


-         DON’T STOP FERMENTING AFTER A WEEK! Yeast needs time to reabsorb the nasty by-products of fermentation, if you bottle after a week (or rack to secondary) you will remove the yeast from the wort and it will not be able to re-absorb off-flavour precursors. As a general rule, always stay in the primary fermentor for at least 2 weeks, 2 1/2 to 3 weeks if you can. A 4 week fermentation will not hurt the beer and will actually help clear and improve it. If you have a spare fridge, a 2-4 day crash cool to fridge temps (1-5C) before bottling will clear the beer still more. Secondary fermentation is not usually necessary and you risk oxidisation and contamination in transfer. Keep it simple and free up your fermenters for other brews.


-         DON’T DRINK AFTER TWO WEEKS IN THE BOTTLE! Your beer needs 3-4 weeks to properly carbonate and condition. Be patient. Keep the bottles in a warm place (hot water cupboard) if you can. The beer will continue to improve with time (hoppy flavours and aromas will start to drop off after a few months, however). Fridge for 24 hrs to better settle the beer, then decant slowly and steadily into a jug, leaving the yeast and about 1 cm of beer at the bottom.

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You could sub the Fuggles for Willamette or East Kent or Styrian Goldings...To be honest with your setup with the bittering hops already in the can a full boil is less necessary, I would still recommend it though. But starting at 20L will give you a final volume around 14-15L I would guess, after boil off and evaporation in cooling. Then you could top that up with 7-8L boiled chilled water. Just make sure you have a lot of ice, and if you don't have a wort chiller allow up to 1 1/2 hours (maybe more if you don't have ice) to cool the wort down to 17C to pitch at. The less hot wort you have, the quicker it will cool. A sink or bathtub with a slowly running tap and a half blocked plug make for a good DIY circulating wort chiller :P. Also I've found if you have a 50L or so boil kettle that will fit your fermenter inside, cooling the first 60-70C in the boil kettle with the sink and then transferring to the fermenter is a good tactic, because then you can fill your kettle with ice and water and put the fermenter in there, will knock off the last few C much quicker because the higher concentration of ice/water.  

Cheers for the feedback!

I've got 2 plastic fermenters, a 30 litre & a 60 litre.

Just recently I've purchased a 30 litre & a 50 litre SS pot.

The plan was to use the 30 litre pot for a 23 litre brew & the 50 litre pot for a 46 litre brew.

So far I've put a weldless 1/2" SS ball valve & a weldless 2.2kW element in the 30 litre. In addition I'm getting a temperature controller wired up to control the element c/w a SS weldless thermowell.


My plan (at this stage) is do like you suggest in your previous post - boil 1kg of DME for 60min, 1kg for 20 and put the kit in 5 mins before flameout, follow the hop addition schedule similar to your link [but due to me only having Nelson Sav & Motueka, I'll substitute the Green Bullet with NS & the Cascade with Mot] ... Very tempted to slightly increase each addition by around 50% (ie. 15g instead of 10g) - I like super hoppy beers!

I'm guessing the 'post boil, 20min' additions mentioned in the link are dryhopping? Previously I've dryhopped 50g of Mot & 50g of NS once fermentation has finished.

With this relatively large dryhop addition, I'm thinking I could aim for an initial post boil volume of around 25 litres with the idea this would off-set the volume-loss this dryhop causes??


I've recently brought a 15m coil of 12.7mm copper. I'm thinking of making two separate coils, one smallish one to sit in a bucket of very cold icey water that then feeds into a larger one to go in the pot. Figure this should significantly speed up the cooling process??


In my previous 60min 5 litre boils I've done, I've used a 10 litre pot on the stove, kept the lid on and only kept it at a gentle rolling boil. Is a gentle rolling boil with the lid on alright or should it be a little more of an aggressive boil with the lid off? The way I've done it to date results in very little boil-off/volume loss.

Oh bugger, hopville switched my recipes around again! It's a glitch, sometimes it overwrites files, turns out it renamed your EPA kit file as my mates APA recipe, and somehow linked you my all grain hoppy amber ale recipe! Here is your actual EPA kit brew with British hops I intended to link you! http://hopville.com/recipe/1688300 I hope what I said earlier about gravity, bittering hops, fuggles and ek goldings etc makes more sense now. 

Be careful about raising the bittering addition as you have bittering hops in the kit, you are more familiar with how bitter these kits are than I, so you be the judge. I guess it depends on what beer you intend to brew, I was assuming an English Pale Ale/ESB like the kit - so 1.055 OG at 23L (see the hopville link above). If you want to do a super hoppy NZ IPA  then you'll need more malt body, go 20L and 1.061 OG, or add more DME/steep some light/medium crystal grains (50L) and munich malt. 

The post-boil additions in that previous amber recipe are flame out additions, added to the kettle at 0 mins just on turning the heat off. These are similar to dry-hopping in that they give mostly aroma.

I would expect to lose a litre or so to dry hops, yea, but if you are doing an NZ IPA at 20L maybe aim for 21L? I find a long fermentation (14-21 days) with a crash cool in the fridge for 2-3 days at the end settles the hops and yeast into a compact cake, volume loss is not much of an issue, part of the game.

I wouldn't dry hop NZ hops like that for more than 5 days, as I've found Sauvin especially can impart vegetal/natural gas kinds of odours if left in the fermenter too long. Put them in 4-5 days before you bottle. 

Yes that is the exact wort chiller setup my friend has, you don't need to put in the ice into the bucket until the wort is around 40C, until then the temperature differential with tap water is enough to cool it quickly.

You want the lid off to evaporate DMS and other nasties that are in the malt. Although it is not much of an issue with extract, it is good practice to get used to boil off. 

If you ARE doing a hoppy beer, try a similar hop schedule to my amber I accidentally linked you earlier - http://hopville.com/recipe/1688646. Dry hopping is less necessary with late kettle additions like that (10-5-1-0minutes) as they give mostly hop aroma anyway.

Good advice - just be aware though that Munich malt needs mashing to convert the starches - it isn't a crystal malt that you can just steep to add body.  A 40min mash at 67degrees should do the trick.

Yeap, we always steeped between 65-70 for 35-40mins with all our grains when we were doing kits/extract, minimises tannin extraction and converts those grains that can.

i have a full 15m coil, it goes from boiling to 27 degress in 30 mins with lowish flow and very high amient water temp ie 20


I personally wouldnt bother with 2 coils as even after cooling you want it to stand for a while to seperate cold break , whirlpool etc,   commercial brewerys often have wort standing for some time hence whirlpool additioins





^ Yeah, this is true, but I tend to leave the wort for 15 mins or so if doing flame out additions anyway, then start the wort chiller. Also I like to pitch at 17C to be safe so the ice is pretty essential to get it down with ambient water temp being between 18-20 this time of year.

What are your thoughts on these? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVf-lTFpR2c

Pretty keen on building one of these - a lot more straight forward and quicker than your typical immersion type chiller?

Thanks for all the feedback/advice :)

Quicker yes...straightforward no. A immersion chiller is much easier and cheaper to build, and if you immerse the kettle in a bucket of cold water as well (which can also be circulating/iced) they are pretty efficient if you have enough coils. Many people don't use enough copper in too tight (small circumference) a coil though, the more of the copper in the wort at your standard brew volume the better. My mate Douglas uses an immersion chiller and a simple pump to circulate the hot wort, and gets good cooling efficiency, and I use the aforementioned immersion + bucket technique. Then again, if you're a dab hand with pipes etc and don't mind putting a bit of work in, that counterflow chiller would be ideal, particularly for large batches (+40L) where the efficiency of the immersion chiller drops somewhat. Just make sure it sanitised, you would want to run boiling wort through it and back into the fermenter for a bit i'd say. 

I haven't read this thread but here are my three tips

- filter your water
- use liquid yeast
- DONT ferment in plastic (glass or stainless)

Sound advice, I think the last two a little pricey for most kit brewers though. Maybe I'll add an "advanced" section at the bottom for stuff like this. Considering most of 8 wired's beers (Hopwired, Superconductor, iStout, Smoked Porter, Tall Poppy and a few other "non-specialty" ones) are fermented with US-05 now (along with a good chunk of APAs), it's easier to convince a first time brewer to fork out $5 for that rather than $16-20 for liquid. Also using liquid pretty much necessitates good starters/yeast washing, which is another step or three in the process that I'm sure first timers would like/need to cut out. I'm glad I live in Christchurch where the water out of the tap is some of the best in the country (mind you it got pretty shoddy after the EQs and has slightly more chlorine than before, still unnoticable). I personally don't filter but I would definitely recommend for most north islanders. 


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