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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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In Triplicate is our (Brewaucracy's) Belgian Tripel. 15% Sugar. 5% of that is added during the boil. The other 10% is added in three additions near the tail end of fermentation. It took me several iterations to decide on that regime. I found when I added it all in the boil, the yeast would often give up the ghost and stop short of terminal gravity. Three additions late keeps the yeast focused on those complex sugars while still giving them enough energy to chomp through every last bit of potential fermentable material. I'm fairly happy with where it's at now. I'd not change it.

On the topic of underpitching for more esters - latest research actually suggests the opposite. Check out the Brewer's Publications "Yeast" book for more details. My own experimentation supports this, despite me previously believing the myth! What have you guys found?

Yea I just read that recently, I always thought underpitching in Hefes etc was what you wanted to enhance banana-ry esters, but Zainasheffs Yeast book says the opposite. I can't really say either way, but I'll go with Jamil and your experimentation! Look forward to trying the Triplicate.

I have read yeast. I dont recall it saying this at all. page nos?

From personal experience I have found this to be true. Seeing as a substantial amount of the yeast derived flavours and aroma comes from the growth phase, I am not sure how you believe it to be a myth. More growth = more flavour compounds.

Obviously...when i say i underpitch, I dont mean by a huge margin. But pitching the mr malty numbers get me bland belgians. 

Don't have it on me but there's a page-sized chart with a bunch of little up and down arrows with things like "esters" and other flavours/characteristics written beside them, stating that underpitching reduces esters rather than increasing them. I know, my head was scratched as well. I'm pretty sure it's Jamil's book, although it may have been another "Yeast" book...

ok found it. page 105. But that shows as pitching rate goes up, esters go down. Which is exactly what i said. 

Oh good, my sanity/sensibilities remain intact. Not sure how I read that wrong...must have dyslexified the little arrows? What is this research you speak of Greig?

Referenced in latest Zymurgy if you're AHA members - can't remember though, sorry. Also, my copy of Yeast is on loan, so can't point to it. I remember the data was from a Dr. Clayton Cone though if you want to look it up - my memory may be horribly flawed! :) I'll check Zymurgy if I have time tonight.

Apologies if I've put you crook. Honestly though, I have found an increase in "desirable" esters (vs unpleasant ones) from overpitching slightly. That said, I only use about four strains of yeast these days! I want to re-read Yeast now. Time to nag the borrower!

Yeah its always a balancing act. Because most of my brews are high gravity belgians its usually a balancing act between increasing esters without getting too much additional fusals. Clearly the somewhat larger system you use will have its own parameters. 

I had several brews in a row where I did huge starters (as per mr malty) etc, and they were not meeting my preferences at all. I had to look back on the brew logs and that was the only obvious difference from previous batches.

So when i changed my pitching rates (dropped it a bit) i got back to where i liked it.

Thats my experience, with my equipments though. 

Oh, no, to clarify, I'm talking about homebrewed 20L batches. Totally agree that the fermenter geometry and size has a massive (groan, sorry) effect though.

I've been brewing a 1.7kg tin of William Warn EPA with 2 kg of DME and rehydrating a 11g Nottingham Ale Yeast.

Excuse my ignorance, but what kind of 'sugar' content does this equate to? Should I be substituting a certain % of the DME with dextrose/brewing sugar? So far the straight DME has been adding a nice smooth 'maltiness' to the end product.

I'm about to try my first 'full-boil' (previously I've been doing the old make up 20 litres, draw off 5 litres and boil for 60mins with hop additions). Am I best to boil the 2kg of DME for the full 60 (or 90?) minutes, add my hops at whatever intervals and then add the extract at the end?

Excellent discussion for the novices ... thanks for starting it off Mike :)

that would be 0% simple sugars. you are doing well, we are talking about simple sugar, being table sugar etc. Yours is pretty much all malt as far as i can see.. Thats great

Yea, that's a great malt setup Matt, don't be substituting any dextrose/brewing sugar! Most people (like JR above) would warn against boiling the kit, as it can increase caramelisation (not as much of a problem with an English Pale Ale) and the risk of viscous malt extract sticking and burning on the bottom of the pot. Warm it up before hand in boiling water. Also JR notes that boiling for too long can make the hops in the kit too bitter, which makes sense. I would personally boil 1kg of DME for 60min, 1 kg for 20 and put the kit in 5 mins before flameout to sterilise it. Technically the kit should be sterile anyway, but you can't be too careful. The logic for staggering the DME is to avoid clumping and improve hop utilisation. Here is your setup on hopville: http://hopville.com/recipe/1689664 - as you can see it is too strong for the style at 20L so you should bump it up to 23L = 5.3%. I'm not sure how much bittering the kit contains so there are just flavour hops taken from an online bitter recipe, hence the low projected IBUs. Make sure your pot has plenty of headspace, if you're boiling for 60 mins you will need approx 29L pre-boil volume in your pot to account for boiloff...and the DME/LME will want to boil over. Of course you could always start with 23L and then top up your fermenter with 5-7L of preboiled water at the end...


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