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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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-         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.

Could someone please explain this is simple terms.

Dehydrated yeast have very permeable cell walls, if you rehydrate with 18-20C wort, the sugar will pass through the cell and weaken/kill some of them, about 30-40% loss of viability in some cases http://www.northernbrewer.com/connect/2010/06/the-importance-of-bei.... See also http://www.howtobrew.com/section1/chapter6-5.html but I would avoid adding sugar.

So you will simply need more yeast if you pitch dry. The problem is rehydrating adds another process step and must be done properly, warmer than ferment temp (I generally aim for 25-27C), but then cooled to hit around wort temp (20C). I just do this in the sink, boiling the water first. 

The 5g packs are not enough to start with, let alone old, stored at room temperature with the cans. A fresh 11.5g pack of US-05, on the other hand, is going to have enough cells to handle being pitched dry into a typical 1045 OG kit brew.  

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