Saturday, April 3, 2010

Where should you begin?

I'd advise most people wanting to get started to get themselves into it with kit brewing. You can be set up to brew with about a 70 euro investment. The first kit you buy will continue to serve you if you keep it well even when you decide to advance to more complicated stuff, the base equipment is always essentially the same.
A Kit like this for example will start you off with a kit and the equipment you need to bottle (bar bottles) for only €51.99 and then you add a kilo of spraymalt so you're brewing a really nice beer for 60 euros and the next one all you do is buy a new kit and the rest of the equipment will be reused.

I personally found 3kg kits to be, in almost all cases, superior to one can kits. The Woodfordes range that I used is also easily available and reasonably priced if you consider you have to add nothing else to the kit apart from priming sugar.

So that's the stuff you need and the kits that I liked to use while I was doing kits, the next thing is a post from a while back from Irish Craft Brewer where I was asked to help with photos for their own knowledge base, so I did up a brew and documented the lot with the camera.

I hope this is informative and let me know if it's pitched too high. Remember you don't need the exact kit I use, I just find that kit makes jobs like this easier.

Regarding the price of a brew, once set up with equipment, you need only rebuy kits, the 3kg kits that I use work out about 20 euros for 40 pints, a one kilo kit with spraymalt addition will come to about the same give or take.
Considering that you can turn out REALLY good beer with a kit, it's well worth it.

Ok here we go, tonights brew session documented in Pictures, I can add a better commentary if you want, but here's the pics for now.

All the gear laid out ready to go.
I am illustrating spraymalt, but am not using it as these are 3kg all malt kits and need no extra additions. If you happen to have a 1 tin kit you would be well advised to use spraymalt or liquid malt extract to make up the necessary extra fermentables.
If you use table sugar as some kits advise you will probably be disappointed with the results.

Woodfordes kits, the beers I will be brewing tonight. What can I say, I love the stuff, it's top quality beer and so so easy to make.

The contents of an opened kit, in this case it is the Admirals Reserve kit which is the only one with a pack of hop powder to add, the rest contain only two tins and one silver pack of yeast.

Here's my sanitation* and water treatment stuff.
I fill my large yellow bucket with 40 litres of water, then 60ml of vinegar which I mix in and then I add 60ml of the thin bleach, this makes a solution which is suitable for sanitising of all equipment. You can scale this mixture as you wish.
* since this session I no longer use this mixture, and in any case the milton was a really bad idea, buy cheap thin bleach that has no surfactant.

My fermentation bins and bottling bin all scrubbed with a little washing up liquid in the bath.

Spraymalt which you would use if you were using a one tin kit. This would be boiled in a pot with campden treated water for a few minutes before being added to the tin of malt as you shall see later.

The thermometer and hydrometer which are optional for kit brewers, if you follow instructions and want to keep it simple you will come out more or less at what the manufacturer claims for an alcohol content.
I leave my fermenters 4-5** weeks in primary so don't always bother with these.
**Since this post I would advise 3-4 weeks, 5 is mostly too much, but will do no harm apart from possibly impart a bit of yeasty flavour which is sometimes unwanted.

This is a fermenter in the sanitisation bucket, everything that I use including the tin opener will be dropped in here when not in use.
Once the bucket is cleaned then I run a little water in from the tap and rinse it lightly, this solution is supposed to be no rinse so I don't go overboard with rinsing.

I add a half a campden tablet to every five gallons of water to get rid of the chlorine and chloramine in the tap water. Crush the tablets between two spoons, I don't bother sanitising these spoons as campden is pretty good as a steriliser itself.

Buckets of water with campden added which I will use to add to the malt.

I put two pots on the stove, one with hot water that I will use to wash out the tins of malt to get it all out, the other I will put the tins into while still closed to warm the malt so that it becomes more fluid and will pour better. If the tins are cold it'll be like treacle or worse and you'll have a hard time getting the malt out. I tend to dunk the ends of these in the cleaning bucket before opening with a sterilised tin opener.

When the malt is warm you can open the tin and pour it into the bucket, I then scrape the rest out with a sanitised spatula before adding boiling water to the tin and rinsing around to get the rest of the malt out, this also goes into the fermenter.
When I add them to the bucket and add the hot water then I tend to stir a bit with my paddle to thin the mix a bit before adding the rest of the cold water, otherwise you can get lumps of cold malt at the bottom of the bucket which take a while to stir in.
If you were using spraymalt you would add the boiled solution of spraymalt at this stage to make up the equivalent of the second tin of malt that these kits have.

When adding the campden treated water I am sure to splash it from a height lift the bucket high as you pour it, it'll produce a very foamy head, but more importantly it'll aerate the wort which is necessary for the yeast to reproduce in the early stage before they start to make alcohol and need no more air.
The bubbles also serve the purpose of allowing the yeast to get moist slowly and hydrate without being in a high concentration wort that can affect their early growth. Some people rehydrate their yeast in a container of water about an hour before using it, I haven't needed to so far***.
***Since this post I have started to rehydrate my yeast, it starts the ferment a lot faster when I do. Mix preboiled and cooled water in a glass with hot water to get to 30c then pitch your yeast packet on it and leave 15 minutes before pitching on your wort mixture.

When I have my buckets filled then I take a sample and read the temperature and the Original gravity, for this demo I did, but as mentioned earlier I don't always bother.
I then put on the lids and put in the bubblers, but I don't snap the lids on for the first week or so, after that I snap the lids down and allow the bubblers to do their thing.( It's handy to snap the lid down so a bucket will keep it's shape while carrying it to it's final brewing spot, then snap it off again.)
You don't need bubblers, a lot of people just use lids on the buckets which they don't snap down tight. I feel safer with them as I leave my beers for 4-5 weeks in primary and don't bother with a secondary before bottle or keg conditioning, but like I said, at the start the lids are not snapped down tight.

Ferment your beers as close to a constant 20c as you can, if you ferment too warm you get banana and clove like tastes in your beer, this is not desirable in most styles.

So there you go, hope that's helpful.

I'm not normally too popular with my wife when I do this but keeping a mop about helps with the inevitable swimming pool that develops on the floor.


  1. Great post Eoin. It's still pretty daunting because of all of the sanitizing and cleaning. I think I like the idea of the result more than the effort to get the brew. By comparison making bread is a cinch.

  2. There are two steps to it, the cleaning where I fill my bath with stuff, starting anything up to two weeks before I am going to brew to get things clean. It allows me to take it nice and slowly and not have to do lots in one night.
    If I have a lot of bottles this is certainly the way I tend to do it. Then on the day of a brew it just remains to sanitise and then away you go.
    You can also save yourself a lot of work by rinsing equipment as it becomes dirty and then the yeast and crud doesn't get a chance to dry on.
    Cleaning is certainly the most tedious part of it, especially where that ties in with bottling.
    With regard to the time it takes, like anything as you get au fait with the processes it becomes faster and easier. The other thing to remember is the old adage that anything worth doing is worth taking time over, that is definitely the case with brewing.

  3. One other point, it's a hobby that obviously also ties in very well to breadmaking. The spent grains from a brew make a lovely wholegrain bread.
    The yeast is also reusable in bread recipes.
    Not to mention beer bread, where bad beers tend to go to die, you can cook off your beer making mistakes :)

  4. Great post Eoin! I've been considering home breewing for a while and I think I am going to go for it. I will see if I can get the kit shipped to Spain and I will let you know how it goes :-)

  5. Nice one Paul, if you do it then let me know for sure.
    I'm sure you'd get the homebrew stuff locally there too. Google will let you know.

  6. Great post Eoin, keep up the good work!

    Just bottled off 20 litres of Coopers Wheat Beer the other day... had a quick sip in the process, major improvement over brew #1, which Muntons finally replaced :)

  7. Nice one James, glad you're making progress, it's a good hobby and cheap booze, what more can you want?

  8. Good info on the process. Pictures help as well:) Thanks!

  9. Good beginner guide Eoin.
    For those thinking it is a lot of work, it is not really. You can do a kit beer in an hour. Of course then you have to wait to ferment it for a couple of weeks and then bottle and condition it....

    It is a brilliant hobby and when you eventually move on to all grain, which takes up to 8 hours to brew you have a full scale obsession on your hands as well as better beer than you can buy from most liquor stores and most bars.

  10. I read your post Which is very good will we your next post
    thermometer and hydrometer