Recently I've been asked to take things back to basics and talk about starting out using pre hopped kit cans. This is how a lot of us home brewers get started, and Paddy and I were no different. I've listed a few basics below to get you started.
It's important to note here that in a very general sense, most of the steps are the same for all grain and kit brewing, the obvious difference being that in a kit, the brewing of the wort has been done for you (and said wort has been carefully concentrated down to a molasses like syrup under controlled temperatures), so there’s a lot less work to do.
A lot of people tend to speak negatively about kit brewing, but I have many fond memories of brewing with Paddy and the boys, sitting around sipping kit brews at home brew days put on by old mates, and even my first taste back in Sydney many moons ago, when my cousin shared her home brewed lager with me, and I slept on the couch next to her coopers fermenter bubbling away in an old one bedroom apartment.
So today I'm going to walk you through some basics, and remember, there are a lot of great online resources you can use to gather some great tips etc. (I quite like the Complete Joy of Homebrewing that my home brewing mate put me onto a few years back).
First things first, sanitation is king. There is nothing more likely to ruin your first brew than poor sanitation. Thoroughly clean every thing until there is no visible debris or dirt left on any equipment that will come in contact with the brew. Not just the fermenter itself, think spoons, seals, taps etc (read up on cleaning here). Then sanitise everything carefully using your preferred method. I'm a Star San guy, but unscented bleach diluted correctly is fine too.
The next most important factor is temperature control. Now the humble plastic fermenter doesn't offer a lot in terms of temp control, but you can look at a few options to greatly improve your outcomes:
- If the ambient temp in your home is reasonably stable and can keep your brew in the 18-22 degree °C range, that's perfect.
- Insulate your fermenter with an old sleeping bag or Doona to minimise temperature fluctuations.
- In cold areas, you may want to look at a cheap heat mat or belt to assist in maintaining a certain temperature, just be sure to purchase from a reputable source.
You need to be sure primary fermentation is complete before you bottle. On average, most simple kit brews take about 5 days to fully ferment, but that's ONLY IF THEY WERE IN THE CORRECT TEMPERATURE RANGE THE WHOLE TIME. If in doubt, you can easily get away with a two week primary fermentation without any noticeable degradation of beer quality on a kit brew. To confirm primary fermentation is complete, you want the same hydrometer reading on three consecutive days as a rule of thumb.
I also highly recommend starting off with carbonation drops. Yes this is a slightly more expensive option, but it's a lot less risky in the beginning (too much priming sugar and you end up with beer bottles exploding...Paddy knows all about this one, he's still pulling glass out of his garage wall). Later you can switch to a more cost effective method, we're only talking about a few cents a bottle after all. (Don’t forget those bottles need to be squeaky clean and sanitised)
You can purchase Coopers carbonation drops here.
Once you've bottled, stored these beers in a cool dark cupboard or garage, and allow a least a month of maturation before you move to the fridge. Give them a week in the fridge prior to drinking too.
That's it...The rest you'll need to know specifics for the beer you're brewing. But be sure to take the time to enjoy the beer you brew with your friends, and know that over time you can work up to more advanced methods.