How To Use A Hydrometer27/09/2022
Brewing Sugar Or Granulated Sugar?14/10/2022
Making Your Own Beers, Lagers & Ciders Using Kits
As I write, prices are on the up. Whether it be the household bills or the cost of everyday goods, there has been a marked change over the last few months if not year or so. People are looking at how they can save money without cutting back on the simple pleasures that they enjoy in life and look forward to.
Here at BREWATHOME.SHOP we have seen a huge influx in those wanting to make homemade beers, lagers and ciders. With the availability of seasonal produce, at this time of year, there is never a better time to get started in this hobby. Maybe you once had a go and want to get back into it? Or maybe you are new to it entirely? Regardless there is something for everyone.
So let’s delve in!
Where Do I Start?!
Well, there is a simple answer to this. What do you enjoy the most?! Almost anything is achievable, and the great news is that a lot of the equipment and knowledge needed is interchangeable. That is to say; once you have understood the basics, you are only a few steps away from diversifying and at minimal cost.
“Where do I start?”
What Do I Have Already?
This sounds like a silly question to ask; however, I assure you that it is not! Some want to start from ‘scratch’ and be given everything they would need to get going. Others may have some old equipment they used to use that needs refreshing. It is important to ask what you have available. You could save some time and money if you already have something that is, or could be, useful for your new hobby.
“What do I have already?”
- I want to start from ‘scratch’.
- Old equipment I used to use.
I want to start from ‘scratch’. I have nothing to hand.
There are a couple of ways this can be achieved. You could buy a pre-packed starter kit to get you going. These come is a range or ‘shapes and sizes’. In most cases it is fair to say that the more that you are prepared to spend on a starter kit, the more you will get to help you on your way. Some of the cheaper kits will provide you with items needed to brew your beer, lager or cider only. What you do with it when made, such as using a pressure barrel to dispense it, bottling it, or even kegging it will all be considerations for later and will require additional equipment or containers. On the other hand, some of the higher priced kits will come with these items.
Some homebrew stores will also offer bundles. These bundles again will come at varying levels of price and with varying content, however it does give you the option to create your own starter setup. Later in this article we explore the items needed and give a brief explanation as to what they are used for. Hopefully this will help you make an informed decision.
Extracts & Concentrates
Many people will start out using extract or concentrate kits. They will purchase a tin or pouch in or along with their equipment which has the ‘hard work’ done for them to make the process as simple as possible just to get going. The extract or concentrate is in liquid form and is much like a treacle or syrup in consistency.
From a beer or lager perspective; malt extract is created when malted grains are crushed and mashed, then wort is separated from the spent grains, concentrated, and dehydrated. Clearly, the benefit here is that you, the brewer, are avoiding the careful work of mashing grains yourself. No need to constantly control the right mash temperatures and volumes.
Cider doesn’t use malt. These tend to come in the form of a fruit concentrate. The same principal applies in that it originates as the juice of the fruit and then it is dehydrated to create a concentrate. The process of adding water when making your brew brings it back to its original form.
Using these extracts and concentrates by no means diminishes the quality of the end product. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
I want to rekindle or re-explore my love for beer/lager/cider.
I have some equipment that I hope will be useful.
So maybe you want to get back into this great hobby. You remember there are some bits and pieces tucked away in a cupboard, garage or in loft space. Well depending on how long ago you used to indulge may well determine how useful some of your kit will be. For the purposes of this article, we will assume we are talking about brewing extract kits. We will leave the mash kits and all grain brewing equipment for future discussions.
Inventory of Items
Not all the below are necessary and we stress that the information provided is to help you to determine how you would like to get up and running. There are also different ways you could use the equipment however we will just keep it simple for now. Items you may want to consider are as follows:
Fermenting vessels come is all shapes and sizes. They often range from 5 litres up to 60 litres in size. In essence however they are a simple bucket or container that you will use to initially ferment in. We strongly recommend using a container specific for your brewing only and not just use an old bucket that is lying around the garage! Cleanliness is absolutely paramount when brewing.
Most, but not all, extract kits will make around 23 litres or 40 pints of your chosen brew. Some are slightly stronger and may make a little less. For this reason, we suggest you use a 25 litre or 33 litre vessel. This allows a little head room, but not too much, for your yeast to get working. You may see some foam forming during the process for example. It is worth mentioning at this stage that once your brew is on the go then try and avoid opening up your fermenter just to see how things are going. We want to try and keep any chance of contamination to a minimum from the air and bacteria around.
With regards to the top of the fermenter it may be a simple lid that clips on. If this is the case a 12mm hole may be required in it to fix your airlock. In the case of some of the wide neck fermenters they may have a larger hole in the lid which allows you to place a rubber bung that will hold the airlock in place.
One final tip we have for your chosen fermenter is to check it! Most will come with pre-printed markings on the side that show how much liquid is held. These are done with mass production and there is always the margin for error. Therefore put in say 23 litres of water measured out in to the empty vessel and mark the side with a sharpie pen or similar where it comes to if the printed measure is out. Having the wrong amount of liquid added to your kit will not mean the beer wont work, it may however alter the strength and/or flavour of the end result.
Airlock with Gromit or Bung
An airlock is a cheap and simple piece of kit. Its purpose is to prevent air and any ‘nasties’ getting into your brew whilst allowing the CO2 that is created during fermentation to get out. As the yeast uses up the sugar in your brew it creates alcohol and gives off CO2 as a bi product. This needs to be allowed to be released from the fermenting vessel.
There are lots of airlocks on the market from bubbler shaped ones to little handy airlocks. They all work on the same principle. Water is put into the airlock roughly halfway up. The grommet or bung simply creates the seal and allows the airlock to sit comfortably.
It seems pretty obvious that you will require one of these however not everyone has a spoon with a long enough handle to be able to thoroughly mix the extract/concentrate, water and sugar when you get started. The most popular is the 18” plastic spoon. Easy to clean and very durable.
Hydrometer & Trial Jar
This scares a lot of people and it really shouldn’t. They are simple to use when you know how. Put simply some of the mixture created is put in the trial jar before adding the yeast and a reading is taken. Once the brew has finished you take another reading. One is taken from the other and a simple calculation is done to work out the strength or ABV% of your end product. There is a lot more that a hydrometer can be used for and we have further articles to explain. For the purpose of this guide though, just make sure you are purchasing one that is specifically for beer and/or wine.
The hydrometer is also useful to check that fermentation has completed. Whilst the bubbles in an airlock may look to have stopped passing through, there is always the chance that fermentation hasn’t quite finished. By checking the liquid for a hydrometer reading and then checking again in 24hours, no change in the reading would suggest that all is finished.
Syphon or Bottling Wand
Depending on how you intend to dispense your finished brew will determine which you require. If you intend to put it all in to a pressure barrel then a simple syphon can be used to transfer the liquid from the fermenter to the barrel. If however you intend to bottle your beer you may want to consider a bottling want. You can insert the want into bottles and depress the little button at the bottom. This will then allow the liquid to fill your bottle. On releasing the button on the bottom the liquid stops flowing. Less mess! The other good thing with a bottling wand is that if you fill the bottle to the top with the brew, when you remove the wand it leaves the perfect amount of space at the top of the bottle between liquid and cap or top.
Pressure Barrel or Bottles
This is how you will dispense your brew. A pressure barrel is a reinforced plastic barrel with a tap. Again, there are different types of pressure barrels however the main thing to consider here is the lid. Some will come with a vented cap and others with a brass screw fitting. We recommend the one with the brass screw fitting. The reason for this is that when the brew is put in to the barrel a small amount of sugar will be added in order to start a secondary fermentation. This secondary fermentation is what will carbonate your brew, so it is not flat. It will also mean there is a small amount of CO2 in the barrel that when the tap is turned will allow the liquid to be pushed out. As this gets used up a vacuum will be created in the pressure barrel and no more liquid will be able to come out. The brass screw top allows you to place a CO2 cartridge on top of the pressure barrel and introduce some back in to aid dispense.
On the other hand you may prefer to use bottles. If this is the case you will want to decide on size, material, colour and closure type. You can buy relatively cheap plastic bottles with screw caps that can all be reused. Glass bottles can either have crown caps tops or swing top like the grolsch bottle style. Keep in mind you will need the crown caps and a capper of some sort if this is your chosen option. Also make sure you sanitise all bottles before use and check the washers are in good repair on swing top bottles. We recommend brown bottles as this eliminates sunlight which can have a detrimental effect on your brew. Finally when you put your brew in to bottles you will need to add some sugar or carbonation drops which are like a boiled sweet to each bottle. This will give the brew its fizz as the secondary fermentation takes place.
There are literally hundreds if not thousands of kits on the market. One tin, two tins, pouches etc etc. You should have lots of fun exploring the different types and brands out there. One thing that is consistent though is that they should already include the yeast most suitable for the style of drink you have chosen and also the instructions on how to make your brew. Some kits also come with additional items such as flavourings, hops, wood chips and/or botanicals to mimic the style you are aiming for. The world is your oyster!
We recommend the use of brewing sugar to add to your chosen kit. Some kits may come with suggestions on alternatives that you could add such as additional malt extract or beer enhancers. Our view is that if you keep it simple to get started this will allow you to have a good base to work from. It will mean that if you do decide to tweak the additions you will know the impact they are having. Again however this is down to personal preference. Just keep in mind that you will need some extra sugar or carbonation drops once you move your brew to dispense stage for the secondary fermentation and to give it the fizz.
We hope this has given you some insight and help in getting started. We will tell you now that this hobby is both enjoyable and has many facets for you to try and experiment with. Here at BREWATHOME.SHOP we see it as a journey that you will never quite reach the end of. Nobody knows everything there is to know. That is why we have set up some social media forums and platforms (links below) for you to get involved in our community. We also actively encourage you to get in touch or pop down to our shop. If we can help, we will. If we can’t, we will do our best to point you in the right direction. There is no such thing as a silly question so get stuck in and happy brewing/distilling!
Chris Marshall - brewathome.shop (Last Updated: 5th October, 2022)