How to make the best quality homebrew beer from a kit

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Yes its true, you can get pub quality beer from a homebrew beer kit, I’m often asked by friends when they start brewing if I have any tips and what process I go through to get great quality beer from kits so I thought I’d write it down.

If you follow the instructions that come with beer kits you will get a drinkable homebrew however with a few additional steps and a little patience you will get a considerably better beer!

Although not a professional I’ve been home brewing since around 2002, first doing kits and more recently moving on to full mash brews.

A summary of the process::

1. Buy a good full extract kit.

2. Make your wort up from the kit by adding water and yeast then leave to ferment in a bin using an immersion heater to regulate the perfect temperature.

3. Syphon off the fermenting wort after around 48 hours and leave to finish fermenting.

4. After 5-7 days once the specific gravity has stabilised, syphon into a pressure barrel with some sugar and leave to condition.

5. After 20-25 days you will have a great beer to drink, Enjoy drinking your finished beer!

Read on and I will explain the full process.

Firstly to brew great beer from a kit you will need some things:

A good quality beer kit – only buy full malt extract kits, these are the kits with two tins of extract rather than one which you need to add sugar too, they taste much much better when finished!

A decent pressure barrel – If you are going plastic I thoroughly recommend a “king keg” I’ve had one since 2002 and done hundreds of brews, it still works perfectly! they have a top tap which is fed by a float and have a C02 fitting as standard, you do need to use a little Vaseline to seal the cap but I’ve had two of the cheaper bottom tap barrels fail on me so I’ve given up on buying them!
My next purchase will be a corny keg (stainless pressure vessel) but more on that another time.

A beer immersion heater – this is a must in order to get a consistent fermentation, since buying one of these several years ago my beers have been considerably better!

Two fermenting bins, you can use one but it will make dropping your wort much harder!

You will also need:
At least one fermenter lid with a hole for the immersion heater
A siphon
A thermometer
A hydrometer
A large spoon
A sample tube or hydrometer jar
Some steriliser
And some sugar for barrelling (I use brewing sugar (dextrose))

The actual process of making a great quality kit beer is relatively simple and has a few stages; Preparing the wort, Fermentation and Dropping, Racking and Barrelling.

Preparing the wort for fermentation – In this stage we will hydrate the tins of extract (Basically concentrated wort) from your chosen kit beer back into wort ready for fermentation

1. Sterilise all your equipment as per the instructions on your steriliser and rinse it thoroughly afterwards! You don’t want your beer getting mould or other infections in it, besides not tasting good it will make you ill!

2. Open your beer kit and check the contents, you should have at least two tins of malt extract, some instructions and a sachet of yeast, Read the instructions but take them with a pinch of salt and don’t pay too much attention to the timings. Some kits also contain hops which will need to be used as per the instructions with your kit.

3. Pour some warm water in your sink and immerse the tins of extract to soften the contents.

4. Boil 2 full kettles of water and pour them into the fermenter, then put the kettle onto boil again as you may need hot water later.

5. Open the tins of extract and pour them into the bin, stir and have a little taste of the extract its great stuff! You may struggle to get the dregs out as its sticky stuff, I shake the cans in a circle and the centripetal force will throws the contents out!

6. Add a few litres of cold water and keep stirring until all of the extract has dissolved and any extract splattered over the side has also gone, top the bin up with more water to the wort volume in your kit instructions, make sure you check the temperature while doing this and if necessary add some boiling water, you want to get it to around 25 degrees Celsius to ensure a good start to fermentation.

7. Using your hydrometer check the specific gravity of your wort and write it down.

8. Add the yeast, Refer to the instructions on your yeast but generally you will just sprinkle it on the top of your wort.

9. Finally pop your immersion heater into the wort and loosly put the lid on the bin.

Fermentation and dropping – Fermentation is the process whereby the yeast converts the sugars from the wort into alcohol, Dropping is the process we use to discard the bulk of the dead yeast from your finished beer, this is the single most important thing you can do to turn your beer from drinkable homebrew to pub quality beer!

Fermentation usually takes around 5-7 days but could take more or less depending on the beer and the conditions, do not rely on the times stated in the kit instead use the estimated final gravity from the instructions with your kit, Essentially you need to measure the specific gravity of the wort using your hydrometer every day and when it gets to a reading around the estimated final gravity and doesn’t change for 24 hours it is ready for racking and barrelling however we don’t want to just leave it to do this as we will be dropping the wort halfway through.

Dropping needs to be done when approximately half of all the fermentable material has been fermented (usually around 48 hours after fermentation has started), to work this out take the Initial gravity reading that you measured and subtract the estimated final gravity from it, divide this by two and add it to the final gravity, when your worth reaches this specific gravity it is ready to be dropped.

e.g 1040 – 1009 ÷ 2 + 1009 = 1025

When your wort reaches the desired gravity, syphon the clean wort from one fermentation bin to another discarding the sludge at the bottom and any foam or floating deposits (you may loose some of the wort during this process but it is totally worth it as it seriously improves the quality of your final beer) so that your second bin contains only clean wort, position the tap on your syphon at the top of the second barrel pointing it into the side of the bin to allow the wort to aerate this will help the fermentation start again quickly, once this is complete put your immersion heater into the wort and leave it to finish fermentation.

Wort being syphoned into second bin:image

 

 

Dead yeast left behind in the original bin:image

 

Racking and barrelling – This is the final stage and the easiest although longest stage of the whole process. Essentially we are taking the fermented beer and putting it into a pressure vessel where secondary fermentation occurs creating CO2 and pressurising the beer, this conditions it forcing all the crud to the bottom clearing it and giving it its final flavour.

Once fermentation has finished take 50g of brewing sugar and add it to your pressure barrel then syphon in the clean wort from your fermentation bin discarding the sludge at the bottom and any foam or floating deposits and give it a gentle stir. Screw the cap on tight (If you are bottling add half a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle and syphon directly into the bottles before capping) remembering to lube up the seal and leave it somewhere cool until it is ready to drink. The instructions for your beer kit will give you a guide as to how long this will take (usually around 14-20 days) but always leave it longer than it says as a rule of thumb I usually say around 25% longer.

If you do want to drink it quicker you could always fine it before you barrel it, finings are an additive which encourage the trub to clump and fall to the bottom of the barrel much faster. Most commercial breweries fine their beers so don’t be afraid!
Although I have never used finings with kit beers I have with full mashes, (especially when using wheat in the mash) personally I use Kwick Clear and it does a fantastic job!

Green man kit conditioning in the “King Keg”
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Once all these steps are completed you will have a clear and great tasting beer. Although there are a few more steps listed here than the bare minimum outlined in most beer kit instructions it is worth completing them all as you will get a much better beer and after all that is what you want!

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