Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Brewing beer at home

What could be more pleasant on a warm summer's day than relaxing in your productive garden with friends, enjoying the fruits of the season that you've grown yourself...and a lovely, cold, home-brewed beer?

If you have been put off by bad home-made beer in the past, it's definitely time to revisit the whole 'let's make our own beer at home' idea.  As a uni student, I made beer and to be honest, it tasted pretty horrible. Fast forward quite a few years (I won't say exactly how many) and we now make very nice tasting beers at home.  Stouts, ales, lagers - you name it, you can make it. It's easy, it saves you money and the end result is a high quality product.

Now I will freely admit we are not what you would call 'hardcore' beer makers.  We use beer kits to make our beer.  For us, this choice is primarily a matter of time and convenience. We work full-time, we have a lot on the go and there's only so much time in the day.  So we aren't driven to try to make our beer from scratch using the raw basic ingredients.  Maybe one day. Right now we are more than happy with the quality of the beer we make from kits. As are our family and friends :)

To make your own beer, you will need some basic equipment. Brewing shops, such as Australian Home Brewing, sell all the equipment you'll need as well as a wide range of beer kits. You can also purchase the bits and pieces online.

The basic equipment you'll need is listed below. It sounds like a lot of stuff but the more expensive items you only need to buy once.   You'll find that your set up costs will be recouped once you've made a few batches of your own beer, if you compare how much it would have cost to buy the equivalent amount of beer at the bottleshop. That's the way we looked at this initial cost outlay.

Here's what you'll need:

A large stainless steel stockpot. You probably already have something that fits the bill.

A slotted spoon. For stirring the beer mixture.

A 30 litre fermenter with fittings (tap, airlock)

Cleaning agent. For cleaning the fermenter and other equipment after use. 'Brewclean' is one such product.

Sanitiser. For sterilising the equipment prior to making a batch of beer. One such product is called 'Brew Sanitize' (shown below). This is a concentrate.  You dilute 30mls of sanitiser with 970 ml water to make 1 litre of sanitising solution that's ready for use on your equipment. We store this in spray bottles for ease of use. A bottle of Brew Sanitize lasts us quite a while.

A hydrometer and plastic test flask. This is used to check the specific gravity to determine if the beer is ready to bottle.

For bottling your beer you'll also need the following:

Beer bottles. Save your own stubbies, and get your friends to do the same. Not having to buy bottles keeps your costs down. Wash the bottles and store the clean, dry bottles in a box to keep them clean - having clean bottles ready to go will save a lot of time when you are preparing to bottle your beer. Amber or green glass bottles are better than clear glass or plastic. Non-twist top bottles are reputed to be better than twist top bottles with respect to cap sealing.
Bottling valve. This attaches to attach to your tap. You place the valve in the empty bottle and pour. Remove the bottle when full and gravity automatically cuts off the flow. This fills a bottle quickly with no waste.

Bottle caps/crown seals. These come in packets of 250 upwards. Non-recyclable.

Bottle rinser.  Used to sanitise the bottles before adding the sugar. You can do a whole batch of bottles quickly using one of these. Not required but very useful.


Priming scoop. Used to add sugar to bottles before adding the beer. The sugar is required for the secondary fermentation within the bottle.

Small funnel. Mess-free way of adding the sugar from the priming scoop to the beer bottle.

from left: priming scoop, funnel

A bench capper (for bottling the beer). These work much better than the hand cappers and are worth the extra investment.

So that's the equipment covered. Now it's time to buy a beer kit.  You can get these at some supermarkets, but the best ones are available at home brewing shops.  The range is impressive - you name a beer, there seems to be a kit to make its equivalent. Beer kits have certainly come a long way in the last decade!

Each kit comes with all the ingredients you need to make your brew, as well as instructions on how to make it. 

kit contents


We follow the recipe but tend to do the combining of all our ingredients in the stockpot on the stove, before adding it to the sterilised fermenter. 

It's best to get your fermenter equipment ready before making the beer.  Your fermenter must be clean and sterilised.  We always clean it out after bottling a batch of beer - it is much easier to do this then, rather than doing it later after the residue is all dry and caked on. Then all we need to do is sterilise it before use.

To sterilise the fermenter, lay a clean tea towel on your kitchen bench, sterilise your clean fermenter with your sterilising agent (a spray bottle containing the sterilising solution works well here) and sit it upside down on the tea towel to drain. Sterilise the fermenter lid and place it on the tea towel (underside facing down). Rinse the airlock with sterilising solution and lay on tea towel. Once that's done, you're ready to start the brew in your stockpot on the stove.

sterilised fermenter and lid sitting on clean tea towel

Follow the recipe in the kit, adding the ingredients to the pot as specified and stirring with your slotted spoon to completely dissolve.

Once the brew is ready, pour it into the fermenter, and top up with cold water as per the recipe instructions. Add the yeast when the temperature of the brew reaches that specified in the recipe.  Screw the fermenter lid on tight, re-sterilise the end of your airlock and place the airlock (containing clean water or a non-rinse sterilising agent) in position in the lid. Place your fermenter somewhere out of the way and out of direct sunlight. Then leave it to do it's thing. You should hear a 'blupping' noise coming from the fermenter within about 24 hours.  This is the yeast doing it's job.  Leave it for a week or so and it should be ready for bottling. Check the specific gravity with your hydrometer to ensure that it is ready for bottling. If it's not quite ready leave it a few more days and check again. You want to get this right otherwise you run the risk of exploding bottles of beer - not nice.

We'll cover the bottling process in another post.

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