1. I want to make great beer but I don’t have a lot of time or fancy equipment.
Beer is made from four primary ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. All you need to get started brewing is a fermenter to mix these ingredients in, extra water, and a cool place to ferment it – no fancy equipment required. “Kits” are the easiest way to start brewing: malt extract-based cans or pouches requiring an additional kilogram of brewing sugar of your choosing, and in some cases, additional yeast and hops. Fresh Wort Kits are all-grain ‘wort’ filled straight from the brewer’s kettle. Finished with hops for flavour and topped up with 5L of water, they will match or exceed full-mash craft beer with far greater convenience and room for experimentation. A Mangrove Jack’s Beer Starter Kit will give you everything you need, including a good quality beer kit, to ferment and bottle your first batch of beer. You will still need this equipment even if you choose to get more involved in future brews.
By following responsible cleaning and sanitising processes, you will successfully ferment beer without bacteria interfering. Additionally, yeast ferments best at their specified desired temperature. Just like us, they do their best work when they’re not too hot so try to keep your fermenter cool.
2. Why isn’t my airlock bubbling?
This is probably the most common question we get asked as Brewers Choice managers. In almost every case, the problem will be related to temperature or an air leak. The best way to check the progress of fermentation is to take a sample of your fermenting beer and measuring the ‘gravity’ with a hydrometer. Pour enough of your beer through the fermenter tap into a test tube until your hydrometer floats. Give the hydrometer a gentle spin to shake off any bubbles and to ensure it isn’t sticking to the sides of your test tube. Looking at eye level, write down the number read at the water line (eg. 1.012). If this gravity drops with subsequent readings, rest assured your beer is still fermenting. In the event that the fermentation has ‘stalled’ at a high reading – you can expect a lager to finish around 1.010 – rock your fermenter gently to ‘rouse’ the yeast back into suspension.
If you give your fermenter a gentle squeeze and your airlock doesn’t bubble, there’s a good chance you have an air leak around your airlock grommet or your fermenter lid’s o-ring is worn out and not sealing properly. These can both be replaced. In all cases, your hydrometer will prove more useful in working out how your ferment is progressing.
3. My brew stinks! (…and not in a good way)
Beer is a complex drink with quite literally thousands of chemical components making up its flavour profile. As brewers there are many of these that we have a large degree of control over. The most important thing is being able to identify these compounds/aromas and their sources.
If a beer reminds you of banana (as in the case of German style wheat beer), this is because the yeast in the beer has created an aromatic compound, or ‘ester’, called isoamyl acetate which is actually the same compound found in banana. Other aromas can be acceptable in small amounts, but unpleasant in larger amounts.
Here are some commonly encountered flavours and aromas and how they are often caused:
Solvent: An aroma that can occur most often due to hot fermentation or bacterial infection. To avoid this, maintain a steady, cool fermentation temperature (18-20ºC for ales)
Rotten Eggs: This is sulphur, a normal yeast by-product although one that we don’t want to see in high doses. Often quite noticeable in lagers. Don’t worry too much, as sulphur aroma will often dissipate over time
Butterscotch: Diacetyl, a by-product of all yeast and some bacteria. Commonly found in lagers and beer that is consumed too young. Can be mitigated by raising fermentation temperature a couple of degrees near the end of fermentation
Vegemite: A sign of yeast cells breaking down, known as yeast autolysis. This can occur in beer when left on the yeast cake for too long
Plum, Pear, Peach: Esters created by certain yeast strains (commonly Belgian in origin) and desirable in many styles of beer. The creation of fruity esters will vary wildly by yeast choice and fermentation temperature
4. How long should I leave my beers in the bottle before drinking?
While it’s always exciting to try a brew for the first time, it’s important to leave a period of time for your beer to ‘condition’ inside the bottle. You can expect carbonation to be completed after two weeks (secondary fermentation), however the beer will mature, yeast-driven flavours will subside, and the brew will taste it’s best after 6 weeks. Of course this timeline will vary depending on storage practices and the beer style (shorter for wheat beers, longer for stouts). If the conditioning time is slowing you down, consider packaging and filtering your beer in kegs.
5. Why do my beers taste thin and watery?
Often caused by using brewing sugars that are too fermentable for the chosen style (dextrose or sucrose), excessively high fermentation temperatures, or a wild yeast infection, you may find that your finished brew tastes a little bit thin and underwhelming. In brewing lingo, we refer to this as the beer’s ‘body’. While sugars like dextrose or sucrose are highly fermentable and easy for yeast to eat, they leave little in the way of pleasing malt flavour or aroma. You can modify the body of your beers by picking ingredients that are suitable for the style (yeast, malt and specialty grain packs), and fermenting at an appropriate temperature. At Brewers Choice we supply a range of brewing sugars with varying ratios of maltose. If you’re a Lager brewer and have been using dextrose in the past, try using our Brew Booster to boost the malt flavour. For Pale Ales and Bitters, use straight Light Dried Malt or Wheat Malt for a much-improved body.
Lastly, if you’ve used malt in your brew and your beer still tastes thin, watery, and lacking in flavour, there is a chance your brew has been infected by wild yeast. Ensure with every subsequent brew that your equipment is well sanitised before use, particularly around seals, handles, and taps, and that your airlock is filled with sterile water throughout fermentation.