Home Brewing

by Dave Barnes

We hold a workshop getting various brewers together – get your brews laid down now so that you can bring some along to share your tips on brewing and for everyone to sample.And of course there’ll be the traditional home brew singing session to work up a suitable thirst – there’ll be some beer provided, but all further contributions will be very welcome.

If you’ve never brewed before, the simplest way is to use one of the many can-based kits available – there should be a reasonable range in your local supermarket with the necessary yeast and instructions. For equipment you’ll need a food-grade plastic fermenting bin of at least 25l capacity, preferably with a tap at the bottom, a long-handled stirrer and a collection of carbonated-drink bottles amounting to around 22.5l. It’s best to use brown or green coloured bottles to reduce the risk of light spoiling the flavour (light strike) – I find the 1.5l size easiest to use. If you don’t have a tap on the fermenting bin you’ll need some large diameter plastic tubing to siphon the beer into the bottles. A small funnel will also be useful.

For a greater range of beers and for items such as the fermenting bin you can try specialist shops like Great Expectations (Brewer’s World) in Lower Hutt. They also have a keg system which makes the whole process rather simpler. Consumables to go with each brew include 1kg of sugar (or special brewing sugar) and some sterilising mixture.

The outline for the basic approach is as follows (but check the instructions with the kit for any variations and have a look at my preferred method lower down)…….

Warm the unopened can in hot water, this will make it easier to pour. Now you must sterilise the equipment – thoroughly clean the fermenting bin (and the stirrer) and rinse it out with boiling water. You might also want to use some sterilising solution, ensure you rinse it thoroughly afterwards and drain. When it’s spotlessly clean pour in 2 litres of boiling water and add the contents of the can and the 1kg of sugar or brewing sugar (NOT THE YEAST). Swirl the mixture round until the malt is dissolved – this is much more effective than stirring and avoids scratching the sides of the bin with a stirrer. Now put the bin in a reasonably warm location (19° – 27°C) raised higher than a bottle off the ground and preferably over a surface that won’t mind the odd bit of spillage – I built my laundry specifically for this! Top up with cold water to around 22l (you’ll want to avoid moving the bin when it’s full). Then you can add the yeast and stir it in. Cover the bin with a tea towel, preferably tied round, and await progress.

Within a couple of days it should froth up nicely. When it seems to have passed the most active stage, add more cold water to about 23.5 litres (I recommend that you do it this way to minimise the risk of it overflowing!). I like to stir it a bit then (sterilise the stirrer), but beware, it will froth up quite a bit so take it gently. To keep the brew at the right temperature, you can buy special heating trays or immersion heaters. Another method is to put the bin on a beer crate and put an ordinary lamp underneath (start with a low wattage) – but make sure it will not be immersed if there is any overflow! People often suggest keeping it in the airing cupboard – this is fine if you don’t mind any clothes that have been put in there as well smelling like a brewery (better than Chanel No 5 in my humble opinion though!).

When all bubbling has ceased (if reasonably warm it should be done within a week) you can bottle it. Thoroughly clean the bottles and caps, sterilise them with sterilising solution, then rinse very thoroughly. Do not use boiling water for this as the bottles will simply melt! Now add a teaspoon or two (depending on bottle size) of ordinary sugar (NOT BREWING SUGAR) to each bottle (via a funnel is easiest). This sugar is for secondary fermentation to prime the bottle and must be ordinary sugar, do not add any more than this. Fill each bottle to within a couple of centimetres of the top (if you haven’t got a tap on your bin you’ll have to siphon the beer out with some plastic tubing). Avoid getting the sediment at the bottom – you can tilt the fermenting bin to get as much of the brew out as possible, but you’ll probably leave about 1 litre. I find it’s best to then squeeze the bottle to remove all air before screwing on the cap – this minimises any chance of infection, means it’s unlikely that the bottle will explode and gives less problems on opening. Invert the bottles a few times to ensure that the sugar dissolves, then store in a warm place for about three days, then a cooler storage place for at least 3 weeks (the longer the better). Then savour – and work out how much you’re saving!

Once you’ve done this you can then start experimenting with the different brands and styles available and also one or two variations. You can use spray malt or cans of malt in place of the sugar for the primary fermentation. Ian has been known to add manuka or even chilli to pep it up a bit! My favourite currently is Coopers Real Ale – I was using a second can instead of the sugar but it was a little strong, so I’m now using one can, no sugar and making it up to 16 litres which results in 10 1.5l bottles. Strength is probably about 4.2% alcohol by volume. Using just malt has the additional advantage that the mixture doesn’t froth up as much as when using sugar and gives a much better taste. Macs have started selling a range of beer kits – see their site: http://www.macsbrewing.co.nz – they’re rather more expensive, but still much cheaper than buying the finished product. They also offer a wider range of different beers. The Lion range includes some popular tap beers.

Better still, you can experiment with going back to basics and extracting the malt yourself and adding the various flavours – dig out some books on this or have a look on the internet.

Cider’s easy to make – I found that the cider kits weren’t very satisfactory so had a go with apple juice with excellent results! Go to your favourite supermarket and buy some of whichever apple juice is on special in those handy 3 litre bottles (just make sure it hasn’t got any preservative) and some brewing yeast. I’ve found cider yeast gives better results, you can get that from a specialist brewing shop, and apparently champagne yeast is also good. If it’s clear juice then your cider will come out clear. Pour the lot into a sterilised fermenting bin (leaving enough space for it to froth up). Add the yeast, cover, leave in a warm place until finished bubbling (it seems to take rather longer than beer) and bottle as for beer above. I don’t use a warming pad for the cider as letting it ferment a bit cooler results in a much better flavour, although it does take longer.

Good luck – I’m looking forward to trying out the results at the festival!

Dave Barnes