Brewing Q&A


My beer kit needs sugar, what type of sugar should I use?

Most single-can beer kits require about 1kg of sugar to be added, although some may need as much as 1.5kg. You can use almost any type of sugar, even table sugar, however, this will affect both the taste of your finished beer and what’s known as mouth-feel i.e. your beer will feel “thinner” and have less body. You can use dedicated brewing sugar, but for best results use beer kit enhancer or malt extract as a weight-for-weight replacement. Yeast will convert less of the malt to alcohol, than standard sugar, which will give your beer a desirable sweetness and more body.

My wine or cider kit needs sugar, what type of sugar should I use?

Although most wine kits don't need extra sugar, there are a few that do and most single-can cider kits will also need about 1-1.5kg of sugar. You can use castor sugar, or brewing sugar. Yeast find brewing sugar easier to metabolise, so fermentation will start more quickly and generally be more vigorous. 

What is malt extract?

Malt is a type of sugar (maltose), produced by germinating grain (usually barley), which has then been roasted. The sugar is then washed out of the grain and either concentrated in liquid form (LME – Liquid Malt Extract), or spray-dried into a powder (DME – Dried Malt Extract also called Spray Malt). Malt Extract comes in a variety of types, depending on the grain used and how much roasting the grains have undergone, such as extra light, light, medium, dark and extra dark.

What is Brew Enhancer / Beer Kit Enhancer?

Beer Kit enhancer (BKE) or Brew Enhancer is a mixture of brewing sugar (dextrose) and malt extract. Using a brew enhancer will give your beer more body and flavour than just using sugar, and will also give your beer a better head, when poured.

What other types of sugar can I use?

You can use almost any type of sugar in your beer, including honey, but what you use will affect the flavour. Treacle is a popular addition to stouts as it helps to add a distinctive coffee bitterness, while Golden Syrup is often added to lighter beers and ales. Honey should be used carefully as it can overwhelm the taste of your beer, but used in moderation can add an interesting flavour. Many home brewers like to use Belgian candy sugar for bottling. Many sugar syrups, such as treacle, Golden Syrup and molasses, contain some water, however, so are not 100% fermentable (more like 75-80%), so if using on a weight-for-weight basis, will require an extra 20% or so to be added.

How long should I leave my beer in the fermentation vessel?

Most beer kits will tell you that your beer will finish fermenting after three to four days; however, while some beers will ferment this quickly, many will take longer. Ideally, you should leave the beer in the fermentation vessel for at least 10 days, and preferably two weeks. This will not only ensure that the fermentation process has completed, it will enable the yeast to clear up, removing any off flavours. The longer you leave it, the more yeast will sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, too, resulting in a clearer beer.

Beer can often be left for three weeks or so in the original fermentation container, but if you plan on leaving it longer, then it would be wise to syphon the beer off the dead yeast, into a clean, sterilised, secondary fermentation vessel.

How long should I leave my wine or cider in the fermentation vessel?

This depends on the kit you are making. Some wine kits will ferment out in as little as four days, most others and ciders will take a little longer. Country wines and home-made cider can take as long as 3 weeks to ferment. The only sure way to tell if fermentation has finished is to take a hydrometer reading. (See the guides section on how to use a hydrometer).


What temperature do I need to ferment at?

Most beers and some lagers will use an ale yeast. The ideal temperature range for these would be between 18 to 20°C, which is fortunately the temperature which most houses with central heating are kept at! Yeast will produce heat in the first day or two of vigorous fermentation, enough to raise the liquid temperature by two to three degrees, so it’s important that the starting temperature is no higher than 20°C.

If you are making lager with a proper lager yeast, then the fermentation needs to be cooler, at around seven to 13°C, depending on the yeast variety. This is a lot colder than most houses, so you may need to ferment your lager in an out-building during the colder months, or convert an old fridge into a fermentation fridge with a dedicated temperature controller (see the guides pages for more info).

Wine and Cider are also temperature dependent. The ideal fermentation temperature is 20°C, but anywhere between 18-22°C is suitable.

What if the fermentation temperature is too cold?

Yeasts work best at certain temperatures and if it’s too cold they become less efficient, leading to much longer fermentation times. For example, a yeast that will ferment out in a week at 18 to 20°C will take two to three weeks at 16°C. If the temperature drops too far below the ideal range, then the yeast can become dormant and fermentation will stop completely, although once the temperature is raised, the yeast will wake back up and fermentation will start again.

If your fermentation area is too cold, you can increase the temperature of the fermenting beer in several ways:

What if the fermentation temperature is too hot?

Too high a fermentation temperature can be quite detrimental to your brew, resulting in the development of “off flavours” (generally banana/fruity in beer), as well as the production of fusel alcohols. Fusel alcohols can not only give your brew an unpleasant, sharp alcohol taste but are also thought to contribute to hangovers! To cool your fermenting brew and keep it between 18-20°C, you can try the following methods:

Should I rehydrate my yeast?

This depends on your yeast. Young’s, which supplies many yeasts, says that during the manufacturing process of their yeasts, special processes are used to promote high levels of a compound call Trehalose within the yeast cells. These high levels of Trehalose help to protect the yeast in storage, as well as recover quickly when added to wine must or beer wort and that therefore, rehydration is not necessary. However, some yeast manufactures specifically instruct you to rehydrate their yeasts, by adding to a small amount of water between 35 to 40°C, covering and leaving to rest for 15 mins to half an hour. Check the yeast packet for any rehydration instructions, before pitching.


Do I need an airlock on my fermentation vessel?

Fitting an airlock to your fermentation vessel’s lid isn’t absolutely necessary, but it will help to keep dirt, bacteria and other air-borne nasties, out of your brew. Because yeast produces CO2 during the fermentation process, this will rise to the surface of your brew and provide a protective layer, which stops your beer, wine or cider from oxidising and spoiling, but it won’t of course stop things falling into your brew. If you don’t have an airlock, you can leave the lid of the fermentation vessel open slightly, to allow the excess CO2 to escape. However, for the sake of a few pounds, we’d suggest using an airlock, which not only helps keep your brew free from bugs, it can give you an indication of how the fermentation process is progressing.

Why isn’t my airlock bubbling?

There may be several reasons for this. It may be that fermentation hasn’t yet started, or if it was bubbling and is no longer doing so, then the most vigorous part of the fermentation process may be over. In many cases, it is because the lids on fermentation vessels don’t always form a perfect seal and so the CO2 gas is able to escape from somewhere else. This is particularly true if the airlock has a lot of liquid in it, which forces the gas to escape from an area of lower resistance. Just because an airlock has stopped bubbling though, does not mean fermentation has finished: using a hydrometer is the only way to reliably establish if the fermentation process has completed, or if it is still progressing.

What is the froth on top of my beer?

This is a foam (known as Kräusen) caused by the creation of large volumes of CO2 by the yeast. It usually appears about a day after the yeast has been added, and dissipates again a day or two later and is a perfectly normal part of the fermentation process. Once the Kräusen subsides, the side of the fermentation vessel will be covered in a brown, sticky residue. This is very bitter and it is important that it is not stirred back into your beer. Some fermentation vessels have a removable sleeve, called a Kräusen collar, which can be removed once the foam has dissipated, but there is no real advantage to it.

How do I know when fermentation has finished?

The only sure way to tell if fermentation has finished is to use a hydrometer reading. A sample of beer is placed into a trial jar and the hydrometer is placed into the liquid. If the same reading is taken for three days, then fermentation has stopped. Typically this reading will be around 1.012, but may be as high as 1.014 or as low as 1.008. If the reading is higher than 1.014 for each reading, then fermentation may have stuck and depending on the reading, may need restarting.

Airlock activity should not be relied on to measure fermentation progress, as the released CO2 may be able to escape from the fermentation vessel, via another route.

What is a stuck Fermentation / how can I restart a stuck fermentation?

A stuck fermentation is when the yeast stops producing alcohol, before it has used all the available sugar. This can be caused by a lack of aeration before the yeast was pitched, a drop in temperature, using out-of-date yeast and other reasons. A stuck fermentation can be detected when a high gravity reading, for example 1.020, is taken after the period in which fermentation should have completed, say two weeks.

To restart a stuck fermentation, first ensure that the brew is at the correct temperature and if not, take steps to increase it. If cold is not a factor, then add some yeast nutrient to the brew and give the liquid a gentle stir with a sanitised spoon or beer paddle, taking care not to splash the liquid. If this doesn’t work, then you can try adding more yeast or a special restart yeast.

It's very important that your brew completely ferments out , otherwise if you bottle the beer, wine or cider and it starts to ferment again, the excess sugar could cause the yeast to produce so much CO that the bottles explode.

What is dry hopping?

Dry hopping is the technique of adding hops to a beer after fermentation has finished and before it is bottled. It can be used with any beer but is often used with kit beers to add extra flavour, or to “tweak” the beer. Dry hopping adds hop aroma, but not bitterness.

To dry hop a beer, a small amount of hops (typically 20-30g) are placed, along with a sterilised weight into a sterilised muslin bag or hop sock. The hop bag is then suspended in the beer for a maximum of five days (any longer and the beer can develop unwanted, grassy flavours). Dry hopping is best done immediately before bottling to preserve the hop aroma.

If you don’t have a muslin bag or hop sock, then you can add loose hops to the beer, however, these will need to be strained before bottling.

What is a hop tea?

This is where hops are added to water at 80°C and then allowed to steep in this hot water for around 30 minutes. This process is mainly used with kit beers to add extra flavour and aroma. Once the hops have stepped for the required time, the hops are strained out of the liquid and the resulting “tea” is added to the wort, before the yeast is added (pitched). Alternatively you can make a hop tea and add it to the fermenting wort, after the main fermentation has finished, a week or so before botttling.

What’s the yellow/red slime at the bottom of my fermentation vessel?

This is the dead yeast which falls to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, once it has done its job of turning the sugars in the liquid to beer, wine or cider. It’s referred to as the yeast cake, lees or trub. While it may not look very pleasant, it’s a perfectly natural by-product of the fermentation process and can be safely disposed of down the drain or even used as a plant food in your garden!

How do I make my beer stronger?

There are two ways of doing this, either adding more fermentable material (i.e. sugar, malt extract, etc.) or by reducing the volume of water added. Many kit beers make 40 pints, or 23 litres of beer. A common technique used by many home brewers is to “shorten” the brew, by only adding enough water to make 21 litres of beer. Adding more sugar will increase the alcohol content of your beer, but it will also make the beer taste more watery (reduced mouth-feel) and lacking in body. This is because beer’s flavour comes from three main sources; the malt, the hops and the yeast. If you want to increase the strength without reducing the volume, then it’s best to use malt extract (either dried or liquid) or at the very least, beer enhancer, which is half and half, sugar and malt extract.

If you want a really strong beer, you can both increase the malt content and reduce the volume, however, if you do this with a kit beer, you will significantly change the flavour characteristics.

How do I make my beer weaker?

If you prefer more of a session beer, you can reduce the alcohol content in two ways; by using less fermentables (e.g. sugar, malt extract, etc.), or by adding more water (lengthen the brew). When used with kit beers, either technique should be used with caution, as they can make the finished beer taste watery, lack body, have poor head retention and reduce mouth-feel.

If brewing extract or All Grain recipes, then look for a recipe which will produce a lower ABV beer, without affecting the taste and body.
 

When can I bottle / keg / barrel my beer or cider?

Many off-the-shelf beer and cider kits will tell you that your beer or cider is ready to bottle in a week, however, in many cases this is too soon. While the bulk of fermentation may have completed after a week, your beer or cider will benefit from being left for at least two weeks before bottling. This will give the yeast time to completely finish fermenting all the sugar, including some of the harder to ferment products. If beer is bottled too soon, some of these products can give your beer off flavours, typically apple-like and yeasty.

The longer the beer or cider  is left in the fermentation vessel before bottling, the more time your brew has to condition, and the more yeast will sink to bottom, giving a clearer pint and less sediment in your bottles. However, the maximum time your beer or cider should be left in the primary fermenter, on top of the yeast, is three weeks. If you wish to allow your brew to condition for longer, before bottling, then it should be syphoned into a clean, sterilised secondary fermenter, preferably one where the volume is only just larger than the brew, to reduce the headspace and minimise the oxidation risk.

How do I bottle my beer / wine / cider?

You can use a piece of syphon tubing to fill your bottles, although it can be quite tricky and messy! Using a rigid syphon tube with a sediment trap will help prevent you transferring sediment to your bottles, but a plain piece of syphon tubing is otherwise OK. While you can suck on the end of the syphon tube to create suction, this isn’t very hygienic, so it’s best to either use an auto-syphon, or to have the syphon tube filled with water. First of all, put your fermentation vessel on a worktop, and a bucket on the floor, or a chair. Fill the syphon 2/3 full with water and place your thumbs over each end. Lower one end of the tube over the bucket, but keep your thumb over the end. Now place the upper end into your beer/cider/wine. Take your thumb off the end of the lower end of the syphon tube, the water will run out into the bucket, creating suction and bringing your beer/wine/cider into the tube. Once it reaches the end, put the syphon tube in your first bottle. You can use a clamp to stop the flow, between bottles.

A much easier method is to use a bottling stick, such as the little bottler complete. This comprises of a tap, which can be fitted to your fermentation vessel, and a bottle stick with a one-way valve on the end. Simply attach the bottling stick to the tap and open the tap to allow the stick to fill. Now, push a bottle up, until the valve touches the bottom, push up to release the valve and the bottle will fill. Once full, simply remove the bottle and the flow will stop. If you don’t want to drill a hole in the fermenter to fit the tap, the little bottler will also fit onto the end of a piece of 5/16-inch syphon tube. Simply start the syphon process using water, as described above, then use the bottling stick to fill each bottle.

How do I transfer my beer or cider to a barrel?

You should syphon your beer or cider out of the fermentation vessel, into the barrel (See above for syphoning tips). Do not pour the beer or cider, as this will oxygenate your brew and cause it to go off within days! If you want to carbonate your beer or cider in the barrel, add the sugar to the bottom of the barrel and syphon the beer or cider onto it. Once syphoning is complete, use a sterilised plastic spoon to give the brew a gentle stir, before sealing with the lid.

Why do I need to add sugar to my bottles / keg?

Adding sugar to your bottles or keg provides more food for the yeast, which will produce a little alcohol and some Carbon Dioxide gas. As the bottles and barrel are sealed, the gas has now where to go, so dissolves into your beer / cider. This is known as carbonation. When you open the bottle, or pour a pint from the barrel, the Carbon Dioxide is released from the drink, giving it fizz.

 

How much sugar do I need for carbonation/priming?

For a beer, use about ½ tsp per bottle (or 1tsp per litre). For lagers and ciders, you can use up to 1tsp per bottle (2tsp per litre). For pressure barrels, only use about 85-100g, maximum. Any more than this will cause the pressure to become too high and the excess pressure will vent out of the safety valve. Barrels are good for beers and ales, but are not suited to highly carbonated lagers and ciders, use bottles instead.

 

How long does carbonation take?

Carbonation should be done at room temperature (around 20C) and will take 4-5 days. However, we usually recommend allowing a full two weeks for your beer or cider to carbonate properly.

 

What is Brewing sugar?

Brewing sugar is pure dextrose, a type of sugar that yeast find easier to use than table sugar.

What is that stuff floating on my beer?

It’s a combination of yeast, which hasn’t settled to the bottom, proteins and other residues from the fermentation process. It’s all natural and will usually be left behind when you syphon, especially if you use a sediment trap. Even if it does go into your bottles or barrel, don’t worry about it, it will settle out as part of the sediment during the conditioning process.

 

How soon can I bottle my wine?

You must only bottle your wine once fermentation has completely finished. The best way to tell if fermentation has finished is to use a hydrometer (see guides section). Bottling your wine before fermentation has stopped can cause the corks to be forced out, or the bottles to explode (especially if you are using screw caps). Most wine kits come with a fermentation stopper (called wine stabiliser), but if you are making country wines, you can buy fermentation stopper to add to your wine, prior to bottling.

 

Do I need to lay my wine bottles on their sides?

If you have corked your wine bottles, then you should leave them upright for 24 hours, before laying them on their sides for storage. This keeps the cork wet, which prevents it from shrinking and your wine spoiling. If you use novatwist screw caps or plastic corks, then bottles can be stored upright.

 

What type of bottles can I use for sparkling wines / champagne-style wines?

You must use champagne bottles together with champagne corks and wire cages. Sparkling wine carbonates in the bottle, building up pressure, which champagne bottles are designed to withstand. Do not use regular wine bottles and corks or screw caps – the bottles are highly likely to explode

What is conditioning?

This is basically a maturing process, which enables the yeast to drop to the bottom of the bottle or barrel to form a sediment, as well as develop the body and flavour of your beer or cider. The minimum recommend conditioning time is two weeks, but leaving your bottles or barrel to condition for a month or more, will usually improve your beer or cider substantially.

How long do I need to condition my beer / cider for?

We recommend a minimum of two weeks, but the longer the better.

Is it better to use bottles or a keg/pressure barrel for my beer?

The choice is yours and each has its own advantages and drawbacks. Bottles can be put in a fridge, whereas barrels generally can’t, unless you have a spare fridge. Bottles are easier to transport, although it takes more time to clean them and fill them than a barrel.

Can I put lager or cider in a keg / pressure barrel?

While barrels are great for ales and still ciders, they are not recommended for lager or sparkling ciders. The reason for this is that lagers and ciders require a much higher level of carbonation than ales. A pressure barrel is unable to withstand the pressure of the high level of carbonation required, so the excess is vented from a safety valve, the result of which is that lagers and ciders taste flat. Use bottles for lager and sparkling cider, instead.

What type of bottles can I use?

You can reuse glass and plastic bottles which have had carbonated drinks in them, providing that they are not made of very thin glass. As a general rule of thumb any 500ml glass bottle which weighs less than 320g, is unsuitable and liable to break during the carbonation phase. Sparkling wines must be bottled into champagne bottles with the proper corks and cages. All our bottles are designed for homebrew and of the correct strength.

What are bottle bombs?

This is where a bottle bursts or shatters, due to the build-up of pressure during the carbonation process. This is very dangerous, as the explosion can send pieces of glass flying some distance. This is why it is important to always ensure that fermentation has stopped before bottling and to use the correct bottles.