The instructions coming with the Brooklyn Brew Kit are globally awesome, but some steps can be very confusing and unclear for the beginner
Here are some hints learnt through my first batches and a many reads
Which steps should I be particularly careful about?
Of all the operations involved in beer brewing, you should pay particular attention to:
1. Properly sanitize every piece of equipment that will get in contact with the wort. More info further down
Cleaning your entire worktop is actually a good idea
2. Chill down the wort as fast as you can
Read our hints below Chill wort faster
3. Oxygenate wort enough before fermentation
We have hints about that too
From when should I start worrying about sanitization?
Until end of boil, you don’t need to worry about sanitization, as bacterias are killed at this temperature
From flameout on, on the other hand, make sure that everything that will get in contact with the wort is properly sanitized, that is spoon/paddle, funnel, fermenter, rubber stopper and blow-off tube
Same on bottling day
How long should I sanitize things for?
Most sanitizers have a “contact time” of about 2 minutes
Should I use gloves to touch the sanitizer?
You don’t need to, but your hands will definitely feel pretty dry after having been in contact with the sanitizer, so try to keep contact to a minimum
Should I care about “mash steps” and how carefully should I stay within the 144-152°F (63-68°C) range?
You don’t need to worry about “mash steps”
Just heat about 2qt (2.5L in case of 5 liters) to 160°F (71°C), add grain and then keep temperature around 149°F (65°C) for an hour
Staying within the 144-152°F (63-68°C) range is important to ensure that the right enzymes extract the right sugars but not unwanted ones that are released at higher temperatures
Once the mash reaches 149°F (65°C), remove the pot from the heat, cover with a lid for more temperature momentum and wait half an hour before checking if temperature dropped below 144°F (63°C), add some heat if necessary stirring while the heat is on
How much mash water do I need?
As long as you brew with a Brooklyn Beer Making Mix, just stick to their instructions
If you created your own beer recipe and wonder how much water you need for the mash, a good rule of thumb is 1.2qt of water per pound of grain (2.5L per kg)
This will give you the perfect oatmeal-like consistency
How long should I “mash out” for?
The instructions in the Brooklyn Beer Making Kit simply indicate “Heat to 170°F (77°C) while stirring constantly”
You can go ahead and leave your mash at this temperature for a couple of minutes
How can I improve my sparging?
Sparging well is important as it allows to extract more fermentable sugars from the mash
The Brooklyn Brew Shop video, although globally great, is a little too dumbed-down on this point
Instead of directly pouring wort through the mash like they show, try to disturb the grain bed as little as possible by pouring the wort on a spoon for example, even better: on a perforated one US|CAN|UK
What you want is to rinse the entire mash as evenly as possible
Don’t squeeze the grain, this could allow off-flavors to end up in your wort
How much sparge water do I need?
As long as you brew with a Brooklyn Beer Making Mix, just stick to their instructions
If you create your own beer recipes, the amount of sparge water equals your batch size
For example, if you want to brew 1 gallon of beer, you will need to heat 1 gallon of sparge water
If unsure, it’s always a better idea to shoot for slightly less, like 2 cups (1/2L) less, because you can always complete the fermenter with tap water if you don’t have enough wort; but if you end up with too much wort, you may have to discard some
By the way, a good technique to forecast how much wort you will end up with before you even chill it, is to measure the depth of liquid in your pot with a tape measure while it’s still boiling and calculate the volume with a cylinder volume calculator
This way, you can keep boiling if you think you may have too much wort, evaporation will do the rest
Should I skim/scoop out the foam on top of the wort during the boil?
No, this foam called hot break will disappear by itself if you simply reduce the heat and it’s part of the brewing process
Skimming it out does not have any noticeable effect on beer taste or head retention (= foam on top of the beer) and it increases the risk of contamination, so just don’t bother
Make sure to keep a gentle boil and stay close to the kettle to anticipate any boil over
If hops get stuck on the sides of the pot, just push them down into the wort
Should I use a lid to reduce evaporation during the boil?
You should use a lid during the mash, but not during the boil as this would prevent unwanted flavors from being released, which could alter the taste of your beer
How much volume do I need before the boil to end up with 1 Gallon in the jug?
I usually observe about 28% loss through evaporation after a 60 minutes rolling boil, so you can start with 1.4 Gal and you should end up with 1 gallon (for 5 liters, that’s 7L pre-boil volume)
Adjust your next batches if necessary
It’s always safer to shoot for less than more, because you can always complete the fermenter with some tap water (leave some headspace, though), but if you end up with too much wort, you will have to discard some and that messes the recipe
If my recipe includes candi sugar, when am I supposed to add it?
Candi sugar is often used in Belgian strong ales recipes to give extra alcohol (ABV) without adding body
If your recipe includes candi sugar, add it 5 minutes before the end of the boil
If my recipe includes coriander seeds, how am I supposed to use them?
Is is possible to cool down the wort faster and why is it so important?
At the end of the boil, you want to cool the wort down to 70°F (21°C), pitching temperature, as fast as you can for various reasons:
Wort is a sugar-rich liquid, particularly subject to unwanted contamination by airborne bacterias and wild yeasts
Not only this, a quick temperature drop (cold break) ensures proteins precipitation, which improves the taste of the beer and prevents hazy beer in the early weeks
You can speed up the cooling by gently moving the pot in your sink (loaded with ice cubes) and carefully stirring the wort with a sanitized spoon, preferably a large and perforated one like this one US|CAN|UK
Make sure to spread each loop about ½” (1 cm) appart for better thermal exchange
Is it bad if hops and other solid sediments make it to the fermenter?
No big deal
But you can get a funnel with a mesh US|CAN|UK, which will filter most sediments
This way, hops won’t sit in your beer for another two weeks
Funnels with a screen catch surprisingly large amounts of solid stuff and you will likely need to discard sediments several times to allow the wort to flow into the fermenter
What is the best way to oxygenate the wort and how important is it to do it well?
Yeasts need oxygen for fermentation, both to multiply and to turn sugars into alcohol
Therefore, the best possible oxygenation is critical for a strong fermentation and a good beer
Once you’ve transferred the wort into the fermenter and pitched yeast, make sure to vigorously shake the fermenter for a good 5 minutes, keeping a sanitized hand on the jug mouth and letting new air come in from time to time
If you want to take oxygenation to the next level, an aquarium-like aerator is a really cool upgrade US|CAN|UK. More about this in the blog Wort aerator
Is it a problem if some empty space remains at the top of the fermenter?
No problem at all
Such headspace actually reduces the risk of foam (krausen) blowing out of the fermenter during peak fermentation and allows a more efficient aeration when shaking the fermenter
For these reasons, fermenting a 1 gallon batch in a 5-liter jug is actually a good idea
Do I really have to use the blow-off tube or can I plug the airlock right away?
Early fermentation can be very intense and you definitely want to use the blow-off tube, especially if you filled the jug all the way to the top
The “krausen” (the foam at the top of the fermenter) can expand past the jug mouth, which is not a problem if it ends up in the blow-off tube, but would be a problem if it pushes out the sanitizer off the airlock
Even worse, if the sanitizer in the airlock gets blown off, your beer may be exposed to contamination from open air
Actually, your best bet is to not use the bubbler at all and leave the stopper and blow-off tube on the jug all the way till the end of fermentation; the only reason to switch to an airlock is because it’s less bulky, but that’s another risk of contamination
Fermentation did not start after 48 hours
Yeasts need to multiply before starting a proper fermentation
Most of the time, fermentation will start after 12 to 24 hours and your stress mark should not be before 48 hours
If no bubbling occurs after 48 hours, check the stopper for leaks.
If none, your yeast may have not been able to start fermentation (because they were too old or because the wort was not oxygenated enough), feel free to pitch more yeast
Keeping a backup pack of yeast at hand is a good idea
Don’t panic anyway and most of all don’t throw that beer away
No bubbling does not necessarily mean no fermentation; just bottle that beer like any other, wait 2-3 weeks and see what it gives, most likely it will be perfect
Fermentation was fairly quick and stopped after a day or so
No big deal
Depending on yeast health, oxygenation, room temperature or type of beer, fermentation intensity and duration can vary
Simply wait for 2 weeks between brew and bottling day and you’ll be just fine
Is a secondary fermentation (conditioning) useful?
Some brewers transfer their beer to a secondary fermenter after about 4 days to reduce contact between the trub and beer and to prevent yeasts from starting to ferment more complex sugars, which is suspected to cause off-flavors
Given the unproved taste benefit and, most of all, the high risk of contamination, secondary fermentation is not recommended, at least not to the beginning brewer
Prim & Bottle
Should I get an auto-siphon + bottle filler rather than using a racking cane?
You don’t want to use a racking cane, it’s a hell to use, you might lose some beer and likely disturb the trub at the bottom of the fermenter. In the worst case scenario, you may even drain sanitizer into your beer, which is the last thing you want to do
How to prim (= add sugar to beer before bottling) and bottle with minimal oxidation?
Of all the instructions on the Brooklyn Brew Shop website, their video on bottling is certainly the most misleading
They show beer dropping into the priming pot and then, they repeat it upon bottling
Unwanted oxidation during priming and bottling is one of the four biggest pitfalls for good tasting beer and the last thing you want is to follow the instructions in this video
Finally, read our instructions on how much priming sugar to use
How high should I fill the bottles?
With the bottle filler pressed against the bottom of the bottle, fill to the very top
This way, when you take the filler out, the beer will go down to the perfect level
What are the advantages of large vs small bottles and swing-top vs caps?
The advantage of small bottles is that you are less likely to end up with the last bottle half empty
It’s also more rewarding to end up with about 11 bottles rather than just 8
Swing-top bottles are by far your best bet when it comes to bottling beer, but bottles with caps are also very convenient to offer beers around without having to worry about recovering precious swing-top bottles
How much beer will I get and how many bottles does that represent (= will I get my booze fix)?
Assuming that you lose about a pint (½L) because of the volume of the trub at the bottom of the fermenter:
|Brew once a month and drink the batch within a month too
|1 person relying on a 1 US gallon batch
|Two 12oz bottles a week or a pint every 4th day
|2 people relying on a 1 US gallon batch
|One 12oz bottle a week per person or a little less than a pint a week per person
|1 person relying on a 5 liters batch
|3 small bottles a week or 2 large ones
|2 people relying on a 5 liters batch
|About 1 small bottle every 4th day per person or 1 large bottle a week
How to prevent over-carbonation?
Over-carbonated beer can occur for various reasons
- Beer was bottled too early and fermentation was not over
- Too much priming sugar was added upon bottling
- Beer was stored at a too high temperature after carbonation
Make sure to wait 14 days before bottling
Don’t exceed the amount of priming sugar in your recipe, typically 1.58oz (45 g) for a gallon batch or 2.1oz (60 g) for 5 litres, but your safest bet is to precisely calculate the required amount with a priming sugar calculator as it varies from one beer style to another
Once bottle carbonation is done (2-3 weeks), store bottles at a cellar temperature (54°F, 12°C) or lower to stop carbonation and prevent yeast from creating extra CO2
Generally speaking, less is more when it comes to carbonation
Under-carbonated beers have less of a soda feel and allow malty flavors to express themselves better
How much does a batch cost?
A typical 1 gallon / 5 liters recipe takes about:
- 2.5-3lb (1.2-1.5 kg) malt, that’s about $3
- 2 different hops, 50ct a pack
- Yeast, $2
- Part of your sanitizer, $1
That’s a total of less than $10, which roughly means $2 per qt/L or less than a dollar/euro per bottle
What actually hurts is to add $10 for postage if you order online, so, if you can, buy from your local brew shop, that will cut the cost of your batch in half and support local businesses
How long should beer stay in the bottles?
The BBK advises to drink beers after 2 weeks
Most of the time, an extra week will give better results
Beers are at their best between 1 month and a few months after bottling, after that, they slowly start to lose their hop flavors, especially if stored at room temperature
After the 2-3 weeks of bottle conditioning at room temperature, the colder you store your beers the longer their shelf life, but not below freezing 32°F (0°C)
Generally speaking, the hoppier the beer, the sooner you should drink it if you want to enjoy its hoppy flavors at their peak; this is especially true for us homebrewers who can’t avoid at least some oxidation when bottling
On the other hand, darker and stronger beers such as Belgian ales or stouts benefit from a longer conditioning; you’ll be amazed how a Belgian strong ale typically tastes better after 6 months or one year
Homebrews without pasteurisation can be safely consumed for up to 2 years…but you probably won’t wait that long
Can my brew fail?
Even if some wild yeasts make it to the fermenter or if you don’t perfectly respect the temperatures indicated in a recipe, your beer should still be drinkable
In the worst case scenario it will taste a little different than expected, but nothing terrible
If you kept good track of your brewing habits, you may even learn something from not so perfect beers
As explained at the top of this page, be as rigorous as possible with sanitization and your beer should turn great
Can I poison myself with my homebrew?
How can I improve my beer head (foam) retention?
You will read here or there that that ingredients such as oats flakes, wheat flakes or Carapils are supposed to improve head retention
This may work, but it’s not guaranteed and it may also alter your beer flavor
A much better call is to improve everything that can make your yeast happier, that is pitching enough of it, keeping fermentation temperature low (= no higher than 54°F/18°C) and improving oxygenation, as well as the rest of your brewing practices in general such as boiling for 90 minutes instead of 60, which may allow more head enhancing proteins to be produced
Should I care about original (OG) and final gravity (FG)?
For my first year of brewing, I didn’t and I always ended up with great beers
Then, I started to and it was a natural evolution
I wouldn’t recommend to care about such things at first, as there are enough more important things to learn first
Just follow recipes carefully and you’ll be fine, for example this one
If you are not sure, a little too much grain is always better than not enough
If you want to start caring about gravities, the most important one at first is OG, it’s the one your wort should be at when you transfer your wort to the fermenter
Get yourself a refractometer US|CAN|UK, it’s the easiest way to keep track of gravities
Note: as soon as fermentation starts (= there’s alcohol), you can’t use it anymore, you will need a densimeter US|CAN|UK + test tube US|CAN|UK
Brewing is so cool, I feel like opening a microbrewery, what do you think of that?
Like Collin McDonnell from Henhouse Brewing puts it “Brewing is 90% cleaning and 10% paperwork” and he is just right
In other words, homebrewing is a fun hobby but a terrible job and you probably want to stay away from it
I feel like taking things to the next level, crush grain myself and even grow my own ingredients. Is it possible?
You can, of course, mill grain and grow hops yourself, but part of the small batch revolution is to keep things simple, yet more fun and creative
There are professionals out there who have been producing the right ingredients for generations and who malt barley and crush grain every day with stellar equipment and expertise
Your motivation and enthusiasm would be better used experimenting with ingredients, but if you are interested in digging deeper, these books should help you