How to make good tasting home brew beer

A handy guide to making good tasting home brew

You're here because you want to make beer. 

Delicious tasting beer. 

Beer you'd be proud to share with your mates and father-in-law. To make him jealous of your beer making prowess. 

We've put together this sweet guide to making beer. 

Jump in. 
adding hops to home brew beer
Delicious beer hops - it's easy to add them to your brew

7 tips for the beginner beer brewer to think about before starting brewing

If you're about to take the brewing plunge and brew your first batch of home brew beer, you're already a champion! 

If you take the time to do it well you will be rewarded with a refreshingly delicious beverage. A strong start to your 'brewing campaign' will give you the confidence that brewing home brew is actually fairly easy and you might continue with it as a hobby.

It should be considered a sport, but for the purists...

There's definitely a lot to learn, so if you are a first time beer brewer, you might want to have a gander at these basic brewing tips before you begin.

1. That starter beer kit your partner gave you for Christmas is not enough

While the beer kit you were given for Christmas by your loving wife or partner will help you on your way to making a good home brew beer, you can do better. 

Kits that only come with a sugar or dextrose alone will contribute to a beer that's weak in the sense that it will seem thin in terms of its 'mouth feel'.

Think of mouth feel like that sense of 'full heartiness' that you get from that first mouthful of a well deserved beer. In response to this need, the home brewer should consider adding more malt - either liquid or dry malt. For the dry malt, a 'brew enhancer' pack is what you need.

In this writer's experience, making a home brew beer kit without the enhancer most definitely results in a weak beer, so make sure your starter brewing kit comes with it or at the least, head to your local brew shop and grab a packet. 

It shouldn't cost more than ten bucks and it's worth the extra expense.

You should also get some hops

green hops
Hops on the plant
While malt kits come with 'pre-mixed' hops, you may wish to consider adding extra hops to your brew. 

There are plenty of different kinds of hops, and for best results match the kind of beer you are brewing to the hops known to best complement that style.

You can add hops at any time you like.

2. You'd best best to brew a dark beer like an ale than a lager

The truth is that the darker the beer, the more forgiving it will be in the home brewing process. It's very easy to make a mistake with your first home brew so a basic beer style that's good to drink and is also easy to take care of is the brew you are after. 

While you should feel free to start with a lager, and yes, many beer kits do come with lagers, bear in mind that lagers need to be cooled rather more quickly than an ale or stout and they can also require a bit more yeast in the fermentation process.

3. In the cold, cold night

Fermentation is a process that requires just the right kind of temperatures and the right kind of times. Different temperatures brew different kinds of beers. A constant temperature is also very important as the yeast can react to a temperature variance in ways that are not good for tasty beer! 

So when doing your first brews, make sure it can be done in a warmish area and one that's going to keep that temperature. 

A very rough guide is that you should aim to brew lagers between 10-14 degrees and get those ales done between 18-21 degrees.

4. You don't need to bottle straight away, just because the fermentation bottle has stopped bubbling

If the bubbles in the airlock appear to have finished, this is not necessarily a sign that the fermentation process has halted. It's quite likely that there's still some fermentation quietly happening in the fermenter drum or carboy. 

So let that play out a a while longer. 

It could be that you let your beer rest longer than the written instructions that came with your beer kit. When you've given your beer a fair chance, bottle away.

5. Don't bottle too early as well!

Simply put, don't bottle your beer too early. This is basically point four repeated. If you bottle before fermentation has completed, you could be in for some trouble with gushers and exploding beer. 

Did you ever see that Breaking Bad episode where Hank woke up in the middle of the night thinking he was being shot at but in reality it was just his home brew exploding

That's what happens if you bottle your beer too early. 

Don't be like Hank Schrader, let your beer rest in the fermenter just a little bit longer. There's a real likelihood your beer will taste better for it.

6. Using a hydrometer will help you develop your home brewer's 'Sixth Sense' about how your brew is going

When used correctly, a hydrometer, will help you to work out when your beer batch has finished fermenting. 

If you get the same reading twice in a row, the fermentation process has likley finished - but if I was me, 

I'd leave it just a couple of days  before I'd bottle. Trust me on this one. 

You can also use the hydrometer to work out the alcohol content of your beer. Make sure you take your readings!

7. Good things come to those who wait

Once you've managed to get your precious liquid gold into your well sterilized bottles we can only imagine how keen you are to sample your efforts. You're going to have to wait. The instructions in your beer kit may suggest you need to wait two or three weeks.

Believe them.

Let your beer have time to make those bubbles.

You will be rewarded with a better tasting beer. If you can't wait, get yourself busy with a second brew and at the very least, give your equipment a good clean.

So that's plenty of tips and tricks to beer in mind! And now onto actually making beer!

Maybe mow the lawns with a battery powered lawn mower while you wait. 

The best beginner's guide to easily brewing beer from a beer kit

There can be nothing more rewarding after a hard day's work than a delicious home made beer. 

This beginner's guide is a 'how to' for using beer kits. There is no boiling of the wort wizardry here, just home brewing 101 tips.

The brewing of beer is an act of scientific exploration. It's the science of fermentation, bacteria and microscopic fungus commonly known as yeast. It's also about good old home economics and it's a little bit about applying some common sense.

If you follow this beer making advice (and of course give due consideration to the instructions that come on the can of malt - due consideration, not slavish attention!) you probably wont stray too far from producing a beer that you will enjoy to drink.

At this point I assume you are ready to make beer

I'm going to assume you have a brand new beer extract kit for making beer. Your loving partner may have given it to you for Christmas (mine did!) or maybe you got there yourself out of curiosity.
  • You have all the ingredients and supplies to hand. A can of malt extract with some yeast (and it's not an old can). You can brew with cooking yeast if you need!
  • Some brewing sugar, dextrose or a brew enhancer (we really recommend the enhancer).
  • You will have all the equipment. You'll have a giant plastic bottle or possibly a 30 litre drum or 5 gallon glass carboy). Be ready to make about 23 litres of beer. 
  • You have access to boiling water and also to cold water. You might even have bought some beer hops to add to your wort.
  • You'll have a clean working space such as a clean kitchen bench and you'll have enough time to not be interrupted. When I brew from home brew kits I do it after dinner when the kids are in bed and the dishes are done. 

It's now time to clean and sanitize your beer making equipment

Your beer wort needs a warm and clean environment in which to start fermentation. 

That means all that horrible bacteria that's lurking on your stirring spoon and on the inside of your fermenter drum or carboy bottle needs to be thoroughly cleaned and then sanitized.

Your home brew starter kit should have provided you with a sachet of a cleanser and also a sanitizer (people often refer to this process as sterilization, just go with it).

guide hops in beer brewing

Use it.

Leave your drum to soak for as long as possible (even though it's new, it's likely had all the equipment stored inside it if it's a drum, so heaps of opportunity for beer bugs to find a spot to launch an attack on your wort in there).

If you are going to be a backyard beer brewing, this probably is the start of your habit of cleaning and sanitizing all your equipment every single time you make beer.

It's also good to know you cannot get methanol poisoning from brewing beer.

There are plenty of beer making methods. We can do it in four easy steps.

Step 1 - Malt Up

beer extract kit sitting in a pot of water
If you're smart, you may have already put your opened tin of extract malt into a pot of boiling water so that it's warmed up and can be easily poured into your fermenter.

Just like this picture here.

If brewing during winter, I leave it sitting on the top of my closed fireplace, this works quite well.

At this point I like to put on some fancy surgical gloves so as to avoid the mess that's probably about to happen all over your kitchen bench. 

It probably helps to keep things clean. Gosh knows where my hands have been! 

Add your extract malt with 3 litres of boiling water to your fermenter. Stir with a sterilized stirring device until it's all dissolved.

Your brew kit probably came with a beer enhancer, now is the time to add it and dissolve as well.

Step 2 - Water is the essence of aqua

It's time to add the water. I like to use the garden hose (especially for my avocado tree) so I carry the fermenter to the kitchen back door and go for gold. The water in NZ where I'm from is very clean and drinkable. 

If the water is of poor quality where you come from, you may wish to find a better source of water, at the least boil it maybe. The basic rule is if you can handle drinking a glass of water from it, that's your source for your beer batch. You can always use a ph meter to test the water, make it a well reviewed ph meter.

Fill your fermenter to 6 gallons of water or to the 23 litre mark. Stick with that, your malt kit recipe has been designed with exactly this amount of water in mind. If you you add too much water, you will dilute your beer. 

That said adding less water may result in a stronger beer. If you're a beginner, don't try your luck.

beer brewing guide

Step 3 - Yeastie Boys

It's time to add the yeast. This is called 'pitching'. Seasoned pros will tell you to never use the yeast that comes in your start kit or with your can of malt as it may be old or damaged or whatever.


Make sure the temperature of the water is close to in line with the instructions on the tin of malt - you want to give the yeast a chance to activate so don't put it in or 'pitch' it if you're out of whack. 

That said in my experience just pitch the yeast into the drum or carboy when you're ready. But be warned, only pitch your yeast when you've added the extra cold water - if you pitch your yeast directly into the boiled wort, you will kill the yeast and you will not have fermentation occur at all.

Step 4 - 'Hop' to it, my little bunny

You're nearly done! 

If your beer kit came with some hops or you were smart enough to procure some, chuck them in now, maybe half the packet.

Some might recommend to add the hops 5 days into the fermentation process but we say just get on with it.

Close up the fermenter, make sure the drum or cap is on firmly. Add your airlock with boiled water inside (some really keen people use Vodka to keep bugs out! Which is crazy as you're trying to make alcohol, not waste it). 

You'll use this airlock to keep track of fermentation by observing the CO2 bubbles as they are released during fermentation.  A failure to see bubbles does not mean fermentation is not happening.

Step 5 - Let fermenting beer lie - be patient 

Young, padawan, you must be that patient!!!!

Once you've put your beer in a suitable place where the temperature will be fairly consistent, leave her alone.

Set and forget...
working out alcohol content
Taking a hydrometer reading

Well not quite - if you have a hydrometer, take a reading and write it down somewhere.

You will need the record to be able to work out when fermentation is complete and also work out the alcohol content ABV of your beer (see the link above for how to do the equation).

A loose guide to known when fermentation has usually completed when the bubbles have finished passing through the airlock. Once you are fairly confident this is the case, you can begin to think about bottling your beer

This is an occasion where you should consider completely ignore the instructions on the can and leave your brew in the fermenter for about 2 weeks. Leaving your beer to brew a few days more is important! 

While at face value fermentation is complete, the yeast will still be interacting with everything and this extra time will greatly improve the quality of your beer.

Be patient!

So the short summary on how to make your home made beer

1. Add your malt from the can to 3 litres of hot water
2. Add any brew enhancer or dextrose as well as any hops. Stir it all up.
3. Fill fermenter to 23 litres or 6 gallons.
4. Pitch in your yeast in
5. Add the airlock, firmly seal the drum
6. Ensure fermentation is complete. You may want to use a hydrometer during this stage
7. Bottle when ready but it's best to let your brew sit for a while

So that's the rough guide to brewing beer from a kit. As you can read, it's a pretty straight forward exercise and you don't need a Bachelor of Food Technology to get it right.

The absolute key things to bear in mind are having properly sanitized equipment, follow this guide and it's hopefully helpful beer making instructions more or less and don't stress.

So now it's time to bottle your beer

So once you are sure that fermentation is complete and you've let your beer sit for at least a week after the bubbles have stopped coming through the airlock, then you're ready to bottle your home brew. 

What equipment you need to bottle your beer

  • Enough bottles. If you have done 23 litres of beer then you would need 30 x 750 ml bottles. Plastic or glass, it doesn't matter
  • Bottle caps
  • bottle capper
  • sanitizing agent
  • A big bucket receptacle for soaking bottles in
  • Ordinary sugar

What kind of bottles do I need to use for bottling?

You can use plastic or glass. I use glass so I can recycle and feel good about saving the planet (yes, I'm a hero, send me a medal or some beer). If you truly hate planet Earth you can use plastic. 

The beauty of using plastic bottles is that if they over carbonate due to non complete fermentation or excessive priming sugar they will only split and not explode. 

If you've even seen a beer bottle explode spontaneously, you'll know what a damn mess it makes with glass shards everywhere! 

Not to mention it could be pretty awful if you were standing next to one at the time it blew...

You should also bear in mind that not all glass bottles are intended to be used for home brewing so may not be strong enough for both the fermentation process and the capping process so choose wisely - maybe even practice on the odd bottle to make sure it won't crack when you do the capping. 

In New Zealand most of the craft beer bottles can be used and recycled 750 ml bottles from brands like Steinlager, Tiger and Heinekin are fine to use.

Yes, it's time to bloody sanitise again

Just like you did when you brewed you beer batch, you are going to need to sanitise the beer bottles. 

This is because a second round of fermentation is going to occur and again the yeast needs an opportunity do to it's thing, free of microbes that could be lurking on the inside of the bottles.

It's this secondary fermentation that puts the CO2 in your beer and cleans up the remaining sugars. 

So get all your bottles in the receptacle that you are going to soak them in. I use a plastic washing basket that's big enough to hold all the bottles I need. I then get some sodium percarbonate and add it to a cup of boiling water so it dissolves quickly.

I then add it to the basket and then get the garden hose and fill it up to the brim.

You will need to wrangle your bottles as they will try and float. Push them down with your hands and make sure they are all submerged to they they all get the sanitiser in them.

The say you only need a minimum of 10 minutes to let them soak but having been burned before with a contaminant getting into my beer, I make sure there's little chance at the bottling stage. 

I leave them in to soak for a few hours and in direct sunlight if possible for as they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

If all that seems just too difficult and you are time short, you just get a bucket and fill it with your steriliser powder. You can then just dunk the bottles in, give them a quick swirl, drain the water back into the bucket. 

Whatever you do, when you're happy, drain your bottles and place them where you wish to do the bottling. I often do it on the picnic table in the backyard where there is plenty of space. A clean kitchen bench is handy too.

Filling the bottles

There are two ways you can add the sugar to your beer - you can prime the whole batch in one go by siphoning your beer into a second container and add your liquid sugar as you do so or you can add sugar to each bottle individually. 

This is our preferred method as in our experience, it's less mucking around, which seems counter-intuitive but there you go.

A benefit of siphoning and them priming the batch is that there will be less sediment in your beer.

While many beer brewers will suggest that you use a slightly heaped tea spoon of sugar for each bottle, I personally try and do a little less as some of my beers in the past have been over carbonated, due I think to too much sugar being put in.

I like to use a small funnel to add the sugar in - it's quicker and less messy than trying to get the sugar in using just a spoon!

You are then ready to add the beer. Simply place the bottle under the tap of your drum and you are good to go. Be wary of fast flowing beer. Fill the bottles to a level that you would normally expect to see for commercial beer. 

That's about 40 mm from the top. As I understand it, that will assist with optimum secondary fermentation. 

If you have a bottling wand, feel free to use it! Place it inside the tap. You'll need to be firm with it and also be aware that they can suddenly fly out with an open tap - meaning you'll lose beer. So for that reason I'd never wander away from the drum when there's a bottling valve in play.

It's also capping day

When you've filled all your bottles it's now time to cap the bottles. That process should be self explanatory and relative to the kind of bottle capper you have. 

The key thing to remember is to check that each cap as made a satisfactory seal. If you can hear hissing from a bottle, the seal was not done correctly. Remove the cap and try again with a new cap.

I also mark all the seals with a Vivid or Sharpie so that I know what the particular batch is. This is pretty important when you have different batches and different kinds of beers on the go!

You may wish to give the successfully bottles a gentle tip or to to make sure that all the sugar is in the liquid and has a chance to dissolve. This is also an opportunity to inspect for broken seals.

Bottling beer can be a time consuming exercise so either make sure you can be free from interruptions or you can choose to bottle in small groups e.g. 5 bottles at a time when you have a spare moment. This won't cause any problems.

Proper storage of your beer

It's often best to initially store your beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation to commence (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning). 

The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days. 

After that period, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C. You should then leave the beer for a total minimum of three weeks since bottling date before some well deserved consumption.

You should not easily dismiss this advice about correct temperature storage of your beer. 

I had an experience last year when in the middle of winter I just bottled the beer and left it in the shed for about a month. When I when to crack open the first beer, there was no fizz, just cold flat beer. No fizz on the second or third either. 

I thought I had ruined my beer somehow. 'Had fermentation actually occurred'? I wondered. 

Of course it had. The problem was the freezing cold. I brought the beers inside and left them in the living room. I waited a week, and boom I had fizzy beer. #winning. 

The longer you wait, the better your beer will be.

Here's a boat load more tricks and tips and mistakes to watch out for when brewing beer

glass of beer with nice head.

Do I have to sanitize my brewing equipment every time I make beer?

I thought we went through this. Yes you do bloody have to clean, sanitize and sterilize your beer brewing equipment, right down to the bottle caps and stirring spoon.

There are plenty of tricks and cheats you can do to product quality tasting beer but the one thing you can't escape from is the proper cleaning, sanitizing and sterilization of your beer gear.

There's a difference between sanitizing and sterilizing. 

Sanitizing is a technical term that means a certain allowable amount of microbes to survive on the surface of your equipment. Sterilizing is like sanitizing, but it removes all the microorganisms (the bugs and germs that will ruin your beer).

Think of washing your hands with hot water and soap as sanitization as it kills a few bugs but not all and is an acceptable means of cleaning your hands.

If you want to kill all the bugs on your hand so the skin is sterile with no bugs on it anywhere, then I suggest you boil your hands in water...

For the most part, the typical home brewers doesn't need to sterilize, only sanitize. The chemicals commonly used for homebrew brewing are made to sanitize.

Now we've got those definitions clear, there are several methods that you can try to 'sterilize' your gear. 

We'll note a couple in detail:

You can drown everything in bleach

A cheap and cost effective way to get your gear free of bugs is to drown your gear in bleach. But what is bleach? Bleach is usually a solution of  chemicals such as sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide and they act as an oxidising agent.

They are great for all kinds of things such as removing bad smells, making your whites whiter and your brights brighter and for home brewing. A popular American brand of bleach is Chlorox but there are hundreds of brands of bleach you could use.

Use sodium percarbonate as a sanitizing agent

Using sodium percarbonate is our preferred method as it works well, no rinse is required and it's very easy to order in bulk online.

If you've ever tried to buy sodium percarbonate from a specialist beer brewery shop, you'll know that you can get a small bottle or container of it that will cost you a small fortune.

If you can buy it in bulk from online supplier, you'll do well to nab some as using it will effectively bring down your cost per brew. 

To use sodium percarbonate you simply add it to water. I like to add hot or ever boiling water to the drum so as to get the action of the chemical happening pretty quickly. The boiling water also helps kill off any nasty bugs hiding about as well.
using laundry soaker for beer bottle sanitisation
A home brand with sodium percabonate.
Here's another trick, this chemical is basically what you might know as Tide or Napisan or any product that's brand name tries to use the word 'oxy' as in oxygen cleaning or oxidization agent.

Chances are you already have some in your home laundry so feel free to use that. I have done so several times with no problems whatsoever. Non scented house brands are awesome.

Other methods of sanitisation and sterilization
  • Applying heat - use your oven for a good dry heat.
  • Boiling in water
  • Use and autoclave or pressure cooker (this seems like a bit of over kill though)
  • An ordinary house dishwasher machine can be used for sanitation

How do I tell if my beer fermented properly?

Fermentation is the name of the game when making beer. It you don't have fermentation, you simply don't have beer. You have just have a 23 litre bucket of watery malt.

Home brewers can face fermentation issues and a common problem is that fermentation has not begun. A typical sign is that there is no bubbles coming through the airlock. Is this really a sign of a lack of fermentation?

The first thing to beer in mind is that it can take at least 15 hours before the bubbles start gurgling through the airlock. 

Don't go drowning your sorrows just yet if the bubbles haven't started. If you think that your beer hasn't started brewing there's some problem solving you can do. 

If you are using a glass fermenter you can look for a dark scum that rings around the water level mark.

Or check for signs of foam.

 If using a plastic drum you might be able to see through to check for the scum. Another trick is to take out the air lock and try and peek through the whole to identify scum or foam. If it's there, fermentation is happening.

You could also check the gravity by using a hydrometer. I'll assume you know how to use one.  The beer has usually finished fermenting if the final gravity reading is is 1/3 to 1/4 of the original gravity. This of course means you took a reading when you first prepared your beer.

If you have the same reading 24 hours apart - that's your final reading and an indication that the fermentation is finished. 

Remember, don't bottle your beer just yet, let it mellow for a bit longer. The longer the better your brew will probably be.

So why wasn't there any bubbles in the airlock? 

That's a fair question to ask. It could be that there was a leak that allows the CO2 to escape (to teach you to suck rotten eggs, those bubbles in the air lock are carbon dioxide gas, the bi-product of fermentation). 

You may have not tightened the drum enough or possible not screwed in the tap properly. It's a good idea to check this is the case before you worry too much.

If you didn't see any signs of fermentation it could be that it's too cold to brew. Is your batch of beer in a warm enough place? If you're brewing during summer months, it's probably not too cold.

If you've left your beer in a cold place in the shed, then it may be. If this is the base then you might want to consider moving your fermenter.

You could consider wrapping it with  blankets. This is a handy trick and will help to keep the chill of your beer. I suspect this trick works best if the beer is already warm enough to brew...

Here's some problem solving tips for when you don't see airlock bubbles:

  • Check for leaks that allow the CO2 to escape - tighten the drum
  • Look for foamy residue
  • Look for scum residue
  • Make sure the temperature is appropriate to the kind of beer you are making
  • Consider using a heat pad to ensure a consistent temperature

beer bottles for brewing

Here's 5 mistakes every novice beer maker should watch out for

1. Wash, wash away your sins

We actually mean sterilize. Sterilize the heck out of everything you use. If you're starting out as a home brewer, your kit should contain a cleansing and sterilizing agent. You NEED to make sure that at the very least your drum is fully clean and sterilized before your start your brewery process.

There is nothing more disappointing that going to bottle your brew and recognizing the scent of a bad brew that has been contaminated by nasty bugs.

2. Temperature 

It would be a mistake to think that home brewing is basically a 'set and forget' process. It's not. Well, it can be and a key part of that is making sure that where ever you leave your beer to ferment that it's a place that has the desired temperature and that it is a constant temperature.

Don't leave your beer outside on the back porch to do it's thing! Leave it wrapped in blankets in your garden shed if you have to, but make sure it's in a generally constantly heated place.

My work colleague leaves her beer brewing in the bath tub!

3. Those bubbles...

Just because the bubbles have stopped bubbling through the airlock, it doesn't mean the fermentation process is complete. It would be a real shame for your bottled beer to start exploding if you haven't given the beer a chance to finish the process. Use a hydrometer to ensure the fermentation is finished before you at least consider getting that beer into glass bottles.

Hint, wait some more time as well.

3. Running before you can walk

Get the basics of beer brewing down first. Before you run off and try and make the most fanciest beer you can that features some imported yeast from England and three different kinds of hops, learn the principles of beer making.

You will enjoy your first few brewing experiences if you keep them simple. Then you can start to branch out into more complicated recipes and practices.

4. Not keeping records of what you did

If you write down what you did, what you used, when you did it and why you'll have a good basis on which to make judgements about your beer brewing failures and successes. If you find that you've pulled off a stunner of a beer, you might be able to figure out just exactly how that happened. It could be the difference between remembering that you used a certain kind of hops in your brew!

5.  You drink your beer way too early

Patience my young Padawan. It is a mistake for sure to drink your beer too early. Post bottling, your beer needs time to carbonate. It also needs time to chill and do its thing. The fermentation process is in a sense a simple chemical reaction but there is a complex relationship going on with the beer's ingredients that need time to sort themselves out.

The patient beer drinker who leaves his beer at least three weeks before indulging will be a better beer maker for it. If you can make it to 5 or 6 weeks before you taste, the better your beer should taste. 

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