Brewing with kits and cans
Brewing beer from a can of concentrate — usually supplied as part of a homebrew starter pack containing a fermenter, hydrometer, etc — is where most homebrewers start. It's the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to make a reasonable beer.
This type of brewing is often referred to as kit and kilo (or K+K) because it's as simple as adding a kit and a kilogram of fermentable sugar in the form of table sugar, glucose, malt extract or a mix of ingredients often referred to as "brew booster", "brewing sugar" or similar.
Once you have a couple of brews under your belt chances are you'll want to start adding some extra hops or specialty grain for flavour and aroma, or other ingredients such as honey. This is sometimes referred to as kit and bits (or K+B).
In this section you will learn the basics of kit and kilo brewing, while you'll see how to take your brewing a step further in the next section, Adding hops & grain.
Step by step: Kit brewing
Most experienced brewers will tell you that the first and most important step as you begin your brewing career is to throw away the instructions that come with the kit or can of concentrate! Many times, although fortunately it’s becoming less common, these instructions will tell you to add a kilogram of table sugar — a surefire way to making a thin, cidery-tasting beer — and to ferment at a temperature that risks, if not ensures, that you beer won't taste as good as it could have and should have.
So how should you brew?
First, instead of using table sugar (sucrose) in your beer, buy a kilogram of dried or liquid malt extract. “Brew booster”, “brewing sugar” and other mixtures of dried malt extract and other ingredients are also popular and readily available. You will end up with a tastier, more full-bodied beer using these than if you had used a kilo of sugar.
Once you have your ingredients and equipment ready, the first thing to decide is whether to mix the ingredients in the fermenter or in a saucepan then tip it into the fermenter.
The advantage of mixing in the fermenter is that you do not have to tip the hot wort, which will burn more badly than hot water if you get it on yourself, into the fermenter and you don't dirty a saucepan. The disadvantage is that you may find it hard to dissolve the ingredients because they get stuck in the nooks and crannies at the bottom of the fermenter.
The advantages of mixing in a saucepan then tipping it into the fermenter is that you can easily ensure that all the ingredients are dissolved and that you can heat the liquid on the stove to help all the ingredients mix. The disadvantages are that you dirty a saucepan and have to tip the hot liquid into the fermenter, which may not have a huge opening.
The choice is yours.
Making your brew
- If you're rehydrating the dried yeast, which is recommended, follow the instructions here.
- Sanitise your fermenter, following these instructions, and set it aside to drain. Don't forget to make sure the tap is turned off!
- Remove the label from beer concentrate can and liquid malt extract, if you're using it.
- Sit the can or cans in hot water for 10 minutes, which will soften the contents and make it easier to pour out.
- Bring two litres of water to the boil in a kettle or saucepan. Try and use as little boiling water as necessary to dissolve all the ingredients, otherwise the wort will likely be too hot when it comes time to add the yeast, even though you will be adding a lot of cold water.
- If you're planning to mix the ingredients in the sanitised fermenter, tip the boiling water into it, otherwise leave it in the saucepan.
- Add any dried sugars (brewing sugar, dried malt extract, etc) to the fermenter or saucepan and dissolve it completely. Dry ingredients are added first because they are the most difficult to dissolve. Don't add the yeast yet.
- Open the can or cans of concentrate and tip them into the fermenter. It will still be quite thick so use the spoon to dig it out.
- Pour a little boiling water into the can(s) and scrape down the sides to remove the last traces, then add it to the saucepan or fermenter.
- Add any other liquid sugar you might be using, such as honey, golden syrup or maple syrup.
- Make sure all the ingredients you've added so far are dissolved, and if you have been mixing in a saucepan tip it into the sanitised fermenter.
- Begin to fill the fermenter with cold water. Most people fill the fermenter to 23 litres, which will give 30 750ml bottles or 60 375ml stubbies. However, some recipes call for a lower final volume, perhaps 18 to 21 litres, while other brewers do this routinely. While it means less finished beer, the flavours will be more concentrated and the alcohol content slightly higher. Don't be shy when filling the fermenter; splashing at this stage is good because it dissolves oxygen in the wort, which will help the yeast get a good start.
- As you approach within a few litres of the final volume, check the temperature using the stick-on thermometer that comes with most homebrewing kits or with any other thermometer. Aim for a temperature in the range 18C to 20C. If it's on the cool side, add a little boiling water and continue filling with cold water. Don't worry if the temperature is a few degrees above the ideal range, as we will try and keep it cool during fermentation. If you consistently have trouble getting close to 18C to 20C, mix the your ingredients in a saucepan then put it in a sink of cold water for 15 minutes or so before adding it to the fermenter. This will draw heat from the liquid and make it easier to hit the correct temperature. In very warm weather, it may be necessary to add water that's been boiled then chilled in the fridge.
- Once you've reached the final volume, if you rehydrated the yeast, give it a stir and tip it into the fermenter. If you're using liquid yeast or not rehydrating the dried yeast, tip it in.
- Stir the wort vigorously for a few minutes with a sanitised spoon to aerate it and create an environment in which the yeast can do its best work. This is an easy, free and quite effective way to aerate the wort. There are other methods, using an "air stone" and an aquarium pump or a canister of pure oxygen, or even a paint stirrer attached to an electric drill.
- Draw off a sample into your hydrometer tube via the tap, and take an SG reading.
- Tip the sample into a glass and cover it with plastic food wrap. Put it in a warm, dark place and check on its progress every day or so, having a smell and a taste to see how the beer is progressing. Never add an SG sample back into the fermenter because it may introduce an infection.
- Fit the lid if you're using it, then the air lock. Otherwise cover the fermenter with plastic food wrap and use the rubber seal from inside the lid to secure it.
- Proceed onto the fermentation stage.
Note: If you are using honey in your beer it's recommended that you use the saucepan method and add the honey first then bring it to the boil for a few minutes. This will kill any microbes that may be in the honey.
There is no need to boil the ingredients; in fact boiling the can of concentrate will drive off any subtle hop characters that are present in some cans.