Maybe it was the lukewarm longnecks your uncle produced at family barbeques. Or the failed university cash-saving experiments which yielded litres of undrinkable ale. Whatever the reason, for many of us, home-brew conjures unpleasant memories.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you can get a few basics right, home-brewing is relatively simple, and can, in fact, produce very nice beer. Sam Mealing wants you to know this. He and his wife Leesa are the proprietors of The Hop + Grain Brew Store in Enmore.
The shop caters to everyone, from those just getting started through to experienced brewers who practice extract and all-grain brewing.
For novices, Hop + Grain sells 23-litre starter kits similar to those found at other brew shops and big retailers such as Kmart, Big W and Target. The kits include pretty much everything you need and are, as Mealing says, “How nearly everyone starts out.”
The main characteristic of kit brewing is a can of beer concentrate, which contains liquidextracted malt and extracted hops. “It’s like baking a cake with a cake mix, as opposed to using flour and eggs,” Mealing explains.
But unlike using cake mix (which we would never condone), using a kit for your first foray into home brewing makes a lot of sense. It’s not that brewing beer is more complicated than baking a cake, but it does take a lot longer, and you want to do everything in your power to make sure that time isn’t wasted. But instead of telling you how it is, we’ve outlined the three main homebrewing techniques so you can make up your own mind.
Once you get the kit home, it’s simply a matter of mixing the contents of the concentrate can with one kilogram of dextrose (sugar) and two litres of hot water in the fermenter that comes with the kit. Top up the mixture with cold water so you have 23 litres of lukewarm water. Add the yeast sachet which comes with the beer concentrate, seal the lid, insert the air lock into the top of the fermenter, and pour water into the air lock.
Store the fermenter in a cool, dark place (a wardrobe is fine, suggests Mealing) for about five days, then test the mixture to see if the yeast has eaten all the sugar. You do this with a hydrometer, a tool which comes with the kit and is used for exactly this purpose. If the yeast has done its job, it’s time for bottling. Attach a bottling wand to the tap of the fermenter and fill your bottles. Place two carbonation drops into each bottle before capping them, then store for two weeks.
With extract brewing, instead of using beer concentrate, combine malt extract and hops in a large pot and boil the mixture for about an hour. After the mixture has cooled, add yeast and continue as in kit brewing. Knowing what type of malt and hops to combine, and in what quantities, is something that takes a lot of expertise. Instead of leaving it to trial and error, ask someone who’s done it before or consult one of the many online resources.
For all-grain brewing, you’re swapping the malt extract for actual grains, which you have to mash. This is done by placing five or six kilograms of grain in a muslin bag and immersing it in a container (an esky works perfectly) of hot water, at 66 degrees. “Like a giant tea bag,” says Mealing. After an hour, lift the bag out and continue as per extract brewing. All-grain brewing, says Mealing, “Allows much more control over the final outcome. You can fine-tune the particular style of beer you want to create and experiment with different flavours.”
Extract and all-grain brewing is, says Mealing, what you should ultimately aim for after you’ve mastered a few batches of kit brewing. But, he stresses, “You don’t have to. Many people are more than happy just kit brewing – and they make nice beer and are really happy doing it. It’s just what works best for you.”