Home-brewing: top tips from an expert
Brewer and beer consultant Richard Davie discusses all the essential brewing kit you need along with some helpful tips to make your own beer at home.
1. Buy yourself a decent kit
Extract kits have come a long way from the dusty back shelves of Boots of yesteryear, and give you a simple, affordable way to try out the hobby with very acceptable results. Established breweries like St. Peters and Woodfordes have decent kits in shops and online at about £20, for example from Wilko or Brew.
2. Bucket or demijohn
Whether it's your first time with a kit, or your hundredth all-grain brew, you need to ferment it in something suitable. Most of the time your options are between a bucket and a carboy. Carboys or demijohns look nicer, especially if they're glass, but can be a pain to clean. Food-grade plastic buckets lack glamour, but are practical – just make sure you get one with a close-fitting lid that's suitable for an airlock. As with most things there are more expensive options, but while they're good, they're not necessary. You can find buckets and demijohns at Brew Store or The Malt Miller.
3. Clean everything
If you’re making beer, then you need to be rigorous about cleanliness during the brew. VWP is an absolutely no-nonsense cleaner and steriliser for getting everything ready beforehand. During the brew, a no-rinse sanitiser is invaluable. Between the two, spoilt and infected beer shouldn’t be a problem. You can buy cleaning products online from Brew Store and The Malt Miller.
4. Look after your ingredients
Invest in some airtight plastic containers. Malt, kept dry and cool, should be fine for six months, but get rid of it after that – you’re only going to get stale flavours if you use stale malt. Likewise, dried yeast will keep, if sealed and chilled, but it will lose potency and reliability. Hops do not improve with age. Be doubtful of any before last year’s harvest, however cheap.
5. The internet is your friend
While a good book is an invaluable reference, there will be a time you come across something that flummoxes you. It's very unlikely you will be the first, and just as unlikely someone else hasn’t discussed it. From the magisterial, if dense, How To Brew by John Palmer to the uncountable forums and blogs discussing minutiae, such as Brewer's Friend, there’ll be something to help.
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Richard Davie is a professional brewer with roots in home-brewing. When he's not making his own beer, he works at award-winning micropub The Beer Shop.