Home Brew Beer Kits – Solutions to Common Problems – Part One: Understanding the Process

First, in order to home brew quality beer, a basic understanding of the process is needed. There are generally three main steps for brewing beer in home brew beer kits: brewing and fermentation, bottling and carbonation, and conditioning.  Let’s examine these steps in more detail.

1. Brewing/fermentation

Fermentation starts with a thick, syrupy liquid called wort. Wort is the final liquid obtained from heating malted grains for specific times at specific temperatures in a process called mashing. Which grain(s) is chosen for the mash will mostly determine the flavor of the beer. Wort contains the sugars that will be fermented by the brewing yeast to produce alcohols and flavour compounds. Home brew beer kit manufacturers have already done this work of mashing for you and provide the wort in cans. Often, they have also already pre boiled the wort with hops to provide desired bitterness and flavor. In this case, the wort is known as pre-Hopped Malt Extract or HME. As their interest in the hobby grows, many home brewers start trying their hand at the mashing process as this is where the flavours and quality of beer can be really finessed.

The can of wort is warmed or boiled, poured into the fermentation container (usually a provided brew keg or carboy) and water added to a prescribed level.  Sugar may or may not be required to be added to the liquid wort at the time of heating, depending on which kit you have purchased. Once the wort is cool, yeast is added to it. This is called “pitching the yeast”. The fermentation container is closed and mixture is left for the yeast to ferment the sugars, producing taste and alcohol content. Once fermentation is complete you are ready to bottle your beer.

2. Bottling and Carbonation

At the end of fermentation, you will have beer, but it will be very flat tasting beer. This is because the yeast will have exhausted most of its sugar sources during fermentation. You will need to add back a sugar source for the yeast to act on to give the beer its bubbly taste. Some kits will provide carbonation drops that you add to every bottle before filling with your beer, or some kits require adding sugar to the fermented mixture prior to bottling. In any case, although time consuming, this step is usually simple and straightforward. Once bottled, the yeast will carbonate the beer over time. Once this phase is complete, you will condition your beer.

3. Conditioning

Conditioning is the name given to the time when the last yeasts are slowly fermenting the remaining sugars and alcohols. It is also known as the secondary phase or sometimes secondary fermentation. During this time, the easily digestible sugars are gone, and the yeast will start to work on some of the more complex sugars and unpleasant tasting compounds they produced during fermentation. Digestion of these by-products will take the rough edge off the taste and converts them to pleasant tasting compounds. It is also during this time that the beer will clear. Conditioning can be done at room temperature or it can be done in the fridge.

4. Taste and enjoy!

Once conditioning is complete, if you haven’t already, chill the beer, invite over some friends for the inaugural opening, and enjoy!

Stay tuned for Part Two in this series, where we will discuss common problems and solutions in the brewing and fermentation stage.


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