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Homebrewing Questions and Answers
Before you become a brewer:
The first set of questions are the ones we most often get asked by people thinking about getting into homebrewing.
Q: Is homebrewing hard to do? A: No. Basically if you can boil water, you can brew beer.
Q: How much time does it take and how long will it be before I can drink the beer? A: You'll spend about 6 hours on brew day brewing and cleaning up (this will get shorter as you gain experience). Then the beer will ferment for about 2 weeks. Then you'll spend another 2-3 hours bottling the beer and it will be another week or two before it's ready to drink. The total elapsed time will be about 3-4 weeks.
Q: Does it take up a lot of space? A: Not really. The fermenter takes up about a 2 foot by 2 foot square and is about 2.5 feet high. You'll also need space to store the bottles. The amount is up to you, but 2 cases would be the minimum. Only a few need to be in the fridge at once.
Q: My house gets pretty warm. Is that a problem? A: The ideal temperature for making ales is around 65oF. But you can obtain acceptable results with temperatures as high as 78oF. More important is that the temperature be stable, staying within 3-5 degrees over the course of the day. Usually a basement or an inside closet (one with no walls common with house's exterior) is not only the coolest place in the house, but also the most stable.
Q: How much beer do I make each time, and how much will each batch cost me? A: The typical amount of homebrew you will make each time is 5 gallons or around 2 cases. The cost depends on the type of beer you want to make, but generally runs between $25 and $37.50. That translates to $.52 to $.78 per bottle.
Q: How long will it be before I make good beer? A: If you follow our advice and instructions, most brewers make very good beer their first time.
Q: How much do I need to spend on equipment? A: HopTech sells a complete equipment kit for $98.95. It includes everything you need except a boiling kettle, bottles and ingredients for your first beer. If you have a 5 gallon (or larger) stainless steel or enamel kettle/canning pot (but not aluminum) then that will work fine. Most people don't, however. HopTech sells a 5 gallon stainless steel pot for $46.50. You can save beer bottles (they must not be twist-off types) or you can buy them from us (if you live nearby). You'll need around two cases (48 twelve ounce bottles) for your first batch.
Q: What's included in the kit? A: You get a fermenting bucket with lid, a bottling/settling bucket with lid, spigots and our unique SpigotGuard (that eliminates siphoning) for each bucket, airlock, stopper, 4' of racking hose, a deluxe bottle filler, a deluxe wing bottle capper, a bottle cleaning brush, a high quality hydrometer, a hydrometer test jar, a dial thermometer, a brewing spoon, a nylon grain steeping bag, 60 bottle caps, a bottle of sanitizer, HopTech bottle opener and the book Brewing Quality Beers and our own instructions that tell you exactly how to use our brewing equipment.
Q: I've seen other kits advertised for less money. What makes your kit better? A: The reason those kits are cheaper is because they leave out things and/or use cheaper components. They do make beer, but we don't want your first brewing experience to be frustrating, so we give you everything you need to make sure you make good beer the first time and do it with a minimum of hassle. For example, our kit never requires that you siphon the beer, a constant source of frustration even for experienced brewers. And we give you high quality components that won't need to be replaced after a batch or two.
Q: I want to save my own bottles. What's the total amount I can expect to spend to get started? A: Experience has shown that the typical customer that buys our kit, a brew pot and ingredients ends up spending approximately $190.00 including tax (if applicable).
Q: I've heard that homebrewed beer has a higher alcohol content and is more bitter than "store bought" beer. Is this true? A: You can control the amount of alcohol and bitterness in your beer, making as little or as much bitterness and/or alcohol as you desire.
Q: What kind of beers can I brew? A: While it is possible to brew almost any style of beer at home, ales are the easiest. Lagers are not really harder to brew, but since they take an extended period of cold, temperature-controlled fermentation, the investment in equipment and space is much higher. That is not to say that you can't make a light tasting beer, you'd just make it as an ale rather than a true lager. Only an experienced beer expert could tell the difference.
Q: Five gallons sounds like a lot. Can I brew a smaller batch? A: Yes, but since the amount of work is the same, most brewers end up staying with five gallon batches or even moving to larger size batches. And the shelf-life of a homebrewed beer is actually longer than most commercial beers. The beer will still be quite drinkable as much as year after you've brewed it.
This section contains those questions we most often get asked about problems that occur during the actual brewing process.
Q: My beer only took one day to ferment. Is it stuck? A: If the weather is warm and with some strains of yeast (usually dry yeasts) it is not uncommon for beers to ferment very quickly. Take a hydrometer reading and record the value (don't forget to apply any temperature correction). Wait three days and take another. Compare the two readings. If they are the same (and in the proper range), your beer is done fermenting. You could bottle the beer now (we know you're anxious!) but we advise you to wait a full two weeks to allow the beer to settle and clear. If your hydrometer reading is still high, then your fermentation may be stuck. Some dry yeasts (not the ones we sell, however) are known to do this, but the most common cause is insufficient aeration of the wort when you pitched the yeast. It can also be caused by a highly flocculent yeast strain that dropped to the bottom before it was done. In either case, you can usually get your beer going again by "rousing" the yeast. Do this by stirring up the yeast sediment with your sterilized brewing spoon.
Q: My airlock bubbled for a few days and then quit. What's wrong? A: See the answer above. It may also be that your fermenter lid is not on tight and the CO2 has found another way to get out of the fermenter rather than through the airlock.
Q: I pitched the yeast and nothing ever happened. Was it dead? A: Not usually. Sometimes a fermentation can happen very quickly (a matter of hours) and you'll have missed it during the night. (This can happen with some dry yeast and especially if you didn't cool the wort enough before pitching.) Look for tell-tale signs that you had some activity - usually there will be a ring of scum an inch or so above the level of the liquid. You can also take a hydrometer reading. Also see the above two answers.
Q: I checked and there's no sign of activity after a few days. What should I do? A: It's possible your yeast was dead. This happens a lot with yeasts packaged with imported "canned kits" or you could have left too much sanitizer in the fermenter. Go ahead and pitch another 10-14 grams of properly rehydrated dry yeast. Be sure to aerate the wort again. A lot of brewers like to keep some dry yeast on hand for such an emergency.
Q: I'm using liquid yeast. I popped the packet and it swelled up OK, but nothing is happening. Is the yeast dead? A: Not if the packet swelled up. That's a sign of healthy yeast. Your beer will eventually start fermenting.
Q: I popped my liquid yeast packet a few days ahead of when I wanted to brew and it swelled up right away, but I'm not ready to brew yet. What should I do? A: Put the packet in the refrigerator. It will be fine in the swelled up state for several weeks if kept refrigerated. You could also take this opportunity to make a starter if you have the equipment.
Q: I had my liquid yeast packet (or starter) all set to go, but something can up and I can't brew when I had originally planned to. What can I do? A: See the answer above. It also applies to starters.
Q: My beer has been in the bottle two weeks now and it's still flat. What's wrong? A: Most likely the beer has been kept too cold since bottling. The beer should be held for a week or so at a temperature of at least 55oF. Move it to a warmer place. Another problem may be that you didn't use enough (or any) priming sugar. The usual amount is 1/2 to 3/4 cup in 5 gallons. Your caps may also be leaking. This happens when you use "twist-off" bottles or when you boil the caps to sterilize them. Boiling can destroy the integrity of the cap's seal. Sanitize with iodophor (properly diluted). If you use bleach, a chlorine odor can be retained by the cap liner, and this will affect your beer's flavor. It may also be that you left too much sanitizer in the bottles. Let the bottles air dry upside down before bottling.
Q: I have a layer of sediment in the bottom of my bottles. Is this normal? A: Yes. There should be a thin layer of sediment at the bottom. This is the yeast that grew which caused the beer to be carbonated. If you have a thick layer, then you probably didn't let the beer clear long enough before bottling or you picked up a lot of sediment from the fermenter when you transferred to the bottling bucket.
Q: My beer is over-carbonated. What happened? A: Several things could have happened. You could have used too much priming sugar. You might not have waited long enough and the beer was still fermenting when you bottled. And you could have an infection that is fermenting things that beer yeast doesn't. Or it could any combination of three.
Q: My beer doesn't taste right. What's wrong? A: There isn't enough space here to detail all that could happen to cause off flavors. Most brewing books have a trouble-shooting section - check your symptoms for the likely cause. Most likely you have an infection. Check around the bottle neck. If there's a ring, that's usually a sign of infection (but can also be caused by priming with DME). Review your sanitation procedures. It may be an isolated case (we all make a batch of "dumper-brau" once in a while) but if the problem persists you probably have a hidden place in some of your equipment you're not getting clean and sanitized.