Making your first beer 2/6

So over the weekend you went out and bought a home brew starter kit, or you begged, borrowed, stole, re-purposed enough stuff to get you started.

Part 1 :

Since then you’ve been waiting with bated breath for my next post about how to brew that sweet sweet beer. So assuming you didn’t blow your load already, and just go and follow the instructions on the can, I’m now going to go through what you do on your brew day for a simple kit beer.



Find yourself somewhere to put the fermenter while it’s fermenting. This can be the tricky part, especially when you’ve got kids. The place you want should be free from children, tiled/concrete/floorboards in case of spillage (makes it easy to clean up), and a relatively constant temperature preferably down around the 18-20 degree mark, and ideally not more than about 23 degrees. Good places are an unused bathroom/ensuite, laundry, under the house (if you’ve got plenty of space), kitchen (bahaha, let me know how you go with that…). As we’re in Autumn (heading into Winter) it’s little cooler so the garage can work, as can a shed outside. The problem with these is the temperature can fluctuate a bit, so you may need to do things to alleviate that. Also, during Summer, they tend to be too hot. One of the biggest problems people have with homebrew beer is that they say they can taste a “homebrew twang” or some kind of flavour that is only present in homebrew. This is often caused by too hot a temperature when fermenting, and using plain white sugar for your extra 1kg of fermentables. So keeping the temp down to below 22-23 degrees is kind of important.


This is pretty straight forward. Screw the tap into the fermenter. Wack the rubber grommet into the hole in the lid. And stick the thermometer sticker on the side about half way up.

Clean & Sanitise

This is possibly the most important step. Don’t skimp on the cleaning and sanitising, I don’t care if it’s brand new and looks clean, you need to clean it. Get some of that cleaner from your starter kit, read the instructions on it, they’re all a little different, or just some plain old dish liquid. But generally it’s a case of mix the appropriate amount with some hot water, as hot as you can handle on your hands, and put it into your fermenter. Get a plain sponge (not a scrubbing pad, or scourer, they’ll put micro scratches in the plastic on your fermenter where nasty bacteria can hide) and clean the inside of you fermenter. Get the spoon and clean that too, and the air-lock, and the lid. Basically clean everything that’s going to touch the beer. Then give everything a good rinse.

Now we need to sanitise everything. This is just as important as cleaning. It’s the sanitiser that’s going to kill any bacteria on any of the surfaces. If you don’t sanitise everything then what will happen is you’ll end up with an infection in your beer, it will ferment, but it’ll taste like shit and you’ll end up tipping all your hard work down the drain.

So read the instructions on the sanitiser. If you’re lucky you’ve got a no-rinse sanitiser, mix appropriately and dump it into the fermenter. Put in the spoon and airlock too. Stick the lid on the fermenter and give it a shake to coat everything insider the fermenter with the sanitiser. Wait a minute, give another shake, wait another couple of minutes. Grab yourself a clean bucket or pot, open the fermenter, and take out the spoon and airlock and put them in the bucket, we want to keep them sanities, so they should touch anything which isn’t sanitised. Now through the fermenter tap empty the sanitiser into the pot/bucket that has the spoon in it. If it’s a no-rinse you can put some into a little spray bottle. If you need to rinse your sanitiser, rinse out your fermenter now then put the lid back on the top. This stops any nasties getting back into the fermenter. Remember to close the tap on the fermenter (I’ve forgotten a few times, which is pretty messy).

Mixing Your Wort

Take a can opener and open the kit tin. Grab your self a pot big enough to put the tin into. Don’t empty the tin in the pot, just stand the tin in the pot. Boil the kettle, and then pour the boiling water into the pot and let it stand there for 5-10 minutes. This helps make the extract more viscous and will pour more easily. Take the tin out, it will be hot so you might want an oven mit, then into the hot water put your 1kg of fermentables. Grab a whisk from the kitchen drawer and mix the crap out of it till it’s all dissolved.

Grab your nice clean sanitised fermenter, open it back up. Pour in extract from the tin (use a spoon to get it all out). Then pour in the mixture from your pot into the fermenter too. Grab your sanitised spoon and mix the stuff in the fermenter till it’s all well combined. You might want o position your fermenter in it’s final resting place now, carrying 23kg of wort in a plastic barrel is a bit cumbersome. Grab a jug and now start filling the fermenter up to the 23L mark, making sure you mix along the way. Pour the water in from up high, so there’s lots of slooshing about, a bit of splashing in the fermenter is all good at this point, we actually want to oxygenate the wort mixture as this is one of the things yeast like, and we want to keep the yeast happy. You can even get your whisk (preferablly sanitised) and beat the bejesus out of the wort to get it well aerated. (Frankly I can’t be arsed with that, I just fill from high up)


Once you’re up to the right amount of wort, go and grab the little packet of yeast which was under the lid of the tin. Open it up and sprinkle the contents evenly on top. Then put the top back onto the fermenter, you want a good seal so make it fairly tight. Now go grab your air-lock, fill it with some of the sanitiser up to the little lines on it, and bung that in the grommet in the lid of the fermenter. The air-lock lets the CO2 produced during fermentation out, and stops nasties getting in.

Final checks

Go and grab your hydrometer. Pull it out of the tube it’s in, make sure the little foam bits are out of the tube. Now tap off a little of your wort into the tube, about 1/2 a tube worth. (If you saved some sanitiser in a spray bottle, spray some around and up into the tap now.) Stick your hydrometer back into the tube, it should float. The hydrometer has a bunch of lines and numbers on it, and some colours. You need to take a reading on where the wort is on that scale. It should be up around the red section, it’s normally labelled “beer start”, and should be around the 1.048 mark. Strictly speaking you take the reading at the meniscus line. Write it down somewhere.

Measure the meniscus at eye level from the center of the meniscus. - Wikipedia Commons

Now check the temperature. Hopefully you’re around the 22 degree mark. If your ambient temperature is a little lower then it should naturally come down a little and you should be fine. If you’re much higher say 25 deg, then we want to cool down the fermenter. A simple way to do this is evaporative cooling. Grab a towel and a fan. Wet the towel down and wrap the fermenter , then turn the fan onto it.

Fermentation itself is an exothermic reaction, so it actually creates its own heat. Check the temperature every day or so, you want to try to keep it around 20 degrees. If it’s really cold in your location then you want to warm it up, so you can wrap it in an old sleeping bag, or if necessary an electric blanket.


After a day or 2 you should start seeing bubbles in your air lock. This is a good indicator that fermentation is occurring. However, don’t freak out if it doesn’t bubble. You could have an air leak somewhere else. No big deal. If you’ve not seen bubbles by day 4, go grab your hydrometer and take another reading, it should be lower. If it’s not lower, then you’ve probably god a dud batch of yeast. Run down to your local homebrew store, and buy some more yeast, carefully open up the fermenter and sprinkle it on top, seal it back up and wait a couple more days. Hopefully it’ll start fermenting.

If you have a fairly clear lid on your fermenter don’t freak out when you start seeing this skungy brown foam on top of your beer. This is called karusen, it’s part of the fermentation process and completely normal, it’s also a great sign of good fermentation.

By about day 5-7 of active fermentation it should be pretty much done. But the only way to be sure is to take hydrometer readings. If they’re the same over 3 days, and down between 1.006 and 1.014 (your tin often has what it should finish at) then you’re good to bottle. I generally leave my beer for 2 weeks, pretty much guarantees it’s finished and means I do stuff on the weekend. So I put my wort into a fermenter on one weekend then start taking readings from Wednesday of the following week.

So during fermentation sit down relax, have a beer. Start thinking about who you’re going to rope into help you on bottling day. The shitty part of home brew.


Next postBottling day

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Michael Stalenberg

Michael Stalenberg

Father to 2 kids, DIYer, tinkerer, chief cook, brewer and bottle washer. Find me on Untappd "mkstalen", or my Homebrewery "Steel Mountain Brewing".
Michael Stalenberg

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