The following is a quick collection of information, suggestions and tips to help you brew better beer.

Cleaning and sanitation

Things must first be clean before they can be sanitised; regularly disassemble your fermenter and fittings for proper cleaning. Snap taps are good because they can be disassembled.

Sodium metabisulphite works by releasing fumes, if there are any respiratory problems in your household use another sanitiser.

Chlorine based sanitisers (Neo Pink, Pink Stain Remover, bleach) need thorough rinsing afterwards to remove any chlorine residues which can leave the beer tasting medicinal or phenolic. They are not recommended for use with metals.

Contact sanitisers (Iodophor, Brewshield and Sanitise) can also be used in a mist sprayer to sanitise surfaces and work areas.

Don’t use abrasive scourers to clean your fermenter, they scratch the plastic. To clean the brown ring left after fermentation, use a handful of trub from the bottom of the fermenter.

Wort production

Whatever its colour - raw, brown or caster, ordinary sugar is sucrose. Sucrose is one molecule of glucose bonded to one molecule of fructose. Yeast cannot ferment sucrose as it is. The yeast must first break that bond so they can then ferment the glucose and fructose separately. Breaking this bond is known as "inverting". Yeast do it with an enzyme called invertase, which they make after pitching. You can invert sugar with heat and acid (eg lemon juice).

There are lots of different sugars, their names end in -ose. Yeast can ferment many of the simpler sugars. The preferred sugar for brewers’ yeasts is maltose, the main sugar found in malt. Maltose is two molecules of glucose bonded together. The yeast can absorb it into the cell and ferment it as is.

Small additions of grain ( 200 grams) will add character, complexity and depth of flavour to your beer. The methods are easy and all you need is a two litre saucepan or pot.

Extra malt extract, grain additions and hops will also help with head retention.

Balance extra malt with extra hops. Hops provide bitterness, flavour and aroma. Different methods allow you to hop for each of these. Depending on the hops and style of beer, for bitterness and flavour add 10 – 20 grams of pellets to the fermenter when you mix your ingredients up; for aroma add the hops just after fermentation has passed its peak. For extra bitterness boil 10 – 20 grams in about 500 ml of water, stir, and allow to rest for several minutes then pour the water off of the hops and into your fermenter. The longer you boil the hops the more bitterness they will impart.

Fermentation

The importance of fermentation is sometimes overlooked. You just make the wort, the yeast make the beer, so it pays to be kind to them. Give them lots of maltose and keep them at the right temperature.

There are many, many strains of brewer's yeasts each with their own flavour, clearing and fermentation properties.

Generally, ales will have some fermentation character - in some styles such as Belgian ales, or Bavarian wheat beers the fermentation character is quite prounounced. Whereas lager beers generally have little or no fermentation character.

On the text book, ale yeasts typically prefer the range 16 – 24°C, lager yeasts 8 – 14°C.  All yeasts can ferment up to about 40°C, however fermenting at temperatures above the individual yeast's preferred range will produce unwanted, and sometimes quite unpleasant, fermentation flavours.

All yeasts work in suspension, and when most yeasts have finished fermenting they clump together and fall to the bottom. Some ale yeasts clump together early and rise to the top of the wort on bubbles of carbon dioxide.

Unless specifically marked as lager yeast, beer kits come with an ale yeast – even if the kit is a lager style. Ferment these yeasts at a stable temperature in the low to mid twenties.

To get a temperature in the low twenties, chill 5 or 6 litres of water the morning or night before you brew. Mix up your brew in the following order: dry ingredients, hot water, hops, liquid ingredients, tap water to about 15 or 16 litres, chilled water to the right temperature, finishing with tap water to the desired volume.

Rehydrate your yeast in plain warm water before pitching them into the wort. Use about 10 ml of 30°C water per gram of dried yeast. Add the water to a sanitised jar, glass or similar, sprinkle the yeast in and cover. Leave for about 5 to 7 minutes and then swirl. Leave for another 5 to 7 minutes, swirl again and pitch.

When yeast are first pitched into the wort they must build up their cell walls and synthesise the necessary enzymes before they can start to ferment. To do this well they need lots of oxygen so aerate your wort as much as possible. Although nothing appears to happen during this pre-fermentation phase there is a lot of very important things happening. This phase can last as long as 24 hours.

5 or 6 grams of yeast per 22 litres is the barest minimum. Consider using two sachets of yeast, especially if you brewing a strong beer.

Packaging

Whether you bottle or keg, treat the finished beer gently, try not to splash and thereby aerate it. Aerated beer will stale more quickly giving you paper and cardboard tastes.

If you bottle, consider bulk priming. The finished beer is transferred to another sanitised vessel where it is mixed with the priming solution. Boil about 500 mls of water and add to it either 160 grams of ordinary sugar (sucrose), or 180 grams of dextrose. Standard priming rates are 7 grams per litre of beer for sugar, and 8 grams per liter for dextrose. You can vary these rates to suit the beer style, and your taste.

Bulk priming gives you better consistency and control, plus it lets you use bottles of mixed sizes.

When you bottle the beer, leave the caps resting on the bottles for 20 or so minutes before sealing. The carbon dioxide produced will help displace the air from the top of the bottle and keep the beer fresher.

If you use twist top bottles, the caps are very easy to undo when you first seal them. They need some pressure beneath them to hold securely. 

All malt beers need less priming; partly because there are far more residual sugars that will be fermented vert slowly in the bottle, and partly because all malt beers do need to be as well carbonated as beers with a high proportion of sucrose or dextrose.

Conclusion

Learn more about beer styles and famous beers. There are far more styles of beer than there are of wine. Prowl bottle shop aisles. With the money you save from brewing yourself buy the occasional bottle of exotica. You may not like everything you try, but there may be some beers that you fall in love with. And if you fall in love with a famous beer that costs a small fortune then there is bound to be a recipe for it. It is a much better saving to spend $35 or so to brew 22 litres of beer that would cost $200 or more to buy than to spend $25 or so to brew 22 litres of beer that would cost $85 to buy.