Beer making 101

Hacking Beer Kits

Posted by Neil Bamford, August 31st, 2010 | 2 Comments

We at The Vineyard are pretty darn proud of the high quality beer that you can make in only minutes with the Brew House Beer kits. We think it's one of the better beer kit on the market. Having said that, though, some people may not agree with manufacturers idea of what really good beer tastes like: "More hops!—Not enough malt!—You call that a Cream Ale?" Everyone is entitled to an opinion—that's what makes homebrewing  great. So, what do you do if your opinion conflicts? You modify your kit; great brewers never leave well enough alone.
Below are several ways to enhance or "hack" your beer kit starting with the easiest ways and moving on to  more advanced techniques that require equipment such as a high output gas burner, a large pot (min 30L) and a wort chiller or ice bath to quickly cool your wort after a full boil.

Adjusting the Level of Fermentable Extract
This is probably the single easiest thing you can do with your beer kit to get the feel for hacking. You can manipulate the beginning specific gravity of your Brewhouse kit by adding more or less water to the primary fermenter. The kits contain 15 litres of wort brewed to an original gravity between 1.070 and 1.080, depending on the style. When diluted with 8 litres of water, the wort’s original gravity drops to between 1.040 and 1.055. If you add only 4 litres of water, the gravity will be 1.055 to 1.065 and the alcohol content of the finished product will go up 1 to 1.5%. Or you can add no water at all. Smaller additions of water would lead to the following style changes:

Intended Brewhouse StyleWith 4 litres waterWith no water addition
Munich Dark LagerBockDoppelbock
Pale AleEnglish Old AleAmerican Barley Wine
PilsnerMaibock (perhaps)Belgian Dubbel

Expect the undiluted beers to have a very estery quality, with fruity sometimes banana-like aromas and flavours. Adding more water to the kit is another option, although we feel there is little to recommend it. Not only will hop rates and colour be reduced, the alcohol content and the flavour will be diluted. Experiment with this if you like.

Liquid Yeast
  Using liquid yeast is another quick and easy "hack" and an excellent way to bring your wort kit even closer to its intended style. The dried yeast included with the kits has been chosen for its predictable fermentation qualities, but liquid yeasts will more closely resemble the strains used by commercial breweries. There are several manufacturers of liquid yeast cultures and The Vineyard sells Wyeast Labs yeast strains. The following list gives you an idea on what kits work well with certain strains. For a complete list of Wyeast selections and descriptions click here.To what Yeast strains we have in stock right now click here.

PilsnerWyeast 2278 Czech Pils
Pale AleWyeast 1056 American Ale
Cream AleWyeast 2565 Kolsch
Premium American LagerWyeast 2112 California Lager
Munich Dark LagerWyeast 2308 Munich Lager
WheatWyeast 3068 Weihenstephen Weizen
StoutWyeast 1084 Irish Ale
Mexican CervezaWyeast 2112 California Lager

Adding extra hops is an excellent way to customize your wort kit. Even though each kit is well hopped and has a balanced flavour, if you are like most homebrewers you'll find that after a while there is no such thing as too much hops. Unless you are confident about your tastes, however, make sure you stick to classic varieties. Some of the hybrids and new super-alpha hops can provide unusual flavours and aromas if used inappropriately. For North American beers try Cascade, for German beers use Hallertau and Tettnang, and for English beers Goldings and Fuggles are good.
When adding bittering hops, you should boil of the full volume of wort for 1 hour. To compensate for evaporation, add 1 to 1.5 litres of extra water at the beginning. Flavouring hops should go in for 15 to 30 minutes, and aroma hops are usually boiled for less than 5 minutes. Dry hopping can give a wonderful aroma to your beer. These hops are added to the secondary fermenter without boiling. If you wish to dry hop, use hops appropriate to the beer style and start off with small doses, say 28 grams. Use pellet hops since they will easily settle to the bottom and won't interfere with subsequent racking. Dry hopping should be done in the last week or two before bottling. If you are kegging your beer you can use a hop sock and add to the keg right at kegging time. I sanitize a piece of string and run it under the rubber O ring in the lid so that I can easily remove the hops after a week or so when I get to my desired level of hop aroma. Click here to see what hops we have in stock today.

If you want to change the colour of your beer, give it more residual sweetness, or add more roasty flavours, you will need to add specialty grains. Because these are used to flavour and colour the wort, you only have to steep them—no mashing is required. Suitable grains include crystal malt, cara-pils, chocolate malt, black patent, roast barley, rye, vienna, munich, biscuit malt, wheat, torrefied barley, oats, brown malt, distillers malt, honey malt and a host of others.
To use the grains, crush them, place them in a hop bag or muslin sack, and steep them in water. For every kilogram of grain, use 4 litres of water at 75°C and steep for 20 minutes. This will extract the colour and flavour without difficulty or mess. Don't worry about maintaining the temperature—as long as it was 75°C at the beginning everything will be fine. Discard the grains and use the liquid to top up your kit for the full wort boil. If you're not doing a full boil, you should boil the grain liquid separately for at least 20 minutes before adding it to the kit. Remember to cool it first.
Boiling the liquid is very important. Grains are exposed to spores, molds and fungi during processing and storage; steeping will not kill these bugs. If you don't boil the liquid before adding it to the kit, you may be introducing potential spoilage organisms into your wort.

Brewing Sugars
The question of sugar always raises eyebrows among homebrew purists. If the point of the Brewhouse Kit is to make all-grain beers without adjunct sugars, why would you want to add them now? The answer lies in the brewing traditions of other countries. Here in North America, commercial breweries use large amounts of cheap starch and sugar adjuncts as well as industrial enzymes. Such brewing practices leave beers bland and flavourless. Homebrewers have understandably come to feel that using sugar is "cheating" and wish to avoid it.
However, other brewing traditions use sugar to great advantage. For the British and the Belgians, certain styles of beer would not be possible without the use of brewing sugars. Duvel, Theakston's Old Peculier, and many other classic beers have sugar in the kettle. But the old world brewmasters use this sugar to enhance an already luscious, full-bodied beer made with plenty of grain and hops. They're not simply extending a thin and tasteless industrial lager, which is where the difference lies.
Some sugars appropriate to brewing are cane sugar, corn sugar, Belgian candi sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, rice extract, malt extract, maltose, demerera sugar, and wheat syrup. There are, of course, many others.
Remember that too much extra fermentable sugar may leave the beer's flavour and alcohol level unbalanced. Sure, you can load up a beer with corn sugar and make 14% ha-ha juice, but no one has yet explained why this would be a good thing (at least not coherently). If you want to use sugars, consult a good brewing book which covers varieties and quantities.
One kilogram of most dry sugars will give 10 to 15 points of fermentable extract per 23 litres of beer. This will translate into 1 to 1.25% more alcohol in the finished product. To use these sugars, either include them in the volume of your full wort boil or dissolve each kilogram of sugar in 4 litres of boiling water, cool, and use this liquid to make up the volume of the kit.

Fruits, Herbs and Spices
Most people don't associate fruit with beer, but some of the world's greatest beers contain cherries, raspberries or peaches. Likewise, Belgian specialty beers can contain coriander or orange peel, and one Canadian micro-brew is actually a pumpkin ale. The choice and use of such ingredients is highly individual so there aren't many guidelines we can give you. Just be careful not to overpower your beer with something strongly flavoured. Remember, you'll have 23 litres of this stuff, so be sure you want to drink it.
Delicate aromatics like coriander or orange peel can be added to the fermenter like a dry hop. Fruits can be pasteurized by adding them to the wort and then holding the heat at 70°C for 20 minutes. This will kill any spoilage organisms in the fruit. However, be careful not to boil the fruit since this can cause a pectic haze which will permanently cloud your beer.
Personally I prefer to clean and then freeze my fruit for at least a week as this helps breakdown the cell walls and kills some of the spoilage bacteria. I then defrost in my secondary fermentation vessel and rack my beer on top of it. As the beer has completed its primary fermentation at this point, and my fruit was free of mold and clean when frozen, there is little chance of nasties getting a hold in my finished beer. I find this brings a better fruit taste out that is free of cooked flavors or aromas that can happen when trying to pasturize the fruit

Post filed under: Beer Kits

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Ryan wrote on Jul 17, 2013 8:12 PM:

I have used the Brew House kits and have always ended up with great results. Im a beer lover in general, but I definetely prefer a dark beer. The Munich Dark Lager and the Stout kits were great. I thought the info on the diferent water quantities at the start of the kits was great, ill have to try that out. Ill make it a piont to stop at your store when im in Calagry in August. Thanks Ryan

Matt wrote on Aug 30, 2013 8:13 AM:
I've tried my hand at a couple of BrewHouse kits, and would like to start tweaking them a bit, so this was extremely helpful.

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