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Brewing FAQs

We’ve tried to answer some our our most frequently asked brewing questions. If you have a question please read through our FAQ’s first.

My airlock didn't bubble or stopped too early.

The lack of activity or bubbling in your airlock is not necessarily an indication that your ferment has stopped early or failed to start. Bubbling is usually just an indication of the rate at which your brew is fermenting. Even without bubbling your beer is probably still fermenting, maybe a little slower. It's also quite common to have a period of intense fermentation for a short time (1-3 days) followed by little visible activity - that's totally normal.

If you are still worried about your brew, a sure way of knowing whether fermentation has kicked off or finished is to take a specific gravity (SG) reading with your hydrometer, and see if the gravity has dropped. If you don't have a hydrometer just take a sample and taste it - is it syrupy/sweet or dry/alcoholic tasting?

Another reason might be that the fermenter isn't sealed fully airtight. Ensure your fermenter lid or bung is on tightly, and that the seal and grommet are in good condition. A minor leak may allow pressure to escape without bubbling through the airlock. It's good to have a well sealed fermenter, but co2 escaping elsewhere doesn't mean your beer isn't perfectly fine - just bottle it as per usual once it's reached it's final gravity (hydrometer reading).

What temperature should I ferment at and how?

For most beers you should aim to ferment between 18 & 22°C. The cooler the brew, the more slowly it ferments and the lower the chance you have of “off” flavour production.

As long as your brew during fermentation is above 10° C and below 28° C, it will turn out just fine. Even if the temperature does sneak up on those hot summer days, it will still be drinkable but drier than usual, and will potentially have a “yeasty” flavour known as “yeast stress” since the heat causes faster fermentation than yeast desire.

Consistency during fermentation is key. Try to avoid peaks and troughs in temperature. Do this by placing your fermenter out of direct sunlight and on an internal wall of your home. Correct storage of the fermenter will be sufficient for most brewers, however you can immerse the fermenter in a cool water bath in summer, or use a heat belt on your fermenter over winter to control the temperature a little closer. Beyond that, look into setting up a "ferment fridge" using a temperature controller.

Will I have bottles exploding?

Bottle explosions are extremely rare and usually due to carelessness. This can occur for one of two reasons:

You bottled too early. There are still unfermented sugars in the brew. The remaining unfermented sugars in addition to your priming sugar will in time over-gas the bottles. Monitor your fermentation to determine when to bottle using your hydrometer or refractometer - 2-3 days of a constant reading. When in doubt, more time in the fermenter won’t do any harm.

You added too much sugar to the bottles. Avoid guesstimating the priming sugar.

Use carbonation drops: The drops are designed for longnecks and stubbies.
Use a sugar measure scoop: This scoop provides the right amount for stubbies, pints and longnecks.
Bulk prime: There are many bulk priming calculators online where you can enter the details of your brew and it will tell you how much sugar you need to prime the whole batch.

What water should I use?

Yeast requires certain minerals to work their magic efficiently, which Sydney water has. It’s not too hard, it’s not too soft, and the pH is just right. Tap water will work just fine, and chlorine will dissipate during the brewing process.

There is no need to buy filtered water for your brew, as long as you follow the correct sanitation protocol, everything will be just fine.

General rule of thumb, if your water tastes good, it should make good beer. If your water tastes particularly strongly of chlorine or chemicals, you might consider using a cheap inline water filter from ebay.

More advanced ("all grain" method) brewers may like to research more complex water chemistry and treatment, but for new brewers this will be overkill.

How do I clean/sanitise my bottles and equipment?

Most brewing equipment should be cleaned with nothing more than a cold water rinse and a new soft cloth. If you keep your equipment and bottles clean between brews, there is no real need for a brewing detergent. You can just use a no-rinse sanitiser for brew and bottling day.

The purpose of a no rinse sanitiser is to kill bacteria on any surface that will contact your beer (including utensils). A no-rinse sanitiser is preferable because you don't have to re-wash any equipment after sanitising.

The difference between brands is mostly the dilution and price, there are different ingredients but they all do the same job.

If you do let your bottles or equipment stay dirty between uses, they are more likely to harbour bacteria, and may require more scrubbing and the use of brewing-safe detergents, so save yourself the effort and rinse everything after you've used it.

Is there a difference fermenting/bottling in plastic or glass?

Put simply, there is no difference in the quality or taste of your brew. Your beer will ferment, and carbonate the exact same way.

Glass will last a lifetime (excluding breakage). PET bottles and HDPE fermenters will last a long time if well cared for, however aggressive cleaning will scratch plastic surfaces and plastics left in harsh conditions (full sun, extremes of temperature) will degrade and shorten lifespan. Lids, o-rings, grommets etc can be replaced to recondition plastics.

How long will it take to make beer?

The short answer is about 3 weeks. The long answer is that this comes down to 2 parts:

Fermentation; which is the time is takes for the yeast to finish converting sugar to alcohol. If you do not allow the yeast to finish their job, it can open your brew up to other problems such as bottle explosions and “off” flavours, which is a beer that just doesn’t taste as good as it should!

The fermentation stage is a most critical time in brewing for achieving best results. A little bit of patience will give you a much nicer brew! Leave the ferment for at least 5 days, although about 10 will be even better.

Bottle Conditioning; the time taken for the beer to re-ferment in the bottle and carbonate. The minimum amount of time to wait is 2 weeks, your beer should be carbonated by that time, however longer in the bottle tends to improve the flavour of the beer. Try some at 2 weeks, but see if you can detect an improvement at the 3 or 4 week mark.

Should I use Liquid or Dry Yeast?

So often we get told that liquid yeast is "better" than dry, and at The Hop + Grain we disagree strongly! If you can tell us why liquid yeast is better than dry, please do as we haven't heard a valid answer yet. They will both do the same job – ferment.

Dry yeast has a higher cell count and a much longer shelf life, compared to liquid yeast. It is also much cheaper and easier to use. The main benefit however of liquid yeast is that it is available in many more varieties. There isn’t nearly as many yeast strains available as a dry yeast. Having said that the range of dry yeast has improved markedly in the last decade and almost any style you can think of can be brewed with a dry yeast, with only a few exceptions (sours and lambics spring to mind).

How hard (or expensive) is it to use kegs instead of bottles?

Kegging is fun but it isn’t necessarily cheap. Realistically, you should budget $500 - $1000 depending on what you want to do (how many kegs, size of your gas cylinder etc). It also has drawbacks such as being less portable, however you do have less things to clean and you can carbonate your beer quicker than bottle conditioning.

Bottling is more effort but costs are kept low. If you're interested in setting up a keg system, let us know and we'll help you pick the right solution for your budget and setup.

Can you help me brew an [insert beer name/style]?

If you pop into the store or call to place an order we're happy to give you pointers and advice to steer you in the right direction, but please do your own research first. We do get busy and we can't respond to emails or phone calls asking for us to put together a recipe (a request we get quite often).

As a starting point, do what we all do and Google it. Someone before you, has probably done it, and then posted about it online. There are plenty of homebrewers online just waiting for you to get your nerd on with them. Here’s where some of the cool kids hang out:

HomeBrewTalk.com – Forums
AussieHomeBrewer.com.au - Forums – Recipes
Brewtoad.com – Recipe Builder
BeerSmith.com – Recipes – Software & App
BrewersFriend.com – Recipe Builder

Brewing your own beer is just like any other hobby, it requires research and practise to develop your skills. If you follow the directions with your starter kit you'll be brewing decent beer, and if you want to push the envelope, then come along to a class, chat to other homebrewers, and keep brewing. You should be coming up with your own takes on different beer styles without too much hassle.