This item is intended for our 40th Anniversary Booklet so I invite comments and suggestions on the topic.
Kit beers are often looked down on by advanced homebrewers who distance themselves from the days they made “kit and kilo” beers. We should remember that the kits are made by people who are experts in allgrain brewing, the breweries.
So, my first suggestion is always buy the freshest can, not that dusty old marked down special. Canned wort will deteriorate over time. You can slow that down by keeping the can in the freezer or fridge before use to reduce oxidation(and the yeast also!).
Secondly,don’t use sugar unless you want a thin alcoholic product. At the very least boil with citric acid and turn it to invert sugar. Otherwise substitute with Dextrose and/or Malt extract. Liquid malt extract has the same oxidation problem as the kit but you get a wider choice of types than DME. Dry has better keeping qualities but it can go rock hard when exposed to air. Fortunately it dissolves readily in cold water. You ought pasteurise any dry addition by bringing to the boil in a pot of water. 5 minutes is sufficient.
An extension of the added sugars are the proprietary enhancers put out by Coopers and Mango Jack. I recommend them as a fail safe method of improving your beer. But pasteurise. Brewmaster also have a line of flavoured syrups which also can make a big difference to your beer. These are all available at Homebrew Shops and Bin Inn.
Speaking of moisture you can improve the flavour just by cutting back to 20, 18 or even 15 litres depending on style. Or put in two cans instead of sugars. You’ll get double the malt and hops!
But of course you wouldn’t be a homebrewer if you didn’t want to “do it yourself” and make up your own additions. This can be dead simple by steeping hops and/or specialty grains in 65C water for 20-30 minutes . Pasteurise the steeped grain 5 minutes after sieving. If the grain hasn’t been crushed the recommended method is a rolling pin and plastic bag. Not me, soak for an hour in water and put into a blender!
Alternatively you can make up a mini mash with base malts as well. Heat it to 65C and put the pot (covered) in the oven at 80C for an hour for the mash. Then strain through a sieve or other filter such as a paint strainer. If you find your kits are not fully attenuating you could at this stage, before rinsing with hot water, put the extract malt in with the wort(hold @ 65C) for 30 minutes so that the enzymes go to work on the extract. Then boil 10 minutes to stop the diastatic action and pasteurize before adding to the fermenter.
Now that I’ve mentioned hot water may I suggest you consider boiling your brew water first. You can speed this process by filling a jerry can first thing in the morning from your hotwater supply as it will be at its hottest. The reason for this is two fold. If you have a chlorinated supply it will evaporate(alternatively use sodium metabisulphide). Secondly, the theory is that liquid malt is a condensed wort and already has plenty of minerals which get duplicated with water additions. The boiling will preciptate the chalk. Your friends probably won’t notice but it might make a difference in a competition!
Still on hot water, kit brewing is mostly “cold side” brewing,ie. Fermentation, so be scrupulous in cleaning and hygiene. Replace your tubing and racking equipment regularly. Sterilise your hydrometer and don’t put samples back in the wort. Play safe, put vodka in your airlock not water.
OK the wort is ready. If you have deep pockets close your Williams Warn Brew vessel and wait a week! For the rest of us aerating the wort is essential to help the yeast get a good start. At the simple end this can be pouring wort between buckets or for the technically inclined an acquarium pump or (better) gas bottle to pump in oxygen.
I am assuming because you are using a kit you are using dry yeast. Wet yeast requires a starter. With dry yeast the manufacturers suggest pitching(emptying the packet) direct on the wort and mixing in. Personally I prefer pitching on a cup of tepid water to satisfy myself the yeast is ok. Many folks will replace the supplied(no name) yeast with the better brands but this is very much a matter of preference. For instance the Cooper yeasts are very hardy and can cope with hotter weather. Watch the expiry date as many retailers are woeful in looking after them. Another trick is to funnel the slurry from one brew to a large plastic bottle in the fridge and reuse in a later brew. There are plenty of instructions under yeast cropping/farming etc out there on the web how to clean etc. Bring the slurry up to fermentation temperature and watch that brew rocket away!
Now that it is in the barrel we have reached the end of this topic. The rest is what you should doing anyway. Keeping the ferment at the correct temperature and the fermenter sealed. You may wish to try Dry hopping by adding a bag of hop pellets to the wort when the foam is settled or four days out from bottling. Make sure the bag is sanitised, the hops are ok as is.
Lastly, don’t build up a huge stock of bottled beer. Store it dark, store it cool, store it short! Beer is best drunk fresh. That’s why keg beer is so good. It’s usually drunk quick so the next batch can take its place! So its always fresh. And your widow/er will thankyou for not leaving a shedful to shift.
I have not given you numbers so that you will have to “google” to join the dots. You should be doing that anyway!