Making beer and wine at home is not complicated. It's easy, provided you follow the instructions, and it can be great fun. So here is a short guide to help you get started. Once you've decided to go ahead, have a look at our other papers 'How to brew home beer kits' and 'How to brew home wine kits'.
BEER, WINE OR CIDER....OR ALL THREE!
In our experience it's a fairly even balance between people who brew beer or wine, and a large number of people brew both. Peoples' motivation can be either to save money or for the pleasure of home brewing, and many cite both as their reason for making their own wine and beer. Remember it's your pastime so you don't need to justify it... just enjoy it!
Many people make kits for their home brew. This is the easiest way to start and there really is no need to move away from this. If the bug bites you may wish to progress onto making beer, wine and cider from basic ingredients, but we won't go there, just yet.
Kit beer usually contains malt extract with hops already added and this provides the flavour, colour and much of the body of the final beer. The malt extract is concentrated and canned to make it convenient to handle, but it needs making up to the full amount of around 40 pints. All that is required to add is water and more 'food' for the yeast which is ideally dried malt, glucose powder or sugar. The kit will also contain a sachet of dried yeast which is added to the brew after the addition of water and sugar.
The most economical kits are those which contain between 1.5kg and 1.7kg of malt extract. These are a good way of starting home brewing, but containing less concentrate do benefit from the use of a good beer enhancer to add body to the final brew. A better quality kit is one which contains around 1.8kg of concentrated malt extract. This small difference in contents makes a noticeable improvement to the beer, especially when made with dried malt. Premium beer kits are ones which are less concentrated, but contain around 3kg of extract and do not require the addition of further malt or sugar. Although more expensive than other kits, the taste is far superior and they are often based on commercial real ales. Some of these kits have the hops separate from the malt so you can vary the amount you add to suit your taste.
Home brew cider kits tend to be allied more closely to beer kits rather than wine kits and come mainly in the 40 pint size. The less expensive kits require sugar to be added although the premium brands tend not to and often make a smaller volume as a consequence. It is common to find cider kits containing other fruit concentrates such as grape juice and although not quite authentic, this does not detract from the taste. This practice does ensure a more reliable fermentation and keeps the cost down.
These are available in either 6 bottle (1 gallon, 4.5 litres) or 30 bottle (5 gallon, 23 litres) and contain a concentrated fruit juice, usually grape but obviously other fruits can be used. The kits will also contain small amounts of additives like fining's to help clear the wine, stabilisers to stop the fermentation completely at the appropriate time and flavourings which allow you to obtain the taste you want. You will always have to add water, but the more economical kits will also require the addition of Glucose powder or sugar. The kit will also contain a sachet of dried yeast and is usually a strain of yeast matched to the type of wine required.
There are essentially three main types of wine kit. The most economical will generally produce a lighter type of table quality wine and require the addition of glucose powder or sugar. As the kits have less concentrate, you will get yeast nutrient to add as well the usual fining's, stabilisers and flavours. Then there are the mid range wine kits which are a good balance between cost and quality and can be favourably compared with commercial wines of around £6 - £8 per bottle. They don't usually require the addition of sugar as the there is enough concentrate to provide food and nutrients for the yeast. Wines in this category will have a concentrate made from a single type of grape variety.
The best quality wine kits have the most concentrate in them and this is usually sourced from single grape varieties from particular localities. Although relatively high priced, you do get wine which will stand comparison with shop bottles of between £10 and £15, particularly if it is left to age.
SPIRIT AND LIQUEUR KITS
These are essentially a form of high strength wine kit, developed to maximise the alcohol content and can produce more than 20% abv. The flavour comes not from the concentrate, as that is merely the medium for the yeast, but from special flavourings designed to mimic particular spirits and liqueurs. As with wines, these are available in 6 and 30 bottle varieties and use the same equipment as wine making. Many people use these kits as a base to fortify with cheap commercial vodka, giving all the flavour of the best spirits and liqueurs at a fraction of the cost.
A living organism which in a dried state is 'dormant' and so easily handled. Once rehydrated, kept warm and fed with sugar, the yeast will grow and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. The right kind of yeast will help bring out the best characteristics form the ingredients being fermented.
MORE EQUIPMENT AND INGREDIENTS
Additives - Over the thousands of years that man has been brewing beers and wines, there have been many substances discovered to help either improve the process or the taste of the brew and many which have been found to improve reliability or correct brewing problems. Most of these are naturally occurring ingredients and their use is one of the improvements which can be made to beers, wines and ciders.
Fermenting Vessel - Your initial mix of ingredients is made up and left for its primary fermentation. For beer this is a 25 or 30 litre Bucket with Lid and for wine it is a similar sized vessel called a fermenter, or bin. If you are making a kit for 6 bottles (1 gallon or 4.5 litres) you can use a demijohn.
Siphon Tube - This is used to move your brew between the fermenting vessel and other containers such as bottles and barrels or filters. This is usually a flexible, food grade plastic tube and is common to either beer or wine.
Stirrer - Beer makers tend to prefer the 'Paddle' a flat bladed stirrer with a series of holes in the blade, whereas wine makers use a large spoon. There is little difference between the two, but paddle users claim the brew is agitated better and aids the dissolving of ingredients. The main point is that you need to be able to reach the bottom of the fermenting vessel so a long handle is necessary. Demijohn users tend to just shake the container, as the neck is too small for effective stirring.
Sterilising Powder - Critical to the success of home brewing is cleanliness. Not just visibly clean, but biologically clean. That means using a potent solution to ensure that all unwanted bacteria and yeasts are killed and removed from all equipment. Modern sterilising powders and tablets not only contain a chlorine base to kill microbes, but other chemicals to help physically clean the equipment and reduce chemical damage to the surfaces. Please be aware that these sterilisers are dangerous if not properly used so follow the instructions on the pack.
Malt, Glucose Powder or Sugar - Premium kits tend not to need the addition of 'sugars' as they contain enough in the concentrate. However, many kits whether beer, wine or cider do require the addition of further fermenting sugars. Ordinary sugars can produce harsh flavours and 'thin' brews. A better alternative is glucose powder (brewing sugar) and this is usually used in wine and cider. Beers benefit from the addition of spray dried malt, or specialised beer enhancers, both of which improve the 'body' and taste of the final brew. These ingredients are also used in secondary fermentation, also known as 'Bottle conditioning' where a small amount of additional 'sugar' is added to each bottle or barrel to provide the final alcoholic strength and CO2
Hydrometer - This a device which measures the density of the brew (its specific gravity or SG) and is used to determine when fermentation has finished and to calculate the alcohol content. (See 'Using a hydrometer' and 'SG and calculating % abv')
Thermometer - Used to ensure the correct temperature is maintained.
Auto Syphon - Makes it easier to start a syphon to transfer liquids between containers, particularly with 23 litre brews.
De-gasser - Removing the CO2 from a wine prior to clearing is made so much easier with one of these, very useful with 23 litre ferments.
Filters and Filter Paper - Particularly useful in wine making to add that final 'polish' to ensure the clearest of wines
Heaters - A variety of heating elements designed to maintain optimum temperatures.
Beer makers in particular, commonly use a pressure barrel holding the full 40 pints (23 litres). The barrels are a convenient way of pouring by the glass full and beer will keep fresh in here for several months. The barrels can be re-pressurised by adding more Carbon Dioxide gas (CO2) to keep the beer fresh, sparkling and pouring quickly. (see 'Barrels and Gas'). The wine making equivalent is the 'bag in a box', or a Poly pin. Both are flexible plastic containers which do not hold pressure.
The more obvious dispensing solution is the bottle, with wine makers using a 75cl green glass for red wines and 75cl clear glass for white wines, Beer and cider makers use an amber or brown bottle in either glass or PET (a form of plastic). Beer and cider bottle MUST withstand considerable internal pressure developed by the gasses of secondary fermentation. (see' Bottling your wine')
Don't forget your caps and closures. If using bottles, you also need enough corks for wine bottles and caps for beer bottles with their respective corking or capping applicators. There are a choice of temporary plastic stoppers and reseals which can be used with out special applicators.
MAKING THE KIT
The making of either Wine, Beer or Cider follows the same basic fermentation process. In making any kit you should always follow the instructions as the manufacturer has a great deal of experience and interest in ensuring good results. Brew2Bottle has produced two guides to making beer and wine and these will give you a good general idea of what you need to do.
HOW LONG BEFORE ITS READY TO DRINK?
For beer and cider, it will normally take around 5 - 7 days for the primary fermentation (when it is in the bucket or bin), this depends on the temperature. White wines are normally between 10 and 15 days and red wines between 15 and 20 days. There are a number of kits which are designed to be made quicker than this and these have special yeasts and ingredients for a fast ferment without the usual impact on taste.
Once transferred to bottles or a barrel the beer will take about 3 weeks to clear (less time in a bottle). Once it is clear it is ready to drink, although the flavour will continue to develop over many weeks. Wines can take a little longer to clear and again, will benefit from being left to age a little. The higher quality wine kits will definitely improve with age so don't be in a rush to drink these as ageing for several months will repay you with a a superb result.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE?
If it's new to you, the whole process to get the primary fermentation under way, will normally take about I1/2 hours, but this reduces to about an hour once you have a few brews under your belt. if you are using a pressure barrel you'll spend a further 45 minutes 'barrelling up' and if using bottles a further 1 ¼ hours will be needed.
WHAT SPACE IS NEEDED?
Approximately 600mm (24") x 600mm (24") in a warm place, is all that is needed to make 23 litres of beer, cider or wine. You will need some space to store your finished bottles and barrel takes about the same space as the fermenting vessel, although it does need to be raised up off of the floor. 40 one pint bottles or 30 75cl bottles can take around 600mm (24”) x 350mm (14”) and this can be in a cooler place. It is helpful to have free access to the kitchen when brewing as you you will be cleaning and rinsing all this equipment. If making 6 bottle wine kits then very little space is needed, just 150mm (6”) square is all that is required to hold a demijohn.