Why beer kits don’t measure up

Most likely you have tried to make beer from kits.   And you may remember, if you’re in a lucky minority, that it didn’t taste too bad, but not like proper pub beer.  The unlucky majority probably remember how bad tasting it was, how much gut rot and/or hangover it gave them.

So why was this the case?

There are many reasons, but, primarily, bad practices by the novice brewer and often poor or indeterminate ingredients by the kit maker combine to make a second rate product even worse: you can buy beer kits nowadays that will give acceptable results, but rarely like proper beer like you get out of a bottle or from the pub.

Beer kits are mostly malt extract and a few other ingredients and hop extracts in one large can.   Add hot water and often, sugar, boil for 1/2 an hour or so, and that’s it.

Then the real brutal stuff starts.  Novices often put more than the recommended dose of sugar in, believing that this will make the beer stronger.  (It will, but it also makes it thinner tasting and far more likely to inflict a terminal hangover).  They then put the beer in the hottest place they can find to ferment- often an airing cupboard.   This is very wrong, especially if lager is what you are brewing!  English ales and Irish stouts need to be fermented at around 18 degrees C.  True lagers want a temperature of around 5- 7 degrees C.  Their yeasts are fussy like that.   Too high a temperature causes a “racing” fermentation and promote disease from all kinds of other wild yeasts and bugs that would love to invade the beer, too.  It also causes sickly tasting, tainted beer and beer that does not keep.

Cheaper beer kits make the problem worse by relying too much on the addition of sugars, and by using dubious additions to keep costs down, and, even more worryingly, the yeasts supplied are dried and often not the correct kind: Lager yeasts are often provided for English bitters: often, the yeast supplied is not even brewers yeast of any variety.

If you must brew from a kit, then expect to pay more than double the cheap kits.  The larger or heavier the can per 40 pints, then the more likely the kit will not rely on too much (or any) added sugar.  And do not be tempted to add any, either, unless the instructions say so.

Beer kits are no doubt becoming more popular, as pub beer prices become extortionate.  For £25 (at time of writing), one can get good beer kits which, if it follows the rules found on this blog, will give halfway decent results.

But here’s the crazy thing: for around £14, one can brew beer to a standard as good as and often better than the commercial brewers!

Yes, it takes a little more time and is a little more complicated and you will probably need a little more equipment.  But not much more than you’d need for brewing kits.  But the results, if done properly, are more than well worth the effort.  You will be brewing beer to the same standard and using the same methods as have been used for centuries.  Unlike many commercial breweries, you can afford to use top notch, traditional ingredients.

Proper home brewed beer is NOT cloudy, off tasting, headless or hangover inducing pigswill.  This absorbing hobby is cheap, and extremely satisfying.  Ingredients and equipment are easy to come by.  Read on for some top tips and advice.

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