I know that a lot of home brewers start out using beer kits and of course it’s easy to see why. You are making good quality beer and brewing beer kits may be a stop gap before brewing with grain, however is there anything you can do to improve your beer kit, give it a nicer finish or just get ensure that your beer is the best with what you have to work with.
Water For Improving a Beer Kit
Although you have gone to the home brew shop, got yourself a kit that has all the ingredients you need to make beer, the main ingredient you are going to be using doesn’t come with the kit. Beer is 95% water so ensuring the water you are using is good for brewing is a pretty good way to make sure you have a good beer.
The only thing you need to be concerned about is the chlorine in your tap water. Chlorine or chloramine is in all tap water, the only problem with it when you brew though is it can react with compounds in the malt extract in your beer kit and create off flavours. The easiest way to get rid of the chlorine is to leave the water in your brewing bin overnight with the lid slightly ajar. The chlorine will evaporate and be gone when you come to brew your beer. If you don’t want to wait or your water has chloramine (more common in the US) treat your water with ½ a campden tablet (available from your home brew shop) for a 25 litre brew.
Kit and Kilo
There are a fair few beer kits available that consist of a can of malt extract and require you to add sugar to bring up the gravity. Whilst this will produce an OK beer that is drinkable you may find dry malt extract a better substitute. Light Dry malt extract (DME) is wort that is usually unhopped and is a 1:1 replacement for sugar and because it is produced directly from malted grains it will add more body, malt richness and a fuller flavour. You can also use liquid malt extract (LME) in a ratio of 1.25:1 (for every kilo of sugar, 1.25 kilos of LME).
Yeast is the thing that turns the sugar in your wort into alcohol and CO2 to make beer. In this role it’s vitally important but also it provide it’s own flavours and character to a beer, this is why there are so many varieties available in the home brew shop. Making sure your yeast is good and healthy is vital to improving a beer kit. When I made my first beer kit the yeast was in a sachet taped to the top of the can, there was not way to identify what sort of yeast it was, just a plain foil sachet with a date stamped on it.
What sort of yeast it was I have no idea, but if you want to improve your beer kit then selecting your own yeast is definitely a cheap and easy way to do it. There are so many strains of dry and liquid yeast available for particular styles of beer that you could brew the same kit for a year and have a different beer because of the yeast used. Ask in your home brew shop what sort of yeast will compliment the kit you are buying.
There are a lot of beer kits available in home brew shops so it’s inevitable that some will remain on the shelves longer than others. If you are looking for a beer kit then you want to get one that is as fresh as possible. Malt extract will stale over time and whilst not producing bad beer, stale malt extract will effect the flavour. As to finding the freshest ones, if there is no date of production on the packaging then it can be difficult. If there is a layer of dust on the box then don’t bother.
I would talk about adding other things like aroma hops to beer kits here but I believe if you are going to bother doing something like that then don’t bother with beer kits. Get yourself some ordinary malt extract, some hops and even some speciality grains and brew your own recipe or one you find on the Internet. Use the tips here to fine tune and improve beer kits, if you want to go further then read some of these posts.