Homebrewing Hints and Tips

General Questions

 
01

Is home brewing legal in Hong Kong?

 

Oh yes, that’s why you should start home brewing today! There are still certain requirements that you should be aware of. Check the government website for more details here.

 

 

02

How easy is home brewing?

 

Easy. @#$%ing easy. If you can make soup, you can brew beer.

 

 

03

I have a “Hong Kong size” apartment, is it big enough for home brewing?

 

All you need is a stove, a pot and a 2 ft X 2 ft workspace to brew. Don’t believe that? Check out our all-in-one 1 Gal starter kits here!

 

 

04

How should I store the malts, hops and yeast before brew day?

 

  • Yeast. For dry yeast, to store them in vacuum sealed condition and inside the freezer. There is no good way to determine shelf life of yeast that has been exposed to oxygen. We suggest you to buy a new package instead of re-using, but if you really want to use old yeast, it’s best to rehydrate and test the yeast. See more about rehydrating yeast in the sections below. For liquid yeast, keep them in the manufacturer’s package and store between 4 C and 10 C. It is recommended to make yeast starters if using liquid yeast. See more about yeast starters in the sections below

  • Hops. They can be kept for up to a year if vacuum sealed and kept in the freezer. If you only have zip lock bags at home, try to double bag and store the hops in the freezer. You know it’s no good when it starts smelling like cheese...maybe save them for your next batch of Lambic?

  • Malt. Unmilled malt can be kept for 2 years if stored in a dry place. Once it’s milled, we suggest you to keep it in a dry air-tight container and use it within 1-2 months.

 

 

05

What is the home brewing community like in Hong Kong?

 

It is awesome and we can’t see why not. We have a very friendly and diversified group of beer enthusiasts (professionals and amateurs) pumping out the finest ales in Hong Kong every day. The Hong Kong Home Brewers Association hosts monthly gatherings and we do a lot of collaborative brewing. Check out what's happening here or email us to ask us about the upcoming events!

 

 

Where can I learn more about home brewing?

 

You can swing by our store to talk to our brew crew or sign up for our home brewing workshop. You can also come check out our brewing library at the store. We have a book for pretty much every question you have on home brewing. There’s also a bunch of free resources online. Here are the places that we like to go to:

 

 

06

Recipes

 
01

Should I try an all grain or extract recipe for the first time?

 

Both methods can produce outstanding beers. At HK Brewcraft, we suggest trying a 1 Gal all grain batch for your first time because it’s MORE FUN and it’s just as easy. Check out our 1 Gal all grain kits here!

 

 

02
03

How do I substitute dry malt extracts (“DME”) with liquid malt extract (“LME”) or grain malts?

 

The general rule of thumb is 1 lb of grain malt = 0.8 lb of LME = 0.64 lb of DME.

 

 

How do I convert a 1 Gal recipe into a 5 Gal recipe, vice versa?

 

Recipes are generally scalable. If you have a 1 Gal recipe and want to scale up to a 5 Gal batch, simply multiply all ingredients portions by 5 and test it out. You may need some final tweaking on each ingredient, but scaling directly works for most recipes.

 

 

What kind of special flavors can I add to my beer?

 

Short answer: Anything.

Long answer: A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. The tricky part is when and how to add them. Definitely swing by and talk to our brew crew to see which flavor works best for your next batch. Email works too!

 

 

Where can I find good recipes for my next batch?

 

 

 

04
05

Ingredients: Water

 
01

Is tap water in Hong Kong suitable for brewing?

 

80% of Hong Kong’s water comes from Dongjiang River and has very little dissolved ions (see water report here). Without going into too much detail, this water is generally good for brewing lighter style and less hoppy beers. However, the limestones in Hong Kong’s rusty pipes can completely change the chemistry of the water by the time it hits your tap. Unless you want to run a water report on your tap, we suggest you try brewing your first batch with just tap water. Here’s the general rule of thumb – if you will drink that water, you can try brewing with it.

 

 

02

Can I use distilled / reverse osmosis water to brew?

 

Distilled or reverse osmosis water lacks the minerals that are necessary to support healthy yeast growth. Sophisticated brewers can add back the minerals by using various brewing salts. Start with pre-boiled / filtered tap water or mineral water.

 

 

03

How does water affect the different styles of beer that I will be brewing?

 

Another long topic. Here are some general points from a 10,000 ft point of view. Darker beers require mashing with water of higher PH and lighter beers with water of lower PH. Think about these things when you’re thinking of brewing a bigger beer (e.g., OG > 1.060). Calcium assists enzyme activity during mashing. Magnesium assists yeast growth during fermentation. Chloride smoothens bitterness but accents the body of the beer. Sulphate accents “crispness” and hop flavor for your bitters / IPAs. Want to re-take chemistry class?

 

 

04

What can I do to adjust the water content?

 

We sell all kinds of brewer’s salts and acids. Come ask us how to use them.

 

 

Ingredients: Malt

 
01

What is Diastatic Power ("DP")?

 

DP refers to the malt’s enzymatic ability to break down starches into simple fermentable sugars during the mashing process. It is also a good reference as to how much adjunct you can add and still be able to convert all of the starch to sugar.

 

 

02

What is Lovibond?

 

Lovibond is an English color reading that helps you determine the final color of your beer and malt. The higher the number, the darker the color is. You may also hear the terms SRM (Standard Reference Method), and EBC (European Brewing Convention), which are other standards for beer and malt color. Generally, Lovibond is used in the UK, SRM is used in the U.S. and EBC is used in the rest of Europe. Check out this link for a converter among these standards.

 

 

The recipe I’m trying to use calls for malt that I cannot find in your store, can I still brew that beer?

 

Yes, you can. Chances are that there are some close substitutes for that specific malt you are looking for. It would not taste exactly the same, but who knows? It may even taste better! Remember, brewing is half science and half art, so don’t be overly anal about it. Check out the table in this link for some general ideas. You can also send us a note to info@hkbrewcraft.com or come ask our brew crew for suggestions.

 

 

03

Ingredients: Yeast

 
01

What is the shelf life of the White Labs liquid yeasts?

 

Short answer: 4 months from the day it leaves its lab if stored properly.

Long answer: White Labs considers its yeast to be at least 50% viable within the shelf life (which is very good for liquid yeast cultures). Yeast is a living organism, and there is no way to control its mood (just like we cannot control our spouses’). The best way to make a yeast starter before pitching to avoid underpitching.​

 

 

02

Liquid yeast vs. dry yeast?

 

We use both at HK Brewcraft, but when options are available we always go for liquid. Liquid yeast has more variety so you can pitch the most appropriate yeast to brew a beer that’s true to its style. Liquid yeasts are generally pure cultures of better quality and contains less risk for bacterial infection (this still seems to be the case as of today). The big down side is shelf life, but let us worry about that.

Does it matter what type of yeast I use?

 

Now here is an ingredient that has always been overlooked by home brewers. Would you believe us if we told you that yeast can produce flavors like apples, peaches, bananas, cherries, cloves, peppers, affect the IBU of your IPA, and even affect the clarity of your beer? Take a good look at the description of our yeasts here and plan your next batch with the most appropriate strain!

 

 

03

Ingredients: Hops

 
01

How do I know which hops I should use?

 

There are typically 3 types of hops. Bittering hops (boiled for 60-90 min), Flavoring hops (boiled for 30-45 min), and Aroma hops (boiled for 0 - 15 min). There are no general rules on which hop to use for which purpose and the flavor of hops change in each harvest. Here is a nice chart that can help you understand various hops out there. Again, swing by to ask our brew crew if you have any questions.

 

 

02

What is Alpha Acid % (“AA%”) and how does it affect my recipe?

 

AA% is a measurement of the bittering unit of each hop. The higher the AA%, the more bitterness the hop can contribute to the beer. Since the AA% for each harvest changes, home brewers normally use a term Alpha Acid Unit (“AAU”) in their recipes. AAU = weight of hops (in ounces) X AA%. Make sure refer to AAU instead of how many grams / ounces of hops you need for your next recipe because the AA% of hops changes from year to year and from store to store. Check out the descriptions for our hops for the AA% here.

 

 

Brew Day

 
01
02

How do I make good beer the first time?

 

If we had to give one single tip, that will be “don’t overcomplicate things”. Turn off your cell phone and enjoy the process. Follow the instructions step by step and forget about all the different opinions you get from your friends or the online forums. You can do all of that AFTER your first batch.

 

 

What do I need to sanitize?

 

On brew day, you’ll need to sanitize the fermenter, hydrometer, sample jar for the hydrometer (or the plastic tube that came with it), sieve, funnel, and your hands!

 

 

03

How much sanitizer do I use?

 

Mix 5-6 ml of Star San or IO-Star with 3.8L of water to create your sanitizing solution. Make sure the equipment has 1 minute contact time with the sanitizing solution. Then air-dry – you won’t need to rinse them with clean water.

Click here to watch a video to learn more about different sanitizers.

 

04

What do original gravity (“OG”) and final gravity (“FG”) mean?

 

OG measures the amount of sugar in your beer before the fermentation. It is also an indication of how “big” your beer will be. FG measures the amount of sugar remaining in your beer after the fermentation. Brewers normally monitor the FG to determine whether the fermentation process is completed.

 

 

05

How do I calculate ABV?

 

The back of an envelope formula is ABV = (OG - FG) X 131%. Not a big fan of math? Just search “ABV calculator” on any search engine.

 

 

06

How do I read a hydrometer?

 

The hydrometer reads the density of your wort in relation to H2O (pure water). Place the hydrometer into the sample jar and fill it up with the sample solution until the hydrometer floats. You want to read where the mark on the hydrometer that touches the surface of the sample solution. If your sample is H2O, it will read 1.000. If there is sugar dissolved in the wort, the reading will increase from 1.000. Most OG will be around 1.040 - 1.080 and most FG will be around 1.008 - 1.020.

07

How do I chill the wort?

 

If you are brewing a 1 Gal batch, the easiest way is to put the pot in an ice bath in the kitchen sink or a bucket. It should bring the temperature down to below 80F within 15 minutes. If you are brewing a bigger batch, you can consider buying an "immersion wort chiller” from us. They’re quite fun to use!

 

 

08

I only have half of the targeted volume left after the boil, what do I do?

 

Don’t freak out, it’s just water (and maybe a very tiny bit of aroma) that evaporated. Take a hydrometer reading of the gravity, which is very likely above the Target OG. Then top up with cool pre-boiled water or clean mineral water and retake the gravity reading until the desired OG is reached.

 

 

09

What kind of pot do I use as my brew kettle?

 

Stainless steel ones are always the best. We get ours from Shanghai Street (near Yau Ma Tei MTR Station). Copper ones are also good if you can get your hands on one of those. Friends may tell you to avoid aluminum pots as it may dissolve into your wort, but if you’re on a budget, just use one. Chances are you won’t taste the difference.

 

 

Fermentation

 
01

How do I regulate my fermentation temperature in the hot summer?

 

If you’re the fancy type, drink all of your wine and stick the fermenter inside your wine fridge. Set the temperature to 17C and the yeast will thank you. If you’re cheap like us, you can put the fermenter in a water bath and wrap it around with a wet towel. Add a couple ice packs when the temperature goes too high. This method is not perfect, but it definitely helps regulate the temperature.

 

 

02

What does good fermentation look like?

 

If everything was done right, you should start seeing some bubbles in your airlock within 24 hours after pitching the yeast. In the first 2 – 4 days you will see a thick krausen on top of the beer. On day 5 or day 6 you’ll notice that the bubbling will have slowed down or have completely stopped. For the next week of conditioning, there will be almost no activity in the fermenter / airlock but you’ll notice that the beer will start to clear up.

 

 

03

I pitched the yeast for 2 days and it’s not bubbling, WTF?

 

  • It could be bad yeast. If you’re using old yeast or yeast that has not been properly sealed, then there is a chance that the yeast has passed its prime time.

  • It might also be affected by cool weather. Most ale yeast strains work the best at 62 F - 72 F (17 C – 24 C). If it’s been sitting in cold weather or subject to a drastic temperature drop, it might just go back to bed. Try giving the fermenter a nice little swirl and put it back in a warmer room.

  • It might also be poor sanitation. Be sure to properly sanitize everything on brew day. You’re putting this stuff into your mouth!

 

04

The yeast was bubbling strong for the first 2 days but slowed down then stopped...I didn’t do anything...It’s not my fault...WTF?

 

Same as the situation above, with an additional possibility that the fermentation temperature was too warm. When it is too warm, there is a chance that the yeast has just sped up the fermentation. Wait until 5-7 days into the fermentation and check gravity with your hydrometer to see where it is at. If it’s still reading >1.025, you can consider pitching more healthy yeast to the beer to complete the fermentation. You may also want to review your aeration process. Improper wort aeration before yeast pitching is often the cause of stuck fermentation.

 

 

05

I forgot to put water in my air-lock. Should I toss the beer?

 

It is likely that the beer will be just fine if everything else was done right. Just add back cool pre-boiled water up to half-mark of the air-lock. There is constant pressure from CO2 pumping out of the air-lock during fermentation, so there’s an invisible wall protecting your beer. It also takes some super bacteria ninjas to figure its way through the S-shape / 3 piece airlock before it gets into your beer. Double check for signs of infection, but most likely you’re good.

 

 

06

Rehydrating and testing the dry yeast?

 

Some brewers like to rehydrate dry yeast to avoid “choking” the yeast cells in the main wort which may have very high gravity. When in doubt, you can always refer to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Normally an 11 g dry yeast package contains enough yeast cells (over 200 billion) to kick start a 5 gallon batch of beer. At HK Brewcraft, we normally just dry pitch a new package of yeast to the main wort to minimize contamination risk. If you’re using a packet of old / opened yeast, we suggest you to rehydrate it and test it. Boil ¼ cup (60 ml) of water then add in 1 oz (28 g) of dextrose to water and set aside to let it cool down to below 100 F (38 C). Sanitize a glass jar that can hold a little more than 1 cup (236 ml) of liquid. Add 1 cup (236 ml) of warm pre-boiled water at 90 F – 100 F (32 C – 38 C) to the yeast and mix well. Add 1 oz of the cooled dextrose liquid to the rehydrating yeast to test the viability. Wrap the glass jar with clean plastic wrap and let it sit away from sun light for 30 min – 60 min. If the yeast appears cloudy and foams up, then it is ready to use. If there is no activity, you may want to consider purchasing a new packet of yeast.

 

 

07

What is a yeast starter?

 

A yeast starter is recommended if you are brewing with liquid yeast, especially if it is passed its best before date. A yeast starter is used to initiate cell activity or increase cell count before using it to make your beer. The yeast will grow in this smaller volume wort (typically 1 L – 2 L) for 12 to 24 hours, which then can be added to your main wort. Making a yeast starter will also help to ensure full attenuation to the proper final gravity, shorten lag time, lower contamination risk and prevent off flavors from stressed fermentation.

 

 

08

How do I make a yeast starter?

 

The instructions below will go through how to make a yeast starter with a 1 L flask. Double the water and DME amount if you’re making a 2 L starter:

 

  • Boil 900 - 950 ml of water, the stir in the dry malt extract. Use a ratio of 4 oz (113g) DME to 1 quarts (0.95L) water so that the wort is 1.035 – 1.040 in gravity. Gently boil the wort for 15 minutes and let it cool down.

  • Sanitize the flask, stopper, stir bar (if you’re using a stir plate), and a pair of scissors (if you’re using dry smack pack) then let them air dry. Sanitation is very important when making yeast starters, so don’t slack on this one.

  • Pour the wort into the sanitized flask and let the wort cool down to 70 F – 80 F in an ice bath. Put on the stopper while it cools to prevent any airborne bacteria from getting into the wort.

  • When the wort is cool, pitch the yeast and shake to aerate the wort. Using a stir plate with a stir bar will help increase the rate of growth. Place the sanitized stopper on and allow the starter to ferment for 12 - 24 hours before pitching into the wort on brew day. When a yeast starter ferments, you’ll see some cloudy / yeasty slurry instead of the vigorous bubbles / krausen that you’ll normally see when you ferment beer.

  • When you pitch the starter on brew day, you can either swirl up the thick yeast slurry at the bottom and pitch the whole starter or you can decant the wort on top and just pitch the thick slurry at the bottom.

 

 

09

Glass vs. plastic secondary fermenter?​

 

We use both at HK Brewcraft. Glass fermenters are better for long conditioning time as it is less permeable to oxygen than the regular food grade plastic fermenter. You also get to see how the beer is clearing up and that’s just kind of cool. Plastic fermenters are cheaper, easier to clean and easier to handle.

Click here to watch a video to learn about the differences in fermenters

 

 

10

Do I need to use a secondary fermenter?

 

This is a highly debatable question, and we do it both ways at HK Brewcraft. Generally we’d like to rack the beer into a glass secondary fermenter after 7 - 10 days of fermentation if we’re brewing a 5 Gal batch and plan on dry hopping / aging the beer. When we brew 1 Gal batches, we may just keep it in the primary fermenter for the whole time. Home brewers who like to rack to secondary generally prefer to have the beer off of the yeast cake as soon as primary fermentation is complete. Home brewers who don’t rack, believe that there is a higher risk of oxidation and contamination when you rack the beer to secondary. So at the end of the day, it’s your choice!

 

 

Bottling

 
01

My beer looks cloudy after 2 weeks of fermentation, what should I do?

 

If you want a clearer beer (also recommended for dry-hopped beers), chill your beer in the refrigerator / an ice bath for 12 hours prior to bottling. You will be amazed at how of the haze sinks to the bottom of the carboy! The most common reason for chill haze is from starch that has not been converted. For your next batch, try to mash longer for a more complete starch conversion and use a wort chiller to chill the beer more rapidly after the boil.

 

 

02

What ingredients can I use to carbonate my beer?

 

You can pretty much use anything that has sugar in it. We like to use Dextrose or Maltodextrin as they are the quickest, most stable and produce the least amount of after taste. If you use other sugars (e.g., Molasses, maple syrup, honey, etc.) try to imagine what they will taste like after their sweetness has been stripped away from the yeast.

 

 

03

How much sugar should I use?

 

Use an online priming sugar calculator to calculate the amount of sugar to add. You will need to input the desired CO2 volume (e.g., 2.4 for American Pale Ale, 2.1 for Stout), the beer temperature, and the volume of beer. Here is one that we use a lot.

 

 

How should I store the bottles after bottling?

 

You should store them in the same temperature that you’d like your beer to ferment at. We also recommend our customers to store the bottled beers inside a sealed and secured box and keep it away from children in case of bottle explosions.

 

 

04

What causes the bottles to explode?

 

Over priming / sudden temperature changes / poor sanitation / premature bottling may cause bottle explosions. Bottle explosions are very dangerous and we always recommend our customers to store the bottled beers inside a sealed and secured box and keep it away from children.

 

 

05

How long do I need to wait before I can drink the beer?

 

Good beer typically takes 2-3 weeks in the bottle for conditioning. Crack open the first bottle after the first week to inspect for any unpleasant smell (possible infections) and gushers (risk of explosion), then leave the rest for tasting 2-3 weeks later. You’ll notice big differences in flavor and carbonation as the beer matures over time.

 

 

06
07

How long can I store my bottled beers for?

 

Most beers (besides some strong ales) do not benefit from aging. So it is best to drink them 3-4 weeks after bottling. Try to store your beers in the same temperature that you would like them to ferment at and avoid keeping them in hot and sunny places.

 

 

08

Should I use a bottling bucket?

 

Another debatable question. Home brewers who like to use bottling buckets prefer to have the beer separated from the yeast cake / sediments before adding the priming sugar. Home brewers who do not use bottling buckets try to avoid potential contamination and oxidation risk by moving the beer for less times. This is your call!

 

 

Troubleshooting

 

First things first. If you made a horrible beer, DO NOT toss it. Bring one back to our store and let our Beer Dumpster taste it. We’ll work with you to help you improve on your next batch.

 

 

01

The beer smells like rotten eggs!

 

One common reason is due to the sulfide content that is very common for lager yeasts. Let the beer condition for longer and taste again. If it consistently tastes foul, it might be a sign of contamination.

 

 

02

My beer is flat!

 

It may be due to too little priming sugar or temperature shock from drastic temperature drop. Try to shake up the yeast and put it in a warmer place. We normally don’t suggest re-priming, as it is hard to control the carbonation amount and it may cause to dangerous bottle explosions.

 

 

03

The beer gushes out!

 

As mentioned earlier, it’s either too much priming sugar or contamination. This can be dangerous because it may cause bottle explosions. If it tastes foul, toss it. If not, uncap all of the beers, let it vent, then recap.

 

 

04

The beer smells like vinegar!

 

This may be a sign of oxidation or contamination. Review sanitation procedures in the next batch, and try to avoid splashing when transferring hot wort / finished beer.

 

 

05

My beer tastes very yeasty!

 

The most common reason is fermenting the beer at a temperature that is too warm and poor racking / bottling skills. Try to ferment the beer at the proper temperature. Also make sure to let the beer sit in the fermenter / bottling bucket for 10 mins after adding the priming sugar to allow time for all the sediments to re-settle. Cold crashing before bottling also helps.

 

 

If you can’t find the answer to your questions above, feel free to contact us at info@hkbrewcraft.com or swing by our store to talk to us!