Make certain that all equipment and utensils are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized before you start making your beer. This is the cardinal rule. Wash everything that comes in contact with your beer using either a clorinated cleaner or an Oxy cleaner such as Aseptox or PBW. Rinse thoroughly with clear water, then rinse with your chosen sterilizing solution. It may take a couple of minutes but it is very important to not skip this step. Failure to clean everything thoroughly could ruin your beer.
When filling your primary fermenter, bucket, when starting making a beer kit, be sure to stop filling at about the 19 litre level in order to check your temperature. This will give you a chance to adjust the temperature so that you end up with a wort temperature that is between 18 – 22 degrees celsius at the 23 litre level. If the temperature goes much over these values at the 23 litre level allow the mixture to stand until it cools down or place the bucket in a sink of cold water until it cools down. Remember, if the liquid is too hot, it can kill your yeast.
It is essential to transfer your beer from the primary to the secondary (carboy) at 1.020 or below. If using a single stage fermentation, make certain that you bottle your beer no later than two days following the end of fermentation. Do not leave your beer in the primary fermenter (bucket) past the end of the fermentation. Any extended time in the primary fermenter will cause your beer to start to oxidize and you would end up with a bad tasting beer.
During the second stage of your beer fermentation be sure to leave your beer in the carboy for at least 10 – 12 days even though the fermentation may have stopped after a couple of days and the proper specific gravity has been reached. This apparent extra time will insure all the flavours have time to develop in your beer and a lot more sediment will clear, giving you a clearer beer at bottling, which means that there will be less sediment in your bottles later on. Make certain that your carboy is topped up and under air-lock at all times to prevent oxidation.
When it is time to rack (siphon) your beer, very gently tip your bucket or carboy up on one edge and slip a book or small block of wood under the raised edge. Now, rack from the lower edge with your sediment tip attached, if there is sediment in the container. This process will allow you to get all the beer possible from the container and leave all the sediment behind. When the container is almost empty, keep a close eye on the sediment and stop the racking as soon as sediment starts up the racking tube.
When racking, always rack directly to the bottom of whatever you are racking into (bottle, carboy, bucket, etc.). By doing this, it will eliminate any splashing of your beer and thereby prevent any oxidation (yes, still a bad thing). If you use a racking tube at either end of your siphon hose, or a racking tube and a bottle filler when bottling, the process will be much easier.
A good fermentation temperature is 18 – 22 degrees celsisus for most beer kits. A warmer temperature will accelerate the fermentation process and possibly cause off-flavours. A lower temperature will slow down the fermentation process but will enhance the beers flavours. Also remember that too warm or too cool temperatures will cause your yeast to die or go dormant.
If you encounter problems getting the fermentation started or it stops for no apparent reason, there are usually two possible causes. First, check the temperature. If it is too cool, the yeast may be gone dormant, raise the temperature to the acceptable limits and the fermentation should start up again and continue. If the temperature is too hot, your yeast may have died. To resolve this, get the temperature down and re-hydrate a new packet of yeast and pitch this into the wort/beer.
If the temperature is OK and the specific gravity is not at the lower limit, try stirring the beer. The fermentation may be oxygen starved and stirring will replenish the oxygen. Oxygen is required for a healthy fermentation.
If, after bottling, you find bottles exploding, or your beer is seriously ‘fizzy’ when opened, the cause is most probably an incomplete fermentation prior to bottling. If your beer was not fully fermented at bottling time and you added the bottling sugar, the gas developed in the bottles over and above the gas produced by the bottling sugar will develop excess pressure in the bottles and can cause the bottles to explode. As you can imagine, this can be very dangerous! Make certain that the fermentation is fully completed prior to bottling. Normally a two stage fermentation will prevent this from happening. It is important to always use your hydrometer and ensure that the specific gravity is at the level for the style of beer being brewed.
It is a good idea (and saves lots of time and work later), to wash out your beer bottles immediately after emptying the bottle and let them air-dry. This will eliminate the possibility of mold and bacteria forming and leaves you with an easy job of washing and sterilizing the bottles at the next bottling.
Use sulphite solution in your air-lock instead of plain water. This will help prevent outside contamination from entering through the air-lock.
The addition of Gelatine (a clearing agent) to your beer prior to bottling will assist in the clearing process. More importantly, it will cause the sediment to compact on the bottom of the bottle causing less chance of stirring up the sediment during pouring.