How to start home brewing

Posted on 30th June 2021

Homebrewing is a brilliant hobby (we would say that, wouldn’t we) but we know it can be a little overwhelming at first – there’s so much equipment and so many ingredients to choose from.

One simple way to get into homebrewing is to use malt extract kits. There’s a great variety of kits available and you only need a minimal amount of equipment to get going, so these also make fab gifts to get your friends and family into brewing… and you can be at the front of the queue to taste the end product!

We’ll first take a look at the kinds of kits you can make, then we’ll cover the equipment you need and some top tips for getting the best out of your chosen kit.

Choose your flavour

Malt extract kits contain a professionally brewed liquid malt extract (like a syrup) with hops already added. All of them come ready to use with yeast and include full instructions on how to use them. Some kits also include dry hops, which will give a flavour boost to the finished brew. The quality of malt extract kits has really come on in the past few years and you can produce fantastic beer and cider with just a small amount of effort.

Mangrove Jack’s

The Mangrove Jack’s range covers a wide variety of styles, from ales and lagers to dry-hopped ciders and even pink grapefruit IPA! The Brewers series focuses on approachable and simple beer and cider, while the more expensive Craft series features single-hopped ales and fruit ciders.

Mangrove Jack’s Brewers Series kits

Mangrove Jack’s Craft Series kits

Premium beer kits

These beer kits come with two cans of malt extract so you don’t need to add any extra sugar. You’ll find both traditional ales, international classics, and modern hazy IPAs here – there are dozens to choose from. Why not try them all… !

Muntons beer kits

Festival beer kits

Woodfordes beer kits

Cider and hard seltzer

Homebrewing doesn’t just have to be beer – you can make cider too, in a wide variety of both traditional and modern flavours. Or why not try hard seltzer – alcoholic sparkling water with fruit flavours. It’s lower in calories than other homebrews and is naturally gluten free and vegan friendly.

Cider kits

Hard seltzer kits

“Extending” your beer kit

Some kits need an “extender” to add more sugar for the yeast to ferment. You can use plain table sugar for this, or dextrose brewing sugar, which is purer than table sugar and dissolves more easily. With beer kits, if you can afford it, we recommend using more malt extract. This will give you a much fuller-bodied beer, though it is more expensive than sugar. We provide both dried malt extract, also called “DME” or “spray malt”, and liquid malt extract (“LME”).

Mangrove Jack’s kits all need to be extended, and they have a full range of beer and cider extenders to marry to each kit. Mangrove Jack’s Beer Enhancer 1 is formulated for light and pale coloured beers such as golden ales and pilsners, while Beer Enhancer 2 is designed to provide more body for IPAs and any dark beers. For the Mangrove Jack’s Craft series kits we particularly recommend using the matching Mangrove Jack’s Liquid Malt Extract, which is exactly the right size and strength for these kits.

There are a couple of exceptions to this: for example, if you’re making a gluten-free kit such as Mangrove Jack’s Gluten-free APA, you’ll want to use dextrose brewing sugar since all malt extracts and the Mangrove Jack’s Beer Enhancers contain gluten. Check the product page for each kit to find guidance on what extender goes best with that recipe.

Ciders can be extended with dextrose or Mangrove Jack’s Cider Enhancer, which includes extra apple juice for a fuller flavour. For hard seltzers we recommend using dextrose to keep the flavour clean and crisp.

Buckets and paddles – essential brewing gear

You only need a little basic equipment to make an extract kit. We’ve put together a set with the absolute essentials you need to get started.

We start with a 30 litre fermenting bucket to hold your brew. We’ve fitted a tap to make it simpler to get the brew out when it’s finished – no need to mess about with siphons – and included an airlock for the lid. There’s also a mash paddle to stir the malt extract as it dissolves, a hydrometer to measure the progress of your fermentation, and some no-rinse sanitiser to keep everything sanitary.

Essential starter set

Our philosophy at The Malt Miller is not to flog unnecessary extras and to make sure that our starter sets are useful throughout your time with the hobby. Everything in this set is easily upgradeable and will last you as you progress with your brewing. A good quality plastic bucket is useful even when you have a shiny stainless steel brewhouse!

We also offer an upgraded version of this set that includes equipment to help you bottle your homebrew.

Happiness by the bottle

Bottling is a simple way to condition and serve your finished beer, cider, or hard seltzer. You don’t need much in the way of extra equipment, and bottles are easy to share with your mates / tasting panel / newly-friendly neighbours who heard you’d been brewing…

Often starter sets for homebrewers include plastic pressure barrels. These are supposed to let you serve like from a cask. In our experience, these barrels very often leak, can lead to spoiled beer or cider, and are generally far more trouble than they are worth. Bottles are cheaper in the long run, can be reused almost indefinitely, and are a lot easier to fit in the fridge!

We like these PET screw-cap bottles, which are really strong despite being so light. The brown colour helps protect your homebrew from the light, and there’s an oxygen barrier in the lid to help reduce the risk of oxidation. Keep hold of the box the bottles come in as it will come in handy for storing them.

You can also use flip-top bottles, also called swing-top or “Grolsch-style” bottles. These look really smart and are suitable for high levels of pressure, such as with ginger beer.

Another option is to reuse glass bottles from shop-bought beers or cider. It can take a while to build enough of a collection to hold an entire batch of homebrew – most beer and cider kits will make 40-plus 500ml bottles – and you need to be careful to clean them thoroughly to remove any yeast deposits and sediment. Also make sure that the top lip of the bottle is completely smooth, with no cracks or chips. If in doubt, don’t keep the bottle. Even a small crack could result in spoiled homebrew, and at worst could mean the bottle explodes, which is obviously dangerous but also a massive pain to clean up!

To reuse shop-bought bottles you’ll need new crown caps, which we have in every colour you could want (including some very snazzy ones with our logo), and a capper to apply them.

Crown caps and capping accessories

Give me some fizz

To carbonate your homebrew you’ll need to add a little more sugar to your bottles. The residual yeast in your homebrew will consume this “priming sugar” and produces carbon dioxide – the fizz in your glass. You can prime with table sugar or dextrose brewing sugar as before. We’ve made a calculator to help you work out exactly how much you need for your batch:

Priming sugar calculator

You can also use carbonation drops, which are pre-measured lumps of sugar to make life simpler.

You will inevitably get a little sediment at the bottom of your bottles. This comes from the yeast and is totally harmless, but doesn’t look that great in your glass and can taste a little different than if you pour without it. There will always be a layer of sediment at the bottom of your fermentation bucket after fermentation is finished, so the more you can avoid transferring that layer to your bottles, the clearer your finished homebrew will be. Chilling your bottles before serving will also help sediment fall out of suspension and stick to the bottom of the bottle. With a little practice you can get very good at feeling when to stop pouring your bottles to avoid letting that sediment fall into your glass. And if some does come through, it’s just proof that you’re drinking a natural, handmade product.

Better bottling

Our upgraded starter set includes everything from the essential set, plus extra equipment to make bottling simpler.

We’ve included 48 x 500ml PET bottles – enough for a whole batch – a bottle rinser, a bottle tree to help them dry (it can be a challenge to find enough space for that many bottles otherwise!), and a bottling stick. This clever little device connects to your fermenter tap and has its own spring-activated valve: put the stick into a bottle, then push the bottle up against the stick to open the valve and let your homebrew flow into the bottle. Lower the bottle when it’s full and the valve will close off. Using a bottling stick vastly speeds up the whole process and you’ll wonder how you managed without one.

We’ve bundled a few extra accessories with this set to make it a real upgrade. There’s a trial jar to take samples from the fermenter, which makes taking gravity readings with your hydrometer simpler, and a thermometer to stick onto the bucket so you can easily see the temperature of your fermentation.

Upgraded starter set

Cleaning and sanitising

There’s an irony that the least exciting part of brewing is also one of the most important. It’s vital to make sure your equipment is all clean and sanitary before it touches any of your homebrew. Malt extract and is not only tasty to yeast: bacteria love it too, and this can ruin a good batch of beer.

Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to stop this happening. Wash all your equipment before and immediately after use with plain hot water and make sure it’s spotlessly clean. You then need to sanitise to kill off any spoilage bacteria: we’ve included a no-rinse sanitiser with both our essential and upgraded starter kits. This acts fast (one minute, faster than boiling the kettle for a cuppa!) and is food safe, so you don’t need to worry about it affecting the flavour of your homebrew.

A good trick is to fill your fermenting bucket with sanitiser solution (2ml per litre of water) and dunk your mash paddle, airlock, and the lid of the fermenter into the solution. Make sure all of the fermenter is touched by the solution, all the way up the sides. If you wear rubber gloves, you can sanitise these in the same liquid so you can handle the sanitised equipment without dirtying it. Then run the liquid out through the fermenter tap, which ensures every part that might touch your homebrew is sanitised (it can be tricky to cover the inside of the tap otherwise).

Another good idea is to put some sanitiser solution into a spray bottle and give surfaces and equipment a liberal spray. This is especially handy during a brew session if you accidentally drop the mash paddle or the airlock, for example – a quick spray, wait a minute, then your equipment is sanitised again and ready to use.

Spray bottles

Our upgraded starter set includes a powerful cleaner you can use on all your brewing equipment. You should only need this if you leave residue to dry on your stuff rather than rinsing immediately, but we know how life can be! And as with everything in our starter sets, this will last you through as you progress and upgrade your equipment: it’s chlorine-free and suitable for stainless steel as well as plastic.

Chemclean alkaline brewery cleaner

Great-tasting homebrew however you make it

Whatever you choose to make, malt extract kits are a quick and easy way to make great-tasting beer and cider at home. If you need any extra help deciding what to make or with getting started, check out our YouTube channel or drop a comment on our Facebook page.

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