WHB BUYING ADVICE
- General : The following information is provided as a guide only. As time goes by you will acquire a feeling for what to buy and what not to buy, where to buy it and where not ! Some suppliers suit some people but not others. Its all a matter of personal preference and we encourage you to seek out additional suppliers if need be and to let us know what they can offer to the homebrewing community.
- Kits : When buying these please check for a sell by date and don't be put off or fooled by the apparent lack of need for one. Most kits will last past their sell by date but fresher kits make fresher beer . . . your choice !
- Malt Extract : When you buy malt extract someone else will have selected the barley for you, chosen a set of mash conditions, water mineral profile, mash pH, mash time etc. They will then have conducted a mashing step and afterwards concentrated the malt sugar solution into a syrup-like extract. If the barley is specifically chosen as beer grade barley (low nitrogen for instance) and the mash conditions are chosen to optimise the range of malt sugars to make beer with, then you're OK. Its of course possible that the malt extract was destined for non beer (e.g. confectionary) use in which case a lower grade of barley is used and the mash conditions could be anywhere. Beer is made from the former. The latter will have the incorrect types of mash by-products and the yeast will not produce the flavours you have come to recognise as beer flavours. Ask where the extract comes from, if its properly prepared brewers' extract the manufacturer will often boast about it on their label or the supplier will be able to show you some of their promotional material, so go for it. If not, your beer may always have persistent off flavours and these are often related to your starting materials (infections aside of course !) Again, your choice !
- Dry yeast : This can only really survive a few months past its manufacturing date, after which most of its effectiveness / viability will have disappeared. If you buy yeasts without a use by date (often your only choice) then PLEASE check out our article on how to revive dry yeast and up its viability. You'll make better beer for it and thank yourself later. You can even make the starter with more than one sachet of dry yeast, it all helps.
- Hops (1 of 2) : You can get these in several forms, e.g. whole hops or pelletised hops. Plugs are just whole hops that have been pressed in a die to help keep oxygen out, kind of a massive pellet made from whole hops ! Pellets are whole hops that have been crushed and pelletised afterwards. They generally last longer than whole hops. When picked and shortly after processing, hops should be green. If they are brown then they have oxidised. This is usually a bigger problem for whole hops than pellets as the pellets' interior is often not as oxidised. If in doubt crack a couple of pellets open and if its brown inside then they're not fresh. Remember, fresh beer is made from fresh hops. Some niche styles in Europe use stale hops. Most things you make will require fresh hops or you're short changing yourself. Hops provide bitterness flavour and aroma into your beer. The fresher the hops the better all three of these will come out. Get the picture ?
- Hops (2 of 2) : The bitterness provided by the hops is extracted from the hop during the boil stage. Each hop, when harvested will be characterised by the hop grower (lab people) for how bitter this crop is. The answer is given as the alpha acid level of the hop. A single hop strain can be grown in widely varying parts of the globe and will vary a lot depending on seasons / years. Some noble varieties (fuggles, goldings etc with lower alpha acid levels) can vary by a factor of two between crops. If you buy hops that do not come with a specification for its alpha acid level then you are working entirely in the dark. Ask for the alpha acid level. Some suppliers will give you a crop figure for that particular batch of hops, others will give you a general figure for that type of hop, an average if you like of many years. Ask for the former, the latter is a nice guide for text books but of little use to you as a brewer.
If you would like to add a suggestion to our buying advice page, please email us, thanks !