Brewing with extract saves a heap of time and effort if you can’t afford the time and monetary investment in going the all-grain approach. The Coopers extract tins are fantastic, not only that but their website as a range of awesome recipes for using their cans, some even with inclusions of hops and additional cans of malt extract.
If you are new to brewing or perhaps want to improve your kit brews a bit, here is what I have learned. I am definitely not an expert, I am an amateur like you, but I have put down enough of these Cooper’s kits to know what works and what doesn’t.
A lot of this stuff applies to all Cooper’s tins, some might be specific to the Pale Ale tin but advice regarding yeast and temperature definitely applies to all.
Ignore the instructions
Have you heard of the saying, “it tastes like homebrew?” do NOT follow the instructions on the tin or you will find out the true meaning of this saying. Beer is simple. Beer is not complicated. The instructions are poorly written and will result in mediocre beer.
Sanitise everything, properly
Even if you just took the vessel and equipment out of the box for the first time, sanitise everything. I got a Coopers kit for Christmas one time and the kit actually had dust or dirt on it: big time yeast killer. Sanitise and soak everything touching your brew, for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.
Even the smallest bit of dirt or contamination can kill your yeast or worse, cause an infection. I’ve only ever seen an infection in a kit once (not mine) and it did not look or smell pretty.
Throw out the tin yeast
The yeast that you get under the Coopers can lids is rubbish. It has possibly been sitting there for a year or so, perhaps longer. You do not know what temperatures the yeast has been exposed to during travel and the quality of preparation. Coopers are not exactly forthcoming about what kind of yeasts you get with the Pale Ale tin either.
Get yourself a Safale US-05 yeast which comes in a 11.5g packet opposed to the 7g you get with the kit. Not only is this yeast a known brand, it is usually fresher and you get more lively yeast for a couple of dollars. This is hands-down one of the best improvements you can make to a Cooper’s tin.
If you are not brewing a Pale Ale and brewing a darker ale, make sure you do some research to ensure you choose the right yeast strain for the style of beer you are brewing.
Temperature is everything
When it comes down to a brew, temperature is everything. It determines if you are going to make a tasty beer or a sour banana smelling beer that gives you a headache because you produced too many fusel alcohols.
Read your yeast. Read what temperature it recommends to be fermented in and listen. The Safale US-05 for example should be pitched at around 22 Celsius. You can go up to 24, but the lower the better. Do NOT pitch your yeast into wort that is above this temperature or you will either kill your yeast or produce a beer that smells like a banana plantation after primary fermentation.
They say sanitation is the most important aspect, but if your temperature is wrong you can make bad beer with clean equipment still. This is arguably the most important and hardest step.
In the hotter months I wrap a soaking wet beach towel around the fermenting vessel and point a pedestal fan at it. Re-soaking the towel every 12 hours or so. Some people use fridges and immersion chillers, but lets be honest, not all of us are committed enough to homebrewing to go and do that.
Aerate your wort
Often an overlooked step in the brewing process. When you throw in boiling hot water into your wort, it gets rid of the yeast dissolved in the wort. Yeast needs oxygen for optimal and healthy reproduction. Without oxygen, the yeast will become stressed and you have a higher chance of producing off flavours.
The easiest way to aerate the wort is before you sprinkle the yeast in, get a sanitised large whisk and whisk the crap out of the wort until you see a foam on-top. This foam is air bubbles. Then you can put your yeast in.
Using dry yeast? Rehydrate it
This is a point of contention in the brewing community. The instructions with the tin tell you to pitch your yeast right from the packet into the fermenting vessel. If you have ever cooked with yeast before, made a load of bread or pizza dough, you would know you don’t just use the yeast right out of the packet.
Dry pitching based on some tests I have seen online can result in up to 30% of your yeast being killed. I don’t remember the specifics behind it, but I know what some have reported losing yeast. While 30% might not be a lot, yeast is the primary ingredient in your beer. It is responsible for turning your wort into liquid gold. After primary fermentation, it also cleans up your brew as well.
Hydrating yeast is super simple. Simply get a sterilised glass jug/Pyrex contain and put around 110ml of warm water into it and sprinkle in the yeast (NEVER stir it). Cover it with plastic film wrap or aluminium foil and let it sit for 15 minutes. You will notice it foams up and looks fluffy, now pitch the yeast into your fermenting vessel.
I have seen some crazy fermentation in most cases around 12 hours. I find I see more activity when I compare a hydrated pitched yeast opposed to a dry pitched yeast, maybe it’s that 30%?
Pale ale style beers are made to be dry hopped. While dry hopping is definitely just for aroma, like a fine wine or scotch, aroma is very important. Try dry hopping a 23l brew on day 4 (after primary fermentation) for about 4 to 5 days, about 24-30g of hops of your choosing. I prefer dry hopping with Cascade myself and sometimes Citra.
Buy yourself a hop bag for a couple of dollars, while you can throw the hops right in, they break up in the mix and when you bottle, the hops will repeatedly clog up your bottling attachment. Put the hops in the bag, drop the bag into your brew and leave it.
Look into crystal malt
You can really enhance the flavour and colour of your brews by steeping some crystal to throw in with your kit beer. This is one of those things that takes a little preparation of 60 minutes, but can have a significant impact on the end result.
For the Coopers Pale Ale tin specifically, obtain 200g of Medium Crystal Wheat Grains and put it into a zip-lock bag and crack it using a rolling pin. Fill up a pot with 2 litres of hot water (not boiling, so around 70 Celsius) and let it sit for 60 minutes. Afterwards, strain it and boil it for 20 minutes.
Once it is done, throw it into the fermenting vessel in place of the 2 litres you would usually add with your wort. You can also use light, but medium fits with pale ale style beers and will give your beer a nicer colour.
Let it sit a little while
Once again the instructions say to leave your brew for 7 days and then checking to ensure your final gravity is consistent over a couple of days giving the same reading. While this is not bad advice, leave it for 12 to 14 days, maybe even a little longer.
Why let it sit longer? Primary fermentation might be over, but the yeast is still cleaning. It will result in a clearer beer. Still most likely cloudy if you’re bottle conditioning anyway, but a definite improvement.
Don’t use sugar
If you use standard sugar or corn syrup in your fermenting vessel as the primary catalyst for your yeast, you have a higher chance of creating a cidery tasting beer that will give you a serious headache if your yeast are fermenting too high especially.
This is actually where the saying, “tastes like homebrew” originated from. Homebrewers using table sugar and producing high alcohol and potent brews which not only could make you sick and give you headaches, but just taste acidic and cider-like.
There are multiple options to go with here. If you have very little time and don’t like the idea of weighing and measuring, you can just get yourself a box of Coopers Brew Enhancer 2 for the pale ale tin.
This has dextrose, maltodextrin and Light Dry Malt in it. The dextrose replaces the sugar, the maltodextrin and malt increase mouthfeel and head retention. You can buy these ingredients yourself and ratio them out, but the Brew Enhancer is a good buy if you’re short on time or commitment.
Never boil the pre-hopped tin
The coopers flavour base tins like the Pale Ale are pre-hopped. This means they’ve been bittered and had aroma added already. I have seen some people claim you can boil them with hops on the stove, you just end up boiling out the factory hops of the tin and ruining your beer.
If you want to boil an extract tin, buy an unhopped tin of extract from your local store and do the aroma and bittering yourself. Otherwise, if you want to add additional flavours, do a hop infusion and dry hop. Never boil the Cooper’s tins.
Relax, have a homebrew
This is the most important tip of all. Remember you are making a homebrew, not brewing a commercial beer you will be judged on. The end goal is producing a tasty beer, do not let anyone tell you otherwise. If you follow the basic rules, you will produce a great beer. Don’t compare it to a store bought beer which has been filtered and carbonated in a keg.