Here’s how I (and a work colleague I exchange ideas with) do it (I’ve read the posts above, bound to be some overlap) –
– normally only use all-malt kits, though using a single can and supplementing with brewing sugar still gives a ‘real ale’-type end result and is slightly cheaper. If there’s no local shop then Ellie Claire from eBay is totally reliable and won’t charge for postage if you spend enough.
– I use a brewing belt to raise the temp slightly, my house is minimally 10-12C in the winter; after primary fermentation (6-7 days) I rack it off into one of the Wilko large vessels under airlock. It can take ages to ferment out but prevents off-tastes from the yeast getting into it (people recommended skimming the brew on a previous thread too). The point is to try to rack it while fermentation is still active so it build up a layer of CO2 over the brew which keeps spoilage organisms out – if the airlock goes dead shortly after transfer you’ll need to bottle it within a few days.
– sometimes I’ll bottle it before it’s quite finished and use slightly less priming sugar – about half a cup for a 5-gal brew is normal, which I dissolve into a small amount of water on the stove. I usually rack it off back into the first container but do this with a tube (as I do for the first racking) to minimise the amount of oxygen getting mixed in by splashing around – I’ve bastled something with different widths of tubing and jubilee clips, held in place on the tap by laggy bands. I’ve brought several German crates back and collect bottles from the recycling when I need them – some are a pain to cap when the neck is widely-flanged so try different sorts out. This takes about 2 hrs from start to finish. Then give as much warmth as possible for a few weeks; they’re much better after about 2 months in bottle.
– if you like lager as AQ says use a special yeast and Pilsener enzyme, it will then ferment at a low temperature, I’m going to get one on shortly and anticipate it will probably take 2 months to ferment out, at least. The end result is worth it, IMO, and in general I’d always rather have a pint of home brew because it’s not pasteurised, much more wholesome.
– my colleague recommends a procedure called “Krausening” to get secondary fermenation going where you start off a new yeast culture instead of relying on what’s left in the brew – anybody else tried this?