Even the most perfectionist, veteran homebrewers make mistakes. If you’ve ever been to a homebrew club meeting, or perused the posts of a homebrewing message board, you’ll see all types of blunders. From insignificant to nearly disastrous, mistakes when homebrewing are inevitable.
We’re here to share some of our past mistakes so you don’t have to go through the pain – and the shame – of these brewing gaffes. Our aim is to help condition your brain to avoid some of these simple oversights, preventing a messy situation, or worse – bad beer.
Homebrewing is fun and creative, with endless flavor combinations to explore. Homebrewers love bending stylistic guidelines, experimenting with new ingredients, and pushing the boundaries.
Experimentation is vital to growing as a brewer and discovering new and unique tastes. However, this exciting, creative endeavour can be the cause of bad beer.
Many brewers have grandiose visions of creating the strongest beer, the most bitter, or the most sour. These extremes, though tempting to try, are very difficult to brew.
A balanced approach to recipe design, from the ABV, to bitterness, to using roasted and speciality malts, is advisable. Don’t be afraid to experiment – just be sure to keep drinkability and balance in mind.
If you’ve sanitized your equipment, had an event-free brew, and pitched the yeast, chances are you’ll end up with a drinkable beer within a couple weeks.
If the airlock isn’t bubbling at exactly 2 bubbles per minute, or the fermentation temperature sways a few degrees here and there – don’t worry. Once the beer’s fermenting, there isn’t that much you can do anyway.
Homebrewing legend Charlie Papazian put it best with his famous abbreviation, RDWHAHB: Relax, Don’t Worry, Have A Home Brew.
File this one under: mistakes that make you feel really stupid. Unfortunately, it’s all too common.
Whenever you fill a vessel with a liquid, double check that the valve is closed. That could be when filling your HLT with water, mashing in, sparging… you name it. There are many places in the run of a brew day where you could have liquid – potentially very hot and sticky – drenching your floor.
Double check, triple check – just make sure that your valves are closed any time you fill a vessel with a liquid.
Over carbonating bottle conditioned beer is usually caused by one of three things:
- Adding too much priming sugar
- Not properly mixing priming sugar
- Bottling too soon
More rarely, an infection caused by bacteria introduced at bottling can be the culprit. But I’ve found it’s mainly due to the three very controllable things above.
Make sure your beer is completely done fermenting before you bottle. Check the gravity a few days apart and make sure it’s stable. Most beers finish around 1.010. If you have a standard beer recipe (~5 or 6% ABV) that is sitting at 1.020, give it another few days then re-check the gravity to be sure it’s stable.
Follow our guide on how to properly bottle beer to prevent over carbonation due to priming sugar.
Hops are obviously an important component to beer. In styles like IPA and Czech Pilsner, they’re a dominant characteristic. For these types of hop-reliant beers, you need to use great smelling, properly stored hops.
Hops should not be browning or cheesy smelling. They should smell fresh, pungent, and be consistently green all over.
Store hops in the freezer, in vacuum sealed or nitrogen purged bags. And if you’ve found an opened bag of hops in the back of the freezer – count your losses and toss them out.
Don’t be shy to be suspicious of your homebrew shop’s hop storage either. Some shops don’t have the right equipment to re-package bulk hops into smaller bags. If you see loose hops sitting around a fridge or in zip-tied bags, reconsider where you purchase your hops. Find a supplier who sells vacuum sealed or nitrogen flushed hops that are within a year or two of harvest date.
This is an embarrassing one. But not all that uncommon.
You’ve sanitized your wort chiller during the last 15 minutes of the boil. As soon as the boil timer hits 0 minutes – you turn on the cold water to quickly chill the boiling wort.
Lo and behold, 5 or 10 minutes later, you realize the burner is still on! It’s not a big deal, but it could be a sign that you’re not focused on finishing the brew day. Don’t worry, we’ve all let our minds slip. This is one of those mistakes most people don’t make more than once…or twice.
Brewing water should taste great to drink. Never brew with water that has a strong flavor – it will carry over to the beer. Your water should be relatively neutral, i.e., not overly minerally. And it should have no metallic, plastic, or chemical-like flavors.
If you live in a city, your municipal water supply is likely treated with a disinfectant agent like chlorine or chloramine. These chemicals are disastrous for beer flavor and stability. Always filter water that has been treated or use a campden tablet in your brewing water.
Buying water at the grocery store is another solution to ensure good tasting and consistent water. Take a deeper dive into brewing water chemistry to dial in your water adjustment process.
Oxidation in beer is a problem every brewer has to deal with. Staling causes cardboard-like flavor, darkening of color, and a distinct, sherry-like sweetness.
The most common problem I see in homebrews today is oxidized IPA, specifically New England IPA. Extra precaution must be made when packaging NEIPA. When kegging, a closed transfer from the fermenter to the keg is highly recommended. And for bottling – well…we strongly advise against bottle conditioning hoppy beer styles.
This may not seem unique to homebrewers – but trust me, we are some of the worst impulse buyers out there. Homebrewing equipment and ingredients are pricey. Jumping at a hot sale seems like you’re saving a pile of cash – and there are certainly great deals to be had – however, always be sure of what you’re buying.
A pound of hops at 50% off? First, find out how old the hops are and think about how you’ll use them. I would be hard pressed to find a use for a pound of Fuggles, for instance, despite the tempting deal.
Find a massive discount on a fermenter? You might have struck gold – or maybe the homebrew shop is clearing out space for the new, updated, and better version of the product.
Healthy yeast is imperative for brewing great beer. Beginner homebrewers often neglect the fermentation aspect of brewing as they focus on the hot side. This laissez-faire attitude toward yeast can follow them for years.
Pitching the right amount of healthy yeast needs to be held with the highest importance. Consider it equal – or even more critical – than things like mash temperature and hopping rate.
It’s easy to make a yeast starter. By using one, you’ll get significantly better fermentations and guarantee your yeast will fully attenuate.