THAT’S OLD SCHOOL
Our second look at the world of home brewing from Grizzly Brews here we take a look at 5 common home brewing mistakes to avoid.
So, you’ve just started brewing and you want to make the best product that you can, well I’m here to help. This week I’m going to give you the heads up on 5 of the most common mistakes that new home brewers make, so you can turn out great beer every time you brew. Some of these mistakes may well be made by intermediate brewers too, so don’t tune out just because you’ve got a few brews under your belt! Let’s begin;
1. YOU DIRTY LITTLE…
Using this spoon that I put down on an unclean surface won’t hurt, will it? Well actually, there’s every possibility that it could ruin your beer. When you’re making beer, or any fermented beverage for that matter, sanitising your equipment should be your number one priority.
If you get this wrong, everything else you do to your brew counts for nothing. Let me explain why; when your wort is ready for yeast to be pitched it’s in an extremely vulnerable state. It’s a sweet and nutritious medium for all sort of bacteria and other spoilage organisms. If any of these spoilage organisms get a foothold in your wort before the yeast, then your beer will likely be fit for the drain. Wild yeast can also get into your wort, often leaving off flavours, sour tastes and even making your beer taste dry.
So, when your equipment is nice and clean you’re giving your yeast the best possible chance to multiply and ferment your wort without a hitch. Sanitise everything! Not only that but make sure you clean off any soiling or debris, you can’t sanitise dirt. There are a few options with regards to how you keep everything clean. The quickest, most water efficient method is to use an un-perfumed Oxi Clean product and hot water to clean your equipment of any soiling and follow this with a good rinse, then spray everything down with a “no-rinse” sanitiser like Star san to sanitise everything when you’re ready to brew.
Another option is to use a chlorine based sanitiser, which you can use to clean and sanitise your equipment. Many homebrew stores sell VWP, Wilko sells Bruclens, both work fine.
The only thing is, you need to make sure you thoroughly rinse these products off of your equipment. Four rinses with clean cold water will usually do the trick. Keep two buckets with you on brew days, one which is sanitised where you can store clean spoons etc, and another for all of your dirty items.
2. ISN’T IT A LITTLE EARLY FOR THAT?
You can’t wait to try your beer, you looked at the fermenter and the airlock has stopped bubbling, so you’re going to bottle it. STOP RIGHT THERE! This little bit of bad practise can lead to quite a few issues with your beer. Let’s take a look:
- Beer is flat and sweet – Congratulations, you might have stalled your fermentation. It may start again, in which case you may have bottle bombs (see below). If it doesn’t start again then the yeast may have gone dormant. When you bottled the beer, you disturbed the yeast and they decided to take a nap. This usually happens following a drop in temperature.
- Beer is on my ceiling – Fermentation continues in the bottles, the bottles are airtight (unlike your fermenter). This means that the C02 builds up and BOOM! Your beer is everywhere, or worse, you’re in A&E telling the doctor why you’ve got glass in your face.
- Beer is watery and tastes of green apples (Acetaldehyde) – You’re lucky, no exploding bottles this time. Your fermentation was finished, but your beer is not mature. It will mature in the bottles eventually, but it might be a few weeks.
- Beer is cloudy – The longer you leave your beer, the more sediment will drop out of it. Bottling too early can yield cloudy beer. Exposing your beer to a sharp drop in temperature can encourage sediment to fall out of suspension more quickly. In all honesty, this one isn’t a massive issue unless you were going for clarity.
If you don’t want to experience these issues, buy yourself a hydrometer and make sure your beer has finished fermenting. If the reading has been constant for over 3 days, then it’s likely done (assuming the gravity isn’t ridiculously high). Another word of advice, leave your beer in the fermenter for at least two weeks, preferably three. This gives the yeast time to clean up any bad tasting byproducts from a less than perfect fermentation. It also gives the beer a little time to bulk-age. It will taste so much better, trust me. When you can control fermentation, then you can think about a shorter turnaround for your beer.
3. JUST A LITTLE PEEK
I know you’re excited, but every time you open the lid to check that it’s still fermenting or to take a whiff of your glorious creation there’s a chance that you might expose the beer to spoilage organisms and oxygen.
Just leave it alone until it’s time to take a gravity sample, or it’s time to bottle. The sooner you start forgetting about your beer, the better it will taste! That’s really all there is to this point, stop looking at it!
This is an aspect of brewing that a lot of new brewers take for granted, but it’s vital. If your brew has the wrong level of carbonation it won’t showcase the right flavour and mouthfeel for the style that you’re shooting for. An over carbonated stout won’t exhibit a nice smooth texture and the extra CO2 could leave it tasting harsh. Likewise, if you try to tuck into a flat lager it’s not going to be refreshing and crisp tasting.
A lot of beer kits specify far too much sugar for priming bottles, that’s because the name of the game is a fast turnaround. You’ll find that after a little ageing, these kit beers will be way too fizzy.
What’s that, carbonation drops you say?? They’re okay, but they don’t offer a lot in terms of flexibility. They’ll leave all of your brews with the same level of carbonation, which is pretty boring. The best way to make sure you’re in the right ballpark with carbonation is to learn how many volumes of CO2 are appropriate for your chosen style. There are loads of online calculators that will help you to calculate the correct amounts of priming sugar to achieve the levels of fizz that you’re after, so what are you waiting for, get googling! While you’re at it, look up how to batch prime your beer! You will get much better consistency once you start using this technique.
5. HOT STUFF
You’re sharing some of your home brew with friends and it’s good, but everyone agrees that it still tastes like home brew. There’s an unmistakable twang that instantly makes people think of every other home-brew they’ve ever had. That “twang” is the nemesis of every homebrewer and there are a number of possible causes (usually a combination of issues), one of them being fermentation temperature. It’s easy for your beer to get too hot during fermentation because fermentation is an exothermic process, meaning that the yeast generate heat as they metabolise all that sugar!
So, you think you’ve got your fermenting brew at the right temperature? Well, you probably don’t. Your kit instructions said to keep the beer somewhere between 20-22°C, and they are right. Unfortunately, what you did was set your beer in a room at that temperature. The problem is, your beer can easily climb 2°C or more above room temperature during active fermentation.
Now you’re at 24°C or more and your yeast is kicking off all sorts of funky fruity flavours and your homebrew is destined to taste like it was made behind a radiator on cell-block C. If you haven’t got control over your fermentation temperatures then try to keep your beer in a room with an ambient temp between 16°C and 18°C, this will give you a little headroom for the temperature to rise.
As with most things brewing, there is no hard and fast rule for temperature. Different yeast strains respond differently to temperature, so the temperatures that I have quoted are only one example. The most important thing is to know the yeast that you have and to work within its ideal temperature range.
That’s all I’ve got for you this month, start looking into the points that I made and your beer will be tasting better in no time. If it’s not working out, then keep trying! I have made plenty of questionable brews on my journey and there are still things that I need to improve too. Have fun and happy brewing!!
Next month I’ll be giving you a brief introduction to hops, our green cone shaped friends!
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