Newbies are prone to making mistakes no matter what they’re doing, and homebrewing is no exception. Given how long homebrewing takes and how complex the process is, there are more opportunities for mistakes with this than other hobbies, especially for beginners. Becoming a master homebrewer can be done with the right experience, but you are prone to ruin a few batches at first. However, you can reduce these risks if you know what you should and shouldn’t do. Here are five common mistakes new homebrewers make and a few tips on how to avoid them.
Using Water from the Tap
You can probably drink your local tap water without any problems, but that doesn’t mean it can go into your homebrew kit. Unfiltered, chlorinated water will give beer either a metallic or plastic flavor. Depending on where you live, the minerals and pH of the water can alter the final product, as well.
One solution is to select types of beer based on the type of water you have on hand. You can use a water test kit to determine what type of water you’re working with. You can fine-tune your recipe to make up for the quality of your water. Or you can use filtered, unchlorinated water.
Not Cleaning Everything Properly
A common mistake that newbies make is failing to clean things properly. Brewing is messy. However, failing to clean things properly after you’ve finished your last batch can leave behind proteins that ruin your next batch. A failure to sanitize things introduces the risk of unwanted bacteria that could interferes with fermentation or simply makes you ill. You can simplify things by using a no-rinse sanitizer after every batch.
Furthermore, you need to sanitize everything that comes into contact with the homebrewing gear, including your hands. Fail to do this, and you could experience everything from unexplained funky flavors to unsettled growth to stalled fermentation. Note that this means you shouldn’t try to start your siphon with your mouth, either. You guarantee you’ll get funky beer. Use a sanitized auto siphon instead.
Choosing the Wrong Yeast
A common mistake you can make is to pick the wrong yeast. If you understand how to pick the right yeast, you can find the right yeast for the type of beverage you want to create. This yeast, for instance, is intended for India pale ale or IPA. The yeast will accentuate the flavor of both the malt and the hops. You also want to pick yeast that will product the alcohol content and operating conditions you’re working with. For example, lager yeasts ferment at colder temperatures, so you’ll ruin the batch if you try to use lager yeasts at a higher temperature.
Not Taking Measurements Seriously
Homebrewing is presented as an art, but it is a science, too. If you want to replicate a specific flavor, you have to follow the recipe exactly. For example, not using enough yeast can leave you with beer that’s very sweet and has below target gravity, while not adding enough priming sugar will result in under-carbonated beer.
One way people that mess this up is by eyeballing things instead of measuring out the ingredients to fractions of a gram. This can happen simply by using an inaccurate scale instead of a high-quality brewing scale. Another variation of this mistake beginners make is measuring ingredients by volume instead of dry weight. Follow the instructions on steeping grains; when they tell you a gentle squeeze, only give a gentle squeeze because overdoing it will result in bitter grain.
Not Using Fresh Ingredients
You’ve probably heard the saying garbage in, garbage out. Hops, grain, yeast and the other organic components that go into beer all break down over time if not outright spoil. This is especially true after they’ve been opened. If you want fresh-tasting beer, you need to use fresh ingredients. And don’t use old ingredients. You’ll either end up with flat, funky or otherwise nasty beer.
Burning your Extract
While some mistakes can be chalked up to lack of experience, others can be easily avoided. One of them is burning your extract. Malt extract, in particular, can precipitate at the bottom of your kettle and burn. But if you add and mix your extract carefully, you can avoid ruining your batch.
The first thing you should do is remove your kettle from the heat source before you start adding your extract. Once this is done, you have to add your extract gently and stir while you’re doing it. Make sure to stir until the extract has completely dissolved. If your kettle has an internal heating system, make sure that it remains clean at all times to prevent sediments from attaching to it and burning.
Underpitching your Yeast
Another common mistake people make when making their brew is underpitching the yeast. This is very easy to do so when you’re new to the game or trying to brew larger batches. This is also often the case when brewing high gravity beers like Imperial stout or barleywine.
Underpitching will leave you with a brew that hasn’t fermented properly, is below the desired gravity and too sweet. That’s why you have to know what the cell count is for the yeast you’re using and always use the recommended amount for the particular recipe you will be using.
Another thing you should avoid is pitching your yeast in a hot wort. Anything over 70F will either shock or kill your yeast, and even if you cool it down after, you will be left with a poorly fermented brew that will come off as too sweet or with strange flavor notes. So, always make sure that you cool your wort at the right temperature before adding your yeast.
Home brewing is a unique combination of science, art, chemistry, and gastronomy. Take the time to learn how to avoid making mistakes and you’ll master the art fast enough to graduate on to the crafting of your perfect, signature beverage.