Common pitfalls when homebrewing beer

Some common pitfalls to avoid when brewing your own beer:

  1. Maintain excellent sanitation. Excellent sanitation is paramount to making good homebrew beer. Sanitizer can be found at your homebrew retailer. Sanitize everything that comes into contact with your wort after it has cooled down, including racking tubing and cane and vessels, fermentation vessels, airlocks, bottles, lids, and the instrument you use to pull samples for gravity readings. Bad sanitation can make a great batch of homebrew turn into vinegar! I can’t stress proper sanitation enough!
  2. Do not use chlorinated water. Your finished beer can have high levels of chlorophenols which are an off-flavor/flaw and are rather nasty.
  3. Remove your brewpot from the heat source when adding malt extract, otherwise you may burn/scorch it and it will stick to the bottom. Make sure to stir when mixing in your extract as well and do not let it hit the bottom of a hot brewpot.
  4. Make sure your malt, hops, yeast and malt extract are fresh. Fresh ingredients are key to a great tasting homebrew. Make sure your yeast is not outdated, that your hops were stored refrigerated, and use dried malt extract (DME) as it is more shelf-stable than liquid malt extract. Make sure your malt crunches if bitten into, and doesn’t have any “stale” characteristics.
  5. Leave some room in your brewpot when boiling, or else you risk a messy boil-over! Also, make sure to always keep your eye on your brewpot when boiling wort, if it seems it is going to boil over, remove it from the heat quickly and safely.
  6. Try to perform full wort boils when making homebrew. Excellent beer can be made doing partial boils, and some brewers have no choice. If brewing with a full wort boil, you’ll need to brew outside using a burner and tank. However you will get better hop utilization and less caramelization (resulting in a lighter color and less caramel flavor). Very light, straw colored beers can be tough to do with extracts and a partial boil, however it can be done by shortening the boil time to 45 minutes, upping the hopping rate to compensate, and using Extra Light dried malt extract.
  7. Try not to splash when racking or bottling your beer, siphon as gently as possible. Otherwise, your beer will oxidize or stale from the introduction of oxygen.
  8. Make sure to aerate your wort by using a whisk or aeration stone before pitching yeast to ensure a healthy fermentation. Oxygen just prior to pitching yeast=good. Oxygen after beer is fermented=bad.
  9. Use dried malt extract in your recipes (DME). It has a better shelf life than liquid malt extract (LME), and it can result in a lighter beer that is more appropriate to the style if that’s what your shooting for (such as a Wit or Blond Ale).
  10. Buy some type of auto-siphon , they are inexpensive, easy to use, and makes siphoning/racking a snap
  11. Using hops bags will be faster and easier, but your hop utilization may suffer up to 10%, so there is a trade-off.
  12. Purchase and use a brewing software to formulate recipes. It is cheap and very helpful and will cut down the time spent figuring out gravities, alcohol % etc.
    Formulate your recipes for an extra 5% or so, as some will be lost to trub, racking/spilling etc.
  13. If steeping grains, be sure to not let the temperature get over 170F, or undesirable tannins can be leached from the grain husks. Try to steep at 150F for a half-hour or so.
  14. Keep a record of all homebrew recipes, including detailed ingredient information and detailed processes used. Record the results – did you like the beer, why and why not? They will come in handy for referencing later.
  15. Use the proper yeast for the proper style of beer you are brewing. Wyeast and White Labs have detailed charts on their websites suggesting beer style by yeast.
  16. Be sure to ferment at appropriate and reasonable temperatures, check out the Wyeast and White Labs pages for suggested fermentation temperatures pertaining to yeast strain. Lagers are usually best fermented at 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit, and ales are generally fermented from 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  17. Do not use distilled water as the full water base for your batch of homebrew. Use spring water or well water, but not city (chlorinated) water or distilled water. Distilled water lacks minerals and nutrients for proper yeast fermentation to take place.
  18. Cool your wort as quickly as possible to avoid off-flavors or infection. Try to get your homebrew cooled within 15-20 minutes with either a wort chiller or an ice water bath. You may have to change the ice after 5-10 minutes. Do not add ice directly to the wort however!
  19. Always make a yeast starter when using liquid yeast, regardless of whether it is labeled “pitchable” or not. Making a yeast starter will ensure that a healthy and happy amount of yeast is pitched. When using dry yeast, always rehydrate the yeast before you pitch!
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2 Responses to Common pitfalls when homebrewing beer

  1. Rob says:

    Great tips for this newbie. Thanks!

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