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If anyone has explored this site or been following it for a few months, you might have asked yourself “What happened to the brewing?” I had an entire series on my return to home brewing in which I brewed an extract pale ale. After bottling I kind of dropped off because when it was ready to drink, it tasted terrible! This was a huge letdown because I really thought it would all come back to me and heck, how hard is an extract kit, right?
If you’ve made a bad batch or two, and think brewing isn’t your thing, check this post out and hopefully you’ll get back on the horse and try again.
What Went Wrong?
I had a few major issues with this brew that you can learn from for your future brew sessions. Check them out and make note to NOT do these things. The best learned lessons are the ones that you make yourself.
- First, I placed the grains in the water well before it reached the 150* mark for mashing. This screwed with the sugars being pulled out and helped add off flavors to the wort.
- Next, I let the mash (steeping) water get too hot for a little bit. Once again, messing with starch to sugar conversion.
- I cooked on my electric stove, which takes a lot longer than on a propane burner outside. This means it took longer to get up to a boil, and since it is an electric stove, it did not cook quickly if I overheated. On propane, you just shut the burner off and bam! no more heat.
- I allowed my pot to boil over after a hop addition. Hops create hundreds of nucleation points in the wort, allowing it to boil over VERY easily. Watch your boil especially after hop additions.
- I didn’t soak the dry yeast in water to wake them up first. Dry yeast kind of sucks, but it REALLY sucks when it wakes up in your beer. Ideally, just use liquid yeast and make a starter. I’ll cover that in an upcoming post.
- The last big mistake I made was when I had a yeast overflow that clogged up my low-off valve (see above), I wasn’t as careful as I should have been with sanitization. I should have used a blow off tube in a growler of sani water instead of the airlock in the beginning.
I had an idea that there would be issues even before fermentation started. My OG was way low, meaning I would not get a correct final ABV. When I measured FG and did the math, my beer was only at about 3.5%, nowhere near the 5.5% it should have been.
When I first tried the fruits of my labor, I found it to have a strong vinegar taste. This pretty much always comes from bad stuff in the wort that sours the beer. While this won’t make you sick, it tastes terrible and is pretty much undrinkable. This came from one of a few sources:
- Bottles not being clean enough
- Tubing used for bottling possibly having a scratch inside it, causing a collection of bacteria
- Bottling bucket not being fully clean
- Infection coming from my hasty clean up of the overflow during fermentation
Any one of those or a collection could have given me the bad beer. I was definitely let down by the bad batch of beer, and as I poured each bottle down the drain, I thought of ways to be better and made a promise to myself that the next batch would be better.
Batch Number 2
So with my tail between my legs, I went and bought a second kit. This time a nice 5% ABV porter. I got a propane cooker to brew outside with so it would go quicker, I got more ice so the cooling went quicker, and I even woke the yeast up this time. The brew day went very well, and I got the exact OG I was looking for. The only issue I had was a very slight boil over, but it wasn’t bad at all. I was pretty excited to put this one into the carboy.
Warm It Up
About two weeks go by and I take a gravity reading and it’s low. I decide that my basement is too cold for fermentation to happen well, so I move the carboy upstairs and give it a little shake to wake the yeast up. I let it go for about another 1.5 weeks, and my FG was right where it should be. I went through the bottling process without issue, and let the bottles begin to condition and carbonate. 2 weeks go by and I tasted my first porter.
Immediately I got a slight taste of vinegar. Nowhere near as bad as with my last venture, but it’s still there. Obviously something is not getting cleaned enough. After talking with an amazing home brewer that happens to be my friend, he gave me the following ideas:
- Tubing should 100% be replaced.
- Rince cleanser with water before sanitizing. Cleanser kills sanitization chemicals.
- Soak the things touching the post-boil wort in sani water for at least 20 minutes.
I am now preparing my 3rd attempt at brewing my own beer. If this one goes well, then I’m on to create my own extract recipe. No more kits.
The Next Brew
The next brew I am doing is a 5.5% ABV Red Ale. I am doing the kit again, but replacing the dry yeast with a liquid yeast. Look for details on this in the near future. I bought new tubing and I will sanitize and clean as per his instructions.
Failure = Learning
The only reason I am sharing my defeats here with you is to hopefully show you that not every beer turns out well, and that keeping detailed records of each brew will help you do better each time. My first brew was terrible, and my second was kind of bad. I just need to improve a little more each time and I’ll be a pro at it soon. Remember, this is a science as much as it is an art. It takes practice, and practice is just organized failing until you get consistent success.
Learn from your mistakes and brew better each time. The most important thing here is to try. Get a kit and do the most simple brew you can, just to say you did. Even if you fail, you still brewed beer, and your next one will be better.
Stay tuned for more brewing guides and hopefully a positive post about my next brew. Like my home brewer friend say, “if you don’t f*&k something up, you’re not really trying.” (Thanks Hart!)
Until next time,