10 Easy to Avoid Mistakes Homebrewers Make

Hey nobody's perfect, and anyone can make a mistake that can have an adverse effect on their beer. Here are 10 mistakes homebrewers often make and how you can avoid them.

1. Pitching Enough Yeast

Probably the most common mistake made by homebrewers and one that can have enormous effect on the final outcome of your beer. Dry Yeast has a significantly higher cell count than Liquid, however if you are not rehydrating your dry yeast you are severely reducing these numbers. Liquid Yeast usually has around 100 billion cells in each package, assuming it has been handled properly since it left the lab, which according to Jamil and his yeast Calculator is barely enough for a 5 gallon, batch with an OG of 1.030. It is not that a single vial ,or dry yeast that has not been rehydrated will not ferment a bigger beer it likely will, but you are taking a risk, and possibly stressing your yeast, which can result in longer lag times, more esters, fusel alcohols, and stuck fermentations.

Using a pitch rate calculator such as the one mentioned above will allow you to get a better understanding of the amount of yeast required to do the job. Making a starter or rehydrating dry yeast and ensuring you are pitching enough yeast is one of the easiest things a brewer can do to ensure they are getting the most out of their yeast culture, and a fast start to your ferment.

2. Temperature Control

Keeping your yeast in its recommended temperature range is vital to getting the results you are looking for. The temperature range for each yeast strain can usually be found on the packaging, or on the manufacturer’s website. Fermenting outside this range can produce hot or fusel alcohols and make your beer a lot less enjoyable.

One of the biggest improvements any brewer can make to his set up is the addition of temperature control. There are many options from the simple swamp cooler, & boxes cooled by computer fans & ice, all the way to a fridge or freezer with some sort of thermostat to keep the temps in range (commonly called Keezers).

However you do it I promise controlling your fermentation temperature will be one of the most drastic improvements you make in brewing.

3. Using Chlorinated Tap Water

Beer is mostly water therefore it only makes sense that the water we use in brewing is very important. Water chemistry certainly plays a part in the final flavor of your beer, but there is something in tap water that if not removed can ruin your beer much more quickly than not having the right sulfite/chloride ratio. Chlorine and chloramine help keep our drinking water safe for consumption by the general populous, which is great, but it doesn't work so well in our beer. In beer Chlorine can cause the presence of chlorophenols, which give a very plastic or band-aid like flavor which is less than appealing.

If your tap water contains chlorine leaving your brewing water in an open container overnight, or boiling it can allow the chlorine to dissipate into the atmosphere, chloramine is easily removed by the use of campden tablets to treat water prior to brewing with it.

4. Not Paying Attention to the Task at Hand

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Boil overs, open spigots, open fermenters with pets slurping out your precious wort, all these things are the result of not paying attention, any time something can go wrong while you are not paying attention it will and these can be the most costly mistakes you will make.

When I started brewing I lost an entire 5 gallon batch of IPA because the spigot was open as I racked to my bottling bucket, where was I? You guessed it in the next room sanitizing bottles that never got filled.

5. Measuring Solids by Volume Instead of by Weight

Whether you are talking about priming sugar, gypsum, or coriander for your witbier it is important to realize that all tbsp were not created equal. In brewing exact measurements are important especially when it comes to repeatability. Many powders can become compacted, or clump when trying to measure making measuring by volume terribly inefficient for brewing.

A good scale that can measure down to 1/10 of a gram is really invaluable in making sure you know how much of something you are using. A decent scale can be had for around $20 at many online retailers.

6. Cleaning & Sanitizing are Two Processes

Many new brewers get confused when people say their equipment needs to be cleaned & sanitized and think that this can be accomplished at the same time, this is not the case. Cleaning takes place prior to sanitizing; you cannot sanitize what is not clean.

Cleaning is to remove the dirt or build-up from a surface, once it is free of debris only then can it be sanitized to kill any wild yeast or bacteria that may be present. There are many products out there claiming to be an all in one cleaner, sanitizer and they may or may not work for both; however they should always be treated as two processes.

7. Using a Refractometer to Take a Final Gravity Reading

Refractometers are great and an awesome way to take a gravity reading using only a small sample, having said that I can't tell you how many "Help my Beer is Stuck!" threads I have answered over at HomeBrewTalk, and the first question I always ask is "Did you use a refractometer to check your FG?" 99% of the time the answer is

"Yeah. Why?".

Refractometers do not work very well with alcohol, so your fermentation may appear stuck, when in fact your beer has just finished fermenting. There are online Calculators which can help you figure out the actual gravity of your beer once it has fermented and alcohol is present.

8. Following Poor Kit Instructions, or Bad Information

This one is for the new brewers out there, a lot of kits come with bad instructions and will tell you either you canbottle your beer in a week, or you need to use a secondary, when you really don't. Along with this there are many poor sources of info out there, there is no substitute for a good book or two on the subject. Don't have the money to go out and buy homebrewing books, no problem chances are there are plenty available at your local library. Online Forums like the one over at HomeBrewTalk.com are another great resource they allow brewers from all around the world and many walks of life to come together and share information on the subject.

9. Not Taking Good Notes

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It can be tedious and it really isn't one of the most fun parts of brewing, but taking good notes is extremely important if you wish to replicate prior brews. There is nothing more frustrating than making one of the best beers you have ever brewed then not being able to remember what it was that you did that made that batch so special. It is nice to be able to come back at least come close to that beer you loved so much.

I recommend a notebook but it doesn't have to be anything fancy. I use a composition notebook I got at the dollar store. It works great as long as you use it. A note book is a great way to keep all your notes in one place too, it's no good that you wrote everything down, but you can't find it, or you don't remember which brew it was from.

10. Not Chilling to Fermentation Temperature

When I began brewing I would chill my wort to around 75 or so and pitch my yeast, needless to say these first few batches were a bit "hot (fusel alcohol flavors)" as a result. When you pitch at higher temps your temperature controlled environment is going to be battling the heat created by the fermentation and will have a much harder time keeping the temps down, not to mention stressing your yeast.

Chilling to, or below fermentation temperature will help make it easier for you to keep your temperature in check, and your beer tasting great and fusel free. In the Summer, when water out of the tap is too warm I recirculate ice water through my chiller using a pond pump to get to pitching temps.

I hope this list has helped some of you avoid these common homebrewing mistakes.

Cheers

written by Kyle Leasure

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10 comments on “10 Easy to Avoid Mistakes Homebrewers Make”

  • Adam Allegrucci May 25, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks, this is good information. I have been brewing now for about 7 months and I have fell victim to a few of these myself. Another thing that isn't on the list but I think has contributed to a much better beer for me is cold crashing. I know it's probably not the most important thing for new brewers but I will say that it's made my beer taste so much more clean.

    Reply
  • Been brewing for a few years now and question your advice to "chill to ferment temp". Most dry yeast pac's say to pitch at 90 a 100F, and like a ferment temp in the 60'-70F range. So I start my yeast in about 4oz of luke warm water w/ a tbsp of sugar.. I generally chill my wort to just under 90F, figuring that slowly streaming it to the fermenter will lose more heat while O2ing it.

    FermenTemp strip on carboy reads about 72-76 when I pitch after 15-20 mins of proving.

    I always see good activity within 12 hrs, better after 24 hrs. Am I doing something wrong?

    Reply
    • David Doucette
      David Doucette May 26, 2016 at 7:51 am

      Do you know what yeast asks you to pitch to the wort at 90F? I know dry yeast instructions include hydrating the yeast in that temperature range but you run the risk of some pretty wild esters if your yeast began fermenting while the wort was above 80. Without a wort chiller it's hard to get the wort below 70-75, but if you can at least get it to that range you'll be in decent shape.

      Reply
  • Years ago our pet ferret decided the rubber stopper on the airlock was fair game for stealing and then prancing around the house trailing a mess from the airlock liquid.

    Needless to say, even with a timely sanitized replacement, that 5-gallon batch of brew became liquid fertilizer for the garden.

    Beer flags flew at half mast for a week.

    Reply
    • drdave, I love ferrets and have had a few. BUT I AM QUITE SURE THAT DARN FERRET WOULD'VE BEEN FLYING HALF MAST WITH THE BEER FLAGS!!!! I promise that I was yelling out you. The ferret maybe little bit, but I was for the most part just speaking in all caps. Good luck to you sir. ?

      Reply
  • PraterandSonBrewing July 31, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    Bad ferrett! Bad ferrett!

    Reply
  • Number 10 is a good one, wouldn't you almost say you want to get your wort 2-5 degrees lower than the recommended pitching temp?

    Reply
  • Anyone here used ice to get to fermenting temp fast? I use 8lbs of ice and 3 gallons of wort to get me to final pitching temp within 3-5 min. I was wondering if it could have any affect on anything. So far it hasn't affected anything that I can tell.

    Reply
    • David Doucette

      Depends on your ice really. Ice bought from the store isn't always made in the most sanitary way, as it's made for things like coolers and what not. It can harbor things that will infect your beer. This obviously ins't guaranteed (an infection), but a possibility. So between potential off flavors and infections, I tend to avoid it, but it's your beer at the end of the day. So if you're comfortable with it go for it, but know the risks you're taking with 30-40$ of ingredients.

      Reply
      • One can freeze a few 1/2 gallon juice containers and put them in the hot wort. Use juice, not milk, as they have screw on tops unlike most milk containers

        Reply
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