GUEST POST: JAKE METZLER LOOKS AT FIRST TIME BREWING MISTAKES

Midwest SuppliesWe’re usually loathe to put up guest posts from corporate shills on Aleheads, but when the shill in question works for a homebrew supply store, we’re willing to bend the rules. Jake Metzler writes for Midwest Supplies…a one-stop homebrewing shop in Minnesota. If you’re interested in the fermented arts, check them out. Jake spends his free time writing songs, brewing beer, and drinking his creations. He’s still perfecting the practice of doing all three at once. He also has a growing collection of brewing supplies.

It seems that everyone and their brother-in-law is brewing their own beer these days. No longer is the art of brewing a shady practice utilized only by your boozy grandfather. Home brew stores are popping up all over the place, more and more towns are having brewing festivals, and the two states that still haven’t legalized brewing beer at home are slowly coming to terms with the fact that people want to brew.

If you’ve thought about brewing your own beer, or know someone who wants to join the ranks of home brewers, than there are a few things to consider before you start up that first batch. As with any hobby, it will take time and practice before you brew a really great beer, but by doing your research and planning ahead, you can avoid some of the common first-time brewer mistakes.

Going Haphazard

So you’re going to brew your own beer. It’s going to be a great time, right? Yes, but it’s not as simple as just throwing a bunch of stuff in a pot, singing an Irish-beer chant and drinking your miracle elixir. Beer needs time to ferment, and the ingredients need to be treated right in order to do their thing. Whether you’re following a recipe or utilizing a home brewing kit, it is important to pay attention to your ingredients. Make sure that you have the right hops, malt, and yeast. Make sure that you have a space with consistent lighting (or lack thereof) and temperature where your beer can ferment. Have everything ready and clean before you start the brewing process.

Being Cheap

Besides going haphazard in the process, you could also fall into the trap of buying mediocre ingredients. Buying in bulk is often cheaper, but if you’re not going to use the ingredients in a specific amount of time, then it’s not worth it. The quality of hops deteriorates over time.

Similarly, the brew store might have a sale on a specific type of malt extract that is nearing its expiration date or that they ordered too much of. Before changing your recipe, talk with the seller about the differences between the sale product and the item your recipe calls for. Often brew store employees are very experienced and know how different products will react with each other. If you’re unsure, do your own research as well.

Failing to Sanitize

Speaking of clean, one of the easiest mistakes to make when brewing is failing to sanitize your containers and equipment. You may think rinsing that carboy with hot water is enough, but it’s not. In order for your beer to become beer, the yeast has to ferment. Creating an environment where this can happen also creates an environment where bacteria can thrive. It is therefore very important to not just sterilize, but sanitize anything that your beer will touch. You can use bleach for this, but be sure to rinse thoroughly so that there is no bleach left to kill your sensitive yeast.

Being Impatient

I know you’re excited to drink beer made in your own home, but if you don’t wait for it to do its thing, it will not be a pleasant tasting. Beer needs time. Chemical reactions need to take place. Flavors need to settle and develop. So leave it alone. Don’t check on it except when you need to. Don’t bottle it early. Don’t skip the resting time after the bottling process. Spend this time planning your next brew or deciding on appetizers for your beer reveal party.

Brewing beer is a rewarding experience that is a lot of fun and very educational. You also get a brew of your own to enjoy and share with friends and family. By being intentional with your process, you can ensure that your first brew will be an enjoyable one.

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4 comments

  1. Solid points.

    I’d add to that couple of others that I almost learned the hard way:

    1. Have a ton (almost literally) of ice ready for the cooling bath after the boil (assuming you’re not using a fancy immersion cooling system). I didn’t think that through at all and came dangerously close to ruining a batch because it took so long to cool the wort – that’s a touchy period of time when all sorts of hungry nasties can crash the party.

    2. Keep at least one extra airlock handy. They’re cheap and critical. A clogged airlock can/will lead to disaster in more ways than one. Swapping one out of the fermenter is relatively easy and quick. Just remember to make sure the new one is sterile and sanitzed.

    3. Make sure you know what the temperature tolerance is for the yeast you’ve chosen. Not all yeasts are alike and some die off at slightly higher temps than others. You’ll need to monitor the temp in the fermenter diligently and be prepared to administer triage to reduce the temp if necessary. I used a swamp bath (ice bags stacked around the fermenter atop towels) with good results – not optimal brewing but it’ll work in a pinch unless you’ve got a meltdown in progress – runaway fermentation usually caused by the presence of a contaminent (bacteria or wild yeast strain).

    Home brewing is a moderate PITA – especially the cleaning/sterilizing/worrying that the equipment stays that way long enough – but its worth it.

    Cheers!

    1. Good advice! During my first brew, we ended up having to run out for extra ice. Luckily everything turned out ok.

    2. That #1 comment is dead on. In a more general sense, I’ve found that paying close attention to temperature is very helpful. I don’t think you need to do a lot of fancy stuff to get the wort temperature down (ice bath is simple) and keeping the ambient temperature within the range for the yeast (I try for the lower end of the range at the beginning of fermentation). Definitely a big deal.

      My other big call out is that the “no rinse cleanser” that probably comes with your homebrew kit is not actually a sanitizer. I went through three craptacular batches before I realized that, saw the light, and bought a bottle of starsan (why starter kits don’t just include starsan to begin with is still a mystery to me). I thought this was just my dumbass not paying close enough attention, but I’ve seen and heard of many others who are taken in by that “cleanser” stuff that’s included in the starter kit.

      Once I figured those two things out, I started making pretty solid beer…

  2. I’ll throw one in, too. Although, it’s not really from me:

    “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.”
    – Charlie Papazian

    I don’t know how many times I’ve freaked out over minute details in each of my batches, from the brewing process to fermentation. In the end, everything has always worked out. The only way I’ve been able to lessen my tiger parent, worry-wort attitude is by following those words. To the letter!

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