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Mistakes I've made brewing beer and how I made better beer as a result

Mistakes I've made brewing beer


When you drill it down, the concept of beer is deed easy. The Germans nailed it with their purity laws - beer comes down to water, hops, malt and some yeast to make the action happen.

Get it right, and you have beer.

Get it wrong and you can have the most rancid tasting thing you have ever put to your lips which was...

kinda like that time I made two kits and got two infections.


I'd prepared two beer kits together at the same time, in a fermenter each. Both had become  infected and the bottled results were completely undrinkable.

The fact that each bottle I opened spewed forth like an overshaken bottle of champagne suggest to me fermentation continued to occur in the bottles but with something else other than beer yeast doing the carbonation.

I made a mistake somewhere, presumably with the tools and utensils I used not being clean, and suffered the cost of losing 40 odd liters of beer, the expense of producing it, and my time.

It was crushing.

Given that error, I've never done two batches on the same day again, to hopefully cut out such user error mistakes.

But there have been other mistakes made!

Not sanitizing beer bottles


Related to the above incident is that time I chanced my arm one times to many on not sanitizing my beer bottles.

Bottling beer can become a drag and that's why so many backyward brewers turning to keg operations. Well, I don't have the time or patience for that so I continue to bottle.

I mentioned that time and patience thing right?

So even though I am fairly scrupulous with ensuring I have a well cleaned and sanitized fermenter, when it comes to bottling, I often do not sanitize my clean glass bottles.

And then I started to get the odd infected bottle and I knew it was time to go back to the ways of the wise and properly sanitize my beer bottles.

This one seems kinda like a no brainer of what not to do but there you go.

Handy tips - to clean bottles use the dishwasher and use sodium percarbonate to santize (though if bottling straight from the dishwasher, the heat should have done the trick killing those pesky beer bugs).

Getting the bottle conditioning storage temperature wrong


Let me share with you a tale.

In the middle of a cold and desperate New Zealand winter I bottled a lager brew and left it in the man-shed for about a month. It was damn cold and the sun didn't warm the shed at all. 

I could have happily used the shed as a morgue it was that frigid.

So I think to myself, these beers are ready bit when I when to crack open the first beer, I did not hear that usually reassuring hiss of CO2 gas as it escapes from the bottle.

The silence was cold news to my ears.

The beer was flat.

So I opened another bottle and had the same result. 

And again for a third.

Fark. 

My beer been left in a place where it was to cold for the yeast to begin secondary fermentation. 

What a noob mistake?!

If you intend to lager your beer you must wait until secondary fermentation has begun and carbonation has occurred. If you cool your beer too soon, you run the risk of disrupting the yeast from its secondary fermentation process and carbonation may not occur (or it will be very slow to do so).

So the lesson is clear.

So, just like when you did the first round of fermentation, the yeast does its best work at a warm temperature. So, to properly store your beer so that it is carbonated, the beer needs to be kept warm for a few days. 

In my situation that means bringing the bottles inside the house for a few days just to give the yeast a chance to start doing it's thing. 

Then it's straight back out to the shed with them.

There's a good benefit to this as well. Keeping your lagers cold will result in the production of fewer esters and fusel alcohols, giving your beer a better taste balance. And that's basically why lagers are 'lagered' or conditioned over winter. 

No more green bottles for me


I love drinking Steinlager as it is an excellent beer and one I would recommend to any discerning beer drinker.

I'd collected a few fair green bottles and began using them regularly. However they soon refused to easily cap as the grippy bit at the top of the bottle neck cracked.

You see, as the pressure of the bottle capper comes down, the glass simply gives way.

This then makes it harder to cap so one applies a little bit more pressure and then snap! The neck of the beer bottle snaps, sending glass shards everywhere and most importantly, wasting good beer!

So now I have a firm no Steinlager bottle policy and that's that.

Drinking your beer too early


It's my view that it's a mistake to imbibe your beer too early.

Post bottling, your beer needs time to carbonate. It also needs time to chill and do its thing. The fermentation process is in a sense a simple chemical reaction but there is a complex relationship going on with the beer's ingredients that need time to sort themselves out.

The patient beer drinker who leaves his beer at least three weeks before indulging will be a better beer maker for it. If you can make it to 5 or 6 weeks before you taste, the better your beer should taste.

Sure you can drink it earlier but you are wasting the opportunity of having a much better beer than you are actually drinking.

It's for this reason that brewers will often have a cycle of beer going though so that they always have a brew brewing, a set or three conditioning and a batch ready for drinking.  

Pitching your yeast into a hot wort has the same effect as throwing Frodo's ring into the lava of Mount Doom! 


Yes, I once absent mindedly pitched my yeast when the wort was too hot, right after mixing the ingredients with boiling water. I knew what I'd done the moment I'd done it but what a waste of yeast.

A genius moment in my beer making career for sure. 

No yeast means no fermentation.

And well, that just sucks right.

Lucky I had a spare packed of good old Safale US-05 and was able to pitch that when my wort was properly cooled. 

Cooling your beer down is not just to assist with removing nasty bugs from your beer and reducing the risk of any infection, it helps with ensuring that your yeast finds itself in a hospitable environment - that is to say if you pitch your yeast too early, you run the risk of killing it (it’s a living microorganism after all).

As an aside if you want to get really fancy with cooling your wort, you might want to invest in a wort chiller.


Here's some other things to do to avoid bad outcomes


Not that I've necessarily made them myself...
  • Give your wort a chance to aerate. Still it, shake it. Whatever. Give it a chance to get some oxygen so the yeast has something to work with. 
  • Conversely, when bottling, avoid getting oxygen in your beer. Using a beer bottling wand thingy can help with this as it helps with a smooth poor from the fermenter into the bottle. If you are racking into a secondary, try to avoid stirring up the beer to much at this point as well. 
  • Sanitize. Sanitize. Sanitize.
  • Don't allow fermentation to occur at too high a temperature. A standard, consistent temperature allows for a well made beer. A temperature that is too high will cause the fermentation to result in beer that tastes too fruity.
  • Adding to much sugar will cause your beer to over ferment and of course leave it with a sugary taste. We know beer enhancers can add to the cost of making beer but we think they are totally worth it and use them with most beer kit brewing combos. 
  • The quality of the water you use will have a direct bearing on the quality of your beer. I live in clean green as New Zealand so our water quality is mint so I simply fill up from the garden hose. For those not so lucky, you may want to consider filtering your water if you are able. If your water quality is poor, you could make some heavy ales which could help mask tell tale chlorine and the like.

How to work out the alcohol ABV of your home brew beer

work out alcohol content of beer

How to use a hydrometer correctly to determine the alcohol content of your beer

A trick of the home brewer's craft is to keep a hydrometer handy. This tool will help any beer brewer to make great beer.

What is a hydrometer?

At its most basic scientific purpose, a hydrometer is an instrument that measures the specific gravity of liquids, that is to say it measures the ratio of the density of the liquid to the density of water.

Did you get that?

Why would a home brewer use a hydrometer?

A home brewer uses the hydrometer to monitor the fermentation progress and measure the alcohol content of his produce.

Hydrometers can measure specific gravity, potential alcohol and the approximate sugar per litre content.



So the big question then, how does one use a hydrometer?

If you float the hydrometer in a test tube of water you will find it gives you a gravity reading of 1.000. This makes sense as there is no water displacement occurring.

Not let's assume we are at the point where you have prepared your beer wort. It's time to add the hydrometer to the beer wort in a test tube. Not only is there water in the wort but other mixed in ingredients including sugar, thus meaning some displacement can occur.

Spin the hydrometer around in the tube - this will dislodge any bubbles that are helping to float the hydrometer above what should be the actual reading. 

Take note of the reading which is where the hydrometer crosses the water / air line and write it down as you will need it for your equations later on. It's called the starting or original gravity. 

Let the brew ferment.

When you think fermentation is complete, take a reading. Then wait 24 hours and take a second reading.

If they are the same, you have your final gravity measurement.

A handy rule of thumb to beer in mind is when the final gravity is approximately a quarter of the starting gravity you’re done with fermentation. 

Let your beer 'chill out' in the drum a bit longer. While the bubbles may have stopped, chemical reactions are still occurring and they will help make your beer taste even better.

How to work out the alcohol content of your beer using the hydrometer's specific and final gravity readings

It's a crude or rough measurement but the equation is simple:

(starting reading minus final reading ) x 131 = alcohol by volume (ABV)

Given that hydrometers are calibrated to be used at specific temperatures one needs to use the taken readings a guide rather than a wholly accurate value. For example if your hydrometer is calibrated to be used in an environment of 15 degrees centigrade but it's warmed to 20 degrees, there's a chance your readings will be slightly out.

To be frank, for the average home brewer, it hardly matters if you 5 per cent beer if actually 4. 8 per cent!

And there you have it. Well the simple version anyway. There's quite a bit of science behind how the units are calibrated but provided your readings are semi accurate, you shouldn't need to worry about it too much!

A single caution though. You shouldn't feel the need to take readings all day every day as you wait for fermentation to finish. Exposing your beer to the atmosphere does raise the possibility of a contaminant getting in so beer that in mind.

Order a hydrometer from Amazon now!

Image credit to Daniel Spiess via Creative Commons Licence

What is a Nut Brown Ale and is it good for home brewing beer?



What is a nut brown ale and is it good to homebrew with?



Coming from the 'brown ale' family of beers, the nut brown ale is a great beer for the keen home brewer to have a crack at making.

Do you believe me?

You can answer that question soon but first a short history of the nut brown ale.

The Brown Ale style originally gained popularity in the down and dirty pubs of England, where beer guzzlers expressed a need for beer that was both flavorful and complex, but at the same time mild enough to be a session beer.

Words like Newcastle ale, English Style ale, 'All English' are bandied about when it comes to the brown ale. It's drank in many a London pub.

The style has a long history and if you see a reference to 'Northern ale', this is what historically is meant by a nut brown ale.

In reality, the style of nut brown ale may just have been a unique marketing movement promoted by the burgeoning beer companies in the first half of the 20th century.

At its most basic, a nut brown ale is a way to describe a variant of the standard brown ale.

Does a nut brown ale actually have nuts added to it?


A key thing to point out is that a nut brown ale recipe doesn't contain nuts! The reference to nuts is for the beer's colour, not necessarily it's taste. You could also describe the colour of the ale as a deep copper. There's nothing wrong with using nutty as a taste description if that's the case!

So what are the taste characteristics of the nut brown ale?


The taste of nut brown ale is obviously subjective. Some say it would have an 'obvious earthy' character. It may have faint traces of some flavor like molasses or possibly something like maple stripped of sugar.

You could almost say the ale has a mild bread like taste with that classic ale bite in the back of the mouth.

If brewed well, the taste offers a malty sweetness, with the slight presence of caramel. If properly balanced with a medium to low level of hops (as it's traditional for ales for be low in hops), the nut brown ale is a deserved beer to drink on a hot day. 

Is a nut brown ale a good for for homebrewing? What do I need to make a good one?


So if the above romantic descriptions of the beer, tempt you, we strongly suggest you try your hand at brewing one. I did, here's my review of the kit I used.


What hops can be used in a nut brown ale?


Traditional English ales are lightly hopped as the preference is for a low bitterness levels. Hence classic English hops choices such as Goldings, Fuggles, and sometimes Tettnanger could be made.

American brown ales have evolved differently and feature a higher level of bitterness and thus Cascade and Williamette hops are common.

So if you are going for the more traditional English nut brown ale style, you may want to favour the English hops.

They key thing to beer in mind is that your brew recipe should be light on hops so to not over bitter your beer.

So don't throw in the whole hops packet.


What's a good nut brown ale recipe? Here's some ideas of what you could use


There are many ways to make your own version of a nut brown ale. Here's two brief versions that you could go for if you were putting together your own recipe.

Version One:

Malts - lager,crystal,black malt
Hops - Green Bullet, Pacific Gem

Version Two:

Malts - brown, chocolate malt, caramel
Hops - Willamette both bittering and aroma


The call to action!


If you are going to brew a nut brown ale, we suggest you get a beer kit by way of Northern Brewer, a popular American supplier of beer product and equipment. 

They've a pretty good reputation!

What is the 'krausen' in home brewing?

A massive krausen!
I learned a new brewing word the other day.

It was 'Krausen'.

Which made me immediately say to myself "Release the Krausen!"

But enough with the bad jokes, let's talk about what a krausen is.

The krausen is the foamy head that constitutes on top of fermenting beer as it sits in the fermenter.

A healthy head of krausen is an ideal goal of the home brewer because it's a sign that your beer is fermenting just as it should.

Knowing this can be quite handy because if you are not seeing or hearing bubbles escaping from the airlock, the presence of a krausen build up is proof that the yeast is doing its job and fermentation is occurring.

And just the same as the presence of krausen shows fermentation is occurring, it's disappearance (but not initial lack of) is an indicator that fermentation is complete (or halted if brewing conditions are too cold).

But sometimes these things see the movie The Blob and decide they want to grow...

Preventing a krausen 'blow out' with tubing


Occasionally brewing conditions mean that the yeast is so active, the krausen behaves like it is a kraken released from the gates of hell and it foams up like a fiery tempest and blows out the airlock, just making a heck of a mess all over your brewing equipment!

These beer explosions typically occur with glass carboys which allow pressure to build.

krausen blow off tube
A solution to krausen 'blow out' is a using a blowoff tube. One replaces the standard carboy airlock with the tubing.

The tubing can then release into a bottle, bucket or whatever to help with reducing any blow off mess.

Check out the image to the right for an idea on how to set up the blow off tubing. This example uses a steel tube.

If you're not convinced this tubing is worth the effort, consider this.

A common krausen issue is that the the airlock can get clogged with foam and any added hops. This leads to a strong pressure buildup in the fermenter which when is it great, the barrel lid, bung or airlock blows off, spewing stuff everywhere and making for a very messy and frustrating cleanup.

There's even the potential for damaging your equipment.

We suggest if you have brewing conditions where this has happened more than once, you may wish to consider grabbing some tubing from Amazon!

Make sure you get a suitable thick pipe, nothing too narrow as that will work against you.

One more thing.

We've not done it ourselves but we have read that some punters fill that bottle or bucket the tubing goes into with water so as to further help retard the foaming krausen!

Have you ever heard of Fermcap-S?


You could also try and prevent too much foam by using an anti foaming agent like Fermcap-SIf you wish to use it in your carboy or fermenter to prevent the krausen from escaping, the dosage is only 2 drops at the start of fermentation. 

Krausen the line....


When you have bottled your beer, it's time to get cleaning that fermenter right? And if you've done everything right, there will be a ring around the line where the krausen rose from.

I call it the Krausen line.

If you don't immediately clean your vessel, it will harden and be a right monster to remove. A good soak with PBW or sodium percarbonate should sort that line of scum out PDQ.

How to use foam inhibitor to avoid boil over or krausen explosion when brewing

pot boil over prevention


A watched pot never boils right?


This rule doesn't apply on brewing day.

Even though you are paying keen attention to your boil, it takes but a second for a boil over to happen, making a mess and causing you to lose wort.

But what if there was a way to stop boil over?

Some pundits recommend that you add marbles or ball bearings to the brew to help boil over. Or use a spray bottle of cold water when ever the foamy beast raises its head.

But if you want to make sure you don't suffer a boil-over, try using a foam inhibitor!

Foam inhibitor or 'defoamer' is a handy trick to keep your your beer from boiling over.

A popular product is 'Fermcap-S'. A fancy way to described it is that it is a "silicone based food-grade emulsion".

There are two main ways to use it - during the boil and during fermentation.

If you choose to use 'Fermcap-S' to prevent boil overs on the hot side, add 2 drops per gallon for a nice rolling boil.

If you wish to use it in your carbouy or fermenter to prevent the krausen from escaping the fermenter, then the dosage is only 2 drops at the start of fermentation. If you didn't know, the krausen describes the foamy head that develops on top of fermenting beer.

If you have added your inhibitor during the boil, there is no need to add any to the fermenter as it will carry over.

When used in the fermenter, 'Fermcap-S' increases the bitterness of your beer (retained ibus) by about 10 per cent.

This sounds dandy but why should I use an inhibitor?


Boil-overs are more likely to be a problem if you are using a smaller pot. Users of fermcap have reported being able to make a 5.5 gallon batch in a 7 gallon pot.

While mess is annoying, the real reason you want to prevent this is that the foaming can cause any top-fermenting yeast to be expelled from the fermenter before it can do its job in the wort. 

This then requires the rest of the yeast to work harder to achieve the final terminal gravity which will not necessarily occur if yeast lost has been significant.

Beer is supposed to be foamy! This seems an odd product to use?


At first thought, using anti foam may seem to be a counter-intuitive idea. It would seem fair to consider that putting something in wort or fermenting beer to control foam will also kill the head on the finished product.

However, when anti-foams are used properly, quite the opposite is true!

Using vegetable based demoamer


Instead of silcone based products , you can also try vegetable oil versions.
Vegetable oil is a known yeast nutrient and will be consumed by the yeast during fermentation of beer before bottling or kegging.

Commercial breweries use it


Big commercial breweries often use defoamers and anti-foamers as part of their beer processing but given that it's not really within the spirit of purity brewing, it appears not many commercial operations will freely admit to adding silicone based products to their beer!

Simple hacks for home brewing from Reddit brewers

beer brewing hacks

Here's some random as tips we found on Reddit that keen home brewers have shared so that we can all become better backyard brewers.

Remember these are just ideas and tricks and ways of doing things, they may not all be suitable for your brewing needs. As with all brewing, one learns by doing and experimentation!
  • If you're a kitchen based brewer, bottling beer over your dishwasher door; clean up is as simple as closing the door.
  • Clean our your 'Boil in a Bag' brew bag by first shaking it out, then turning it inside out and holding it under the shower. 
  • Pour the contents of the bag into a bowl and use that to pour into boiling water. It is MUCH easier to scrape extract out of a bowl.
  • Be wary that if using dry malt extract, the steam from boiling water causes significant amounts of extract to cake onto the sides of the bag. If this is an issue for you, we suggest you put the DME in first before you add the water.
  • Re-hydrate dry yeast that you've saved by pouring it into a plastic bottle of water (of the correct temperature of course), capping it, and shaking. Burp any excess gas by gently opening the bottle (as you would a bottle of soda). When it comes time to pitch the yeast, simply pour out of the bottle into your wort.
  • Placing a packet of silica gel in your hydrometer case can help absorb any residual moisture that may be left after using it (we think this is a flight of fancy in some ways and not necessary).
  • When making a yeast starter, place the flask inside of a plastic grocery bag, and then place it on the stir plate. Should the starter overflow, the mess is contained within the plastic bag.
  • We love this idea. Put a book or other wedge under the back of your fermenter after sealing it up. On brewing day, gingerly slide the book/wedge to the front of the fermenter and you'll have a slanted yeast cake and a nice "deep end of the pool" in the back side of the fermenter to rack from.
  • A few marbles, glass beads, or large SS ball bearings will reduce the risk of boil over dramatically. It works by providing nucleation points at the bottom so that large bubbles rise up and pop and less small bubbles are available to form foam. Of course, if you use foam inhibitor such as Fermcap-S, you probably don't need any other hacks! 
  • Using a spray bottle of Star San solution seems like a good hack. Doesn't waste time with dunking everything in a bucket when you can just spray it liberally and get good coverage.
  • Put spigots in all of my fermenting buckets, so you need use an auto siphon.
  • When transferring out of a fermenter into a keg, fill 1 pint mason jars with the slurry, and refrigerate them so that you can use it as a yeast starter for another brew.
  • Buy hops in bulk. 
  • Instead of hand cleaning your bottles and dunking them in sanitizer put them in the dishwasher bottom rack. USE NO DETERGENT, and put the dishwasher on the hottest cycle. The temperature is hot enough to kill the nasties that could infect your beer (we also add the dish washer is handy for removing bottle labels).