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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.

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