How to identify 'off flavors' and smells in your home brew beer

how to identify bad flavors in beer

How to identify the 'off flavors' and smells in your beer

Brewing is not just boiling up some grains, throwing in some hops and bottling.

It's not that simple.

Brewing is a bit of science.

It's a bit of practice.

It's also a bit of experimentation.

You can do all that right but sometimes it's still a bit of luck.

Which is why when a brew batch goes wrong, it can sometimes be considered bad luck that your brew tastes like cabbage, butter or stinks of rotten eggs.

But is it really bad luck that your beer tastes like wet cardboard?

There are all kinds of chemical reactions happening in a brew and this is very normal and nothing to worry about.

It could be that for many brewers the smell of the hops over powers these smells and so when they are finally smelled, they get flagged as a concern.

For this brewer, I'd only be worried when it came time to bottle beer. And even then the first thing I would be asking is should I simply delay bottling another week? As every brewer knows, time is your friend when making beer!

There are many elements that can shunt the beer train off it's brewing tracks, particularly improper preparation prior to making the beer and during fermentation and then bottling or kegging.

Working out what went wrong and what it means means that you will be a better brewer for it.

And you know what?

The best way to learn is by tasting your beer and understanding what the 'off flavors' of your beer are and how you might prevent them happening with your next brew.

Here's a brief guide to help you trouble shoot common off flavours and what the smells mean for your beer!

When your beer tastes like green or rotten apples

I've never eaten a rotten apple but I know what a sour green apple tastes like.

Tart and bitter.

In an apple, this is delicious.

In a beer, this probably means you have a fair amount of acetaldehyde present. This chemicals forms at the beginning of the fermentation process. The yeast will eventually convert it to ethanol (alcohol).

This is why it's good to let primary fermentation continue for a fair time and to let your beer condition for at least three weeks. The longer you condition your beer, the greater reduction in acetaldehyde that will occur and the beer your beer will take.

It will also help to ensure that you correct a fair amount of yeast. If there is not enough yeast present in the beer, it will take longer for the acetaldehyde to be converted.

how do hops cause off flavors in beer

Who cut the cheese?

If you beer has a cheesy taste, you're probably getting a sample of isolaveric acid. Often described as tasting like old socks, the acid occurs naturally all over the place, including, funnily enough, in the sweat of socks. 

In the case of beer brewing this acid develops when the alpha acids in hops oxide. 

The fix is too use fresh hops - both in leaf and pellet form and ensure they have been stored properly. 

If you do find it in your beer, once again, let the beer condition further and this will mellow it somewhat. 

Another way isolaveric acid can get into beer is when you are using fruit. If you get a 'Brettanomyces' infection from the skin, you'll run into trouble.

What we do in the shadows

Ever heard of skunked beer?This is when a chemical reaction happens in the bottled beer due to over exposure to direct sunlight.

So named after the smell a skunk can release, 'lightstruck' beer is caused by the UV radiation in light from the sun and retailer's lights.

The so-alpha acids in the beer (which come from hops) are broken down and form a new compound in the beer by joining with any proteins floating around.

This compound stinks!

The solution is to condition and then store your beer out of sunlight or from under UV Light (why you would be doing that any way?).

Brown glass bottles are can preventing this from occurring as they can mute the effects of the light but not so much green bottles or clear glass. I have no idea why this occurs.

Refraction maybe?

So, the trick to avoiding skunked smelling beer is clearly to store your beer in the dark.
Funny how that's a solution to many of these flavoring issues eh?

This is why your beer tastes like wet cardboard

If your brew tastes a bit like cardboard or wet paper or simply feels stale, you've let in too much oxygen and your beer was over oxygenated. 

Here's the rule of thumb and oxygen when making beer. 

Before primary fermentation, it's encouraged. During fermentation and after it's discouraged. 

If this happens to you, you can't fix the beer. It is what it is. Drink it with some lime? 

The only way to prevent oxidized beer from occuring is preventing it from getting into your fermenter. Ensure the drum or carboy is tightly sealed and that your bubble airlock / airvent has water in it. 

When preparing the wort, oxygen is good because the yeast uses it before fermentation. When the yeast is doing its job, it doesn't need it.

why does beer taste like cardboard

Rotten eggs !

I once went to bottle a brew. The moment the beer came out out of the tap, a rank smell began to permeate throughout my man shed. It was disgusting, like some kind of vile stink bomb had been let off or I had dropped a case of rotten eggs on the floor.

My brew was somehow contaminated. That rotten egg smell can most likely be identified as the gas hydrogen sulfide  - which was the by-product of fermentation gone wrong.

It is the by-product of the yeast strain or bacteria that have snuck into your brew (did we ever mention you've got to sanitize your equipment?).

The thing about lagers and rotten smells is that all is not necessarily lost.

You can fix this problem if the sulfide was produced by the yeast and not bad bacteria.

Lager yeast strains are quite prone to producing sulfide odors. This is quite normal. If you properly condition your bottled beer (the lagering process) by letting in stand for a few weeks, the smell should go away before it's time to drink. 

Let your beer sit and be patient about it!

The news is not so good if you have a bacterial infection

I didn't tell you the whole story above. I was a very novice home brewer and I decided to bottle the batch any way. I left them for a fair time and then cracked one open.

Did you ever make a volcano for a school experiment when you add baking soda to vinegar? You get an explosion of foam and that's what happened to my beer. 

They were giant gushers

This was most likely caused by the unwanted bacteria continuing to work its own fermenting magic on the malt in the beer.

What a waste of time, energy and money!

So to prevent the smell of rotten eggs, you have to stop the infection from occurring in the first place. You must ensure that you have clean equipment and that you've done your best to sanitize it, and kept it clean during the beer brewing process.

Why does my beer taste like chlorine?

Or more rather, are you asking why your beer tastes like plastic or iodine? 

If you used chlorine to sanitize your brewing equipment, you may have over done things, especially if you didn't rinse properly afterward (which is why we recommend using sodium percarbonate instead of bleach products).

You may also have a water supply that is overly chlorinated. If you used this to rinse equipment of brew with, that's most likely the cause. 

The simple solution is to not use such water, however it may be that kind of water is your only source. What can do then is either filter it or boil it for 15 minutes, leave to cool (we don't want you burning yourself or killing the yeast!) and then using it. 

If you do need to use a chlorine bleach, then use no more than half an our per gallon of water and rinse with said filtered or boiled water.

Or move town. 

Why does my beer taste like grass?

You could be forgiven for thinking we are just naming every kind of flavour there can be and say that it can be found in beer.

So forgive us when we say that beer can taste like grass.

This can be caused by using old ingredients like malt and grains that have been exposed to moisture. The best way to prevent this grass flavour is to use fresh ingredients and to store them in dry but dark places.

Or it could be that if you've used fresh hops, you've added too much leaf and stem material. It should be obvious what to do.

Grass taste should not be confused with some of the qualities that certain hops impart into beer. Cascade hops are often commented on by brewers as having this affect.

What could be the case here is that the beer has been hopped too long. It depends on what you are going for off course but a lot of home brewers dry hop shortly before bottling to try and capture as much hop flavour as they can. A beer that has aged for a longer time with hops may lose some of its zesty-ness and be construed as being more grassy than hops. It possibly depends on how bitter the hops are as well.

Why does my beer taste like cider?

This one is a classic result.

One of the reasons home brewing in the 'bad old days' was because beer tasted too to sugary sweet like cider.

And what was the cause of this?

Too much sugar.

If you make your beer with too much corn or cane sugar, cider like flavours will develop.

Brewers looking to increase the ABV of their beer will often add extra fermentables (extra as in more than the beer recipe required). Sugar is cheap and fermentable so they will add an extra kilo or pound of it and get the cider result as a bi-product.

What you can do is off course reduce the sugar and supplement with other fermentables like honey or more malt extract (DME) - basically use more beer enhancer!

what causes fruit smells in beer

Help! My beer has nice fruity smells!

First of all, check that you aren't making a nice stout with raspberry because that would just be awkward....

Brewers often report that their beer smells like fruit - banana, strawberry,  pear and even raspberry.

This fruity smell is quite likely to be an ester called isoamyl acetate. The occurrence of it in beer is extremely common. Like many of the flavours and smells in this guide, they are a by-product of fermentation where the temperature was too high for the yeast, or there was too little yeast pitched.

Generally speaking, the higher the temperature of the beer, the more ester that is produced during fermentation. They are caused by acids in the wort combining with alcohol.

The concentration level of ester will also depend on the kind of beer that is being made. German style wheat beers and Belgian ales tend to possess theses as a deliberate beer aesthetic. Go Bavaria!

One way to reduce the production of esters in your beer is to use a tall and narrow fermenter than shallower vessels. According to the American Homebrewers Association "this is because high hydrostatic pressure and levels of CO2 in the tall, narrow vessels inhibit ester formation."

We did say beer was a science!

To remove your unwanted esters the solution you have to prevent them from occurring in the first place so try and brew your beer at the recommended temperature for your yeast, favoring the colder side of the spectrum. This is especially so if you are brewing a lager because esters to nod add to the drinking experience of a lager.

The other option is to over pitch your yeast to ensure that there is no deficiency >> a low amount of yeast tends to make the yeast work harder and produce more esters.

Finally, ensuring your wort is properly oxygenated prior to primary fermentation will help the yeast function as intended.

A final amusing point on isoamyl acetate is that it is actually used as an artificial flavoring for things like banana milkshakes!

That delicious paint thinner taste is a fusel alcohol

Now I've never drank paint thinner but I've sure smelled them ! They are strong and pungent.

'Paint thinner' is a term for solvents that are used to thin oil based paint or for cleaning up paint brushes and equipment. They are usually referred to as white spirits , turpentine or acetone. Either way, you recognize them as smelling quite harsh - and you can imagine the taste.

While most people do not drink solvents, many brewers often report that their beer has a 'paint thinner' taste.

What is most likely the cause of this flavor are fusel alcohols. They are sometimes referred to as fusel oils.

These occur naturally in home brewing and will occur at noticeable levels to the palate when the beer is fermented at too high a temperature of the beer is left in contact with the trub for too long.

The way to prevent fusel alcohols occurring in your beer is to ferment at the recommended temperature for the beer you are making.

Most certainly do not leave your beer to ferment for a week in a closed shed at the height of summer! It will surely be too hot.

Ensuring you use a correct amount of yeast can help. If you have difficulty controlling the temperature of your brewing situation you could try using yeasts known for their ability to handle higher temperatures, such as Belgian yeasts.

Letting the bottle beer condition for a good length of time will also give the fusels a chance to break down.

Here's some other common flavours and what they mean:

  • Tart tastes can be caused by polyphenols which are caused by over milled grains that are steeped too long.
  • Butterscotch or buttery flavours  can be diacetyl and is naturally occuring. Affected by temperature and over oxygenation post pitching of the yeast.
  • Cough Syrup - possibly phenol which can be caused by a variety of things including improper sparging and mashing techniques, temperature ranges, and sanitizers and cleaning products that utilize iodine or chlorine.
  • Metal, pennies - a contaminant from non stainless metal kettles and poor water. 
  • Salt - you probably added salt to your beer. WTF?
  • Soap - you proabably added soap to you beer (again WTF) or you left it to soak too long in the primary fermenter and your beer is literally turning into a form of soap. No, you can't shower with it.

Final words

If you've made it this far, you will appreciate there are many factors and processes which can contribute to off flavors in your home brew (and of course ciders and wine). We haven't even covered them all!

Some of them occur naturally and will fade away as part of the normal practice of brewing is followed. Others will be fatal to you beer (such as a bacteria infected or skunked beer). 

Using well established brewing practices will help alleviate many of these problems from occurring.

So yes, clean and santize your equipment, use fresh hops, brew at correct temperatures and let your beer condition properly and you will have good tasting beer. 

How to increase the alcohol content of home brew beer?

Increasing alcohol content of your homebrew beer

How can I increase the alcohol content of my beer? 

Did you ever see the movie Men in Black?

It featured the wonderful Vincent D'onoFrio as an alien that loved sugar.

 And lots of it.

And that's bascially the answer on how to increase the alchohol content of your beer.

You add sugar.

And lots of it.

At the surface, that's a very easy thing to do but the reality that it's quite a nuanced thing. Like baking a cake, straying from the recipe can radically change the outcome of the cake, and doing that with sugar can produce some changes to your beer that you might not want.

In the beer realm, the phrase Alcohol By Volume is used to measure alcohol content. As in that is, what is the percentage of 'alcohol by volume' of the total beer.

Commonly shortened to ABV, the question becomes how do I raise the ABV of my beer by adding sugars?

What can I add to my beer to get a higher ABV?

Here's basic list:
  • Hopped Malt Extract (HME)
  • Liquid Malt Extract (LME)
  • Dry Malt Extract (DME)
  • Table sugar
  • Corn sugar (dextrose)
  • Honey
  • Brown sugar

Using extra DME  or LME for increased ABV

Some brewers will use extra  dry malt extract as their sugar source.

As a rough guide, an extra  pound or 1/2 kg of DME or LME on top of your recipe requirements will add an extra half percent to your beer. Doubling that will give you an extra whole percent.


Using a malt extract will more than increase the overall body of the beer, produce a higher finishing gravity or offer a more malty finish.  You might also experience a reduction in hop bitterness.

Adding extra sugars

Using additional sugars such corn sugar (dextrose), table sugar, and brown sugar will all help to increase the beer's ABV.

These sugars do intend to make a beer taste drier and thin out the body and mouth feel of the beer. You may also be able to taste more bitterness in any added hops.

Maple syrup, golden syrup and lollies like jelly beans can also be used but they they will all influence the taste of your beer.

Of course if you've ever tried an 8 percent commercial beer such King Fisher or Elephant, you may have noted how sweet most of those beers are.

Using these sugars may also lighten the colour of your beer.

Using honey to increase the ABV of your beer

Honey is a fine product to use to increase your alcohol content because it is very fermentable and yeasts just love feeding on it.

It will also add a hint of flavor and complexity to the beer. The volume needed is a fair bit - 1 pound of honey will give about a 0.7 per cent increase.

Adding too much fermentables

It's a widely recommend practice that no more than 1/3 of your beer's ABV level should be a result of non-malt adjuncts, or fermentable sugars. That is to say, don't over saturate your beer with extra sugars. 

As an example, if you are making a 6 per cent ABV beer then you shouldn't add products that will contribute 2 per cent of that total. 

If you are bumping up the additionals, you might also wish to bump up the other elements of your recipe to help balance the beer and keep it more like your intended brew. 

Placing pressure on the yeast 

A big caution is that the more sugar you put in, the more pressure that you place on the yeast.

The more alcohol that is produced, the slower the rate at which fermentation occurs. You may also feel your beer tastes somewhat sweater. But that could be in your head, I have no idea what goes on in there.

A keen player will consider adding more yeast nutrients to the wort which may give the original yeast a new lease of life and extend fermentation.

Too much alcohol may actually end up killing of the yeast. Some yeasts do handle the presence of alcohol better than others so shop around for those advertised as being tough.

You could also add a second round of yeast to your brew if you were keen. You might want to add the kind of yeast that has a higher alcohol tolerance but standard Safale yeast will do the trick.

In terms of your beer preparation before you begin primary fermentation, exposing your wort to an appropriate amount of oxygen will help - make sure everything gets a good stir.

Temperature regulation will come into play as well

So, what you've got to think about to raise the alcohol content is that there are lot of variables that can help you but at the same time they may also hinder your beer.

If we were to put our 'Science Officer' hat on we would suggest you only make one change at a time from your normal routine and measure your results and make judgement accordingly.

using a hydrometerFor example - you've made your standard ale brew often enough and you know from using your hydrometer that the alcohol content is usually say 4.5 ABV.

You may wish to add an extra half KG of DME to your brew and see if that raises the ABV to 5 ABV.

If that's the case, you win!

Knowing that method works, you could continually make changes in increments to get that ABV to 5.5 or even higher.

Just remember, the more sugars you put in, the great the chance of hindering the yeast, at which point you would need to consider yeast based modifications to your recipe and practices.

In summary to increase the alcohol or ABV of your beer you can consider:

  • Adding extra DME, sugar or produce like honey and maple syrup
  • Adding extra to yeast to your initial pitch.
  • Adding extra yeast and yeast nutrients late in the usual fermentation process. 
  • Using a yeast that can handle a high alcohol content
  • Make sure the wort gets invigorated with oxygen before primary fermentation
  • Keep good temperature control, don't allow wild fluctuations
Most importantly, remember that brewing, is an art and a science and one brews beer for love of beer and not to get consistently hammered on 8 percent hay makers.

Image credit to Martin Garrido via Creative Commons Licence. We don't know if Martin likes the idea of a Mortal Engines movie but we sure do!

Venting over carbonated homebrew beer

venting home brew beer gushers

Have you ever had a beer gusher

They damn well suck. You casually open your beer and whoosh! There's beer foam all over the bloody place. 

Why did this happen? 

The fizz is the result of over carbonation. 

There could be a couple of reasons for this. 

1. You bottled too soon and fermentation continued.
2. Your beer is infected by bacteria and they have overproduced on the CO2
3. You added too much sugar at bottling time. 

All three factors you have a strong degree of control over. 

If you've bottled too soon, you should have taken a final gravity reading and determined that matched the kind of beer your making and that you had the same reading two days in a row. 

If your beer is infected, it's quite likely you didn't clean and sterilize your equipment and bottles properly. I've said this a million times on these pages, you got do the basics and do them well

And if you added too much sugar, you might want to rethink your practices. If you batch primed, how much did you add? From my experience 60 - 80 grams of sugar is enough for 23 litres of beer. Any more and you will quite likely get gushers. 

If you added sugar individually, then you clearly added too much sugar. I used to use a good amount of sugar, now I try and use half a tea spoon of sugar. It's more than enough. 

If you want a consistent and safe measure, you can always consider using carbonation drops when bottling your brew

Can you fix gusher beers by venting?

Yes, you can, kinda. 

Let's be clear though - if you've got gushers because you've got a bacteria problem, your beer is rooted and you'll need to tip it out and sterilize the bottles very well. 

What you can do is vent your beers individually. The technique is that you gently pry the bottle cap open so that only a part of the cap is exposed, let the CO2 escape and then quickly recap. You need to all of this before the gusher occurs! If you are clever you should be able to use your bottle opener to both open and close the cap with the same action. 

If you are really brave you might be able to remove the whole cap and replace with a new one as this will allow more CO2 to be released. It will be messy though - perhaps a second pair of hands will be able to help. It's possibly not worth the potential wastage!

It will be a long, painful process and you'll likely need to repeat the venting on each bottle if there is a lot of built up pressure. 

I have found in the past that the colder the beer is, the less likely it is to gush or be to fizzy or foamy. Thus I would recommend that you leave your beers in a fridge for 24 hours before attempting this little rescue job of your beer.

A wee risk to bear in mind 

Over pressurized beer can explode. And then means glass can explode. I've seen the result in my man shed - green glass everywhere and the dank smell of wasted beer. 

If your under pressure beers are that much of an extreme you should ask yourself is it safe to vent? While beer bottles are generally tough, the risk is there so I'd recommend you use gloves and a good pair of safety googles or glasses

What's the lesson here then? 

Use less sugar when bottling beer

Can I get methanol poisoning from home brew beer?

methanol poisoning from beer

Methanol from Home Brewing 

From time to time I see potential brewers ask if they can accidentally make methanol when foraying into beer production.

This is because methanol is quite the dangerous alcohol. It is toxic to the human body and can have some very nasty effects - ranging from blindness to the worst of which is death.

First up, the answer to the question is that the ordinary beer home brewing process makes the alcohol called ethanol - not methanol. So you can't get methanol poisoning, no matter how much extra sugar you add.

That's in general though - some methanol can be produced but at such minor levels that have no affect on the beer or effect on the body when consumed. Fruit beers which contain pectin could have slightly higher levels but the effect is still negligible.

So from that perspective, there's no risk of making a beer batch of methanol and going blind. It's more likely that you will just get blind drunk!

There are however some genuine risks if one is distilling alcohol - back yard operations can indeed produce batches where the methanol content can be lethal (or more sinisterly methanol is added deliberately and sold on the bootleg market). It's for this reason most countries in the world have made the distillation of spirits illegal. It is allowed in New Zealand but only for personal consumption.

The science of distillation is quite complicated and there appears to be a of myth around methanol production. They key point to understand that if you are brewing beer, there's no risk of making a killer brew.

The hows and why of using fruit in your home brew

making fruit beer

Brewing is all about exploring what works for you. 

What are your personal tastes? 

How adventurous are you?  

Are raspberries your favourite fruit in the world? Then try making a rasberry stout! 

Got some more eclective fruit preferences? How about an elderberry ale? 

That's the beauty of brewing with fruit - there are some many arrangements, styles and combinations that there's a fruit brew for everyone. 

The fruits most commonly used in fruit beers are raspberries, cherries, apples, and citrus fruits. 

The point is you can use any fruit you like, it's your beer. Some fruits of course work better with certain beers but the world's your oyster in that regard - brewing is your hobby after all, you can do what ever you like. 

So the first question would be fruit brewers often ask is:

Can I use fresh fruit with my home brew?

You might have heard the expression "fresh is best" when it comes to using cryo hops but when making a fruit beer, you need to consider that fresh fruit can have some issues

Taking the fruit right from the orchard or vine without some form of treatment makes some brewers nervous  - as they are trying to avoid wild yeasts. This has meant several practices have been developed to treat fresh fruit.

So the options which we will now examine are:
  • boiling
  • freezing
  • pastuerization
  • and being brave

Should I boil the fruit in the wort?

There are two schools of thought about adding fruit to the boil. Many brewers will do it so ensure that any bacteria present are destroyed because nothing is as disheartening to discover your beer is infected and ruined!

And in that sense it will work but there are certainly a few drawbacks.

Boiling fruit releases the pectin in the fruit and that will likely cloud your beer, giving it a cloudy haze that many brewers wish to avoid. It can also well as attribute to off-flavors despite the intention of boiling to release flavour.

Soft fruits like cherries, grapes, and strawberries contain smaller amounts of pectin than other citrus fruits like pears, apples, guavas, quince, plums, gooseberries, and oranges so you can way that up in your decision to boil or not.

If you insist you need to add fruit during the boil what you can do is steep your fruit in the hot wort, or add it directly to the fermenter at the right time. If you are going to steep your fruit, place whole, fresh fruit in a nylon or muslin bag and place it in. 

So if you have decided not to boil your fruit what can you do?

Should I freeze the fruit before using it?

If the thought of boiling your fruit is too much you can totally freeze the fruit. It's a really common and trusted practice in the beer brewing community.

 The night before you think it's time to add it to the batch (post primary fermentation), begin to slowly thaw it out in the fridge. It will then be ready when you need it. 

Freezing the fruit is not a complete guarantee against no contamination, but it will reduce the potential risk of infection occurring.

Oddly, freezing can also help with getting the fruit's flavors out of the fruit and into the beer. This is because the water inside the cells of the fruit crystallizes and expands. This process bursts the cell walls and in a sense it mashes the fruit from the inside out. You can compare this to the freeze thaw action of ice on rock!

How to pasteurize fruit for brewing

In most civilized countries, the law requires that milk is pasteurized prior to sale to prevent bacteria such as salmonella, e. coli, and listeria from harming the general population. That suggests that fruit could benefit from pasteurization before it is added to the beer.

Basically, you use a low heat to kill the bugs. Puree your fruit so that it nice and smooth (so it can be cooked through). You pasteurized it by heating on the stove in a pot at 80 Centigrade for for 30 minutes at a constant temperature. 

That should take care of the bugs - it's now time to add the fruit to your beer.  

If you make the fruit too hot, you will have the same effect as boiling and pectins will be released.

Being fearless and chucking the fruit it the fermenter

There's certainly nothing wrong add your fruit in sans boil or freezing. If you are adding it post primary fermentation, the alcohol present can protect against infection.

I guess you could always give the fruit a quick soak in some Star San or similar for a short while.

Pureéing fruit for brewing in a blender

If you are going to pureé your fruit - use a good blender. One that has of course been sanitized with something like sodium percarbonate! 

This reminds me to share that I once read of a guy who when blending would add a cup of vodka to the fruit to try and kill any bacteria! 

I reason this could kind of work and the vodka wouldn't add any unintended flavour to the beer. 

You should of course wash the fruit thoroughly and then remove any stems, leaves and pits or seeds before blending.

Can I use dehydrated fruit with beer?

You sure can add dehydrated fruit to beer.  It's less mess but if you going to pulp it up, you might need to blend it with some water.

When do I add fruit to your beer?

We've talked about it about but let's get into some detail.

So if you haven't boiled the fruit in the wort when do you add it?

Kind of like dry hopping, many brewers report that you tend to get the best results if you add the fruit about one week prior bottling rather than adding it directly to the wort on brew day (either before or after the boil). 

The reason for this is that the processes of the primary fermentation can strip out the flavors from the fruit.

So to that end, a good time to add the fruit is after primary fermentation is complete - so take your hydrometer and do your readings - when you have two or three identical readings you have your final gravity and can you add the fruit.

Adding during secondary fermentation has the added benefit that you are adding the fruit to a known solution of alcohol - which will help kill and work against any bacteria that may be sneaking in on the fruit.

black doris plums

Some punters remove the skins from the fruit

If you are making a nice plum lager out of some ripe Black Doris, you might want to think about peeling the skins due reduce of a wild yeast like brettanomyces which is usually found on the skins of fruit.

It's interesting to note that brettanomyces was first discovered by scientist N. Hjelte Claussen in 1904 at the Carlsberg Brewery - he was was investigating the 'Brett' as a cause of spoilage in English ales.

It's worth noting that while Brett is considered a contaminant in beer, it is a vital component of the wine making process for many wine makers. 

That was a sight detour - the key point is that if you want to reduce the chance of naturally occurring yeasts getting into your beer, strip the fruit of its skin if you can - might be hard if you're making a cherry beer!

How much fruit should be added to the beer?

A rule of thumb is to consider how sweet your fruit is. If you have a very sweet fruit, such as cherries, you will might want to add less to your beer than you would say a peach.
The truth is that amount of fruit to add varies according to the desired intensity of flavour and aroma, but for a medium intensity, you should add ½ pound of fruit per gallon of beer for strongly flavored fruits like raspberries and up to 2 pounds (1 Kg approx) per gallon for fruits like peaches or melon which you could consider have a milder, less tart flavor. 

If I can't get fresh fruit, what else can I use?

Given fruit is quite a seasonal item, there are other fruit based options available. You can add concentrates, purées or juices to your beer - they've been well processed by the time they get to you via the supermarket so you can skill the boil or freezing parts of the processes and add them just prior to secondary fermentation.

If you simply want a flavour, you can use artificial ones or extracts, just remember they do not contribute to the body or mouth feel like real fruit will.

How long should I bottle condition fruit beer for?

Bottled beer usually takes around three weeks to get to the prime drinking period, regardless of whether is has fruit in it or not. 

In our case, at least a month of bottle conditioning will give plenty of time for the yeast and other floaties to fall to the bottom of the beer as sediment (remember, you can always cold crash before bottling).  This will also give the fruit plenty of time to become one with the base beer flavours.

You can also remove fruit extras by using finings such as Irish Moss or a silica gel.

Go forth an experiment, young padawan!

The wonderful thing about beer makers is they love to experiment - there's something special about brewers who are willing to try new things and to mix up their norms - using fruit is a great way to do that as there are many combinations of fruit and beer types that offer even the most casual brewer a chance to produce a fun tasting beer. 

How temperature plays a role in homebrewing

best - measuring the temperature of beer with a thermometer

Why do I need to take the temperature when brewing beer?

If you know the story of Goldilicks and the Three Beers, you'll know that she eats the bear's porridge and she fines it:

Too hot

Too cold

And just right!

Which is how the temperature of beer works in determining that beer tastes just right. A beer that is brewed at too high a temperature may produce unwanted fruity flavours (esters) or excessive diacetyl traits.

A beer that's too cold won't even brew at all. And that's just no fun, even for Goldilocks.

So, if you know that the beer you are making needs a certain kind of temperature, how does a brewer work the temperature out?

The classic tool known as a thermometer.

Easy huh?!

But let's cut to the chase. The Etekcity Lasergrip Laser Infrared Thermoeter is the bees knees and well worth a trial.

Pitching Yeast at the correct temperature so you don't kill yeast

'Pitching yeast’ is just homebrewer lingo for adding your yeast to the wort.

Pitching your yeast is more than simply adding it to your beer – it needs to be done at the correct time in the brew so that it can activate properly and begin fermenting. If you pitch your yeast when your brew is too hot (say you’ve just boiled it), you will kill the yeast with the heat and fermentation will not occur.

Hence, brewers should use a thermometer to ensure the correct pitching temperature has been achieved.

The benefits of using a glass thermometer

glass thermometer for home brewing
Many home brewers will be quite familiar with the standard floating glass thermometer that seems to be supplied with some many beer kits (historically at least).

These glass thermometers generally are designed to measure a temperature range of 0-100 Centigrade (32-212 Farenheit). A great benefit of using them is that it is there use is so simple - it can be simply dropped in your pot or mash tun. It will of course float and be able to be read when ever you like.

Another benefit is that glass thermometers are an entirely enclosed system so you should have no issues with their operation and and are rarely inaccurate so you can rely on them

Being glass, they are of course susceptible to breakage more easier than some of the heavy duty temperature measuring devices.

Storing beer at the correct temperature

Generally speaking, it's good practice to store your beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning).

The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days.

HOWEVER after that period, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C. Three weeks a good length of time at that temperature range before you crack open a bottle.

Behold, the Bi-Metal Dial Thermometer (and how to use one!)

A step up from a floating unit, a bi-metal dial thermometer is a more robust measuring device which will give you a quick reading when checking the temp of the mash tun. They are some times called kettle thermometers.

These dial thermometers are also fairly easy to calibrate and they need to be as they can become inaccurate easily, especially when brewers use them frequently regularly. Dropping them once or twice certainly does not help so their calibration should be checked often.

The use of the bi-metal thermomter is pretty simple - the have a clip which fastens to the tun or kettle. The 9 inch probe they have extends into the wort to take the measurement. 

A good quality dial thermometer will be welded with a stainless steel housing and corrosion resistant to most chemicals. Like this Tel-Tru 42100909 Model from Amazon!

This is why the cooling process can be so important.

Cold Crash and temperature

When cold crashing beer you want the beer to be really cold so the yeast becomes flocculent and falls to the bottom of the beer.

You don't want to freeze your beer but you want it pretty cold so using a thermometer to measure the coldness of your fridge or unit you are doing the crashing in is pretty smart.

The common recommended range varies from 33 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees F, with 38 degrees F being a fairly popular temperature point. 40 F is about 4.4. Centigrade.

Just remember a 5% ABV beer can start to freeze at 28F.

Now here's the big daddy of getting a read on temperature:

Using Infrared Digital Thermometers when brewing

An infrared thermometer is the bees knees in regards taking the temperature of your brew. You do not dip the unit in the beer wort you use project a laser at an object (such as beer) and the device then measures the temperature based on the infrared reflection.

So basically to use it you just point and shoot it at the surface of the water and it will give you the surface temperature reading. One reviewer on Amazon said "I found it to be quick and accurate for measuring water, the temperature of the pot itself, and external temperatures of fermenters."

So, let me introduce you to the:

infrared scanner to check brew temperatureEtekcity Lasergrip 1080 Non-contact Digital Laser Infrared Thermometer Temperature Gun

Pew ! Pew ! Pew!

  • It features a versatile design: Infrared Technology makes this thermometer handy to use when cooking and barbequing, performing auto maintenance, doing home repairs, and of course brewing beer. Measure all the from -58℉~1022℉/ -50℃~550℃
  • Better accuracy: the distance to spot ratio is 12: 1, meaning the Laser grip 1080 can accurately measure targets at greater distances compared to most other ir thermometers
  • Target quicker: a built in laser gives you the precision to hone in on the exact space you want to measure. 
  • Added function: the LCD screen is backlit, also has an auto-off function to extend the battery life, and features a low battery indicator so you never accidentally run out of juice (battery included, booya!)
We say the real benefit of using this device is that you don't need to get even close to hot water or wort - you can keep your distance.

I've seen it reported by brewers that when working with an all grain mash tun infrared devices can have some trouble. The foaming and grain on top of the mash tun can  interfered with the laser which can give incorrect readings.

How Cryo hops & 'lupulin powder' removes the need for traditional hop pellets

using lupulin to make cryo hops

How 'Cyro Hops' are changing the beer brewing industry 

The concept of making beer hasn't changed much in several hundreds years but the methods recently have. While hops have been used for many a year, one company in America might have found a way for a genuine step change in hop use with their innovation of collecting lupulian powder.

You might already know that lupulia is the part of the hops that brewers unitilise to make beers hoppy as that's where the good alpha acids for brewing come from.

In case you didn't know, the alpha acids are converted into bitter iso-alpha acids during the brewing process, and essential oils and are what give beers their varying hoppy qualities.

YCH Hops, a grower-owned hop supplier based in Washington, America has created a new process where the lupulin is extracted from the hops and is collected in powder form and marketed as Cyro Hops.

You might well ask, what's the point of this?

Efficiency gains in making beer is the short answer.

Beer hops are often made into pellets form for distribution and preservation. The process of making the pellets actually breaks down the acids and oils meaning the effect on the beer requires more hops than one perhaps needs. Enter lupulin powder which has the superior percentage of 'herbs and spices' over hop pellets meaning less quantity is required.
Ekuanot hops are quite popular

YCH boasts that their product "offers twice the resin content of traditional whole-leaf and hop pellet products" which basically means you only need to use half as much.

YCH Hops initially started to market their powdered 'Cyro Hops' with the brand name "LupuLN2" to commercial brewers in America.  The reviews are in and breweries switching as result.

How is lupulin powder made into cryo hops?

The powder extraction processes is simple in concept. The collected hops are subjected to cold temperatures in inside nitrogen atmosphere. This limits any oxidation of the sensitive resins and oils in the hop. The hops are 'chilled and milled' and the lupulin is forced from the lupulin gland.

The little guy has not been forgotten though - a small home brewer, you can buy the powder from Amazon!

How to use Cryo Hops

It's dead simple - you can simply dry hop the Cyro hops as you would with your ordinary pellet hops. You don't even need to make a hop tea!
cascade cryo hops

What variety of cyro hops are there?

YCH Hops have produced Mosaic, Ekuanot, Citra, Simcoe and Cascade versions of LupuLN2. 

The benefits of using Cryo Hops

You can see the appeal for commercial brewers - less volume means better storage and transportation costs.

The other benefit of the powder is that their use in place of traditional hops means less 'green material' is left in the beer, improving clarity by reducing sedimentation and better beer brightness.

You can see why home brewers who don't have commercial means of clearing beer will love using the powder!

I haven't found any information how long the powder can be used before it loses its potency.

Given the apparent early success of lupulin powder with the American brewers that have used it, we expect that its popularity will slowly begin to spread across the Continent and then the rest of brewing communities the world over - provided it's sold at a cost effective price relative to the economics of using traditional hop pellets it should do well - indeed the prices on Amazon seem pretty fair.