How to identify and prevent 'off flavors' and smells in homebrew beer

How to identify '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.

Like GNR, all we need is a little bit of patience. 

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

This 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 its 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 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 from happening with your next brew.

how to identify bad flavors in beer

Here's a brief guide to help you trouble shoot common off flavors 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 chemical 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 the 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 your 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 anyway?).

Brown glass bottles are can preventing this from occurring as they can mute the effects of the light but not so many 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 occurring is preventing it from getting into your fermenter. Ensure the drum or carboy is tightly sealed and that your bubble airlock / air vent 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 odours. 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 anyway. 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-based bleach, then use no more than half an ounce 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 flavor 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 flavor 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 effect.

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 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 making 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 overpitch 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 drunk 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 maintaining equipment like chainsaws. 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.

I have to admit, I made this mistake. It's so disappointing to discover when bottling your beer doesn't smell like when it started and a quick taste test reveals the truth...

Ensuring you use the 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 bottled beer condition for a good length of time will also give the fusels a chance to break down. It's not a guarantee of fixing the problem. If you have a mild case, your odds get better with each day of conditioning. 

Here's some other common flavors 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 flavors can be diacetyl and is naturally occurring. 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. Add too much and you wreck the taste balance.
  • Soap - you probably added soap to your 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 homebrew (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 your 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 a good tasting beer. 

⇒ The best pH meters for making homebrew in 2021

Want to make the best ph Meter buying choice in 2021?

Here are the 5 best portable pH meters to choose from:

What's the best pH tester for home beer brewing?

Coming from the clean and green wilds of New Zealand, I've never really bothered wondering or worrying about the quality of water I use with my home brewing.

In most places of NZ, the water from the tap is simply delicious, clean and quite perfect for homebrewing and testing is not generally required.

But not all water is the same.

Ever heard of a place called Flint, Michigan?

best -ph meter-testers -beer-2020

My vague recollections of 5th form science are that there's hard water, soft water and everything in between. 

And then there's the pH of water. 

But is that what we care about when making beer? 

Kind of. 

It's really the pH of the mash that brewers like to think about.

pH is the measurement of acidity or alkalinity of a solution, where the number of hydrogen ions is measured.

In the last 10 years or so, an increased understanding of the important role that the pH level of the mash plays in brewing really good beer has driven both commercial and backyard brewers to closely focus on monitoring and then adjusting their mash pH levels as required.

So what is a pH meter?


A pH meter is a calibrated scientific instrument that measures the hydrogen-ion activity in water-based solutions, indicating its acidity or alkalinity.

The pH meter measures the difference in 'electrical potential' between a pH electrode and a reference electrode. This page has an excellent explanation of how ph Meters actually work and explains the science behind them really well.

pH meters may be utilized in many applications ranging from laboratory experimentation to quality control and checking that your batch of wine or kombucha is on the correct fermentation path but for the beer brewer, we are concentrating on the beer mash. The modern food and beverage industries cannot exist without them!

In terms of the home environment, their many uses include soil, aquariums, hot pools, drinking water, swimming pools, home hydroponics, preparation of kombucha and the like.

The best meters are leak-proof, maintenance-free (other than the electrodes), are robust and sturdy in that they don't break easily, and they're not affected by dirt and electrode probe replacement must be straightforward!

They should also be affordable and in many instances work best if handheld.

Here's 5 of the best, mid range and mid price meters that you can find online:


Oakton EcoTestr pH 2+ Pocket pH Meter


Oakton EcoTestr pH 2+ Pocket pH Meter reviewThis is a fairly popular pocket product from Oakton. The display is fairly large with a good viewing angle.

It has indicators for battery life (1000 hours), readiness, and calibration (one touch), and shows both the parameter and temperature readings at the same time.

The cap was recently redesigned to be leak-proof and can be attached to the top of the meter when not being used— so no more lost caps for the homebrewers!

The cap features a fill line, so you know how much beer wort sample you need for an accurate reading when using the cap as a sample cup. It is also wider, providing a base to keep the meter upright for hands-free measurements.

The new housing is compatible with lanyards to prevent losing or dropping, but is still waterproof and floats just in case you drop it into your mash...

Takes four A76 1.5 V miniature alkaline batteries which can achieve a battery life of 100 hours. Why head to good old cheap Walmart when you can check the price on Amazon! Remember if you have Amazon Prime, you can get free shipping!

Milwaukee MW102 PH and Temperature Meter

<< This is our most popular seller! >>

Milwaukee MW102 PH and Temperature Meter
The MW102 Standard Portable pH / Temperature Meter Standard is a standard yet affordable portable meter with no frills. 

The Milwaukee brand is recognized as having a reputation for producing low-cost durable meters for quick and reliable measurements. 

Milwaukee’s Standard manufacturer advertises that their digital meters are "manufactured to be easy to use, practical and accurate. Ideal for the classroom, laboratory or for general field use".

The MW102 is a microprocessor-based pH/Temperature meter with extended range (-2.00 to 16.00 pH), Automatic Temperature Compensation, automatic calibration in 2 points and ±0.02 pH accuracy. The meter is supplied with pH electrode and calibration solutions.

It's thus quite ideal for anyone working on a low budget but still requiring fast and reliable measurements.

The full kit comes with:
  • MW102 Unit
  • 9v Battery
  • Temperature Probe (MA830r)
  • PH Probe (MA911B/1)
  • PH Probe cover (a small bottle that fits on the PH Probe when not in use that holds storage solution)
  • User Manual & Registration Card
  • 20 ml sachet of PH 4.01 Calibration Solution
  • 20 ml sachet of PH 7.01 Calibration Solution
  • 20 ml sachet of PH Storage Solution Packet
The battery life is estimated by at 300 hours and it features an auto-off after 8 minutes of inactivity.

A keen brewer who actually used the instrument reviewed the Milwaukee MW102 as being a:

"fantastic tool to have in my brewing arsenal. I originally bought it for taking readings while kettle souring, but it's been invaluable as I dove deeper into water profile and mash pH adjustment. It's a bit more expensive than some of the cheaper meters out there, but you get what you pay for. Worth every penny in my book, and I regularly recommend it to those in the market for a high-quality meter."

That's a quality recommendation.



Bluelab Combo Meter


If you looking for an upmarket solution to measure your pH solutions then the tried and true Bluelabs brand has the measuring device you are looking for.

It's the real deal analyzer.

The Bluelab Combo Meter is a portable pH, conductivity and temperature meter all in one.

The meter has two probes, a pH Probe and a conductivity/temperature probe. When taking a reading, simply place them into the solution and the selected reading is displayed on the screen.

The calibration of the pH probe is fairly simple as instructions are supplied on the back of the meter and the easy push button method makes this one of the no-brainer meters to try.

The pH probe is replaceable so you can use this meter for years to come. You really should be able to do as Bluelab offer a 5 year warranty on their product which should give you an idea of the quality of the product and the faith the brand has in it.

Hach Pocket Pro + Plus 9532000 with replacement electrode

hach pocket pro ph tester

Manufacturer Hach reckons that their digital Pocket Pro + will help "take the guesswork out of your measurements" which is entirely the point of a pH meter so a good start that we are on the same page.

Hach Pocket Pro+ is engineered to deliver accurate results. Hach boasts the Pro is backed up with built-in performance diagnostics, you never have to guess when to clean or calibrate the sensor.

Featuring a large, easy-to-read LCD screen, the pH range covers 0 to 14 pH meaning it can be used for more than beer brewing, like hydroponics.

The unit takes 4 Triple AAA batteries which are easy to replace. Hach recommends that the electrodes are replaced every 6 months. This unit comes with a replacement unit.

Hanna Instruments HI98128 pHep 5pH / Temperature Tester


Hanna Instruments HI98128 testerThe Hanna Instruments HI 98128 is a popular compact pH tester used in laboratory and industrial applications.

It features:
  • Automatic Temperature Compensation
  • Automatic calibration
  • Dual-line LCD reader screen
  • Replaceable electrode cartridge
  • PPM readings
  • Housing that floats in case you drop it. 
The dual-line LCD screen simultaneously shows the current measurement and the current temperature, and a hold function freezes readings for recording. 

The meter has automatic calibration at one or two points with two sets of standard buffers (pH 4.01/7.01/10.01 or pH 4.01/6.86/9.18). 

The meter has a water-resistant housing, a tactile grip casing, and floats. 

The unit requires four 1.5V AA batteries which provide approximately 300 hours of continuous use. The Hanna meter switches off after eight minutes of inactivity to preserve battery life. 

The meter also comes with an 'HI 73127 pH electrode', an electrode removal tool, and instructions on how to properly use and care for the unit.

This is a cheap and affordable unit so its long-term resilience may be questionable.

Check out the price on Amazon.

Apera Instruments AI312 PH60F Premium pH Pocket Tester

Apera is a well known and trusted brand and one we happily recommend. It's a step up from the cheapest units out there and is a popular selling mid-price model. Diligent maintenance of the electrode will see this unit last the distance.

This handy unit boasts the following features:
  • Easy-to-install Replaceable flat sensor
  • Triple-Junction structure prevents clogging, works great for regular pH measurement
  • Easy Auto Calibration with auto buffer recognition
  • Auto Temperature Compensation 
  • Unique High/ Low-Value HEADS-UP function, instantly reminding you of any results that need your attention with a red backlight; 
  • Auto recognition of stable values (with optional AUTO HOLD function) 
  • Large, clear Liquid Crystal Display with 3 backlit color (indicating 3 different modes)
  • Display both temp and pH simultaneously 
  • Also comes with calibration buffer solutions, calibration bottles, storage solutions, AAA batteries, and a lanyard all in a portable carrying case!
Check out the price on Amazon

But why do brewers care about mash pH?


First of all, beers brewed within a general range of ph tend to brew better than beers that are too acidic or too low in pH.

So, brewers like to take the ph of their mash to determine if it is in the optimal range for the beer they are trying to make.

The optimal range is generally considered to be pH 5.2 to 5.4. A high reading means the beer is too alkaline.

If a brewer's meter determines the pH is too high, they will then need to adjust the level downward by adding acid or calcium sulfate.

Hopbrewer shares their advice: “The conventional wisdom is that a mash pH of 5.0-5.2 is pushing a crisper beer — you’d aim for that with a pilsner or IPA or pale ale. Once you get to a pH of 5.3-5.6, you might get more roundness and less of that tart character. But you also run the risk of extracting tannins.”

So how do I use a Ph Meter to test my beer mash?


pH meters are basically glorified voltmeters that measure the 'electrical potential' produced by a special pH probe.

Using a pH meter is a fairly simple process.

One should generally draw a small sample of the wort and put it in a clean holding vessel such as a shot glass. Dip the probes fully into it to get a pH reading. 

Make sure your device is turned on and that you have calibrated the meter first!

And remember, the mash can be hot, so be careful not to burn yourself.

THAT said, pH levels should be measured at near room temperature to get an accurate result (that's just good science). So if you could cool your sample quickly (a short time in the fridge), maybe give a stir, you'll get a genuine reading.

Don't cool it too much as you'll go below room temperature. I've read that one dude keeps shot glasses ready in the freezer to help with cooling!

Eh, that's a bit of mucking around, maybe do not worry too much...

THAT said, many of the best pH meters will have Automatic Temperature Calibration features and speaking of features...


Why do I have to calibrate my ph Meter?


You need an accurate reading so you can make the best decision for your beer!

To make a calibration curve at least three standards are needed. Without the standardized pH buffer to calibrate the meter, the results will not be accurate and thus give you the wrong impression.

PH meters can 'drift' from their calibrated settings. It is important to calibrate your pH meter often so that the accuracy of results is maintained.

What are the specifications of a good ph Meter?


The best ph Meters can have the following specifications or qualities:
  • Replaceable electrode 
  • 2-3 point automatic calibration 
  • Accuracy of 0.01 pH 
  • Portable or fixed or 'benched' depending on your need but most home brewers go portable
  • A price point between $100 - $150 gives confidence in the quality of the unit
  • Automatic Temperature Compensation (ATC)
  • Built to last
  • An easy to read digital display
  • Waterproof
  • Durable sensors

What is Automatic Temperature Compensation?


Many higher quality meters use ATC functionality. This is when the unit compensates for the response of the pH meter's electrode with varying temperature.

As mentioned elsewhere in this post the mash's pH measurement is ideally conducted at room-temperature. This helps avoid measurement errors that can be caused by temperature effects on the probe and chemically in the mash.

So ATC accounts for differing temperatures of the mash.

Probes can wear out so require proper storage


Probes wear out over time and you should expect that you’ll have to replace quality ones every 2-3 years if you take good care of it and how much use they get.

The probes should be stored in a pH storage solution to preserve their lifespan. Open, dry air ruins their potential. So when buying your pH meter you need to purchase a pH buffer or 'calibration kit'.

This is why units like the Milwaukee MW102 and Omega PHH-7011 come with solutions but replacement calibration kits can be separately brought online. You might see them called 'reference solutions'.

The Bluelab Combo Meter is very popular with horticulturalists and hydroponics enthusiasts (yes, even marijuana growers...)

Keeping the probe clean after each use will prolong their life - it's a good idea to clean the outside with a soft toothbrush and deionized water, being very gentle with the bulb part of the probe if this is the kind you have.

It's extremely important to never let the probe dry out and this is a common mistake when storing ph meters. To this end, it is imperative that you store the electrode as per the manufacturers' instructions.

The normal way to store the probe electrode is in the recommended storage solution which is normally a concentrated form of potassium chloride.

Be wary of buying cheap ph meters


I see the phrase "where can I buy a cheap ph meter for brewing?" all the time. While I understand money talks, I don't think cheapness should really be a motivation when buying a meter or most brewing equipment.

The cheaper the unit, the more likely you will get less than accurate readings and the units electrodes themselves will not last long if used frequently.

Many a brewer has found that by investing in a better quality unit, they get the best results. To that end, we generally recommend a price point from 100 to 150 dollars. That said you can go 'cray cray' on price so if going high value, make sure you will get the benefit.

More serious brewers tend to go for benchtop units rather than the portable kind.

You could liken it to how beginner brewers start out. The first thing they buy is a brew kettle or pot and they usually get the cheaper, smaller size kettle – and then suddenly they find they want to keep going with beer making and so need to purchase the bigger kettle or brewing pot

It's the same with the pH meter - get the better one to save you having to buy another later on.

Finally, a word on pH strips


Did you ever get to use litmus paper in school science to determine if a solution was an acid or a base?

The red paper turned blue or something.

While litmus paper is a yes or no test if a solution is acidic or alkaline, the pH strip gives you an approximate measurement of the actual pH.

Thus, you can use ph strips to test your beer if you wish but those will only give an indication as to your water or brew's pH level, and will never be as accurate as a quality meter.

OK, so my pH level is too high, what do I do?


You can use gypsum to increase bitterness and reduce ph levels. You can also consider changing your water source if possible, bad luck if you live near Flint.

Lactic acid for pH level reduction

If your beer's pH level is too high, you may want to use lactic acid to reduce the level.  This is especially helpful when making 'high malt' beers or if your water source is alkaline.

Also known as hydroxypropanoic acid, lactic acid is primarily found in sour milk products, such as koumiss, leban, yogurt, kefir, and some cottage cheeses.

When making beer, a sour taste is often not desirable, yet when seeking a sour beer flavor, using lactic acid is a great way to achieve the effect.

how to use lactic acid to reduce ph levels

Adding lactic acid to the mash or sparge to reduce pH


Once you have mashed in and it has settled for a bit, it's time to take a pH reading with your trusty meter. If the result is too high, then it is time to add the acid.

The effect of the acid to reduce tannins in the beer.

How much lactic acid to add?


It's not a straightforward exercise. The grain bill can have an effect on your starting point. You can't simply add 1 ml per gallon and be done because you need to know at what level your pH is so you can bring it down to the desired rate (5.2. - 5.6 generally speaking) 

I've seen people use 1.5 ml to 2 per gallon and have good results.

There are some calculators out there which offer guidance, the Bru'n Water guide is a popular choice. 

If you guess and use too much, you will definitely make your beer taste sour. 

The key point around the amount to use is you need to have very accurate readings so use a quality pH meter.

What about lactic acid for sour beers?


This is a different use of lactic acid where you are using it to influence the taste of your beer rather than reducing the pH.

You can add lactic acid after primary fermentation to make your beer taste sour. 

If you are looking to make a more traditional 'sour beer' then the role of Lactobacillus bacteria in making sour beer comes into play.

Lactobacillus is part of a family of bacteria called "Lactic Acid Bacteria". The bacteria produce lactic acid as a byproduct of eating things from their environment. 

So, if you are a whizz in the brewery, you can use the bacteria to produce lactic acid to sour your beer.

Practitioners of this method sometimes actually 'pre-acidify' the wort with lactic acid to help ensure a suitable environment in which the bacteria and then go to town. 

Using phosphoric acid instead of lactic to reduce pH levels in beer


There are several chemical compounds that you can use to reduce pH levels in wort - gypsum (calcium sulfate) or calcium chloride are popular choices and so is phosphoric acid (which can also be used as a rust remover and is a common ingredient in sanitizers!),

There's a bit of chat on the forums about the difference between the two. 

Phosphoric is more arguably reactive and will drop the pH level quicker than lactic.

If you cut through it, they do the same job and neither of them appears to be discernable in the final product - this testing experiment seems to confirm that. 

Best yeast energizer for beer brewing

best yeast energizer stalled fermentation

How to fix a stalled fermentation with Yeast Energizer


Yeast is the 'live' part of part of beer.

It's a living organism and just like your friends, you gotta treat them right. If the yeast is going to turn your wort's sugars into alcohol, it's going to need a nice home where it feels comfortable.

If you think your yeast might need a helping hand either at the beginning of fermentation or due to a stalled fermentation then a 'yeast energizer' might just be the extra ingredient you'll need to add to your brew day shopping list.

What are yeast energizers and why use them?


At it's most basic description, a yeast energizer serves two purposes - they are used to stimulate or restart a stalled fermentation.

The effect they have is that they can help with more efficient fermentation which means a faster time to the completion of fermentation and also improve the chances of an improved final gravity - that is to say, increase the alcohol content of your batch. 

Yeast energizers have also been demonstrated to also help reduce fusel alcohol and hydrogen sulfide production. 

Fusel alcohols are the alcohols responsible for the 'burning sensation' and can contribute to hangovers. 

H2S will impart a sulfur smell (rotten eggs) and bad taste. 

These two problems may be caused by when the yeast is stressed (such as by having too many sugars in the wort or the temperature is too hot

Yeast energizer also works well in meads and honey brews to help speed fermentation. It will also help cider batches to get to that dry state quicker!

Generally speaking, you'll probably only need to add an energizer if your yeast will face very high sugar worts. 

Does 'yeast energizer' affect beer taste?


There is a bit of debate amongst brewers about the effect an energizer can have on taste. It seems to be fairly negligible if there is one. 

We believe there are more overriding factors in the brewing process (such as the number of hops used and grain profile) that affect the taste, so we wouldn't factor in 'taste effect' as part of your decision making process on whether to add yeast energizer (and you don't really have a choice of your fermentation has stalled!).

What are the ingredients of yeast energizers?


Energizers are usually found to be composed of:

Is an energizer the same as yeast nutrient?


A yeast nutrient is somewhat different from an energizer. 

Yeast nutrients can be considered to be the "vitamins and minerals" to help yeast grow and ferment. 

Yeast energizer is like a catalyst to kick start a stuck fermentation back into gear.

How much yeast energizer should I add to my beer wort?


Use approx 1/4 teaspoon per gallon in beer to revive a slow or stuck fermentation.

When to add yeast energizer?


At the beginning of the brew


If you are doing a boil, it can be added in the last 10 minutes of the boil.

If doing a malt kit, pitch it the same time as you do the yeast. 

When you have a 'stuck fermentation'


If you are hugely confident that your fermentation hasn't completed properly (such as by having a vastly incorrect expected final gravity) then you make have a stalled fermentation. 

You can re-ignite your yeast's performance by adding the energizer. 

Before you do that, you should ensure that your drum or carboy is at a sufficient temperature to support fermentation. If you're brewing in a cold shed in winter, it's likely your yeast has gone to sleep rather than you have a stalled fermentation. 

Add one quarter teaspoon or a half teaspoon per gallon to your wort and give it a wee stir. The instructions on the label should give good directions as to the amount to use if unsure. 

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 or wine



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 of 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 calculation / to use 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 your 5 percent beer is actually 4.8 per cent!

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.

If you want to increase the ABV of your beer, add more sugars.

Using Brix and a refractometer to determine alcohol content by measuring sugar


If you do not have a hydrometer, there's an alternative to work it out. Using the Brix method one measures the sugar content of an aqueous solution, in this case, your beer.

Using your refractometer, take a drop of your beer and get the measurement. If you multiply that by 4 - this will give you the specific gravity which you can then use with the normal calculations.

If you're keen on getting a high ABV, check out these tricks to increase the alcohol content of your beer.

Order a hydrometer from Amazon now!

Image credit to Daniel Spiess via Creative Commons Licence

↑ ABV: How to increase the alcohol content of home brew beer

How can I increase the alcohol content of my beer (abv)?


Did you ever see the movie Men in Black?

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

And lots of it.

That's basically the answer on how to increase the alcohol content of your beer.

You add sugar.

Increasing alcohol content of your homebrew beer

And lots of it - to a point though. 

Adding sucrose can be 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 body and taste 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 kit to get a higher ABV?


Here's a basic ingredient list:

Using extra DME  or LME for increased ABV


Some brewers will use extra dry malt extract as their sugar source which the yeast ferments.

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 per cent to your beer. Doubling that will give you an extra whole per cent.

Roughly...

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 as corn sugar (dextrose), table sugar, and brown sugar will all help to boost and increase the beer's ABV.

These sugars do intend to make a beer taste drier and thin out the body and mouthfeel 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 will all influence the taste of your beer.

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

Using these sugars may also lighten the color 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 percent increase.

It's my personal experience that honey can really dry out the taste of a beer so I would consider using honey more for flavor effect.


Adding too many 'fermentables' - too much sugar will hurt your beer


It's a widely recommended 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 oversaturate your beer with extra sugars!

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

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

yeast cells brewing beer


Too much sugar puts 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 off 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 the 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.

If you are over saturating your wort with sugar, you might also want to boost the fermentation rate with a yeast energizer.

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 a 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 a judgment 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:

Most importantly, remember that brewing is an art and a science, and one should brew beer for love of beer and not to get consistently hammered on 8 percent haymakers...

What's the opposite of sugar? 

Salt!

 And there's a beer style called a Gose that uses it and shows that salt can be used to counter bitterness in your beer! It might be something for you to experiment with!

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!

3 best value "Jockey Box" for cooling keg beer


Jockey boxes - coil or plate, copper or steel?


If you want to serve your beer nice and cold at a party or BBQ, then a jockey box beer dispenser is a great way to share your nut brown ales.

The jockey box is a container filled with ice and water. A long coil of hollow tubing is connected to an external supply of beer, the other end, to the beer faucet.

As the beer is drawn from the box through the coil, the beer is cooled by the cold temperature of the water.

A simple, yet handy solution.

The longer the coil, the more contact time the beer has with the cold, thus allowing the beer to get to a nice serving temperature.

A good jockey box will be insulated to ensure the ice remains frozen as long as possible. An ideal temperature is considered to be 32°-33° Fahrenheit. 

If your ice melts and you've got an all-day event you may wish to have a supply of spare ice to top the box up with.

NY Brew Supply 50' Stainless Steel Coils Jockey Box Cooler with Double Faucet

plastic -7 -gallon -jockey -box

This 28 quart / seven gallons jockey box cooler features stainless steel coils that are superior to boxes with cold plates because there is much more tubing, allowing for a much greater cooling capacity.

This unit is double trouble as it comes with two 50' stainless coils that are 5/16" outside diameter meaning you will get good beer flow.

Featuring two chrome faucets with black handles this unit also comes with includes bonus faucet wrench.

This is a basic set up, for fair value. Check out the price on Amazon.

stainless steel best jockey box

Coldbreak Jockey Box - Bartender / BJB54SBE2


Coldbreak is slowly but surely earning itself a fine reputation for selling quality brewing gear. They state that their jockey boxes are built specifically for the craft beer industry and designed so your beer has 100 per cent contact with stainless steel. Which is just what you should be looking for.

All the shanks, coils, ferrules, and faucets of this unit are made from stainless steel. 

Their Bartender Edition line of jockey boxes have the liquid inputs on the same side as the faucets. This gives your jockey box a clean look from the 'patron' side and also allows your bartenders to see if your keg is about to blow.

Check the specs:
  • 2 taps, stainless steel shanks
  • Includes stainless steel faucets with black tap handles
  • 2X50-foot stainless steel coils (5/16-inch od)
  • Stainless steel belted cold break cooler with stainless drain plug
  • Note this unit does not include a dispensing kit
Check out the price on Amazon.

Three's not a crowd? Try New York Brewers Triple Faucet↦

NY Brewing proclaim their jockey box cooler is perfect for dispensing ice cold beer at any party or event. Simply fill the cooler with ice and water, attach your keg(s), and you are ready to pour cold beer.

They also reckon that their stainless steel coil jockey boxes are superior to those with cold plates because there is much more tubing, allowing for a much greater cooling capacity.

It's a sensible argument...
  • Three 50' stainless coils, 5/16" outside diameter tubing
  • Three chrome faucets with black handles
  • 48 quart cooler, with hinged lid and drain
  • Includes bonus faucet wrench
  • Comes assembled with instructions for use and care.
Check out the price on Amazon.

What's better, a stainless steel or plastic jockey box?


There are pros and cons to using each.

Plastic is lighter but less durable.

Stainless is heavier and stronger.

A quality jockey box made of steel would have had all its shanks, coils, ferrules, and faucets made from stainless steel. Shank plates should be in place to reinforce the cooler's walls to prevent buckling of the unit which is really important as this will help ensure that you are properly able to tighten your faucets.

Nothing worse than a leaky faucet than when beer is involved!

Why can't I just place my keg in a bucket of ice rather than use a jockey box?


There are two schools of thought on this and the thinking can get muddled.

You sure are very free to cool down your keg with ice but it's an intensive process that requires a lot of ice and time to cool the whole keg, especially if it's full of delicious beer. If you can get the beer cold enough, you might not need a jockey box but they are still handy for serving.

A jockey box is an easy setup, doesn't require as much ice and arguably it cools the beer faster due to the coil system which means the beer gets exposed to a lot of coldness. 

THAT said, warm kegs will likely serve foamy beer. 

That means there's nothing wrong with keeping your keg out of the sun when using a jockey box - try and keep it in the shade, or use an umbrella or at least a towel to prevent the sun heating the keg too much, thus countering the effect of the dispenser!

This is actually quite an important thing to consider because as the temperature of the keg rises, the PSI changes with it, thus affect the pouring of the beer.

So to round off, if you are using a jockey box, it also helps to keep the keg cool, at the very least, try and prevent it from warming in say direct sunlight. 

How do I set up a jockey box?

Do I need a regulator? 

What kind of PSI is required?


These three questions are lumped together as they go together. 

The beer line from the keg goes from a shank into the keg and then into the coil and out the faucet. The keg should be connected to a CO2 tank to carbonate the beer and assist with pouring the beer. If you need a quick pour, you'll want to use a shorter coil system, say the standard 50' foot length. 

However if you are doing a continuous poor, then you could perhaps go up to 120' feet and get a cooler beer depending on your conditions. 

This difference may mean you need to adjust the PSI pressure of the CO2 up a little higher for the longer coil. 

Typically, a PSI of 25 is used.

Here's a great instructional video which clearly demonstrates how to hook up the CO2 regulator to the keg and then the piping to the jockey box.


Cleaning the jockey box after use


You need to flush the pipes out! If you don't clean the piping and coil, you'll get nasty residue leftover which is just gross. Flush them out with water until they run clean. Consider using some pipe cleaner, especially after several uses to prevent and remove any build-up.

What about using a plate cooler over a coil?


You can totally use a plate cooler - however, there's a real drawback with them in that you can only have ice and you'll need to keep it refreshed with ice and drain any melted water. 

As I understand it, cold plate coolers work best if the keg itself is cooled, which as we've discussed is good practice.

The coil system, of course, loves ice and water.

What's the difference between a kegerator and jockey box?


A kegerator is a permanent set up which is basically a fridge. It's perfect for the man cave. The jockey box is a portable unit, designed to allow for pouring stations at parties, beer tastings and the like.

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