Home brewing is booming. As brick and mortar brew shops pop up across the country, and beginner kits become more available, it’s never been easier for novices to get in on the home brewing action. But just because home brewing is accessible, doesn’t make it easy. Brewing takes an understanding of chemistry and some patience. You aren’t Walter and Jessie making that sweet, sweet Blue Sky, but Walt’s meticulous nature is a must if you want to brew. While you might not reach 99.1 percent purity on the first batch, you will get a good handle on what to do, and what not to do.
I’ve brewed batches that have been great, and batches where I cut corners and the finished product suffered. I learned a lot in my first few attempts, and there are at least 10 mistakes you should be on the lookout for if you want to avoid or minimize those beginner blues.
1) Lack of Cleanliness
This is perhaps the biggest mistake every new brewer makes. While I highly suggest buying an introductory kit for your first brew, it does come with a big flaw. The cleanser included in most kits just doesn’t clean well enough. Use boiling water and household dishwashing soap, then use the kit’s cleanser. It might be tedious work, but an immaculate brew barrel or carboy will end with a better tasting beer.
2) Lack of Patience
This is the part I have the most trouble with, but it is necessary. Yeast needs time to do its job, and taking beer out too early or moving it to the second stage too quickly will result in bad tasting beer. Or worse, the yeast and carbonation could build up in the bottle and pop the tops. For beginners, it’s best to keep the beer in the fridge for two weeks to allow the beers to carbonate.
3) Taking shortcuts
Follow the kit’s directions to a “T.” Brewing is a process that takes the better part of a day, so make sure you have enough time put aside to brew so you’re not tempted to take any shortcuts.
4) Using stale or expired ingredients
When I go to brew, it’s usually a process that begins a week or two in advance. To maximize the taste potential, you need to purchase fresh ingredients. The ingredients (hops, grains, malts, etc.) that come with the kit are good to go upon receiving them. However, in many cases, you will have to refrigerate yeast immediately. Waiting too long to use your ingredients will cause them to go stale, leading to bad tasting beer.
5) Fluctuating temperatures
When waiting for the yeast to do its work, you will need to store your batch. Find a place in your home where the temperature doesn’t reach extremes. I would suggest not storing the batch in the garage, since the temperature there can swing wildly one way or the other. Too hot or too cold can speed or slow the yeast, resulting in the beer not fermenting properly.
6) Not keeping to the yeast calendar
You shouldn’t open your batch too soon or too far after the time runs out on your yeast calendar. Being patient is the key, and being a stickler to the calendar is also helpful.
7) Using bad water
Never use your city’s tap water when brewing. There are additives and a whole mess of things floating around in water that you can’t see, and using the freshest, purest water at your disposal will greatly improve the quality of your beer. Use bottled water if you can afford it, but if you can’t, boil your tap water to kill anything that might be floating around. After the boil, it’s wise to let it cool down with a lid on before moving forward.
8) Trying too much on your first batch
Starting out with a simple beer kit might not be a whole lot of fun, but it’s the right call. Never try to do too much in your first batch or it will not turn out the way you had hoped, and might discourage you from future brewing. My first batch was an amber brew that took a month from start to finish. More adventurous beers will take three to four months from start to finish. Keep it simple on the first batch and you’ll get an idea of what to expect from future batches, and give you the confidence to try something harder next time.
9) Burning the malt extract. This was the first major mistake I made when brewing my first batch. The kits come with a malt extract, and it is a great way to get the flavor while avoiding the time it would take to make your own extract. But when you are using your boil pot, be sure to take it off the burner when adding the malt. Too much heat can cause the malt to clump in the bottom of the pot and burn. Stir the malt in evenly off the stove to avoid the burning. Don’t throw it all in at once.
10) Boiling over the wort
Sam Adams has worked its way from a small craft brewery to one of the largest independent breweries in the country. In a commercial describing how staff competes in a brew contest, there is a shot of a pot boiling over and onto the stove. That is a very common mistake when boiling the wort. It is a delicate creature, the wort, and it will boil over at a moment’s notice. Keep your eyes on the pot at all times to avoid a sticky cleanup.