Who knows what issues and problems that home brewers face better than home brew supply stores. I’ve interviewed four reputable stores for their advice on the biggest mistake that new brewers make. By learning about common issues, hopefully we can avoid some basic mistakes others make.
The four stores represented are:
San Antonio, Texas
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Spring Lake Park, Minnesota
With the help of these home brewing experts, I have complied a list of eight common brewing mistakes. By understanding the common pitfalls new brewers make, then we can plan to avoid them. A big thank you to stores for participating.
“One of the biggest mistakes new home brewers make is not practicing good sanitation. It is probably the most important part of brew day. If you aren’t sanitizing properly all the work you just put in to making your beer might be worth nothing.” – O’Connors Home Brew Supply
“The biggest mistakes brand new home-brewer’s make is sanitizing and cleaning, a lot of home-brewers fail to realize something as simple as a spot of dust can mess up an entire batch, they do not realize that even your hands need to be cleaned and sanitized this is something we talk a lot about in all of our classes. Another is using very old equipment such as tubing, or plastic buckets that have been laying around for years which can possibly store bacteria’s, they do not realize that its cheaper to replace than to keep having messed up batches.” – Home Brew Party
Yeast Pitching Rate
“Another big mistake new home brewers make is not pitching enough yeast. It is important for home brewers to understand the importance of pitching enough yeast cells for how much sugar you will be fermenting. For beers that have an original gravity of 1.040 to 1.060 it is good to pitch anywhere from 150 to 200 billion yeast cells. When using liquid yeast (wyeast, white labs, omega, imperial, etc) it is important to understand that these yeast packages do not have as many yeast cells as a dry package of yeast. Most of the time it is necessary to make a yeast starter when using liquid yeast. When using dry yeast 1 package of yeast is usually suited for a 5 gallon batch up to an original gravity of 1.070 if higher than this original gravity use two packages or a big yeast starter.” – O’Connors Home Brew Supply
(Pick a great ale yeast. See my suggestions, “Eight Awesome Ale Yeasts Worth Brewing.“)
Use Fresh Ingredients
“Using ingredient kits they may of purchased years prior, however these can possibly still contain good ingredients we just always recommend replacing the yeast. Storing in the correct temperature is also a big mistake we tend to see, certain yeast like certain temperatures better than others.” – Home Brew Party
Many new brewers start off by brewing kits. I highly recommend it as a starting point to avoid common brewing mistakes. Kits are put together by companies that have researched beer styles and ingredients. This means your final product will be balanced and delicious. However, many an experienced home brewer will tell you to be wary of the freshness of your kit.
Always be sure to buy your kit from a reputable company. This is the best way to ensure you receive the best product. Once your get your kit, do an inventory and make sure you received all of the necessary pieces. Finally, be sure to check the date on your yeast and ensure it’s viable. By taking these basic steps, you can be sure your kit will yield a delicious home brew.
(Pick a great kit for your first brew day, “9 Straightforward Home Brewing Kits for Beginners.“)
Chilling Your Wort
What’s a common mistake made by new home brewers? According to Brew & Grow Minnesota, “They don’t use a chiller.” Even in my tutorials on NewToBrew.com, you’ll see I don’t yet use a chiller. Honestly, it should a on the top of my equipment to buy list. Using a chiller is important for multiple reasons.
Quickly chilling your wort will cause proteins and other particulate to fall out of suspension. This is great for home brewers because it will result in less trub being transferred over to the fermenter. Less trub in the fermenter makes it easier to wash yeast and reduces the possibility of off flavors being produced during fermentation. All of this happens by quickly chilling your wort after boiling by using a chiller.
There is a second reason chilling your beer is important. By dropping proteins and trub out of your wort, you also end up with greater clarity in your final product. Rapid chilling of your wort is one of the easiest and most effective ways to create a beer with greater clarity. This has been discussed in previous articles.
(Read more about the importance of chilling, “Six Ways to Increase Homebrew Clarity.”)
Brew & Grow Minnesota says new brewers also, “don’t control fermentation temperature.” It’s widely understood that controlling fermentation temperatures is one of the greatest ways to improve your home brew. However, as new brewers you might not have the equipment or space to accomplish this currently.
I’m fortunate enough to have a temperature-controlled fermentation chamber. My set up is quite simple. I had the opportunity to pick up a free chest freezer and couldn’t pass it up. With just a thirty five dollar Inkbird temperature controller I have created a fermentation chamber. This is, in my opinion, the cheapest and easiest way to accomplish fermentation temperature control. In my article about setting up a temperature-controlled fermentation chamber, I cover different options as well.
(See and read about my fermentation chamber, “Fermentation Chamber Build – Future Keezer.”)
My suggestion for new brewers is to know the temperatures in your home. I have a cheap thermometer that I’ve relocated to multiple spots in my home and found areas that stay in specific temperature ranges. In my basement bathroom I can ferment ales between 67-69F. Rarely does my basement bathroom leave that temperature zone.
In my bedroom closet, the temperatures stay between 70-72F. This is another range that remains relatively stable throughout the year. By knowing these spaces regular temperature, I can use yeasts the thrive in their temperature ranges. Early in your brewing life, the investment in a simple thermometer can help you tremendously.
Keep it Simple
“In my opinion one of the biggest mistakes new brewers often make is worrying too much about every little detail and making sure all of the instructions are followed exactly. While it is important to pay attention to the details and go through the required steps and recommended process along the way, I think a lot of beginners overwhelm themselves with the wealth of information out there about brewing. The brewing process can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it, so I like to tell new customers to try and get a few extract batches under their belt before really digging into some of the more technical aspects of brewing (ie. creating a water profile, recipe development, all-grain brewing, mashing, sparging, growing harvesting and preparing your own hops and malt, etc).” – HomeBrewSupply.com
We all need to relax a bit about the brewing process to avoid common brewing mistakes. As a new brewer, your goal should be to improve with every brew day. Michael Jordan didn’t start off as an all-star for the Chicago Bulls. You shouldn’t expect to instantly develop and brew gold medal IPA’s. It takes time to learn about the ingredients and the brewing process. It takes time to develop and tweak your own recipe. So, relax don’t worry and have a home brew.
Something I’ve stated a hundred times is to start simple. Kits are a great way to keep things simple early on. Making the decision to start with extract brewing also keeps the process simple at first. Picking a beer style that is forgiving makes a big difference. All of these choices will help you have successful brewing days early in your brewing life.
(Reading amazing books is a great way to learn about the brewing process. See “Three Essential Home Brewing Books for Every Brewer.”)
Brewing Requires Patience
Brew & Grow Minnesota brings up two ways in which new brewers fail at being patient. First, “They get impatient and package before complete attenuation. I know, we want to drink our beer now! There’s a big danger to bottling under-attenuated beer. Have you heard of the common brewing mistakes know as bottle bombs?
When bottling beer, we add priming sugar for the yeast to consume. This creates carbon dioxide which in turn carbonates our beer. This assumes that the beer is fully attenuated (all of the original sugars consumed and turned to alcohol). If your beer is under-attenuated, then the addition of your priming sugar will create an excess of sugars in the bottle. The yeast creates an excess of carbon dioxide which can cause the bottles to explode while conditioning.
If you should accidentally create bottle bombs, prepare for a mess. You do still have an option to try and save your beer. You can refrigerate the bottle which will slow the yeast. However, you could create a mess in your refrigerator. If you go this route, the faster you consume the over carbonated bottles, the better.
The second way in which we fail to be patient is, “They want to drink it long before it is ready,” according to Brew & Grow Minnesota. Again, there are main reasons that brewers should wait to drink their freshly bottled beer. Brewers should be concerned with their beer’s carbonation and condition.
Carbonating takes place in the bottle for most new home brewers. If you’re starting off by kegging, then I’m envious of your budget. Assuming you bottle, it takes time for the yeast to eat the addition priming sugar introduced to the beer. I often fall victim to this myself. I usually try my first beer after only a week in the bottle. Most basic ales will be bottle carbonated in two to four weeks. If you can wait, I would suggest trying for four weeks.
Bottle conditioning refers to the process of allowing the beer to age in the bottle. This results in the maturation of the beer. Your flavors won’t be individual flavors but rather a chorus of flavors singing in harmony. Some beers benefit from aging for over a year. I would suggest four to eight weeks for basic ales.
Measure Specific Gravity
New brewers, “Don’t bother to learn the hydrometer,” according to Brew & Grow Minnesota. They’re referencing the ability to measure specific gravity. This is critical to the home brewing process but it’s a step often skipped by new brewers. Do you want to know the real alcohol by volume of your final beer? This is how you do that.
A hydrometer measures the amount of sugar dissolved in your wort and beer. By taking a gravity reading of your initial wort, then you can learn how much potential alcohol you can create. Then you can measure your gravity after fermentation and calculate how much alcohol you’ve created.
How do you really know when fermentation is complete? Maybe when airlock activity has ended? Maybe you just go a certain number of days? The only real way to know fermentation is complete is when your gravity reading remains constant over 48-72 hours. If you want to know for sure, then you must take gravity readings.
To take specific gravity readings, you need either a hydrometer or a refractometer. Many home brewers start off with a refractometer. It’s a simple tool to use and is readily available through home brew supply stores.
Your second choice is to use a refractometer. I prefer my refractometer because it isn’t as fragile as a hydrometer that is made from glass. After breaking a few hydrometers, then I switched to the refractometer. Both accomplish the same goal and cost about the same amount.
(Be sure to watch my video tutorial on how to properly calibrate and use a refractometer. ” How to Use a Refractometer for Beer.”)
As new brewers, there are a myriad of mistakes that you can make. These are simply some of the most common that these home brew stores have seen. To create a list of every possible mistake would be impossible. Thanks to these stores, you should now be able to avoid a these most common mistakes. Please be sure to visit their stores and see all of the quality products they have to offer.
Ultimately, many of the common mistakes listed come down to a lack of planning. Planning and preparation are critical to the home brewing process. If you work out the details of your brew day in advance, you can cut out many of these common mistakes and other less common ones as well.
Do you know of a common mistake? Share it below and help others out so that they can have successful brew days.