Homebrewing as a hobby has really been gaining interest in the past few years, as microbreweries have begun to open around the country in record numbers. I’m not the only one who had the bright idea to save a few bucks on my home beer drinking habits by starting to brew my own beer, nor the first person to want to try my hand at the craft of brewing beer.
Homebrewing can grow into a full blown obsession (trust me), and it comes along with triumphs, trials and even a few (or more) failures along the way. That’s all part of the journey, of course, but if you could avoid a few of the biggest homebrewing mistakes, it would probably save you a headache or two.
10 Biggest Homebrewing Mistakes
Here is our list of the top 10 biggest homebrewing mistakes and a few tips on how to avoid them altogether. If you can get away without making these mistakes, you’ll be way ahead of the game.
Overstressing about the process
Being new to homebrewing, it’s easy to overstress about everything. While it’s important to be cautious and careful about what you’re doing (measuring properly, sanitizing everything, getting the correct yeast), it’s not necessary to get stressed out about the process. Making beer is a lot like cooking dinner. If you boil the wort a little longer than necessary, or don’t have the water set to the exact temperature at all times, it isn’t going to ruin the beer. Relax, pop a beer and have fun.
Measuring priming sugar by volume instead of weight
Easy mistake to make, but an important one not to screw up. Priming sugar can make or break your batch, if you’re bottling (and I highly recommend you buy yourself a kegerator instead). If you add to little, your beers will be flat and ruined. If you add too much, you’ll end up with bottle rockets and be rudely woken up in the middle of the night by exploring beer bombs. A major reason for this homebrewing mistake is weighing your priming sugar by volume and not by weight. Get a scale.
Adding too much or too little priming sugar when bottling
The best way to add priming sugar to your batch is before you bottle it. This ensures that each bottle will be carbonated the same. I started out using Cooper’s Carbonation Drops, adding one to each bottle, as recommended. However, each sugar cube was not the exact same and it often (more times than I want to admit) led to over or under carbonated bottles. If you make sure to measure the priming sugar by weight and add it to the entire batch at once, you shouldn’t have those problems.
Not being patient
Brewing and properly aging beer takes time. You’re going to have to learn to deal with that. Whether it’s leaving the beer to ferment long enough, to dry hop long enough, or to age in the bottle or keg long enough, there is a lot of waiting and being patient is a major virtue with this hobby. If you disturb the beer too soon, you’ll end up with some type of mutant beer that no one wants to drink. Give it time. (See below for more on this mistake).
Not using a hydrometer
It sounds scientific, but then brewing your own beer is the stuff of science. Let’s say you’re becoming impatient, like I told you not to be, and you’ve decided that because your beer has been in the fermenter for a week already and is not longer bubbling in the airlock that it is obviously done fermenting, so you move on to the next step without using a hydrometer to be sure. Yeah, you just ruined your beer. It’s important to check the gravity of the beer multiple days to make sure it’s no longer changing before moving on. If you don’t wait long enough, you could end up bottling a beer that’s not done fermenting, causing additional fermentation in the bottle, which causes a huge mess in your house when the bottles explode.
Not sanitizing properly
Cleaning and sanitizing is the number one rule to live by in homebrewing. If you don’t properly clean and sanitize EVERYTHING that touches your beer, there is a major possibility of ruining your beer. You definitely don’t want to mess up all of your efforts and have to throw out an entire batch of beer because you didn’t sanitize properly. I use PBW by Five Star to clean everything thoroughly and Star San to sanitize each piece of equipment, including my hands, before every step. It might seem a little OCD, but it’s very important.
Not minding your boil
Homebrewing can be a realy long process. It takes somewhere around three hours or longer to make a batch of beer. You have to be present and aware during that entire process, especially during the boil. There’s a point at which the ingredients in your beer will attempt to boil over the top of your pot and form an incredibly sticky, burned mess on your stove. Always watch the pot!
Using too complicated of a recipe
Try not to get ahead of yourself when you’re just setting out as a homebrewer. It’s really appealing to use a more difficult recipe than you can handle, especially if it’s a clone of a commercial beer you really like, but it’s so much better to stick with easy recipes at first, until you get the hang of what you’re doing. It’ll lead to a lot less cursing when your easy beer turns out pretty darn good, as opposed to your really complicated beer being dumped unceremoniously down the drain.
Not using a wort chiller
Yes, a wort chiller. Just go ahead and add that to your list of homebrewing supplies you’ll need to get to make this hobby enjoyable and worthwhile. It will save you the stress of having to chill your beer down from boiling to pitching temperature as quickly as possible, to prevent oxidation. By the way, a giant brew kettle doesn’t typically fit in the sink and people will look at you funny when they see it floating in the bathtub surrounded by all the ice you had in the house.
Oxidizing the beer
There are so many ways to oxidize the beer. Yes, you have to aerate the beer to help the yeast with fermention, but aerating beer when it’s hot will lead to oxidation, which is definitely not good for the beer. If you’ve ever had a beer that smelled like wet cardboard, it’s quite possible that beer was oxidized. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like drinking wet cardboard. Another way to oxidize your beer is to expose it to air after the primary fermentation has begun. At this point, you want it to come in contact with as little air as possible, so remove the lid of the fermenter only when necessary to check gravity levels and don’t splash the beer at all.
While it’s probably that you’ll still make a few homebrewing mistakes along the way, hopefully this list will stop you from making the preventable homebrew mistakes.