Monthly Archives: February 2013

7 Deadly Sins of Homebrewing

We have gotten a lot of our friends and family into the hobby of homebrewing. It’s fun, creative, and the results are often delightful. However, not all results are delightful. In fact, some beers that we’ve tasted are downright nasty. Learning from our mistakes and our friends’ mistakes, we decided to make a little list about the Seven Deadly (well, potentially deadly if you really really mess up) Sin of Homebrewing. We ranked them in order of importance.


1. Poor Sanitation

The emphasis on sanitation is a delicate line. Obviously, you should make a concerted effort to clean all your fermenting equipment and anything that touches the wort after it has been chilled. This is the best way to prevent infections. However, this should not result in paranoia about infections ruining your beer. We’ve thrown out batches because we thought they were infected, but there were not. In all honesty, your beer is pretty durable and isn’t at serious risk of infection. But why risk it?

We generally just use bleach to sanitize our equipment (I can already see the faces of horror). It works fine on any non-metal surface, and we rinse it with boiled water.


(Let no little bug live)

2. Under-Pitching Yeast


We have had plenty of homebrew that just reeks of esters/fusel, aromas of cider, alcohol, solvents and fruits. Often this is caused by not using enough yeast. When not enough yeast is used, the yeast has to work harder to eat the sugar, reproducing and creating nasty aromas and flavours. Make sure you pitch enough yeast, especially when you are brewing a high gravity beer (higher than O.G. 1.060). This often require making a starter.

Admittedly, some yeast you will not want to over-pitch (adding too much yeast). For example, hefeweizens get their banana, clove flavour from the esters produced by the yeast. Over-pitching will result in little yeast flavour in your beer. Though counter-intuitive, adding less yeast produces more yeast flavour, and adding more yeast produces less yeast flavour.

3. Temperature

Find out the temperature your yeast should be fermented at. Often this information can be found on the yeast package or the internet. If your yeast’s preferred temperature is between 16-22 Celcius, make sure it ferments in between those temperatures. Fermenting too warm seems more common than fermenting too cold.

Generally, we prefer to ferment on the colder side. This results in a cleaner tasting beer. Plus you cannot really harm your beer if the temperature is too cold. The fermentation will just stop. All you need to do is raise the temperature and the yeast will start up again (though this does strain the yeast). However, if you ferment your beer at a warmer temperature, more esters and fusel flavours will be produced, which can result in unpleasant flavours in your beer.

4. Impatiences

When we first started brewing, we could barely wait to try our beer. We would bottle it after 7 days or so, and then drink it 7 days after bottling. This doesn’t ruin the beer, but it does not give the beer enough time to age properly; the yeast has not had enough time to remove the harsh flavours.

As a guideline, We don’t drink any of our beer until 5 weeks after being brewed. That is long, but I believe the time pays off. Here’s a schedule I often follow
1 week in the primary fermenter: After 1 week, most of the primary fermentation is complete, and we transfer the beer into the secondary fermenter. We use a secondary fermenter because we like to pour new beers onto the yeast cake in the primary fermenter. Thus we condition/age the beer in a secondary fermenter while we pour a new beer onto the yeast cake in the primary fermenter.

2 weeks in the secondary fermenter: Depending on the alcohol of the beer, we may let it sit in the secondary fermenter for longer than 2 weeks.
2 weeks in the bottle before drinking: It is tempting to drink your beer as soon as possible, and we often open one bottle a week after it has been bottled, but we are rarely impressed with the beer at this stage. We are just curious how the flavour is developing. The carbonation is often a little weak and the flavours are still harsh; the yeast has not had time to go into dormancy. In our opinion, beer must be in the bottle for at least 2 weeks before it can be properly enjoyed.

5. Using Old Ingredients

It is obvious; fresh ingredients are better. But old ingredients aren’t necessarily bad. If they are stored properly, old ingredients can retain their freshness.

Signs of Age: Damp, not crunchy, flavourless, moldly
Consequence of Adding to Beer: Flavourless, boring beer. Or nasty mold flavours
Solution: Make sure the grain is stored somewhere cool and dry relatively protected from oxygen. You don’t need to vacuum seal all your grain (though this will allow you to keep for much longer)
Shelf Life: Grain doesn’t have a ‘best before’ date, but the older the grain gets, the less flavour it has. Ground grain has a shorter shelf life, around 20 days or so. If the grain is still whole and stored in a cool dry place, it can be stored around 12-18 months.

Signs of Age: No hop smell, or cheesy moldy smells
Consequence of Adding to Beer: The ability for hops to bitter your beer decreases with time. So you could have an under balanced beer with no hop flavour or aroma. Hops that smell moldly and cheesy will add that flavour/aroma to your beer. 
Solution: Vacuum seal your hops and store them in the freezer. This is a somewhat expensive investment (vacuum sealers cost around $70 to $120), but it is worth while if you like hoppy beers.
Shelf Life: If vacuum sealed and stored in the freezer, around 2 years. Remember that hops are only harvested once a year. For example, if you buy hops in April, those hops are already 5 months old (assuming those hops were harvested in September/October). The hops you purchase in the fall will be the freshest, unless your homebrew store is just trying to get rid of old stock. Solution: Find a new homebrew store.

(We store our hops in Foodsaver bags in the freezer)

Signs of Age: The expiration date on the yeast package. Or your beer isn’t fermenting
Consequence of Adding to Beer: Your beer will not ferment, or the yeast will be so badly damaged that it produces harsh tasting beer.
Solution: You have many options. Store your yeast in the fridge. Create a starter. Use your yeast as soon as possible. Pitch on yeast cakes or wash your y
Shelf Life: Dry yeast has a shelf life of about one year. Liquid yeast has a shelf life of about 4 months. But don’t wait that long. Yeast is best fresh.


6. Not Taking Good Notes on Your Batches and Recipes


Notes are important for two reasons. First, it allows you to reproduce good batches. Second and more importantly, it allows you to troubleshoot issues with bad batches.

There are three things we take notes on: ingredients, techniques and results. Ingredients consist of grains, hops, yeast (what generation is the yeast and how old is it), and water (whatever minerals you’ve added to the water).

In terms of techniques, keep track of mash temperatures, length of time of the mash, mash thickness, when hops are added to the boil (or first wort hopped/dry-hopping), length of time of the fermentation, if secondary fermentation was used, and the fermentation temperature.

For results, we keep track of the original gravity, final gravity, IBU, and volume of beer. We generally are not overly concerned with hitting are targeted original gravity. If our beer’s original gravity is higher than expected, that is divine intervention that our beer should be a little more boozy. If our beer’s original gravity is lower than expected, then we will have a slightly more session-able beer. We might adjust the hops the properly balance out the bitterness.

Some homebrewers take very extensive notes, covering everything from the temperature of the mash water to the amount of wort collected after the sparge. This is fine, but we feel this is information that is dependent upon your brewhouse. After you brew many batches with your brewhouse, you will start to instinctively know the temperature loss and wort loss of your brewhouse. That being said, taking notes on these aspects can help you better understand your brewhouse: mash/lauter tun, hot water tank, brew kettle and fermenting buckets/carboys.

7. Using Malt Extract


Yes, you can make fine beer with malt extract. You can even make great beer with malt extract. However, it’s not really making beer. Using Duncan Heinz to make a cake isn’t the same as making a cake from scratch. Malt extract doesn’t give you the same level of control.

There are many types of malt you cannot use, like Munich malt, Vienna malt, barley flakes, wheat flakes and any other grain that needs to be mashed. Plus you can control the body of your wort by what temperature you mash at.

All grain brewing does take more time (about 3-4 hours to make a batch) and more equipment, but this is making beer the same way breweries make beer. If you’re going to put time into making your own beer, why not go all the way? You’re obviously somewhat passionate about brewing seeing you are reading a homebrew website.

(Kevin Spacey does not approve of bad homebrew)


English Revolution ESB

The Story

This beer is actually a remake of one of our first amazing all-grain batches of beer. The recipe came from our fantastic, yet sadly far away, homebrew store, Dan’s Homebrewing. Despite Vancouver’s location in the Cascade region, for a long time there was only one homebrew store. Without Dan’s Homebrew store, Robert and I would not have been able to pursue our passion of barley juice. So if you live in the region of Vancouver, British Columbia, visit Dan’s store. It is reasonably priced and the people there are helpful.

This beer is the ESB. We first made it nearly two years ago. It is full of malty, carmel flavours and just enough hops to make it interesting. We have tinkered with the recipe a bit, such as adding our own farm grown hops, but the spirit remains the same. Anybody we’ve ever given this beer to has enjoyed it because it is very drinkable, yet it is interesting enough to impress beer critics. This is perfect beer for the dog days of winter.


The Tasting

Appearance: Cherry wood colour. Thin, but stable, creamy head.
Aroma: Sweet and carmel aroma, and a very light woody, earthy aroma from the English hops. There is a little bit of yeast flavour, which will subdue with time.
Taste: Very thick and creamy body that is taken over by rich carmel and candy flavours. Very little bitterness, despite the (assumed) 42 IBUs. You could say the carmel is somewhat cloying, but not overly unbalanced
Overall: This beer is very malty and creamy. The lack the any bitterness makes it very appealing to people who may often limit themselves to lagers. The carmel 60 comes through quite strong and is the dominating flavour, resulting in sweet carmel flavours that may turn some off. The technique of first wort hopping gives this beer a very smooth bitterness, with no harsh edges. It is similar to many ‘pale’ and amber ales in the BC beer market such as the Granville Island’s Pale Ale, Stanley Park’s Amber Ale and the Phillips’ Blue Buck Pale Ale. For those who swear allegiance to only IPAs (branch out people!), this beer is not for you.


The Process

Specifics: 23 litre batch, 80% extraction efficiency, ABV 5.6%, O.G. 1.053, IBU 42, single infusion mash at 67 Celsius for 40 minutes

Grain Bill

We followed the recipe fairly closely from what Dan provided. We changed two things in the grain bill. Instead of Pale Malt, we used Gambrinus’s ESB. We also added 8 oz of barley flakes for a little extra body.

Gambrinus ESB Malt: 10 lb (ESB malt is labeled “ESB” malt; it’s practically a divine order to use it in our ESB)
Carmel 60: 12 oz (an ESB needs that darker crystal malt to give it the toffee and carmel flavours)
Barley Flakes: 8 oz (to give it that extra body and head retention; barley flakes are like cheap Carapils)
Chocolate Malt: 1 oz (such a small amount to added the slightest of roasty flavours; any more would be too much)

Hop Schedule

We changed the hops a bit as well. We used the hops we grew at our farm (thus we don’t know the exact AA% of the hops, thus the IBUs are likely incorrect). We also added first-wort-hopping to create a smoother bitterness we find desirable. Lastly, the last hop addition (0.65 oz of Kent Golding) was supposed to be added at flame out. However, we moved them up, boiling them for 15 minutes, to let the malty aroma shine through the hops.

First Wort Hopping: 0.4 oz Kent Golding (These hops will create a very smooth bitterness, taking the harsh edge off the 60 minute hops. First wort hopping is fantastic for balancing out the malt without adding any bitter hop flavours)
60 minutes: 0.9 oz Zeus
15 minutes: 0.65 oz Kent Golding


For yeast, we just used a packet of Nottingham dry yeast. Nottingham yeast will result in a cleaner, less fruity/ester-y beer than the style calls for, but that isn’t a big deal for us. In our minds, Nottingham yeast is good for all American and British ales (though we do switch up the yeasts every once in a while). It is cheaper than liquid yeast, it generally does not require a starter, and it ferments clean with few off flavours.

Primary: 7 days
Secondary: 15 daysAJ

(AJ thinking about all the money he has saved by using Nottingham yeast compared to expensive Wyeast and White Lab alternatives. Perhaps he can use that money to buy some new clothes at the thrift store.)