Are you following myths in your attempts to brew good beer at home? If you pay attention to the misconceptions I had you might be able to improve your next batch. I noticed that brewing beer at home is a lot like cooking dinner and you may be intrigued by the similarities. You can "soak up" some of my beer philosophy as well. Let's look at how others and myself have screwed up homebrewing with these 8 myths:
1. Cleaning with soap and water is good enough. This is certainly is not true. Homebrewing has a lot of sanitation methods so as not to introduce bacteria that might make that bottle taste bad. I've known beginners that have botched their first batch because they didn't follow steps to prevent contamination. I had a batch that kept foaming and foaming after opening the bottle. After research on the web, I was lead to believe I had some kind contamination involved. I had another batch that was musty or stale. I now use my leftover Star San liquid from after brewing to soak hoses, utensils and pots afterwards. Two or thee days before bottling I go through a cycle of Oxy-Clean and rinse, bleach and rinse. Once in awhile, I may soak my pots in Coca Cola to get rid of the calcium buildup. (See previous entry with picture of plastic hose being held). I'm not saying you have to be this rigorous with your sanitation methods, but establish a routine and see if it cuts down on your contaminated batches. You wouldn't leave hamburger on the counter for a whole day before cooking it would you?
2. I don't have to follow all these rules. Everybody breaks the rules. If you don't break rules I'm sure you notice others at your work place that break rules. You don't have to look too far to find the rebels. I work in security and I see it all the time. I know of some beginner brewers that didn't know how to keep the light off their fermentation vessels. Put your brew in the closet or even wrap it up with an old pair of jeans while it is in the closet. That's what I do. Use brown bottles. Watch out for green bottles because it lets the ultraviolet light through. Nobody wants to drink skunky beer. When I didn't follow the rules of brewing I got smells of an adhesive bandage. Take the time to rinse the bleach off if you clean with that.. I learned that you don't get a tea bag taste, which is astringency, when you start to adjust the pH of your water. Some homebrewers might disagree with me on this: keep your mash-out under 170 degrees Fahrenheit and your sparge water under that temperature as well.
3. My fellow brewers taught me all I need to know. You may have been taught by some other brewers or your local brew supply shop and that's fine. While the first training was good for beginners you can get better and improve your efficiency with your next batch - it results in better taste. My first class taught me to get the temperature to 158, take it off the burner and cover it for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes, take the cover off, stir it, place it back on the burner and take the temperature. I noticed the temperature dropped over 9 degrees and I wasn't even in that range above 150 degrees anymore. Quality is important and it helps you brew better batches quicker. Try keeping the pot on the burner at the lowest stove heat setting during the mash, stirring every 1-2 minutes while you keep it in the 150's. If it gets too hot take it off for 2-3 minutes, still stirring and taking the temperature. I just use my thermometer to lightly stir the beer and then I don't have to pull the thermometer out. This is quicker as I don't have to wait to get a good reading from the thermometer after I had pulled it out. Most cooks in the kitchen try to improve a recipe. They don't usually stick with the same recipe for years unless they've tweaked it to the best.
4. Letting beer ferment longer should make it taste better. Wow, this myth got me into trouble. I had a batch that was in primary fermentation for a month and then transferred it to a secondary fermentation vessel for 3 months more before being bottled. I couldn't quite distinguish what the taste was, but it was bad. It tasted like something between rubber, musty, cardboard, metal and other off flavors. While I never completely solved that mystery, it could have been a number of things. I modified my methods to cut down on these brewing accidents. I cut my tap water with distilled, got the pH of my water right, filtrated the metals from my tap water with water filters and kept up with good sanitation. Let the first fermentation go for only 10 days before you transfer the beer to the secondary fermenter. Don't let your beer sit on the same yeast for a month like I did.
5. Does timing really matter? This is closely related to the former point I made. I didn't let a slow yeast finish and I had a batch that kept foaming and foaming as I opened the bottles. If your carboy is still giving off bubbles after 10 days, the yeast may be slow. I learned that timing and temperature are closely related in cooking as well as brewing. Take the time to learn why it's good to ferment for 7- 10 days before bottling or transferring the beer to the next fermentation vessel. Timing matters for mash, the boil, fermenting and lagering as well. If you bake potatoes, timing matters with whatever temperature you choose for the oven.
6. Anybody can throw a recipe together. This isn't Tuna Noodle Casserole being made in home economics class by middle school students. (I don't even know if they teach this in schools anymore, but they did when I went to school. I'm just trying to make a point here that beer isn't something you just simply throw together.) I screwed up a Schwarbier batch when I added way too much Black Patent malt - it was all I could taste! Review your ingredients online to see the recommended percentage that should be added to your recipe. You can ruin a batch because of too much of one thing. Quantity matters. Websites that sell malts will sometimes give you the recommended amount for your next batch. Can you think of someone that added too much of something to a dinner and remember how bad it tasted?
7. Beer ranking can find a good beer. You've seen those rankings they have on the shelves to rank beer at your local party store or grocery. That's good to some extent, but if you are aren't like everybody else you may not like an IPA. Everybody has different taste buds and taste is kind of subjective. My wife and I will disagree on what is too sweet, salty, or bitter. Rankings may come from a majority of people, but it may not be to your liking. I had read once that everyone's eyes are all different and may see colors differently. I think taste might be the same, whereas, some people have a better tolerance for IPA's because they can't taste the bitterness like others can. Maybe, if I burn my tongue on hot coffee more will I prefer more IPA's? If a number of people rank a homebrew beer or recipe as the greatest doesn't mean I will like it. Just because the majority wants mushrooms on a pizza doesn't mean that I will like that either. Don't follow the masses. Stick up for what you want in good beer. You know what you like from the store - brew that. You will only regret it if you constantly brew beer that other people want. I don't brew the kind of beer that my wife might prefer - I brew according to my tastes.
8. Beer experiments are being tried and tested in social media and blogs - we can use these to learn by. Yes and no. Recently, the blog Brulosophy published an entry at this link:
This information was even featured in Brew Your Own magazine:
Read the blog or buy the magazine at your local brew shop.
I worked as a lab technician and tested plastics for a well known oil company. I cooked, froze, impacted and burned plastics only to collect mounds of data later for engineers. I know data can fall outside the bell curve with numbers that don't add up. The Brulosophy blog is data that may be significant to our homebrewing, but until there are more experiments we can't know if this is valid for all grains. Can we discard the idea that a higher temperature mash isn't that much different from a low temperature one? I can't tell you how many times I went out to the internet portals to find a new idea for cooking eggs only to find out the author was full of it! If you really want great scrambled eggs you don't add corn starch or potato starch to them. Scrambled eggs taste good when you add certain amounts of half & half or plain yogurt to them. Maybe, we are back to the taste buds issue again and it may be a subjective preference that makes one person different from the next. Face it, some kids like to eat chips whereas some kids like to eat chocolate more.
My Paulaner Wiesn clone
My last batch of Wiesn clone went with the same malts of Dark Munich and German Pilsner as before. I'm trying to get the color right as I play with about 7 - 13% Dark Munich. Now, I'm brewing with table sugar for the carbonation. I know the table sugar won't mess with the color as much as brown sugar might. I never noticed the cidery taste from table sugar. Denny's Favorite yeast didn't come close to the taste on my last batch and I'm going to stick with more traditional German yeasts from now on.. I made a 1 gallon batch, but had some leftover liquid after my sparging. While the first had gone into boil, I continued a little more sparging with the leftover liquid. I used some hot tap water to continue also. After the boil of the first, I started a boil on that second batch. Keep in mind that I do 1 gallon batches whereas the liquid yeasts are meant for those doing 5 gallon batches of beer. I used 1/4 of the tube of yeast for my first batch and the 2nd batch on the stove got 1/2 of the yeast. I should be able to tell you next time how each turned out.