Sometimes you think you did everything right, but it still turns out wrong. This is particularly true if you are still learning how to make beer at home, but don’t think of it as the exclusive territory of the beginner home-brewer – it happens to more experienced brewers from time to time as well. Homebrew beer is a lot like Goldilocks from the well known story – it has a lot of criteria that need to be “just right” for it to work – not perfect, but there’s an acceptable range you need to hit across several parameters. Sometimes, for whatever reason, this just doesn’t happen. Let’s take a look at the most common problems encountered with homebrew beer and what their causes and solutions are.
The first thing is clarity. Most homebrew isn’t clear – it’s cloudy or has little bits floating in it. Really, this is just the nature of beer – most commercial breweries use filtering agents to clear up their beer, and the fact is that there’s nothing wrong with it unfiltered. However, there is a point where there’s just too much stuff in there, or it’s moved from “cloudy” to “murky.” This can be caused by two things. Poor sanitizing can lead to bacterial infection, so make sure you follow proper procedure for sanitizing. Also, if you don’t chill your wort down quickly after boiling and get the yeast in there, you end up leaving it out to cool and impurities can get in there, so get that yeast in as quickly as you can – many brewers use an immersion wort chiller (available in our kits and supplies store)to solve this problem.
Next issue – you open the bottle and there’s no fizz. It may taste O.K., but personally I try to avoid flat beer. No carbonation is usually caused by not adding enough sugar at the priming/bottling stage, but there are other causes. If you don’t rinse the sanitizer from the fermenter, it can kill your hopes of carbonation. Rinse several times. Also, if you put your homebrew beer in a location to ferment that is too cold – under 64 degrees is bad – it won’t do it’s thing. Remember, yeast is alive. It needs to be warm and happy to do it’s thing. After a long hard day, would you like to get into a cool bath? No? Neither does yeast. Keep it happy and it will make you happy.
What if everything looks good, and there’s bubbles, but your homebrew beer just tastes “off”? There are many definitions of “off” from skunky to yeasty to acidic, but let’s go with “this beer just doesn’t taste right.” Again, this is usually the result of unhappy yeast. Either it wasn’t fermented long enough, or left to bottle condition long enough, so the process wasn’t completed. This can also be the result of the aforementioned not cooling the wort quickly enough and it getting contaminated because it sat around for a while. One other cause – clear bottles. Light can have a bad effect on beer, so keep it in the dark and use brown or green bottles.
And now the king of all “issues” – exploding bottles. This is actually the most common problem and the easiest to diagnose and fix. Main reasons – overpriming (adding too much sugar before you bottle your homebrew) and premature bottling. You really need to make sure the primary fermentation is complete. Don’t rush it. Also, poor sanitizing can lead to bacterial infection(starting to see a trend with this one) that can cause bad things to happen to you. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – proper sanitation is one of the keys making good homebrew beer.
Just like any other skill you’re learning, it may take a few batches before you start to become comfortable with the whole homebrewing process. You can eliminate some of the variables by using a homebrew beer kit, but not all of them. If you do encounter problems, step back and analyze your brewing process . Try and identify one thing you may have gotten wrong, and change that. Only change one thing – if you change a bunch of things, you’ll never know what worked. Be observant, and you’ll be able to figure out what went wrong, and as you can see, most issues that arise when you’re learning how to make beer are easily fixable. Learn from your mistakes and don’t give up – it happens to the best of us.