First Time Homebrewer, Lessons Learned

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15 Responses

  1. Vanessa says:

    My three p’s (sort of) of homebrewing 🙂

    1. Planning – hard one for me because I like to fly by the seat of my pants!

    2. Patience – yeasts are finicky beasts, and cannot be rushed!

    3. (Dont!) Panic -helpful advice I learned from my Hitchhikers Guide – no matter how bad you think your beer is turning out, in my experience it is rare (no, not impossible, but rare) that a home brewed beer is truly awful! RDWHAHB 🙂

    • Simply Beer says:

      Good Advice!

      Brewing beer is an art, IMHO. You can’t just pick up a brush one day and paint a picasso, it takes practice, you need to understand your medium and tools. then with some patience and dedication everything evolves.

  2. Jason says:

    On your lessons (to Dave Ruppel):

    1) Definitely need more time. I usually give myself two weeks of planning, one week to make a starter from scratch and about 6-8 hours during brewday.

    2) Some things to note: you don’t need to activate the yeast pack. Its not necessary but it doesn’t hurt, all it does is proof the yeast making sure they are alive. Just make sure to get it to pitching temps. You could have just pitched the pack without a starter since your brew was under 1.050

    3) Switch to dried malt extract – problem solved.

    4) Kinda related to #2. I agree pitching at 105F was a no-no even if your yeast was at 40F. But the biggest thing with the pitch: make sure you have healthy and ENOUGH yeast. Can’t stress that enough. Think of it in numbers. To properly ferment a beer of 1.050 in 5 gallons you need around 100-150 billion cells. Those smack packs only provide 100 billion cells so you may need to do starters in the future. A simple starter in a growler, for example, can provide 200 billion yeast cells if started 3 days in advance.

    5) Yep you nailed it. Invest in a wort chiller. Cooling from boiling to under 100F in 20 minutes will bring your beer to a whole other level.

    6/7) Use a blow-off tube and you won’t need to worry about airlocks anymore.

    Some other notes:

    Forget the gallons of water bought at the store – this help your back and save you money. Tap water is just fine in most places unless it is extremely chlorinated, you don’t have to worry about contamination as well.

    Buy a bigger pot. Doing a full wort boil (i.e. boiling 6 gallons down to 5) is one of those things that make far superior beer, especially hoppy brews like IPAs. Buy a cheap 7-10 gallon pot at a restaurant supply store. I got one for 25$.

    Good luck and hopefully the lost batch didn’t turn you off to homebrewing!


    • Simply Beer says:

      More great advice, Thanks Jason. Dave, a wort Chiller is probably the best investment you can make in the early stages of homebrewing.

      Keep the comments flowing! Great Stuff

  3. Dave Ruppel says:

    Vanessa, agreed 100% on your 3 (almost) P’s. It’s unfortunate that I had to learn the hard way.

    Jason, response to your comments.

    1) I brewed again this weekend and took my time. That’s the #1 improvement as Vanessa mentioned as well

    2/4) Doesn’t activating the pouch start yeast reproduction? It was also for my own santity to test. I was under the impression that it’s a pseudo-starter in itself.

    3) The simplest ideas are usually the best, aren’t they? Dried malt extract, go figure.

    5) I’ll definitely look into the wort chiller and larger pot. That seems to be the master combo for quality and quick chilling.

    6/7) After the latest attempt, I realized it wasn’t the airlock that was the issue, it was the airlock installer – me.

    Thanks for the great comments, much appreciated!

  4. justa J0e says:

    Can’t resist adding my 2cents.

    Malt. When I brew, I actually set the malt as close to my heat source as I can. This makes it less thick. Also, having poured out as much as you can … ad a littly HOT HOT HOT water to the malt container and shake it around then pour into the wort. Your hour long boil will take care of any tap water impurity issues. ALSO – brew with a buddy, besides the most excellent company it provides … you can take turns stirring!

    Chilling. My buddy and I freeze about 2 gallons of water. When the wort has finished the boil, we put a fish tank air bubbler(previously sanitized) in the bottom of the fermentation bucket, put the ice (broken into large chunks) on top of the bubbler and then pour the wort over all of it. You’d be amazed at how quickly it cools down.(sometimes too much). Then you add hot or cold water to bring your bucket up to the 5 gallon (or so) level.

    Good luck and happy brewing!

  5. Jason says:

    Hi Dave,

    It does but in a very small amount. Its almost negligible. Sometimes I used to smack a pack with no results for almost 12 hours. Pitched said yeast and it to work as normal. Those little pouches of malt extract are definitely nowhere near what a starter is and will provide extremely little in yeast numbers. Its really just for proofing.

    Yeah, DME is the way to go. Some people complain about clumps but whatever – they go away during the boil. LME has this against it: 1) will fall to the bottom of boiling water and may scorch. 2) The stickiness. 3) Shelf life. DME has almost twice the shelf life of LME.

    If you are looking for a wort chiller, consider it a DIY project. Buy 50 feet of copper refrigeration tubing and coil it around a paint can. I made mine with connections and for 40$.

    • Simply Beer says:

      Good points on the DME. I had a buddy, @grapesandgrains who got a bucket of LME and it had mold all over the inside lid. LME is much easier to work with. Just don’t use it in a windy area or spill it! 🙂

      Justa Joe, thanks for chiming in. W/o a wort chiller, the Ice sounds like a great idea. While I’ve never done that it is always better to go to cold and warm up, much easier to deal with before pitching your yeast.

  6. Jason Harris says:

    For the yeast situation, I tend to keep a few packets of US-05 in the fridge just in case. Never know when you need extra yeast! They’re cheap, anyhow. Although not always style appropriate, I suppose (What, there are other beer styles besides IPA?)

    Also, as to that beer…if your sanitation was good, there was no reason it couldn’t have sat for a bit before you dropped the yeast in. I suppose oxidation from the headspace could be an issue, but I’d rather have slightly oxidized beer than a drain full of sugar water.

    The mantra I tend to go by is even if it’s bad beer, it’s still beer. You’d be surprised at what mistakes you can make and it still turns out. For example, someone up there mentioned moldy LME…I had an ESB with a bunch of mold in the LME bucket. I scraped the mold off with a spoon, boiled the LME like normal and it’s in the keg now. Tastes great! Boil killed any baddies from the mold, and the flavor came out ok.

    Think about how much of our current sanitation equipment they had when making beer, say, 100 years ago. That stuff came out drinkable, right? Besides, pouring out beer offends the beer gods. You don’t want to do that!

  7. Aaron says:

    Sounds a lot like my inital brewing time. I didn’t make all the same mistakes, I made others, but very similar. But I’m happily drinking my first batch now.

    If at all possible I recommend people try brewing with a friend first, just so you understand the timing of things.

  8. justa J0e says:

    So here’s a “stuck” fermentation story.

    Last year about this time, we brewed a batch of Hefeweizen that just lay there in the bucket. It was totally indifferent to our desire for it to turn into beer. So after three days, my buddy added some sort of “yeast food” that he bought at a local place. It was suppose to nudge the yeast back into action.


    At this point we feared the batch was DEAD and went ahead and started a 2nd batch of the Hefe (we really like to have it on hand for summer. A lot of it.). We hated to throw out our wort from the 1st batch though and since we have enough equipment to keep several batches of beer going at the same time we decided to keep poking at it. We got a packet of English Ale yeast (just because our local store had it and it was like $2) and dumped THAT in there.


    7 days later we racked our 2nd batch of Hefe (which had been bubbling merrily away) and instead of just washing out the brew bucket … we dumped the tailings into our original batch of Hefe.
    The next day our “undead Hefe” was bubbling along like nobodies business!

    To this day, that batch of Hefeweizen (which we dubbed “The Franken-Hefe” was one of the tastiest we have ever made. Sadly, as we had just started throwing things at it and not really keeping notes of exactly what we had done … it is an un-reproducible recipe.

    • Simply Beer says:

      Justa JOe, this is a very common story. It would have happened to me in my last brew had I not created a starter. Sometimes yeast can be fickle. My last starter of Belgian Abbey yeast took over 3 days to start showing any signs of life. Probably because it was old. With old yeast it can take a while for the small number of yeasties that still viable to take hold and make a large enough colony. If you have the time make a starter.

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