Spend any amount of time on homebrewing forums, and you’re bound to see several of the same questions come up again and again. Don’t feel bad – it’s just part of the learning process. To simplify that process, I’ve compiled answers to the top 5 most common home brewing questions beginners have about home brewing. But remember, there’s more than one way to open a bottle of beer – ultimately, you will brew the way that makes the most sense for you.
So without further ado: 5 Most Common Home Brewing Questions – Answered!
- Is my beer infected?
If you have to ask, then something may very well be amiss. But if it’s your first batch, don’t freak out just yet. Just follow the instructions that came with your beer recipe kit to the end, and then taste the beer. Does it taste good? If so, you’re in good shape. If not, something went wrong. It might be an infection, or it could be a number of other issues. Consult the BJCP Fault List to try to figure out what might have happened and consider doing some Off-Flavor Training to hone your palate so you can identify potential missteps. Even if you do discover a likely infection, use it as a learning experience – your next batch is bound to be that much better.
- Do I have to rehydrate dry yeast?
Absolutely not. I’ve brewed many batches of beer just sprinkling the yeast over the wort. It works just fine, and it’s certainly easy. But is it the best way to pitch dry yeast? That’s up for debate. Many experts agree that yeast should be rehydrated in a small amount of water before pitching. Their reasoning is certainly sound, but when in doubt, follow the directions on the yeast packet or visit the manufacturer website for more information.
- How come I missed my starting gravity (SG)?
For beginning homebrewers, a starting gravity that’s significantly off is due to one of these reasons:
- Hydrometer reading off – Keep in mind that a hydrometer is calibrated to a certain temperature, usually 60 or 68˚F. For best results, chill the sample to the appropriate temperature and/or use a hydrometer temperature correction calculator to make adjustments. Read How to Take a Hydrometer Gravity Sample for more tips on working with hydrometers.
- Added water to fermenter without regards to gravity – Many homebrew recipe kits instruct the brewer to top off to five gallons, but if for some reason you didn’t get all the malt extract out of the can or lost some volume in the process, adding this much water may dilute your beer below the target starting gravity. For best results, take a gravity sample before diluting and use a dilution calculator to figure out exactly how much water to add in order to hit your target SG.
- It’s been two weeks – why aren’t my bottles carbonated?
When bottling homebrew, carbonation occurs by giving the yeast a small amount of extra priming sugar to consume. After capping, the yeast will eat the sugar and produce CO2, but since the bottle is sealed the carbonation will have nowhere to go but into solution in the beer. In order for the yeast to do their job, they have to have ideal conditions, in particular, a temperature range that’s warm enough for them to work. This usually means about 70˚F. If the beer is stored in a cold basement or refrigerator during this phase, the yeast won’t carbonate the beer or may do so very slowly. Make sure the bottles are in a warm room and give them some more time. Only in rare cases will additional action need to be taken in order to carbonate your beer.
- Do I have to do a secondary fermentation?
Absolutely not. Though secondary fermentation is often used as a way to improve beer clarity, many beers will turn out fine with just a primary fermentation of two to three weeks. Secondary fermentation is only required (I use that term loosely), when aging the beer for an extended amount of time (months). Check out The Pro & Cons of Secondary Fermentation for more reasons why, or why not, to do a two-stage fermentation.
There you have it – simple answers to some of the most common beginner home brewing questions.
What other home brewing questions belong on this list?
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder and editor of the Local Beer Blog.