Let’s face it: anyone can mess up a batch of beer. That said, people have been brewing beer for thousands of years and have learned a thing or two about how to do it. As a beginning home brewer, you have a wealth of information at your disposal to help you avoid falling into the common pitfalls. To help you avoid them, here are 5 of the most common beginner home brewing mistakes made by beginners:
- Lax cleaning and sanitation – Most homebrewers have heard that cleaning and sanitation are among the most important parts of homebrewing, yet it’s hard to know exactly what to do when you’ve never brewed before. Soak in One Step. Wipe down every surface with a damp cloth. Scrub with a non-abrasive brush if needed. Check all the nooks and crannies (especially bottling spigots!). No visible debris should remain. Sanitize using Star San or Iodophor following the manufacturer’s specifications. After the boil, aerate, pitch yeast, and don’t let anything else contact your brew that hasn’t been properly sanitized. Follow these steps and you will be fine.
- Adding 5 oz. of priming sugar no matter what – Rant warning: This is sort of a pet peeve of mine. Most homebrew recipe kits come with five ounces of priming sugar and they instruct the brewer to mix it all in on bottling day. It only takes a couple batches of foaming bottles to figure out something isn’t right. Get a digital scale and read how to avoid over-carbonating your homebrew.
- Brewing without temperature control – The very first batch I brewed was a German Oktoberfest. The salesperson at the shop where I bought the kit said I could just use an ale yeast. Sure, the beer turned out fine, but it was a stretch to call it a true Oktoberfest. Don’t sell yourself short and try to brew a lager as an ale. Even when you are brewing ales, pay attention to fermenting temperature and try to keep it within the recommended range for the yeast strain you’re using. Your beer will be immensely better for it. Read Controlling Homebrew Fermentation Temperatures for additional advice.
- Under pitching yeast – Another one of the most common beginner home brewing mistakes is under pitching. A lot of people will tell you that liquid yeast is the way to go because it offers more options and better flavor. This may be true in some cases, but you will almost never want to pitch just one pack of liquid yeast into your homebrew. This is because beer requires a certain number of yeast cells for a healthy fermentation, and a liquid yeast culture rarely contains enough. If you must use liquid yeast, prepare a yeast starter the day before. Alternatively, a 11.5-gram pack of dry yeast contains enough cells to ferment a standard five-gallon batch. Read more about pitching rates at Mr. Malty.
- Worrying – There’s a reason Charlie Papazian’s mantra is known by homebrewers the world over: worrying is the exact opposite of what homebrewing is all about! Granted, there are occasions when you should be concerned about what’s happening with your brew, but you can prevent further mistakes by just letting go of worry. If you’re dealing with an infection or some mishap that may force you to throw out your beer, so be it, but nine times out of ten your batch will come out just fine. Read how Bryan Roth learned how to “Relax, Don’t Worry, and Have a Homebrew” in his guest post, Hops, Malt, & Zen.
Surely there are other things that can go wrong, but these are the most common beginner home brewing mistakes. What mistakes did you make when you were first starting out?
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.