Homebrew “disasters” #1

This post is to help beginner brewers understand what to be worried about and why.

When you start brewing it seems like everything is impossible and your beer is guaranteed to be ruined. In reality yeast is a pretty resilient creature and it’s very easy to make drinkable beer. Making amazing, world-class beer can take a few more levels of concern but one needs to know what to let slide and what to stress out about. The list is questions I have seen frequently from beginners and answers with explanations.

My airlock dried up / popped off – is it ruined?

Probably not, and there is almost no way to know without waiting.  The risk of something bad getting in to your beer is probably about the same as if you were to open up the lid and look at it mid-ferment. People do that all the time (for whatever reason.) The best thing to do is to replace the airlock, fill it up, wait it out and see at bottling time. IF it tastes bad at that point – toss it.

Is this infected?

Yeast does a lot of weird things, and there are different strains of yeast that look slightly different in the fermentor.  I understand that posting a photo of your beer on the internet may help ease some worries, but the act of opening it up exposes it to oxygen and any wild bugs that are in the air. That is both a cause of infection and an effect of the beginner worrying about getting an infection. The best thing to do is to wait.  If at bottling time it is ropy,  sour(and tastes bad), or simply tastes off – toss it. If it tastes good, then carefully rack from underneath whatever top layer you are concerned about and go on with your bottling day.

I forgot to add X, is my beer ruined?

This happens a lot, even to advanced brewers. A hop addition, or some oats, or even the yeast! There are far too many things that one could forget for me to mention each one specifically here, but I’ll break down the most often forgotten ones.

  • yeast – if it has been less than 48 hours, add it now. If it has been more then you run the risk of wild yeast and or bacteria running rampant. Some people intentionally wait to add yeast, but not me.
  • hops – if you forgot them all then it’s a bad scene, but if you only forgot some then you may be able to make up for it with dry hopping or making a hop tea.
  • extract / grains – if the starting gravity is still decent for beer then you may just end up with a lighter beer. If you forgot the bulk/all of them, then it simply isn’t beer.  You probably won’t be happy with the end result.

In the end you should look at this as an experiment, not a failure. You may be able to ‘fix’ it and get it back to the beer you intended, or you may end up with something that defies categorization, but is still good. Unless you know exactly what you are doing it is usually better to let the yeast do it’s work and meet it on the other end of fermentation.

Why isn’t it fizzy yet?

Sheesh, this one is common. So common that I’m actually making a flow chart! In the meantime here are the main questions

  • Did you add any sugar?
  • Did you add the right amount of bottling sugar?
  • Did you stir the bottling bucket to mix the sugar in?
  • Have you waited a minimum of 2 weeks?
    • Wait.
  • Has the beer been as warm or warmer than it fermented at?
    • If it’s too cool it will take longer to carb up.

Why does it look weird in the carboy?

It seems that some people enjoy looking at their beer through the side of the glass carboy more than they like drinking it. When you first start don’t worry about what it looks like. The same batch with the same ingredients can look different depending on oxygen, yeast starters, and the vigor of your boil. Don’t worry – the look doesn’t have much effect on the finished beer at you level. Keep the carboy out of the light and wait it out.

I’ll keep collecting beginner beer questions and posting answers. If you have any, send me them via the contact form!