Tag Archives: mistakes

Mistakes have been made

I decided to try and re-make my chocolate mint stout because it’s summer and I have free mint growing in my back yard. Free is still a good price.

Unfortunately, I forgot to add any really dark malts in order to add some of the coffee flavors and prevent the beer from being too sweet. There’s been a run of sweetness in the brews I’ve made lately-not a bad thing-and while that’s OK, chocolate mint is…well, I am afraid of going overboard. The last beer didn’t have any really dark malts but it did have cocoa powder to help keep the sweetness down.

So, I have steeped about an ounce of Kafka II (note; I may be spelling that incorrectly) malt in about three cups of water, boiled it, and added the mixture to secondary. I realize that it’s not much but this interests me for several reasons:

First, it’s a chance to blend. I know, I know; I’m not blending beer exactly but I am blending concoctions and that’s interesting.

Second; I’m adding something that isn’t hops to secondary. Hops have an antiseptic element to them; yes, I’ve boiled the water and done what I need to do but the question still remains; did I screw this up?

It’s odd to say but screwing up actually seems interesting to me.

Third; it’s new. I haven’t done anything like this before. It always seemed that once wort was boiled and yeast added, that was it. I was stuck with whatever happened. However, talking to people who really know what they’re doing, I understand that this isn’t necessarily the case. Not that I can turn a bad beer into a great one but maybe I can tweak a solid beer and make it a little better.

So we shall see what happens.


I made two lagers because I figured I had the time for it. Maybe if the first one didn’t quite work out, the other would benefit from some of my prior experience. And so the lager saga continues, as you can see.


There we are. In this case, there isn’t much of a band-aid flavor (although that gently kicks up at the end) it’s mostly too sweet and the carbonation is clearly off the charts. I don’t know that I’d say this beer is undrinkable but it sure as hell isn’t to any style you could imagine.

Although I have to admit, I knew there were going to be issues when I pulled this beer from the garage as you can see here:

moldy bottles

That is indeed mold on the bottles.

So I can’t actually recommend the beer. I wouldn’t want to give it to someone to drink without serious caveats, such as:

“Can you tell me what the fuck is wrong with this?”


“How the hell did this crime against drinkablity happen?”

You know. Those kinds of things.

These sorts of mistakes remind me that there is a whole lot I don’t know about brewing and a broad range of subjects to learn about and people I need to listen to in order to improve my process. I don’t consider this a bad thing but it’s still a little disappointing to have both lagers come out badly.

The answer is, ‘Yes with a but…’

lagerIn response to this question.

Looks pretty good, I have to say. Beer came out remarkably clear, which is nice. I think that if this was shown to someone who didn’t know anything about beer, they would probably call it a lager-or at least see the similarity between it and something like Budweiser or Hopworks’ Pils.

That’s about where the similarity ends, though.

The beer smells like a band-aid. Phenolic is the technical term for the flavors I got and they are there in spades. It even finishes this way so it starts bad and ends bad, with a touch of smoky middle just to ensure that nobody would want to drink it. Ever.

Which is a bit of a disappointment.

However, with failure comes opportunity. What’s wrong with this beer? Why am I having troubles?

These sent me on an internet learning mission and I discovered that I probably steeped the grains at a temperature that was too high, which also leads to chill haze, a problem I also frequently encounter. Learning about this has lead me to monitoring temperature a little closer and keeping the steeping temps closer to what they’re supposed to be.

It’s also possible that the beer was infected and without any stronger malt or hop characteristics, the flaws could not be covered up. This has had me re-evaluate my cleaning and sanitizing process. I was been using cold water to clean but because cold is uncomfortable on my hands I may not have been as thorough as I should have been.

So I’ve made attempts to improve things and hopefully beers made since then will show it.


So much went right with this beer. I can tell in the nose, which is sweet, and the toffee flavors that ride right through the beer that I was on the right track. Not as hoppy as I might’ve liked but the hops I’ve been using are starting to get a little old, so it’s understandable.

bad homebrewThen the aftertaste comes in. Like someone who shits on the carpet at the end of your party, so this nasty flavor comes up and ruins an otherwise good beer. Acridly bitter at first then phenolic after that, this aftertaste becomes the beer. Think bandage adhesive and you’ve got the phenolic flavor.

This is the beer I bottled a few weeks ago when my racking cane broke, leading to an unfortunate chain of events where I had to replace it. My best guess is that the beer got oxidized when I attempted to bottle it but it’s also possible that the new equipment just wasn’t sanitized enough and the result infected the beer.

I am going to retry this beer at a future date because 90% of it is right. It’s just the last 10% that kills it and I’m sure I won’t make the same mistake twice.

So, what about that IPA?

Indeed. What about that IPA. Did time give it the carbonation that it needed? Let’s take a look.

As you can see there is no head on this beer. So where does that leave me?

Well, it’s actually fairly tasty. There’s a strong nose to the beer, despite having no head to it. Although it’s flat this IPA does taste pretty good overall. But because there’s no fizz, there isn’t any effect to offset the bitterness of the beer or clear it away. Unfortunate, but there does seem to be a solution: Potato chips.

That’s right. What other snack so rewards having another right after you’ve drank some beer to wash the salt out of your mouth?

That said, I am adding bottling sugar to my recipe checklist to ensure that I add that to the beers. I’m not sure if I forgot to put in the bottling sugar in this batch, but better safe than sorry and if it improves future beers, the small reminder is worth it..

“Just ain’t destined to brew that one”

Recipe for the golden ale I’m trying to make:

Grains and malt:
1 lb Caramel 20 Malt, steeped at about 150 degrees for  thirty minutes
8 lb LME

1 handful Sorachi Ace
1 oz Pearle @60
1 handful Pearle @15

Yeast; Wyeast 1084, 3rd use.

Now, this all seems OK until the tales of woe begin. The tales of woe go like this:

After steeping the grains for thirty minutes, I took the wort off the burner to pour in the malt extract. This was probably the smartest thing I did. When there’s less malt extract, or it’s powder, I frequently keep the pot on the burner and just stir like mad to keep the malt from sticking to the bottom and burning. This works out fine, but eight pounds of malt requires me to use two hands to pour it in, so I removed the pot from the heat.

While pouring the bucket of malt in, the handle broke and the whole thing fell into the wort, splashing hot water and ropy lines of malt everywhere. Luckily for me I didn’t get burned but now I have two problems. First; hot sticky mess everywhere. Second, and more importantly, there is a plastic bucket in my beer that may be melting even as I survey the mess.

I takes me perhaps just under a minute to get the utensils to decently grip the bucket and pull the bucket out of the hot water.  The bucket appears undamaged, which is good, but I have no idea how this might affect the beer. 

The rest of the process goes alright until I realize that the yeast I’ve been using, despite my notes, actually is on it’s 4th, not 3rd use. After three uses, I’m told the yeast starts to add off flavors to the beer. I wouldn’t be surprised if some brewers wanted some of those flavors, but I don’t know enough about brewing or yeast for that matter to desire this. 

It’s a little too late to go get new yeast at this point however, so onward and forward, right?

Well…yes, until it’s time to add the yeast. I kinda fucked that up. Most of the time, yeast should be added when the wort is in the low 80’s to the mid 70’s. This rule isn’t set in stone, but it is a pretty good one. 

I am pretty certain I cooled the wort to below 100 degrees, and then just added it in with some cold water to top the wort off to five gallons. Being generous about  the temp, I figure I pitched the yeast when the wort was in the mid-90’s. I really don’t have much of an excuse, except that my head just wasn’t in the game. 

The good news; the yeast took off like a bat out of hell. I could see little pieces of debris swirling in the beer, the airlock percolating like a hyperactive coffeemaker, all systems go.

The bad news; yeast fermenting at higher temperatures produce sweeter tasting alcohols. These flavors conflict with the other agents in the beer. When I put the beer into secondary yesterday, I got such a sweet aroma out of the fermenter that I’m pretty sure ‘cloying’ just won’t cover it. 

Describing the whole debacle to my Dad later, he said, “Well son, I guess you just ain’t destined to brew that beer.” I’m hard pressed to disagree, though I’m going to bottle it just the same. Who knows? If I give it a month, maybe it’ll mellow out.

Still learning.

When I met Alastair Hook, he made the point of being willing to give a beer the time it needs to develop. Meantime’s IPA takes months, not weeks, and the effort shows.

I replied: That kind of patience is something I’m just starting to learn.

Or am I?

I woke up this morning to drop the 1056 yeast in the beer. Thermostat read 74 degrees fahrenheit. And a fine layer of foam on the top, while the airlock bubbled away.

Sigh.  Well, I already had the new packet of yeast ready to go (apparently 6 hours in the basement works out to about 3 hours in a room of normal temperatures) so I added it in. Not so bad I suppose but still, I wish I’d given that beer more time to get going. Or maybe just more faith in myself that I’d taken and stored the yeast from the pale correctly in the first place.

Because if anything is true in this instance, it’s that I was not confident in my own ability to follow instructions, which lead to me not wanting to see how things worked out, but to take action. Which is weird, since I’ve been on a pretty good roll lately, making beers that were at the very least, drinkable.

So there are a few lessons to learn here.