Making beer is a learning curve and many newbie brewers make one or more of these cardinal brewing sins. Check out why they do this and how you can avoid repeating the same mistakes.
In this article I will be talking about the following 30 mistakes:
- Brewing with expired ingredients
- Taking a lax attitude to cleaning
- Poor sanitation of equipment
- Bad water leads to bad beer
- Guesstimating measurements
- Being too adventurous with flavor
- Putting a lid on boiling wort
- Letting your wort boil over
- Murdering your yeast in hot wort
- Not using enough yeast in pitching
- Being too rough with the grain bag
- Letting your extract fry
- Leaving cooling wort exposed
- Suffocating your wort at the wrong stage
- Letting your beer breath too much
- Not filtering your wort
- Size matters when it comes to fermentation
- Sucking on your siphon
- Beer, don’t step into the light!
- Sending your beer to the bottle too early
- Trouble with the right amount of priming sugar
- Not reading the instructions and taking shortcuts
- Forgetting about temperature
- Not taking accurate measurements
- Forgetting to write things down
- Not preparing a dedicated brewing space/storage space
- Using the wrong type of bottles
- Not using equipment when you should
- Running before you can crawl
- The Biggest Mistake New Brewers Make
So, if you want to make sure that you aren’t going to make any of these costly errors, read on and find out more.
Beer Brewing Mistake #1:
Brewing with expired ingredients
The biggest culprit here is yeast, although using older grains or extract can also have a negative effect on the taste, consistency, and appearance of your beer.
Yeast is a living organism and if it has been left around for too long then much of the cells will no longer be viable for fermenting beer, in other words, they are dead!
Always check the expiry date on the yeast packet and keep any left over unopened packets in the fridge to keep them dormant. When in doubt, just buy more yeast. Better to be drunk than sober (in moderation of course)!
Beer Brewing Mistake #2:
Taking a lax attitude to cleaning
When you decide to brew beer you haven’t actually decided to become a brewer, you’ve actually become a custodian (janitor). Everything that you use needs to be spotless. This includes the environment you are brewing in and even yourself.
The danger or bacteria entering your beer and giving it a funky taste is a very real one and it may just be because you forgot to wipe down a tabletop or wash your hands after a trip to the bathroom! Make sure that you set a time adequate time to give your brew space a good going over and that you can jump into the shower and put on some clean overalls.
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Beer Brewing Mistake #3:
Poor sanitation of equipment
Again, you are only a brewer for about 10% of the brewing process, the other 90% you are a cleaner.
Making sure that you have sanitized all of your equipment is the highest priority. Bacteria can easily be introduced from small amounts of dirt or residue beer being left inside the equipment. Make sure that you use a high-quality non-rinse sanitize to clean equipment such as your fermenter, siphon tubes, and even your bottles and keg.
The best practice to get into is to clean the equipment after you use it and then to clean and sanitize it again before you use it. An OCD -like approach would be an advantage to any brewer in this particular activity.
Any time your wort isn’t boiling there is a danger of contamination so do everything in your power to eliminate that eventuality. Otherwise, you will be crying over sour beer!
Beer Brewing Mistake #4:
Bad water leads to bad beer
Beer, as you know, is mostly water so choosing the right water to brew with is essential.
As I’ve been harking on about sanitation you might think that using distilled water is the best policy, but you’d be wrong. Distilled water is too pure and doesn’t contain the necessary minerals we want to have in our beer. For most phases, therefore, distilled water isn’t recommended for the brewing of beer.
Although tap water is totally safe to drink it may not be the best option for your beer. Different areas have different types of water and you really need to do your homework and check what the effect of using it will be. Although it is the cheapest option, it may not be the tastiest option.
What about recycling rainwater? Although this is the most ecological approach even filtered rainwater is going to have too much of an unpredictable chemical make up to make decent beer. Keep it for your garden.
By far the best option for most people is to use purified mineral water from the local store. It’s a reliable source of water and you can’t go far wrong by choosing this as the base for your beer.
Beer Brewing Mistake #5:
The worst thing you can do if you want to get a perfect end product is to be lax with the measurements of your ingredients. Beer brewing is a science and if you have too much or too little of one thing it can really throw off the entire beer.
It’s essential that you invest in the correct equipment to make sure that every ingredient and part of your brew is accurately measured to ensure that you can consistently reproduce the same beer as often as you want. Even if you have been making this beer for a while, don’t become overconfident or you may get an unwelcome surprise.
Beer Brewing Mistake #6:
Being too adventurous with flavor
When it comes to experimenting with the flavor in your beer, too much can ruin your beer.
If you are at the stage where you have been making a particular beer for a while and are quite confident in doing it, you may wish to spread your wings a bit. Rather than adding in any flavoring ingredient you can think of, take your time. Brew one batch with one additional change, see how you like it then brew it again to test it a second time. When it works a few times move on to another batch with something else.
Approach the adventure as a true scientific experiment and build it up over time. This will help you identify what works and what really doesn’t. Also, if you happen to have a mishap with your beer, such as a bacterial infection, you can identify that it’s not the new ingredient that gave you the skunky taste because you have brewed it more than once.
Beer Brewing Mistake #7:
Putting a lid on boiling wort
Many new brewers don’t realize that leaving a lid on your boiling wort can actually come back to bite you later on. Sure, it’s a quick way to get it hot, but way before it starts boiling you need to remove any cover.
During this stage of the brew, your wort is releasing various compounds, such as sulfur compounds, and for the most part, we don’t want these in our finished project.
If you leave a lid on the wort while it is boiling you will effectively trap these undesirable elements in your beer and this can affect the taste later on. Don’t worry about bacterial infection at this stage because the wort is too hot for it to matter too much.
Check out my full article on boiling wort on your kitchen stove for more information about the best approach to the boil on your brew day!
Beer Brewing Mistake #8:
Letting your wort boil over
While boiling your wort to encourage the extraction of sugars from the base ingredients you will notice that a foam forms on the surface, known as the hot break.
If left unchecked, the wort can quite easily boil over and create a real mess for the brewer to clean up. It normally happens when the brewer is distracted with something, so make sure that you give yourself the full boil time to concentrate on your wort.
One of the other, debatable, problems with the boil over is that you allow the hot break to escape and this could be disadvantageous later when trying to clarify your beer in later stages of the process. Not everyone in the brewing community is in agreement with whether it is better to remove the hot break or allow it to reenter the wort when it cools.
You also need to consider the proteins in your beer and how they will help or take away from your beer’s final head retention. I’ve written a full article on getting better foam on your beer which goes into more detail.
Beer Brewing Mistake #9:
Murdering your yeast in hot wort
Yeast is a living, breathing, sugar devouring organism which has its own optimal environment. Knowing the ideal environment for the particular yeast you are using is vital if you want it to do the best job it can during the fermentation stage.
As a rule of thumb, never pitch your yeast in wort above 70 °F (21 °C).a Above this temperature you are likely to kill your single-cell friends or at the very least hamper their effectiveness. This will lead to a huge failure in your fermentation and may result in some unwanted flavors and even a stuck fermentation.
Beer Brewing Mistake #10:
Not using enough yeast in pitching
There are many things which can lead to a failed fermentation, but under-pitching your wort is the main cause among less experienced brewers.
Be aware of the number of cells in your yeast (per million), you also need to know the specific gravity of your wort and the volume of your wort. With this information, you should be able to accurately pitch your wort so that you don’t end up with lower efficiency in the fermentation process. When in doubt, have some more yeast on hand to try again.
Beer Brewing Mistake #11:
Being too rough with the grain bag
If using the BIAB approach (see my key brewer vocabulary here), you are supposed to lightly squeeze the bag in order to extract most of the liquid back into the wort.
However, don’t be overzealous. If you squeeze the grain bag too vigorously then you are in danger of releasing too many other elements into your wort such as tannins which will make it much bitter than you intended. If the bag is still dripping a little when you discard it, that’s perfectly fine.
Beer Brewing Mistake #12:
Letting your extract fry
If using an extract, especially DME, there is a danger that if you don’t keep an eye on it, your extract will sink to the bottom and burn on the bottom of your kettle. This is at best going to leave a nasty taste in your beer and at worst result in you chucking the whole lot away.
To avoid this, take the wort off the heat before you add the extract. Then carefully stir it until you are sure that it has completely dissolved into the wort. This will be slightly quicker with LME than DME, which has a tendency to clump on the surface. Doing this will avoid the extract from directly floating to the bottom.
If you are using a kettle with an internal heat source, then just make sure you keep this as keen as possible to avoid any build-up of material on it over time.
Beer Brewing Mistake #13:
Leaving cooling wort exposed
For most beginners shelling out for a wort chiller seems an extravagance, and it may be if you only plan to brew one or two batches in your life. So, if you aren’t using a wort chiller to quickly and efficiently bring your wort’s temperature down before fermentation, you are probably letting mother nature do it for you.
The issue here is that as the wort cools the danger of bacterial contamination goes up exponentially. If you leave your cooling wort exposed then you run this danger. So, at the very least place an airtight lid onto the container as it cools. If possible, place the wort in a chiller, such as a second refrigerator, out of the air.
Beer Brewing Mistake #14:
Suffocating your wort at the wrong stage
Although it is true that during the cooling phase of the wort and thereafter we do want to limit its exposure to air, and the possible bacteria that could invade it, this isn’t always the case.
Yeast needs a few things to do its job of converting sugars into ethanol and CO2, one of them is oxygen. If the wort hasn’t been sufficiently aerated then you could find that your fermentation doesn’t happen efficiently or at all.
It’s important to introduce oxygen into your wort before you pitch wort in the fermenter. This can be done by simply rocking the fermenter from side to side or by splashing the wort around. It can also be done more directly by using an aeration system or with forced air from a pressurized gas cylinder.
Check your recipe or instructions for the preferred method with your type of brew.
Beer Brewing Mistake #15:
Letting your beer breath too much
On the other hand, introducing oxygen into the beer at the wrong time can, as I have said, result in an increased risk of bacterial infection which will lead to off-flavors in your beer.
Another result of too much oxygen at the wrong time is making your beer flat and reducing its shelf life. This can happen with what is known as hot side aeration which is when you try to aerate your wort just after the boiling phase.
Also, if you aren’t using quality storage equipment, bottles or kegs, which introduce oxygen into your finished product, you can also run into issues too.
Beer Brewing Mistake #16:
Not filtering your wort
For most beers recipes it’s beneficial to filter your freshly boiled wort before transferring it into your primary fermentation stage. This is because after you have extracted all those desirable sugars into your wort, there also remains malt and hop residue within the wort. This can not only clog equipment like a wort chiller or siphon but can also adversely affect flavors in fermented beer and lead to overstimulated yeast in the bottle conditioning process.
If you do want to filter your beer (because not all recipes or brewers require it) you can find a range of filters in your local brew store or online. Check out my recommended gear for my personal suggestions.
Beer Brewing Mistake #17:
Size matters when it comes to fermentation
Fermentation is a process where the yeast you have pitched your wort with will eat away sugars in the liquid and transform it into alcohol and CO2. As any high student ought to know, CO2 is a gas and gases will expand into any space it is given. As more gas is produced it will become pressurized. In addition, you need that CO2 to push any excess oxygen in the wort above the head of the mixture.
This can be an issue if you have chosen to ferment your beer in too small of a container. As fermenter needs to be fairly airtight to remove the risk of bacteria contamination (this is where an airlock comes in handy), an undersized vessel may risk a huge explosion of precious adolescent beer. (wait, where am I going with that comment?).
As a general rule of thumb, if you are making a batch of 5 gallons then plumb for a fermenter about one or one and a half gallons larger. This will give you ample space for fermentation to happen safely and effectively.
Beer Brewing Mistake #18:
Sucking on your siphon
At some point during your brewing process, you are going to have to transfer your wort (or later beer) from one container into another, this is known as racking or siphoning. The best and with the least risk of bacterial contamination is to use a siphon tube between two vessels.
But, wait. You don’t want to think about this in the same way as if you were stealing gas from a neighbor. Do not suck on that tube to start the flow of liquid! Even if you are the most pristine and hygienic person in the world, you could introduce bacteria into your wort through your mouth.
So what? You’re the only one drinking it right? Wrong, that bacteria could lead to a real sour taste in your finished product. If you must use a siphon invest in an auto-siphon or try a homemade device to get the liquid flowing.
Beer Brewing Mistake #19:
Beer, don’t step into the light!
So, you’ve done everything right. You’ve followed the manual to the letter and your beer is now safely in bottles and carbonating away. What else could go wrong? Where have you stored those fresh beers, in the converted attic under the skylight?
Exposing your beer to direct sunlight at any stage of the brewing process, even during storage can have adverse effects on the life and flavor of that beer. Always store your beer in a cool dark place to avoid any deterioration to your prolonged enjoyment of it.
Beer Brewing Mistake #20:
Sending your beer to the bottle too early
Although making beer can be a fascinating experience, it does also involve a heck of a lot of waiting around. There are times when you have to be vigilant and watch your wort like a hawk, but for most of the process, you can just leave it to get on with the job without you.
This inaction can lead many novice brewers to act just out of sheer impatience. The issue here is if you bottle your beer before it has fully fermented, that process will finish inside the bottles. Although we do actually initiate a second minor fermentation in the bottle conditioning process excess active yeast can have disastrous results. If your bottles start exploding around you, then it’s likely you bottled that beer too early. Check out my article on this topic here.
To make sure you don’t fall into this trap you can use your faithful hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of your beer towards the end of the estimated fermentation period. If your newly brewed beer meets the target final gravity as stated in your recipe, then you are good to go. To be extra sure you could give it another day or so and make sure that that FG doesn’t decrease dramatically. This is a sure sign that fermentation has indeed fully ended.
Beer Brewing Mistake #21:
Trouble with the right amount of priming sugar
If you have opted to bottle your beer rather than keg it then you absolutely need to use priming sugars to bottle condition it. This will enable your beer to be adequately carbonated and not overly sweet.
However, some novice brewers in their haste completely forget this step or are not sure how much exactly they need to use. If in doubt, use an app or online calculator to get the exact amount of priming sugar you need in your solution. Failing that, use a priming sugar tablet so that each bottle gets the ideal amount. Over priming, just let early bottling, can lead to excess fermentation in the bottles and troublesome bottle rockets (see article).
Beer Brewing Mistake #22:
Not reading the instructions and taking shortcuts
OK, we’re not going to make jokes about men (sorry ladies) and not following instructions, but this ain’t IKEA and you do need to follow what the instructions say. If you try to go it alone then more than likely, even for an experienced brewer, you are going to forget something. So always be methodical in your brewing.
In the same way, don’t try to rush. If you jump from stage to stage or try to do something too quickly you are likely to affect the quality of your beer. If you find yourself getting impatient, then either clean something because you’ll always need to be cleaning. Also if you generally find that in previous brews you were running out of time and feeling the need to cut corners, then in your next brew plan ahead and give yourself some extra breathing room to get tasks completed properly.
Beer Brewing Mistake #23:
Forgetting about temperature
Temperature is perhaps THE most important factor in brewing beer as it can affect everything from the productivity of yeast to the taste and appearance of your finished beer.
Make sure that your brewing environment is within normal room temperature (23°C/71°F) ranges as any higher may affect the initial stages of brewing. Also, keep a close eye on the boiling stages of your brew as manipulating the temperature can have both desirable and undesirable effects. Always look at your recipe instructions here for more details.
During fermentation and storage, you also need to consider the ambient temperature as extremes in temperature can negatively affect yeast and stop it from doing what we need it to do, make our lovely beer.
The best way to control the temperature is to have a couple of thermometers on hand for each stage of your brew.
Beer Brewing Mistake #24:
Not taking accurate measurements
There are very few people who can read beer naturally and tell you exactly what it is doing and its current state. For us mere mortals, we need to use particular instruments to find out useful information such as the temperature and density of our wort or beer.
However, even if you have a handy hydrometer, are you using it correctly? Many experienced brewers have been using these measuring instruments wrong for years. The issue is that we want to be as accurate as we can in our brewing technique so that we can repeatedly reproduce the same quality of beer time and time again.
With a hydrometer make sure that when you are reading it you are taking the measurement from the bottom of the surface bubble and not the top. For more information, check out my article on hydrometers and how to use them better.
Beer Brewing Mistake #25:
Forgetting to write things down
If this is your first brewing experience you may be so taken up with the strange and wonderful changes in your wort that you are merely a spectator to the marvel of brewing. But, if you brew more than once you need to put on a white coat and become more studious.
Take notes on every little step you take. How much hops did you add? At what time? What did the wort look like? How long did you boil it for exactly? At what temperature was it after that time?
The more data you have as to the temperature, density, and appearance of your wort the better able you are to reproduce the same beer or identify issues you have with it later. Whenever you take a measurement, make sure you jot down that information in a notepad. The more you brew the more you will appreciate why this is such a vital, but often overlooked task.
Beer Brewing Mistake #26:
Not preparing a dedicated brewing space/storage space
I know that for most people this is a hobby and we can’t dedicate an entire room to just brewing. However, when you do plan to brew up another batch you should plan for your brewing equipment to stay put for the entire process, at least while you need it.
The issue is that if you are constantly moving your wort from one place to another you can agitate it and force some unwanted changes in it. You may also break fragile equipment, such as hydrometers if you are constantly packing and unpacking them.
Whenever possible arrange with your family or housemates a period of time when you will take over a space for brewing. This will mean that you don’t have to clear things away for someone else to cook or do homework or something.
Also, consider the fact that certain stages can take a few days to a few weeks to complete. You do not want to disturb your fermenter too much nor your bottles. All of this can be solved with good planning and anticipation of the different stages of brewing beer.
Beer Brewing Mistake #27:
Using the wrong type of bottles
If you have decided to bottle condition your beer then you need to be sure that the bottles you are using can handle the job.
Some people may want to recycle bottles they already have at home. That’s absolutely fine but just check that they are not screw tops as they are not designed to be reused in this way. Also, make sure that the bottles you use were designed to hold beer and the particular beer you are brewing.
If you are planning to brew an extremely carbonated beer then the bottle needs to be robust enough to withstand all that internal pressure. Many people experience exploding bottles because they have reused containers which just couldn’t handle the pressure. Check out my article on this topic here
Also, always makes sure that you completely sanitize any bottle you plan to use as even at this late stage you can still introduce bacteria into your beer and ruin it in the final stages.
Beer Brewing Mistake #28:
Not using equipment when you should.
Although it is true that some brewing equipment is expensive and that you can do without it, there are just so many good investments you can make both for your time and labor.
When working with carboys, for example, a carboy handle is a device which makes racking so much easier and less strenuous for your arms and back.
In addition, not using siphons and pouring wort directly from one container into another can risk spillage and contamination, and it’s just unnecessary because such items are relatively cheap.
There are also pricer items such as wort chillers which you can do without, but when you do spend the extra money and buy one you’ll see such a difference in the time it takes to cool your beer and the control you have over it.
If there is a tool for the job, use the tool and don’t try to free-hand it!
Beer Brewing Mistake #29:
Running before you can crawl
If you’ve gotten this far you can tell that there is a heck of a lot of things to think about when brewing. Even advanced brewers learn new things every time they brew.
One of the biggest mistakes newer brewers make is to skip the basic home brew kits and embark on a more complex beer recipe. It’s always better to start small and slowly build up the size and complexity of your batches. Don’t try and push yourself too early because many people have given up brewing altogether because they have gone too far too soon.
Biggest Beer Brewing Mistake:
Your first batch is going to suck. It simply is. If it doesn’t then you lucked out and something is going to go wrong with the next one. Just accept it!
So, if you are planning to brew beer for a family event or social occasion with your first attempt, better get some backup beers from the store.
Don’t set the bar too high for yourself, just go through the steps and try to learn as much as you can during the first couple of beers you brew. If the results aren’t as you wanted, then just put it down to experience and try to understand what happened and how to improve it.
If you take the attitude that you are a student of brewing rather than an expert you will not be as disappointed with the bumps you experience along the way. So many people have turned their back on brewing because they were expecting store quality beer from every batch. Beer is a living breathing thing and it requires a lot of skill and attention to make it perfectly. This will come with time if you show a healthy respect for the art and a realistic expectation of your own abilities.
At some point, every brewer has made one or more of these mistakes. Learn from their collective experience and try to avoid these pitfalls. If you take all of this advice on board you will be making beautiful beer in no time. Happy brewing!