Homebrewing: Lessons Learned

This weekend I set about a task I’ve been intending to begin on for a month now: homebrewing.  As I mentioned a month ago, I received a start-up homebrewing kit for my birthday, and I was dying to use it.  Unfortunately, my yeast was not included in the first extract recipe it came with, so I delayed my first batch while waiting for the yeast.  After calling and asking for the yeast, I have still not received it.  Thankfully, a coworker and friend is also homebrewing and picked some up at a local store for me.  This particular blog is about the actual brewing, the mistakes I know I made, and the lessons I learned.  In another couple of weeks, I’ll do a follow-up post to let everyone know if my mistakes were dire, or if I somehow managed to be successful despite them.  Either way, this is the extract recipe that came with the kit, so at least I’m not paying out of my own pocket for my mistakes.  Sorry Mom and Dad!

I woke up a little later than I wanted, but I got right to watching the instructional dvd that came with my kit.  I wasn’t sure how much I would use the material contained within, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.  After making it through the parts I would need, I went out to the store to pick up 5 gallons of water and two bags of ice.  Mistake #1: I should have purchased a little more water.  I didn’t realize at the end I would have to top off up to 5 gallons, so I came in slightly short and had to go to a different water source to complete my wort for fermentation.  Regardless, I picked up what I needed and headed back to the house.

Mistake #2: I should have really thought over this whole thermometer thing.  I ended up having to utilize a meat thermometer that had about a 4 inch end on it.  I got the water up to 155; however, I’m not certain the reading was all that accurate due to the fact that my thermometer only made it about four inches into the water.  I still got my specialty grains in there for the thirty minutes.  I did get the pot off the burner for the addition of the malt extract, which I can thank the video for emphasizing.  I believe I thoroughly mixed in the malt; however, I was surprised how broken it looked at it began to boil.  It definitely took a while to get the pot up to a rolling boil for this one; however, I did achieve it without a boil over.  The hops went in for the hour, and I added the other ounce of hops near the end of the boil as well.

Mistake #3: As mentioned earlier, I only had a meat thermometer to work with.  This means I didn’t have a thermometer that would tell me the cooler temperatures.  I believe I may have started my ice bath a little early; however, I really don’t know how low I got the temperature before getting the yeast in there.  I waited a while, and I tried to use my best judgement, but this and my last mistake may have been my undoing.  I got my wort into the primary fermenter, topped off, and added my yeast.  I strapped my top on and set it in the spare bedroom for fermentation.

Mistake #4: I realized about a day later I had pushed my airlock in all the way into the fermenter.  I thought I had placed it on properly; however, after thinking it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, I did a little research, and I realized I had it in way to far.  I believe I may have exposed the fermentation to a little bit of excessive air while correcting the mistake.  The airlock continues to bob up and down, but I really don’t know if I’m getting a good end product yet or not.  I will, however, see this through to the end and find out.

Realizing that my kit required me to leave my product in there for two weeks, instead of moving it over to a secondary fermentation device, I decided to head out to a homebrew store and pick up a few more supplies.  I picked up a carboy, a good thermometer for the future, and an auto syphon with tubing.  I plan to head back there before I try this again for ingredients and a wort chiller next time.

My friend told me to have fun and enjoy making mistakes the day before I set out to brew my first ever batch.  I can say I definitely made some mistakes, and I plan on definitely correcting those the next time around.  We learn from our mistakes and that is definitely what I plan to do.  If this batch doesn’t work out, I may be brewing far sooner than I had originally planned.  Hopefully I still find I did okay, but I’ll have to wait and see.  Like I said earlier, at least I was given a “practice” recipe to make mistakes with my first time around.

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5 Comments

  1. It’s been a long time since I have done this, but none of those strike me as fatal…particularly if it seems the yeast is at work.

  2. I agree with Beerbecue, nothing you did should really affect your brew. The only critical stage where you may have any negative results was in pitching the yeast. If it’s an ale, most varieties will tolerate higher pitching temperatures, lager yeasts are much more picky and must be pitched fairly closely to the stated pitch temps. If your airlock bubbled away for at least 3-4 days, then it sounds like you’re fine.

    Unless you’ve got sludge coming out of your pipes, or know that there is something wrong your city’s water, tap water will work fine. Using bottled water can actually have a negative impact on taste if it’s been filtered too much.

    Good luck!

  3. Mistake 1 is no biggy. I used to brew with tap water all the time without an issue. You just need to aerate it and let it sit for the chlorine to dissipate. So a little water other than bottled shouldn’t hurt.

    2 and 3 you’ve taken care of.

    4 won’t be an issue, if like Beerbecue says, your yeast kick in and do their job. The CO2 generated is heavier than air so it should form a protective blanket over the top of the wort long before all the air in the headspace is displaced.

    Good luck!

  4. Agreed with the other commenters. I’ll admit that I’ve done most of these things too, and the beer mostly turned out fine (I’ve had some off flavors in beers, but that was more due to other stupidity on my part). I gather everyone’s first batch is a learning experience like this, so good luck!


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