Homebrewing: Frequently Asked Questions

When you are just starting out, It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the unknowns. My goal with this page is to address some of the most common questions that new brewers have when they are just getting on their feet. If you have any questions that you don’t see addressed here, I encourage you to post them in the Forums and I’ll make sure to add your contribution to this list.

I want to start brewing my own beer. Where do I start?

Learning how to brew your own beer is just like learning any other skill set. In it’s simplest form, It can be broken down into two categories: Research & Experience. While it can be tempting to just grab a beer kit and try to follow the recipe, There are so many more factors that go into making beer that simply aren’t accounted for on that beer kits recipe page. My goal with this page is to give you the information you need to successfully create your first batch of beer, without overwhelming you. To that end, I’ve linked all of the resources that I feel are essential to brewing a great beer. Once you’ve got a few batches under your belt, I encourage you to branch out and explore the rest of this site (and others!).

Learn your craft!


Brewing Terminology:
Brushing up on your beer and brewing terminology will help you better understand your equipment and the brewing process as a whole.

Troubleshooting Off-Flavors:
Even if you haven’t brewed your first batch of beer yet, it’s worth skimming over to get an idea of what types of things can contribute to a failed batch and more importantly, what you can do to prevent them.

Frequently Asked Questions: 
Take care to read everything you can here, what may seem like a trivial question at first glance may just help you avoid some huge head-aches down the road.

 

Real world experience.


How To Home Brew Beer-Extract Kits:
An incredibly detailed primer & guide for brewing your first batch of beer. If you really wanted to, You can probably get everything you need to brew your first batch of beer from this one guide. It covers everything from from prepping for brew day to bottling your beer.

Take A Class!:
Whether it’s at your local homebrew store, a home brewing club or from a good friend. Nothing beats watching the entire process from beginning to end in person.

 

**Please keep in mind that these are my personal recommendations for new brewers. There are no right or wrong answers here. If you would rather start with all grain brewing or invest in kegs right off the bat – more power to you!

Why isn't my beer fermenting?

Healthy fermentation is usually visible within 12-24 hours after first pitching your yeast. If it has been more than 24 hours and you still don’t see any signs of fermentation in your beer, here are a few things to look for.

Check your fermentation temperature
Yeast require a certain temperature range to start doing what they do best, turning wort into beer. While the ideal temperature for each individual yeast strain will vary, typically most strains will be happiest somewhere between 68°F – 78°F. If your temperature is too low, yeast cells will begin to go dormant, too high and the yeast cells may not be able to survive. For best results, always(link)Look up your yeast strains temperature range and adjust accordingly.

Using an unhealthy yeast strain

It’s important that you take care of your yeast!

  1. Always make sure that your yeast packages (whether liquid or dry) are kept refrigerated until brew day.
  2. Always check your yeasts expiration date prior to getting started on brew day.
  3. To help improve your yeasts cell count prior to pitching, consider Rehydrating (dry) or creating a yeast starter (liquid).

Check the seal on your fermenting vessel
The CO2 that is being produced might be escaping from some place other than your airlock if there isn’t a tight seal. That said, fermentation should still be visible in the form of the foamy krausen on the top of your fermenting beer. Double check the seal of your bung or your buckets lid and continue to monitor for activity.

Don’t panic, depending on the vitality, initial cell count and the type of yeast strain you are using – perfectly healthy beer can occasionally take a few days to start showing visible signs of fermentation. If it’s been longer than 3 days and you still aren’t seeing any activity, consider pitching additional yeast and aerate your beer again for several minutes.

My beer is flat/over-carbonated - What's going on?

My Beer is Flat

Typically flat beer is the direct result of one of the following:

1.) Not enough priming sugar was added to the beer prior bottling.

2.) Priming sugar was not mixed thoroughly prior to bottling, causing some bottles to turn out flat and others to be over-carbonated.

3.) If bottling: Not enough time has passed for the beer to bottle condition properly. Plan on letting your beer bottle condition for at least 2 weeks .

4.) If Kegging: Not enough time has passed for the C02 to impregnate the wort or the pressure is set too low. Plan on letting your beer carbonate for at least 1 week at serving pressure. (~12 psi)

5.) Bottles stored in cold temperatures. Just like your primary fermentation, the yeast will go dormant if they encounter cold temperatures. If your beer was able to ferment properly in it’s primary fermentor, I would plan on using that same location when bottle conditioning your beer.

 

My Beer is over-carbonated

While dealing with over-carbonated beer can be a bit of a hassle, it shouldn’t adversely effect the final taste of your beer too much. Over-carbonation can be observed when you first open the bottle and attempt to pour the bottle into the glass. If your beer is over-carbontated the beer should pour almost entirely as head, but will eventually recede. The real threat with over-carbonating your beer is that the pressure that is built up might cause the bottles to explode, sending glass and beer everywhere. The best way to prevent over-carbonation is simply to make sure that you are evenly mixing your priming sugar into your beer prior to bottling and to make sure that you are using the right amount and type of priming sugar.

**Consider using BeerSmith’s priming sugar calculator when you are crafting your own recipes.

What impact does adjusting the timing of hop additions have?

Arguably even more important than the hop variety chosen in the recipe, the timing of your hop additions influences the bitterness, aroma and even the flavor of your finished beer. Hop varieties are generally defined by 2 things: Their aroma profile and their alpha acid rating(or bittering potential). The higher the alpha acid rating and the earlier the hops are added, the more bitter the resulting beer will be. Conversely, if you are using a lower alpha acid hop or if you add the hop addition towards the end of the boil, the less they will impact the beers bitterness and the more they will attribute to the beers aroma.

While most recipes call for hops to be added during the boil, sometimes you will encounter recipes that call for ‘dry hopping’. Dry hopping is simply adding additional hops (usually during fermentation) after the end of the boil. Dry hopping typically makes use of more aromatic hops to impart additional aroma to the beer. In fact, most hop varieties are categorized as being either a ‘bittering’ hop, an aromatic hop or suitable for both roles. For a detailed breakdown of hop varieties from around the world, you can reference the STTP hops chart. The hops chart is a great tool for narrowing down potential hop varieties by aroma profile, alpha acid rating, country of origin and more.

Related Pages & Guides:


IBU Calculator:
Estimate your beers bitterness with this online calculator.

The Complete Guide To Growing Your Own Hops!
An incredibly in depth guide on growing your own hops. Learn everything from choosing the right variety, to maintenance & care, harvesting and preparing your home grown hops for brewing.

I have too much sediment in my bottles/keg, How can I prevent this?

First of all, the stuff isn’t going to kill you. In fact, it’s actually packed with plenty of B vitamins and nutrients(yum)! In small qauntities it’s rather harmless, but if you are ending up with a considerable amount of sediment in your beers, there are a few very easy things you can do to get rid of the stuff.

1.) Use a secondary fermentor.

After several weeks in the primary fermentor, all of the sediment should have settled to the bottom of your carboy or bucket. By transferring your beer to a secondary vessel, you get another shot at siphoning the beer and leaving behind a considerable amount of the sediment. Which brings us to my next point…

2.) Use a siphon.

While you can get away with transferring your beer simply by pouring it from one vessel to the next, if you are trying to avoid excess sediment in your brews, this is probably one of the worst things you can do. The act of pouring the beer is going to shake up the sediment at the bottom of your carboy/bucket and of course, cause more sediment to exist in your bottling bucket or secondary as a result.

3.) Filter the beer.

Chances are that if you are using a secondary fermentor and a auto-siphon properly, the amount of sediment that is left will be fairly negligible. But if you’re goal is to brew a crystal clear and sediment free beer – You will need to filter your beer and you will need to invest in kegging to do it properly. The problem with trying to filter your beer if you’re bottling, is that you are also filtering out the majority of the remaining yeast. This is a big problem if you are planning on bottle conditioning your beer! However, If you have a kegging system in place you can simply filter your beer and then artificially carbonate it.

4.) Do a proper pour.

The fact of the matter is, that if you are bottling your beer, you are going to have some sediment left over in your bottles. This is perfectly normal. Fortunately, we have one last step we can take to insure that the beer is as clear as possible. If you haven’t already done so, Make sure to refrigerate the bottles prior to opening them. Essentially what we are doing is ‘cold-crashing’ the beer. By lowering the temperature drastically, it will force the remaining yeast in suspension and any remaining sediment to collect and settle at the bottom of the bottle. It may take a bit of practice, but the idea is to pour your beer into a glass in one smooth motion while leaving the very last bit of sediment in the glass.

My Airlock exploded out of my carboy - What the hell happened?

When your beer under goes vigorous fermentation, the air lock can get clogged as the foamy krausen begins to build up. In the worst case scenario, this can cause your carboy to become completely air-tight and pressure will begin to build until either the clog works itself free or the built up pressure forces your air-lock to explode. If you catch it early enough, you can typically salvage the situation by adding a blow-off hose to your carboy in place of the air-lock. Illustrated in the image below, a blow off hose offers more room for the excess CO2 produced by the fermentation process to escape and the larger diameter tubing will insure that the foamy krausen won’t be able to collect and harden to form another air tight seal.

Since it so damned easy to setup a blow-off hose, I actually skip the air-lock now-a-days and just setup a blow-off hose for my primary fermentor straight away. It’s simply one less thing you have to worry about. After the foam recedes you can choose to either revert back to the air-lock or ride out the blow-off hose setup until secondary fermentation or bottling day.

how-to-homebrew

Image Courtesy of: HowToBrew.com

This is why it’s crucial to keep an eye on your beer during the first few days of fermentation. If you fail to notice a problem with your airlock early on, exposure to open air and wild yeasts can quickly turn that delicious 5 gallons of finely crafted citrus pale ale beer into 5 gallons of un-drinkable, foul smelling wasted effort.

My beer is infected, Can I salvage it?

While the beer may never taste the way it was intended to originally, the good news is that with a little bit of time and patience you can almost always save a bad batch of beer. If you suspect that your beer may be contaminated or it smells or tastes a bit off to you, follow through with your normal brewing process and bottle the beer as scheduled. While it might taste foul initially, if you allow the beer to bottle condition over a long enough period of time – You might just be surprised at how well your beer can make a comeback.

Time is the key ingredient for success here. That IPA beer that was supposed to take 2 months to complete, once infected – may take 6 to 12 months to mature now. While the resulting beer may be noticeably sour or ‘off’, it should certainly still be drinkable. Any bacteria would have a very difficult time surviving for any real length of time without any additional sources of food, especially while being subjected to the beers naturally alcoholic environment.

Don’t be afraid to use your best judgment here. If the beer doesn’t seem to be improving after the 6 month mark, by all means, feel free to dump the batch and cut your losses. Worst case scenario you wasted a little bit of time trying to salvage a batch of beer you spent a good deal of time and money brewing. Who knows, you may just discover a new appreciation for sour ales in the process.

I broke a few bottles while capping, can I re-use the beer from those bottles?

Absolutely not.

While it may sting a little having to dump some of your beer down the drain, it’s much less painful (and far less expensive) than a trip to the hospital. While it  may not be visible to the naked eye, chances are that there are glass slivers and fragments that fell into the beer when the bottle broke. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and take a coffee filter and poor the beer back out and see what you are left with at the end. Trust me here, it’s simply not worth the risk.

The most important thing you can do to avoid broken bottles in the first place is simply to source quality bottles that will work with your capper. Make sure to test 10 or so of your chosen bottles by capping them prior to bottling day, and never use twist off bottles. Even if the bottle doesn’t break with twist offs, the bottles weren’t designed for regular caps to begin with, and more than likely won’t form a proper seal anyways.

Don’t sweat it if you end up having to dump a few bottles down the drain, it’s all part of the learning process.

What's better: Liquid yeast or Dry yeast?

Dry Yeast
When i first started out, I always just assumed that liquid yeast was superior to dry yeast since it A) costed more & B) seemed more potent compared to dry yeast. When in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that dry yeast has a higher cell count, longer shelf life and doesn’t require you to use a yeast starter. While this makes dry yeast a great choice for beginners and the cost conscious alike, it does have it’s share of draw-backs as well. Compared to liquid yeast, there isn’t anywhere near the variety of yeast strains available and while dry yeast is great for many american style beers, it struggles to impart any strong yeast characteristics for styles of beers that are largely defined by the type of yeast they use. (IE: Belgian beers, hefeweizens, etc) 

It should be noted that while dry yeast doesn’t require a yeast starter, many manufacturers recommend re-hydrating prior to use. To re-hydrate your dry yeast packet, start out by sanitizing a glass jar and then adding about 1.25 cups of warm(90-100 °F) tap water. Then sanitize and cover with a sheet of aluminum foil, mix and let re-hydrate for 15-30 minutes.

Liquid Yeast
If you are looking to impart certain yeast qualities into the recipe of your beer, liquid yeast is going to offer a much larger variety of strains for you to work with. Just like Dry yeast, Liquid yeast should be kept refrigerated until you are ready to create your yeast starter.

While you can pitch your liquid yeast packs straight from the packet, I would encourage to you to create a yeast starter if you are going the liquid yeast path. To create your starter you will need to boil approximately 2 cups of water and a 1/2 cup of dried malt extract (DME) for about 10 minutes. Once you’ve created your ‘starter wort’, you will want to pour it into a sanitized glass container and pitch your yeast. Cover with aluminum foil, and then use a pin or needle to poke a hole or two to allow the C02 to escape while it begins to ferment. Since the initial cell count of liquid yeast is considerably lower than that of dry yeast, the idea here is to simply increase the cell count by exposing the yeast to a “starter wort” solution. If you are not using a flask and a stir plate, make sure to aerate the solution regularly by shaking it occasionally. After 18 hours your yeast starter should be ready to be pitched.

Beer Geek Nation does a great job summarizing the pros and cons of both types of yeast in this great video.

Dry Yeast

  • Higher cell count
  • Added nutrients
  • Longer shelf life
  • No starter needed (but should be re-hydrated)
  • Not many yeast strains available

Liquid Yeast

  • Lower initial cell count
  • Short shelf life
  • Better variety
  • Yeast starter required

What type of beer bottles should I be using?

You will want to make sure that you source brown bottles for your beer. The reason being, is that brown bottles are capable of blocking out most UV rays, protecting your beer from off-flavors and ‘skunkiness’. While some popular commercially brewed beers have capitalized from their distinctly skunky flavor, the BJCP states that ‘light-struck’ or as it’s more often referred to ‘skunky’ beer isn’t appropriate for any style of beer.

Aside from the color, you will also want to make sure that the bottles you are planning to use will be compatible with your capper. In many cases this is determined by the height of the top lip of the bottle. Grab a few six packs with varying bottle types and make sure to test each style of bottle with your capper to make sure that they will be compatible.

How much money can I save by brewing my own beer?

The cost per batch or bottle will vary depending on a wide variety of factors, but over a long enough time line (despite how much you spent on your equipment) you should still come out ahead. Since this question is so subjective, It’s probably best to use the break even calculator below to figure out your own numbers.

**Also See: The True Cost Of Brewing Your Own Beer

How much time does it take to brew a batch of beer?

While there are many factors that are within your control when brewing your own beer, there are other factors ( such as the 60-90 minute boil time) that are going to remain, more or less constants during brew day. So while there is always room for improvement, you should plan on spending at least  3-4 hours per batch.

Here is a rough break down of the average time required for each major step of the  process for new brewers.

1.) Purchase a kit/ingredients and deciding on a recipe – 1 hour

  • Driving Time
  • Time spent in the store/online

2.) Brew Day –  2-3 hours

  • Cleaning & Sanitation
  • Boil Time
  • Preparing primary fermentor
  • Clean up

3.) Fermentation – 1/2 hour

  • Monitoring
  • Secondary fermentor

4.) Bottling Day – 2 hours

  • Removing Labels (optional)
  • Cleaning & Sanitization
  • Bottling & Capping
  • Cleanup

All in all, I think you can expect about 6 hours total for each batch when you are first starting out.  And since many of the steps are often identical (and just as time consuming) whether you are brewing a 1 gallon batch or a 5 gallon batch, I encourage you to make the move to 5 gallon kits as soon as you have a few successful batches under your belt. Make your time spent brewing matter: brew in bulk!

 

From Brew Day To Drinkable Beer


The time it takes for your beer to complete fermentation and bottle conditioning will vary depending on the beer style and recipe you are using. Generally speaking, you can expect to wait 6-8 weeks before your beer is ready to drink. While it may seem like forever while you are waiting to taste the results of your first few batches, Once you are confident in your brewing, you can begin doing batches more frequently and can always be sure to have some freshly brewed beer on tap.

Can I sell my home brew?

The short answer is no.

Federal & State regulations clearly state that you may not sell your home brew unless you are a licensed brew pub or brewery. After the end of prohibition, laws regarding the manufacture and distribution of beer and wine were largely left to the individual states to decide what was appropriate. This left the United States with a very diverse and in-consistent set of laws regarding homebrewed beer. While it isn’t legal to sell your home brew anywhere in the United States without a license, the laws regarding transportation, production and allowed ABV vary wildly depending on your state.

**See: Federal Homebrewing Laws & State HomBrewing Laws

How do I find the ABV of my beer?

What does ABV stand for?
ABV stands for alcohol by volume, and is a measurement of the percent of alcohol that is present in your beer by volume. So in the case of a 7% beer, 7 percent of that 12 fluid ounces is alcohol. ( .84 ounces)

How do you calculate your ABV?
While there are several variations of the ABV formula, the simplest to remember and perform via pen & paper is:

ABV = (og – fg) * 131.25

There are also dozens of online calculators (like the one below) that will calculate your brews ABV. If you haven’t already checked out BeerSmith, do yourself a favor and grab the free trial HERE. With dozens of calculators, detailed ingredient information and a great recipe builder, It’s easily one of the best investments you can make if you want to take your brewing to the next level.

**Also See: ABV Calculator

I want to brew a clone of my favorite commercial beer, Where can I find the recipe?

There are a ton of resources available to you to help you track down clone recipes for your favorite beers. Here are just a few to get you started:

**Make sure to stay tuned for the STTP recipe builder feature!

Can I convert an all grain recipe to extract?

Absolutely!

Here is a great video demonstrating how to convert an all grain recipe to extract in BeerSmith.

How do I know when my beer is done fermenting?

The general rule of thumb is to wait until there is no noticeable changes in gravity for 3 days. To measure your beers gravity you can use a hydrometer or automate the process entirely by using the BeerBug to constantly monitor your beers gravity and temperature. If you are using a kit or don’t have access to a hydrometer yet, you can simplify the process even further by following the recipes fermentation recommendations.

During the first few days of fermentation, your beer should be undergoing the most active part of it’s fermentation and can be observed by the healthy layer of foam and the production of C02. You should be able to visually observe when fermentation is winding down when the foam recedes back into the beer and there are no more air-bubbles making their way through the air-lock. While this shouldn’t be used as the deciding factor of whether or not the beer is completed it’s fermentation, it is a great indicator that fermentation is winding down and you can begin taking hydrometer (or checking your BeerBug app!) readings to check if fermentation is complete.

It should also be noted that there are a few exceptions to the above guidelines. Certain yeast strains or beer styles, such as sour beers, meads, and some barleywines and farmhouse ales may need additional time to ferment, despite not seeing a change of gravity for several days. These beers styles in particular require an extended period of time to complete fermentation and condition. When dealing with a recipe that calls for extended fermentation times (usually multiple months), It’s usually best to follow the outline of what that particular beer style generally calls for and do regular taste tests as the beer matures to find out when it is ready.

**Personal Note:
There are few tools in my brewing inventory that I love more than my Beer Bug. No more second guessing my fermentation schedule and no more wasted beer using a hydrometer!

Having trouble with off-flavors in your beer?

Even the best brewers among us have had problems with off-flavors at one point or another. While it can be difficult to remedy the problem once it’s detected, there is always something you can do to prevent them from happening again. To help you troubleshoot your brews off-flavors quickly, I’ve created the following info-graphic based off of the beer judging certification programs off-flavor flash cards.

**Download the PDF version

Troubleshooting_Off_flavors_V2_800_6817

**See: Troubleshooting Off-Flavors Infographic

 

Did I miss anything?

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Straight 2 The Pint