HomeBrewing roundtable part 3

This is the final post in the first round of the Homebrewers round table. In Part I I introduced you to the home brewers and shared how they got started. In part II they shared the gear they started with and some for advice for new brewers. In this final round of Q&A I’ve asked about their biggest mistake,  what took them a while to figure out, and for a good starting recipe.

Michael Tonsmeire
What was your biggest rookie mistake?

Mike-Sampling.JPG Pretty early on I ruined batches with a full water Burtonization (~700 ppm sulfate), scaling dried ginger along with hops/malt for an “imperialized” Ommegang Hennepin clone, bottling a wit too early because of a faulty target ABV range for the recipe in Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing. I recently helped a co-worker brew his first batch, and put together a list of some of the most common mistakes new homebrewers make (things like using 3/4 cup of priming sugar, fermenting too warm, using water that contains chlorine etc.):

What is something that took you a long time to get right, that has made a significant improvement in your beer?

I had to start kegging to produce, what I think are, top-shelf commercial quality hoppy beers. Bottling oxidizes the beer if you aren’t able to purge with carbon dioxide, the bottle cap liner absorbs hop aromatics, warm bottle conditioning robs you of the freshest aromatics etc. I still bottle condition many strong and sour beers, but anything I want to drink fresh goes into kegs.

What’s a good recipe for those starting out? Any specific resources you’d recommend?

I posted the recipe for my original batch.  It is far from an ideal recipe to start with, but brown ale is a pretty forgiving style. I’d suggest recipe simplicity to start. Focus on your underlying process and techniques and save the weird ingredients and strong beers until you’ve brewed a few moderate alcohol styles successfully. There is nothing wrong with brewing recipes with one hop variety, one malt, and one yeast to learn what each contributes. This type of beer can also be delicious, especially compared to the messy overly-complex recipes new homebrewers often attempt.

A few to consider:

Belgian Single: Pilsner extract, Saaz hopped, and fermented with WY1214/WLP500/T58.

American Pale Ale: American pale extract, Simcoe hopped, and fermented with WY1056/WLP001/US05.

English Special Bitter: Maris Otter (or English pale) extract, East Kent Goldings hopped, and fermented with WY1968/WLP002/S04.

German Hefeweizen: Wheat extract (~50/50 blend of Pilsner and wheat malt), Hallertau hops, and fermented with WY3068/WLP300/WB06.

Mike Hanson

IMG_3631What was your biggest rookie mistake?

My biggest rookie mistake was really just jumping into to things without fully understanding the importance of temperatures. But that tends to be my style, I just like to get into things and learn as I go. It is a wonderful way to learn lessons. For example, if you are brewing in your kitchen and you walk away from a rolling boil, its a mistake you will not make twice. Ok, or 3 or 4 times, but thats it.

Something that took me a long time to get right, that was really fairly simple to address was controlling the fermentation temperatures. In the past I was just getting as close as I could, and depending on the time of year I would place my carboy in different areas of the house and rely on the ambient room temperature. But that did lead to a lot of issues. Lately I have been successful with a fish tank heater in a water bath.

I have only recently read “How to brew” by Palmer and really like the way the book is worded and the way it is organized. For a new or old brewer I recommend it as a great resource.

Ry Parcell
What was your biggest rookie mistake?
RyStirringMash.jpg Sanitation to an extent. Also under pitching your yeast and improper fermentation temps.

What is something that took you a long time to get right?

A couple things, pitching the right amount of yeast. I make starters now for every single beer I brew, or pitch multiple packs at the least to ensure proper fermentation. Brewing beers throughout the year that can ferment properly in my home as the seasons change. I don’t have a temp controlled fermentation room or chamber so I depend on closets and the seasons to tell me what I can brew. If you can brew things that will ferment in ambient temperature range of your home, closets, basement, whatever your beer will be better. You may want to brew a saison but if you have no way of getting it to be in the proper temp range then you will probably be disappointed. Know your homebrewery!

What’s a good recipe for those starting out? Any specific resources you’d recommend?

That depends on what you like to drink. If you like hoppy beers then try a modest pale ale recipe. If you like smooth malty beers then maybe try a brown ale. Something that will excite you but not necessarily overwhelm you. If it is approachable then you can focus on process and sanitation. Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff really worked for me as a good beginning resource. Again, this is because of my personal style with anything process oriented. I like very specific things when reading a recipe. This book has just that. These are good recipes that are HIGHLY likely to give you a good style centered beer. It is also written as extract recipes.

Bil Herron bil-herron.jpg

What was your biggest rookie mistake?

I’ve been pretty fortunate to not have made any big mistakes, though I’ve definitely made some vinegar batches from letting airlocks dry out. I also learned a good lesson about recipe formulation by combining 7 hops that I really liked into a muddled mess of an IPA. Just because a hop is great on its own doesn’t mean it will play well with 6 others in one beer.

What is something that took you a long time to get right, that has made a significant improvement in your beer?

Yeast pitching rates is a big one. A lot of my early homebrew had signs of stressed yeast, either underattenuation or subtle off-flavors, and pitching a lot of healthy yeast fixed those problems. What’s a good recipe for those starting out?

Any specific resources you’d recommend?

I would recommend starting with a nice 5% American pale ale. I think a great book to start with is Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer, it has recipes for every style and notes on how to coax the key elements of different styles out of the ingredients.

Joel Mahaffe profile-1.jpg

What was your biggest rookie mistake?

Boilovers, repeated boilovers. If someone had given me Fermcap (or similar) from the start, there would have been way fewer disastrous messes in the kitchen.

What is something that took you a long time to get right, that has made a significant improvement in your beer?

Sucking it up and buying temperature control — just a fermwrap and ranco controller. It seems extravagant, but knowing exactly what temp you’re fermenting at is a very liberating bit of control.

What’s a good recipe for those starting out? Any specific resources you’d recommend?

Your favorite beer style. If you’re making beer you like, you’re going to be more excited. A lot of people say to make IPAs because they cover up mistakes, and I can see how that could be good. I also think it’s best if you can identify mistakes early on and prevent the formation of bad habits. Any maltier, richer beers are going to be more forgiving than super pale, light beers, but I say make what you like.

Chris Lewis

IMAG0050-1.jpgWhat was your biggest rookie mistake?

That is really hard to answer, I think it was building my kegerator before going all grain with temp control. I think it stalled my development as a brewer for a number of years.

What is something that took you a long time to get right, that has made a significant improvement in your beer?

Temperature control, hands down. People think that placing the carboy on the floor in the garage is a good thing, I was amazed after my 1st batch that was correctly brewed at 63 degrees in the fermentation chamber. Since then I’ve built a chamber that can hold 5 carboys and/or kegs anywhere from 59 degrees and up. I’ve also purchased a lagering chest freezer/cellar that lets me age my beers correctly.

What’s a good recipe for those starting out? Any specific resources you’d recommend?

I recommend starting with a Siason. The yeast can handle almost any temperature you toss at it and it will make a good beer. I would do 85% Belgian Pilsner and 15% Rye Malt. Maybe an ounce of Saaz at 60 min. and go from there.

James Spencer

What was your biggest rookie mistake?JamesHops

My first batch massive boilover on the stove. It turned out pretty well despite that fact.

What is something that took you a long time to get right, that has made a significant improvement in your beer?

It took a long time for me to get into all grain brewing. I was intimidated by all the talk about starch chains, enzymes, etc. That’s why we tried to make our all grain DVD so basic. Once you learn it’s mainly just soaking grain at a certain temperature for a certain time, you can go back and learn more about the science later.

What’s a good recipe for those starting out? Any specific resources you’d recommend?

The 15-minute pale ale recipe on our site. Short boil time, but lots of hop flavor and aroma.

Shawn Meek

What was your biggest rookie mistake? smeek.jpg

I brewed a Stone Vertical Epic 090909 clone in August, 2011. It was during a heat wave, and temps were easily up to the mid 30s Celsius. I didn’t have my temp controller and fermentation chamber at the time, so I put the Better Bottle into my laundry sink with some ice water, and pitched the yeast a bit too warm (maybe 68-69 F). This is a big (~8% ABV), dark, complicated beer. By the next morning, when I went to check on it, an explosion had occurred overnight. Luckily, since the carboy wasn’t glass, it didn’t shatter. But beer had exploded out onto EVERY surface. The walls, ceiling, and floor were covered in a black, sticky mess, as well as the cupboards, laundry machines, etc. I had to go to work, so couldn’t even work at cleaning it till I got home 10 hours later. By then, it had really worked itself into the paint and plaster. After 2 hours of scrubbing, I still couldn’t get it all out. The stains are still in the ceiling to this day!

What is something that took you a long time to get right, that has made a significant improvement in your beer?

It took me awhile to figure out fermentation temperature control, for obvious reasons… where I live, it gets very cold in the winter, and very hot in the summer. Without a temperature controller, it’s near impossible to brew a lot of styles here in the summer. So, you have to either spend the money and purchase a freezer/fridge and temp controller, or know your limits. For example, you can’t be brewing California Commons, Lagers, or even high-alcohol ales here in the summer… stick with Saisons and other Belgian beers that are ok to eventually reach higher-than-normal fermentation temperatures. Your beer will be much better for it!

A good starting recipe will really depend on what you like to drink, but if you’re looking for something with minimal ingredients and attention, and can be easily consumed by beer geeks and non-beer geeks alike, I’d recommend either an American Amber Ale or Blonde Ale. Both can be brewed without buying a ton of different malts and hops, have relatively easy-to-control fermentation temp ranges, and can taste great without scaring off BMC drinkers.

I want to say big thank you to the homebrewers who have participated in the first round, I appreciate the time you’ve spent emailing and twittering with me to get this setup. I could not have done this without your participation. Lots of great advice has been shared, and I look forward to future round tables with the brewers. Please let me know in the comment section if you are interested in being included, or have topics I should cover in future rounds. The next set of questions to an entirely new group of roundtable homebrewers is in the works, expect that series of post(s) in late June/early July.

About Aaron

Homebrewer, Cyclist, locavore, Craft Beer lover, husband, father, blogger, photographer, alpaca farmer, New England sports fan, all around Geek.

2 comments on “HomeBrewing roundtable part 3

    • Ed, I’m working on the next round now. I don’t know how many folks I currently have signed up, but If not round 2, there will be a round 3 too. :) Thanks for your interest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *