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Lessons Learned

I was recently interviewed by someone from the Newark Post for an upcoming article on homebrewing (Joe Gallo from How Do You Brew? sent her my direction). One of the questions she asked me was if I had learned all that there was to know about homebrewing – I politely responded “hell no”, and explained that even though I’ve brewed over 400 gallons at this point, my 2 years of experience couldn’t possible expose me to everything that our more senior club members have during their 10+ years… and every time I think I’ve got it nailed down, something jumps up and shows me just how little I truely do know.

That has prompted me to enumerate a list of things learned in the past 3 or 4 months. Some are humerous, and others you will probably groan at… either because you found this out the hard way too, or you just know its a bad idea to begin with.

  • Triple-check your bittering addition quantity. There is almost NOTHING you can do to correct an under-bittered beer and have it turn out OK.
  • Boiling 1oz of hops in 1 gallon of water with the hope of correcting the previous mistake will not get you what you want… In fact it will smell like feet, overcooked vegetables, and a host of other things that you definitely don’t want to add to your beer.
  • Fermenting 10 gallons of high gravity (1.078) beer in a demijohn is a bad idea, unless you like that solventy-hot taste… That’s alot of sugar and it builds up alot of heat – which is damn near impossible to chill with a glass jar that big.
  • The wet T-shirt / dish towel trick really does work for dropping carboy temperatures.
  • I HATE using an immersion chiller in summer. The ground water temperature is too high to effectively chill past 110 deg F.
  • Saison yeasts like it hot – Like minimum of 75 degrees hot. They’ll crash way early (like 1.030) if you don’t let them hit the mid 80s toward the end of their fermentation.
  • A year-old smack pack of Ringwood Ale (Wyeast 1187) is not going to work. Forget about it.
  • Whole hops are the bomb. I’ve got way too many pellet hops to get rid of now that I can use whole hops.
  • I simply must do more first wort hopping.
  • Whirfloc is supposed to be used less than 10 minutes from the end of your boil, NOT 15 or 20 like most homebrew stores tell you.
  • I really REALLY want a stainless steel open fermenter so I can start top-cropping yeast. Luckily the wife is starting welding classes next Tuesday, so in a year that might be possible.

That and so many others… I’ve got a whole lot to learn.


I figured I’d take a picture that embodied several of these learnings. First, note the demijohn on the left – 10 gallons of (soon to be) oak-aged vanilla porter… source of bullet #1 through 4 and 8. The right hand side is 1/2 of the batch of Horizon Bitter (the other half went home with Mike Castagno, another club member), an english bitter brewed with all-horizon hops, and source of comment number #7 and 10. That thick yummy kraeusen of Ringwood Ale yeast is just BEGGING to be top cropped, alas I cannot in a carboy – SUCKS!!! I’ve got a killer Iron Hill Pig Iron Porter recipe that could easily be brewed with that fat layer of bitchin’ biomass.

I am hoping that the hot flavors in my porter will chill with time, and that the oak and vanilla will at least mask if not aid any deficiencies in the hopping and temperature control arena. Last batch I made was “too hoppy” anyways for what I was shooting for, but I certainly didn’t mean to undershoot the IBUs by about 20. Mike Castagno brought over some of the only real cure for an underhopped beer, although I haven’t added it yet – and will probably only adjust 10 IBUs instead of the full 20.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Anonymous
    July 13, 2006 at 6:59 am

    Here is a lesson I’ve learned:

    Never leave cleaning fluid in 1 gallon water jugs next to your wort… in the Hop infused fury you may dump it in the Wort…mmmm tasty

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