Homebrewing 104: Common Problems & Solutions

Homebrewing 104

I’ve been home brewing for a little over a year now (which makes me a relative newbie in the field), and of course, I still encounter issues. It’s a matter of knowing what to do when these certain problems arise that turns you into an expert. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means (yet), but practice makes perfect, so I’m going to keep trying!

Before reading this post, I highly recommend that you go back and read the previous posts about the equipment needed, the brewing process, and the bottling/kegging process. I find that once you have a good understanding of how beer is made and stored, it’s easier to identify problems along the way and to make adjustments to resolve the issues.

I think any home brewer can tell you that your beer doesn’t always turn out as expected. Most problems are easily identifiable once you know what to look for, and can be resolved if you catch them early enough. This post is designed to help you figure out what to look for, and how to fix the problem when you encounter it.

COMMON PROBLEMS & SOLUTIONS

Problem: The beer tastes very sweet/I didn’t hit the target FG (final gravity) or ABV.

Solution: The beer is likely too sweet because the yeast did not convert all of the fermentable sugars into alcohol. I have found that this is usually because of the fermentation temperature. Check the yeast packaging for the ideal temperature range, and try to keep it within that range at all times. If the wort becomes too warm or too cold, the yeast can die off quicker than intended, leaving behind sugars which haven’t been converted into alcohol. If necessary, try pitching new yeast and keeping the temperature consistent.

Problem: The beer smells or tastes funky/sour.

Solution: When intended, a funky or sour beer can be amazing, but when it’s not, you’ll likely end up having to pour that batch down the drain and start over. It’s one of those unfortunate scenarios that can’t be fixed this time around, because your beer has become infected. Contamination is usually the result of improper sanitization, so be sure all of your equipment is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before trying again.

Problem: My airlock stopped bubbling.

Solution: This could mean a few things:

  1. You may have a leaking seal on your bucket/carboy. Fermentation could still be happening, but the CO2 is coming out of the leak instead of the airlock.
  2. Your yeast could have stopped working prematurely due to temperature. If that’s the case, pitch new yeast, and try to keep the temperature within the recommended range.
  3. You may just be brewing a style that typically has low attenuation. In this case, the lack of bubbling isn’t a concern. Just check the yeast packet to see how yours measures up.

Problem: The beer isn’t carbonated enough.

Solution: When you’re using sugar to carbonate your beer, it is usually best to leave it stored at room temperature for two to three weeks before refrigerating it. If you open a bottle of flat beer, and you’ve given it plenty of time to carbonate, add a carbonation tablet (you can find these at your local homebrew supply shop) and recap.

Problem: The beer is too carbonated or bottles are exploding.

Solution: The beer was likely bottled too soon, or too much priming sugar was added. In either case, you can open up the bottles to vent them, then recap. You may need to do this a few times if the beer is severely over carbonated. Refrigerating the bottles can also help to slow the fermentation, but be careful—if one bottle exploded, others could likely have the same fate!

Problem: The beer is hazy or cloudy.

Solution: Again, there are several reasons this can happen, but none of them are harmful. Here are some causes:

  1. Chill haze. Next time, after boiling, try bringing the wort to a cool as quickly as possible. A wort chiller can definitely help with this!
  2. For all-grain brews, it’s possible to have incomplete conversion, leaving behind residual starches that cause this cloudiness.
  3. Certain yeast strains are known to have low flocculation, so the beers are meant to be hazy.

In any case, if the cloudiness is bothersome, you can cure this even after fermentation with a fining agent from your local homebrew shop (such as isinglass, Polycar, etc.). For all-grain brews, you can also enhance the clarity by adding Irish moss during the last few minutes of the boil.

Problem: The wort is darker than expected.

Solution: This is a common problem with extract brewing because the malt extract can scorch during the boil. You can’t change it, so just know that it shouldn’t have any real effect on the final outcome. The problem will likely be resolved once you move into all-grain brewing.

I hope you have learned something new from this series. I would love your feedback on this topic! For those homebrewers out there, I’d love to know what problems you’ve encountered and if you’ve figured out a solution.

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