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Old 09-14-2011, 01:43 AM   #1
slothorentropy
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Default Discouragement, disappointment, and dealing with less-than-stellar brews

I just posted this in Ed Wort's Oktoberfest recipe thread:

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Originally Posted by slothorentropy View Post
Well, bottled this today. Shooting for about 2.5 vols.

My batch had a slightly higher OG than I was shooting for (ended up at 1.069) and attenuated nicely down to 1.016. The taste I had a bottling was... okay. Very grain-forward, kind of sharp (ABV is around 7%). I get some diacetyl and maybe a bit of cooked veggie/DMS kind of stuff going on. Reasonably dry finish with a bit of hop bitterness. Pretty much nothing like what I imagine an Oktoberfest to be, but I'm expecting it'll be reasonably drinkable. This batch had a complex history--the temp got dropped too low immediately after pitching; repitched another Kolsch tube three days later, then fermented steadily at 65F for a week, followed by about 63F for ~20 days, cold crashed for 3. There was still a big frothy krausen on top when I popped the lid off but I'd hit gravity so decided to go ahead and bottle. Need to get this one through the pipeline, especially since I've got so much coming behind it.
And after reading through all of the past hosannas and awesome pics in that thread and considering again a sample of what I just bottled, I have to say I'm pretty bummed. There were a *ton* of variables in this one that could have thrown things off, so many that trying to track down the specific culprits and correlating them to this thing's various insufficiencies is probably a fruitless exercise (though I'm generally glad I know what they are, I suppose). The hefe I brewed previous to this turned out borderline undrinkable, also very sharp, vegetal and sulfurous and just very unpleasant. Again, I know generally what the problems were there, as well. But it's still quite a bummer.

Last night I racked an ESB to secondary to settle out for a day or two before bottling, and my tasting sample was excellent. I'm incredibly excited for this beer to bottle condition and get into my fridge. It and the Rochefort 8 clone that's currently fermenting happily away in my closet are great consolation to me when I look at the ~4 cases of beer (the Oktoberfest and hefe) that I'll either drink grudgingly or not at all, never mind sharing it with friends and family. As I sip a beautifully-simple malt-forward 3-month-old IPA of my own devising, I find I'm capable of RDWHAHB, but only just. Without the promise of that stuff coming down the pipeline, I could see how I might be pretty down on myself and the hobby at this moment.

I haven't really experienced a ton of disappointment as a homebrewer up to this point. Partly the sharper sense of discouragement probably stems from the fact that I'm in a manic phase vis-a-vis beer lately, and have been reading, tasting, and brewing a lot. The more I learn, the more conscious about things I get, the harsher a critic I am of my own efforts. And I'm sure I'm not alone.

I'm curious to hear from other intermediate-to-advanced homebrewers who have had maybe some adverse experiences. What did you learn? Did it make you look at the hobby differently? Have you ever considered the amount of time & money you've spent on a batch (or in general) in juxtaposition to your finished product and just been profoundly discouraged? I love homebrewing and have made more than a few fantastic beers, but sometimes I think I'm at a point where the geekery and reading and actual process of brewing brings me more satisfaction than what ends up in my glass.
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Old 09-14-2011, 02:00 AM   #2
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One thing I've found after making a significant amount of beer: if you are shooting for a certain style, stick to the recipe, and adjust post facto if necessary. More is NOT better.

In the case of your ocfest, I would definitely have added water to get it down to 1.055. It makes a difference.

Next tiime you make a beer (or with one of your current beers), get some commercial examples, then have a friend assist you in a blind comparison. You might be surprised.

Dump any beer you find difficult to drink. Or give it away. I've done this on numerous occasions, and good riddance.

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Old 09-14-2011, 02:05 AM   #3
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wow did i post this?

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Old 09-14-2011, 02:58 AM   #4
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Shouldn't oktoberfest ferment around 60f since the actual beer is 5-10 degrees warmer? That could be the problem. And remember KISS

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Old 09-14-2011, 02:59 AM   #5
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Time can do alot for a beer.

For example, I did a batch of the Graff cider. It was decent, but I spent most of the time consuming it thinking "I could be drinking beer instead of this..." For some reason though it just hit what it needed to in the last week and became fantastic.

But sometimes you just don't have that luxury. I did a batch of AHS Scotch Ale twice and both times it just didn't come out right. I also did a few of their 20th Anniversary brews and they were distinctly "Meh" at best. Sure, it's beer alrighty but do I want to devote space in my keezer to something that I'm just not all that fond of?

I brew for myself. If it doesn't knock my socks or trip my trigger then it's going down the drain.

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Old 09-14-2011, 05:11 PM   #6
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I've been brewing for the past 5 years, and probably have experienced every disappointment known. I moved to all grain about 3 years ago, which drastically improved the control I have over styles/types of beers I'm making.

The real breakthrough for me came not too long ago. After mediocre batches, I really looked at my process from start to finish.

The first thing, double checking my sanitation process, it's a pain in the @ss, but probably the most important aspect of brewing great beer.
The second part of the process, I finally invested in an o2 system to re-oxygenate the wort after boil. I can’t begin to describe how vigorous all my fermentations have been since. Short lag time on fermentation will always equal a better beer.

Third part, fermentation temp control. Aside from sanitation, this is what I believe is the most crucial part of brewing. If you have the ability to control the fermentation temps, you eliminate virtually every variable related to fermentation. I bought a 5cu Chest Freezer from Lowes, Ranco controller, and it’s been by far the best $200 I’ve invested in brewing.

Fourth, I originally subscribed to the 2 weeks in primary, 2 weeks secondary/conditioning rule. However, that was actually part of the problem. I now ferment all my batches for a minimum of 3 weeks in the primary; this gives the yeast time to do ‘its thing’, which is clean up! A lot of the tastes and flavors in my previous beers were related to not allowing the yeast enough time to really do their job.


Fifth, I made the same recipe 5 batches in a row, using the same grains, yeast, etc. I wanted to see the difference from batch to batch. Once I was confortable, and convinced that I was making the exact same recipe with consistancy, I moved on. It's also worth noting, that for the longest time, I only used liquid yeast. Now I'm 100% DRY YEAST, Consistent, predictable, repeatable. <-- that might be my own experience, but I've had no problem since switching.


So with a bit of process improvement, better equipment, I’m making some of the best beers I’ve ever made. Stick with it. Is it cheaper to go by a 30 pack of the yellow fizzy stuff? Sure, but I don’t brew because I’m trying to save money on beer, it’s a hobby, it’s fun, and you get to drink it!

Cheers!

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Old 09-14-2011, 05:33 PM   #7
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Awesome post, man, thanks for the reply! All sound advice, I think. The swamp cooler is a new addition to my brewing arsenal, and I'm hoping it will lead to some substantially better beers. Will definitely look into more advanced means of oxygenation in the future, too.

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Old 09-14-2011, 07:41 PM   #8
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Also this afternoon I decided to give the same hefe recipe another shot, partially due to that post.

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Old 09-14-2011, 07:48 PM   #9
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Nice, good luck!

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Old 09-14-2011, 08:29 PM   #10
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I am glad the dry yeast is working for you, but you are at a disadvantage for certain styles with dry yeast only. Beligans, hefes, etc. There is really no reason why you shouldn't be able to get consistent results from liquid yeast.

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