10 Worst Homebrewing Mistakes

HomeBrewTalk.com - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Community.

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

My dad taught me that making mistakes comes with the opportunity for an education; hence the phrase, "learn from your mistakes." However, I prefer to learn from someone else's mistakes. Some of the most fun you can have in this short life is watching someone get himself in a pickle, and then try to get out of it. In fact, that's often the funniest part.
A few years ago, I was having an addition to my house built. The construction manager, Owen, and I stood on the deck discussing the plans. I was having trouble listening, though; one of his workers was trying to get a company pickup truck turned around in a small space right at the edge of a cliff. The other workers gave him instructions, holding their fingers a couple of inches apart to show how close he was to the loose, crumbling drop-off. It was rather distracting, and I couldn't focus on Owen. Hang on a second, I said. I need to see this.
Owen turned around to see what was going on, and turned a strange shade of green. He owned that truck, and paid the drivers work comp. Plus, they might have been friends, I don't know. Me, I just watched in gruesome fascination as the idiot driver executed the worlds first 96-point turn. Somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered why he hadn't just backed out, but whatever. Owen wiped his forehead with his sleeve and gave me a sidelong scowl. You act like you want him to fall off the cliff.
No, I dont, I said firmly. But if he does, I do want to see it. I gave him a manly slap on the shoulder. Come on, man! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Its like reality TV, but you're in it.
You can laugh; thats not your guy, he said.
Damn right hes not.
* * *
Maybe that was harsh. My views have changed, about a lot of things. Ive had two little girls since then, and Im now a more sensitive, compassionate fellow.

Healthy Kruasen
Healthy Krausen " this is what your beer should look like in primary (if you're making an ale and not a lager). Note the mottled brainy ivory foam laced with hops and brown stuff (hot break). Credit: http://mash-lauter.blogspot.com/
In that spirit, I would like to offer all beginning homebrewers out there a chance to learn from other brewers mistakes. Some are mine, and some are those of fellow brewers here at HomeBrewTalk. Here's a link to the discussion thread in which I asked the members to contribute their knowledge. They really stepped up and contributed more material than I can include here, so head over there to see the rest.
Top 10 Worst Newbie Home Brewing Mistakes
They're not in any particular order. Their importance will vary from brewer to brewer, and it was so hard narrowing it down to the Top 10, I figure any one of them could be the #1 Worst Mistake.
1. Failing to check connections
If you're doing an all-grain brew, you will transfer the wort from the mash tun to the boil kettle (this is called lautering). Be sure the valve is closed on the boil kettle before beginning the transfer. Later, when you get ready to chill the wort, make sure the hose connections on the chiller are secure. If not, there are two ways this can go wrong.
A " The water in the chiller will heat to boiling and come spattering out, scalding everything in range.
B " When you turn on the water that cools the chiller, it will spray into your wort, ruining your target boil gravity. A checklist helps here (see below).
2. Lack of prep
Doing maintenance or research on brew day is a bad idea. Accidents are bound to happen. Brew day is complicated enough without adding tasks like maintenance and research.
A - I had a bad thermometer on my boil kettle, so on brew day I told my son to replace it, but later; after I added the hot water to the mash tun. An hour later I said OK, time to replace that thermometer. So he goes out and removes the thermometer screwed into the mash tun, dousing himself in a gallon of hot wort. By the time I ran out to help plug the hole, I don't know how much we lost, but it was more than I wanted.
B - Do your research ahead of time. When you have 5 minutes until the next hops addition, now is not the time to see if you can replace one type of hops for another without missing your target bitterness/flavor/aroma. Besides, while you're caught up in research, who's watching the boil? (See below).
3. Failing to use a checklist
When you're first starting, you haven't yet developed brewing habits. For example, I put on my seat-belt automatically when I get in the truck. One time I moved my truck just from one side of the driveway to the other, and then tried to get out only to find that I was strapped in, and hadn't even known it. Until you develop these automatic behaviors, use checklists. They keep you from forgetting things or missing steps. Go over the checklist the day before, and also use it on brew day. Just do a search for brew day checklist.
4. Boiling/Fermenting in too small a vessel
Whether you're boiling or fermenting, you need headspace. When the wort heats, it expands. Also, at the beginning of the boil you get hot break, which causes boilovers. I do my 7 gallon boil in a 10 gallon pot, and that's as tight as I want it. Primary fermentation results in a foamy layer called krausen, and you need head space in the vessel for it.

Vigorous Fermentations May Require A Blowoff Tube
Fermentation explosions can be a mess. How to prevent this: Use a large enough blowoff tube when crafting a big beer; allow more head space in the primary fermentor. Credit: RndyIamTheLqr https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?t=361504
If you don't provide space for the krausen, it will seep upward into the airlock, plug it, and build pressure which can relieve itself explosively and leave you a messy souvenir on the ceiling, walls, furniture, and carpet. Maybe even your keyboard. Do your primary fermentation in a vessel that has about 20% greater volume than the batch size. I use a 6.5 gal. carboy for a 5.5 gal batch.
5. Turning your back on the boil kettle
Boilovers occur in seconds. Seriously. The spilled wort gets scorched on the burner and the outside of the kettle, and the stench can linger for days. Besides that, you lose ingredients, altering your recipe, usually for the worse. TIP: Turn the burner off before any boil additions. They tend to cause boilovers.
6. Pitching late
The whole point of the wort, its very raison d'etre, is to be an ideal growth medium for yeasts and bacteria. Think of it as gardening. You want to sow squash seeds; not crab grass seeds. The same is true of your wort. Inoculate it with your intended yeast as soon as the wort is chilled and oxygenated, so it will take over and outpace any mold or bacteria that may infect your batch.
A healthy yeast culture will dominate and lead you to success, but left alone to multiply without competition, one healthy Lactobacillus bacterium will have you dumping the batch, unless you're a fan of sour beers.
7. Bottling early or over priming
You need to be sure your primary fermentation is complete before you bottle, or you'll get exploding bottles. Don't rely on airlock activity; take a gravity reading with your hydrometer or refractometer. Another cause of exploding bottles is over priming. Carefully measure your priming sugar. Too little and your beer will be flat, too much and it will be on the ceiling.
8. Opening the bottles early
Bottle conditioning takes time. How long depends on many factors, but a good rule of thumb is two weeks at room temperature. If you taste the beer too early, it wont be fully carbonated, or worse, you may get some off flavors from the by-products of the still-active yeast. Besides that, the yeast can give you a moderate case of diarrhea accompanied by bloating and stomach pain.
The yeast needs time to process the by-products of its own fermentation, and then go dormant and settle to the bottom of the bottle. This is why, with a bottle-conditioned beer, you usually decant the beer off the yeast. (One exception is Weissbier, or Hefeweizen, as Americans call it. With this style of beer, you should swirl up the yeast and pour it into your glass. Don't worry, it wont hurt you, and it tastes wonderful). Basically, just be patient, and it will pay off.
9. Failing to maintain set discipline in the brewery
I used to make movies, and maintaining set discipline " the First Assistant Directors job " was the key to getting things done efficiently and safely. I don't know the brewers term for this; lab safety? Brewery procedure? You get the idea, though.
A - Safety first. Making beer is fun, and its a good way to spend an afternoon with your kids or some friends, but there are many risks that must be abated. One serious accident can take all the fun out of brew day, and worse. Several gallons of boiling wort can cause life-threatening injuries. There are large amounts of boiling liquid, flames, electricity, pumps, heavy glass objects such as carboys, and potentially toxic chemicals, as in the water testing kit. You need to keep a clear head and be safe, and then you'll have a good time.
B - Temperature control. Making beer is art, but its also chemistry. Certain desirable things happen within certain temperature ranges, but over- and under-shooting a mash or fermentation temperature can ruin a beer. What fun is that?
C - Control the mash pH. Tannins are great in a nice Cabernet, but they will put an instant chill on a beer buddy bromance. These astringent compounds are extracted from the grain husk during the mash if either the pH or the temperature gets too high. The ideal numbers vary based on the recipe, but generally you want to keep the pH between 5.2 and 5.5, and the temperature in the 150s (Fahrenheit).
D - Sanitation. There's a saying that its hard to make bad beer, but that's assuming you have a good fermentation. In other words, you might have aimed for a Brown but wound up with an Amber, and so you failed to achieve what you set out to do, but if its a good Amber, you still have a good beer. Even if its only mediocre, its not bad. But if your beer gets infected, that's bad.

Infections Are Easily Preventable
One of many possible beer infections. Credit: arringtonbp https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?t=283677
There's no such thing as excessive sanitation. It might be more than is necessary, but the only harm is wasted time and materials. Bad sanitation, on the other hand, can ruin the whole batch. Make sure your equipment is cleaned first, and then sanitized. Clean it to remove particles of food, which can harbor bacteria. You cant sanitize a dirty vessel or hose. It just doesn't work.
10. Brewing drunk
This one factor affects everything previously mentioned. You start out great. Got your checklist ready, equipment sanitized, ingredients weighed and lined up, and all your prep done. You start the mash, set the timer and pour a nice bottle. Trust me, this is the beginning of the end. After a couple of bottles you remember a pack of hops with a little left in it, and recalculate your recipe to use them instead of a fresh pack.
You get your math wrong. When lautering, you forget to close the valve on the boil kettle, and the wort goes all over the floor. Then you misread the boil gravity and add too much LME. Then you fail to stir it properly and carbonize it on the bottom of the kettle. Need I go on?
Just remember; don't drink to excess and brew. If you can control yourself and drink just one, fine. If not, send me an account of your experience when you sober up, and I might include it in a follow up article.
Ive given you the Top 10; now here's a bonus. Don't obsess about every minor detail. I know that might sound contradictory to the Top 10, but really its not. Basically, the only thing you really must get right is safety. Other than that, the worst that can happen is to waste time and material. Just get in there and get some experience. Make some effort to avoid batch-ruining mistakes, and when you make mistakes, learn from them and keep getting better. But make sure you and your brewer friends are having fun; there's really no other reason to get into a hobby like this.
Contributions by Home Brew Talk Forum Members
I wish to thank the HBT forum members for their input. It really was an indispensable part of helping me identify and narrow down the Top 10, and I learned quite a few things. It is not sensible to include every comment; to read the whole list, go right to the thread. There will probably be additional helpful contributions after this article is written. Everyone's contribution was helpful, and I have selected a few to include here:

Advanced Homebrewing Systems
Fancy-pants home brew setup. (Id love to have one).
Credit: JonW https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?t=204705

Rhumbline says:
"In my opinion, the biggest mistake new Brewers make is over complicating the process. It is entire possible to make very good beer without a whole lab worth of equipment.
It isn't necessary to obsess over every last degree or the phase of the moon. Just brew it!"

jwalk4 says:
"After 1000's [of] "d'oh!!!" moments I still make great beer. So I wouldn't say there are many "worst" mistakes to make. Just don't cut corners, but don't be afraid to experiment, and you'll never be disappointed.
I would give the advice to always go bigger (not necessarily more expensive or complicated) with your equipment than you initially intend. I've spent way more money trying to do things smaller and cheaper when I should have just bought what I wanted in the first place (ie. get the 10 gallon brew kettle instead of settling for the 7.5, etc)."

markstache treats us to this gut-buster:
"Not so much directions as what I did on my first batch:
0. Get drunk.
1. Throw everything into a pot that is too small.
2. Heat to boil.
3. Boil over. Repeat.
4. Forget to add hops. Or add hops late. Or some other plan you won't remember because of step 0. (Note: the next day your will find hops all over the floor. Throw these out.)
5. Let sit out over night. Don't worry, it will still be quite warm the next day. Perfect temperature for microbial growth.
6. Hydrate yeast in 130F water to annihilate them. Toss dead yeast in wort.
7. Cover with plastic wrap, but not too tightly to allow fruit flies easy access.
8. Stick in bath tub of water for temp control. Optional: remove pot when taking a shower.
9. Constantly remove lid to see if it is fermenting yet.
10. When fermentation does not start after 3 days (see step 6), get a new packet of dry yeast and toss it it. Fermentation will now be vigorous.
11. Harvest yeast by skimming krausen with spoon. Important: spoon must not be sanitized.
12. Leave on vacation for a week.
13. After a week, smell wort. If it smells like vinegar, congratulations, you're ready to throw out your first batch of beer! If vinegar smell not apparent yet, remove plastic wrap to introduce more fruit flies. Wait another week. Remember, throwing out beer takes patience."

m1k3 says:
"Using StarSan (or bleach!) on dirty equipment. (You can't sanitize dirty.) Leave the valve open and transfer down the driveway (or kitchen floor). Leave the water on and overflow the vessel, don't check chiller connections and run gallons of water into your wort during chilling."
locolorenzo22 says:
"Not pay[ing] attention after starting wort chiller and having boiling hot water come out onto your hand for a few seconds. Very lucky the burn wasn't worse. ALWAYS pay attention to everything, but more so when there is the potential for disaster."
Brettomomyces says:
"I think one of the biggest mistakes you can do on brew day is to drink before you start or early on. Obviously having a beer while brewing is great, but it takes a lot of experience under you belt to be able to finish a lot of brewing tasks a little off from sober. Be clear-headed and follow directions! At least until the boil starts..."

Basic Five Gallon Batch Brewing Kit
A simple, entirely adequate home brew setup. Extract kits make delicious beer if the extract is fresh, and its an easy way to get started without spending a lot of money. Like camping or fishing, you can do it cheap, or you can spend so much your wife divorces you.
Credit: Phil Gowling, http://www.iheartbeer.net/2015/02/03...-home-brewing/

Psylocide says:
"Ok. Well, here are a few that are terrible and were all committed by myself on my first brew:
1. Didn't treat tap water with Campden tablets for chlorine/chloramines (big mistake).
2. LME expired 11/2009. I brewed this in Sep. of 2014.
3. Scorched the hell out of the LME.
4. Measured my DME incorrectly, got about half the required amount in there.
5. Pitched yeast at ~72[F]. No temp control.
6. After realizing my DME error, days after pitching, boiled up some DME and added it. Added when it was hot... don't think that ever fermented out completely.
This resulted in the very first Green Apple Irish Stout, complete with fusel alcohol burn and plastic-y/burnt hotdog aftertaste. Still have some bottles if anyone wants to do a trade."

Cheesy_Goodness says:
"1) Temperature control is worth every penny. If you can't afford/don't have room, brew with something that can handle the heat.
2) Your beer doesn't care at all about how long it should take to ferment. It'll be ready when it's damn well ready.
3) Do not (NOT!) turn your back on the kettle as it's coming to a boil. On my third brew I managed to have a boil-over, get cleaned up, put it back on the heat, turn around FOR ONE FVKNG SECOND, and have a second boilover.
Sidenote: If you're wanting to make friends with wife, best not to smoke up the house and create an impossibly hard to clean stove in one night."

joshesmusica says:
"These are some things that seem to be common throughout the "help I'm a noob" threads:
1. Not reading up enough on simple brewing techniques and just trying to figure things out as you go.
2. Not having some kind of ferment temp control.
3. Trusting the guy at the LHBS, whether that be in buying equipment, ingredients, and/or instructions on brewing techniques.
4. Not pitching enough yeast, and/or not handling yeast properly.
5. Being impatient and racking/packaging too early.
6. Not brewing a proven recipe.
7. Trusting kit instructions.
8. Not becoming a member here first and reading through a lot of the aforementioned "help a noob" threads.
9. Going off of airlock activity when determining when fermentation is completed, instead of gravity measurements, and/or measuring FG with a refractometer.
10. Dumping out a beer because you realized you made one of the previous mistakes and therefore assumed the batch was ruined."

JonM says:
"Treating every batch like your life depends on a successful outcome. It's not the last batch you'll ever brew. If something's not perfect this time, make note of what you did and do something else next time. Don't freak out over every little imperfection. In other words, RDWHAHB."
hockeybrewer says:
"Putting your round floating thermometer on the table and turning around to mash in.
Squeezing your steeped grains like they owe you money.
Flicking the foam off your hydrometer while holding the skinny end.
Not using a blow off tube on a hefenweizen.
Trusting your $3 glass carboy handle while its full of beer (caught it just in time).
Doing a 2 gallon boil in a 2.5 gallon pot."

Trust me, I really wanted to include more, but I have to stop somewhere. Please go to the thread for the rest " you wont regret it.
Mini Bio
Manny Edwards is a lawyer, producer, blogger, chemist, survival skills expert, published author, world traveler, outdoorsman, brazen libertarian, and purveyor of fine things. He really digs good craftsmanship. He lives in Middle Tennessee with his drop-dead-gorgeous wife and five awesome children, and blogs at www.SurvivalNewsOnline.com and www.JigHeadBrewing.com, and is soon to launch www.EcoLodgic.com. Hes one of the most honest, strait-shooting fellows youll ever meet, and you can be sure of this because he wrote this bio himself.//www.pinterest.com/pin/create/extension/ t=_self
Great post and spot on with about 99% of the posts seen on the forums with new brewers having issues with their batches or with folks who switch from extract to all grain or mini-mash and cannot figure out what happened to their beer as things go all kinds of wrong.
The biggest things for me that spoke volumes were:
- Not drinking (or in very restrained fashion) on brew day
- Temp control
- Sanitation
- Taking batch notes for later
One I would add to reduce infection risk is to mill your grains AWAY from your brewing/fermenting equipment. That grain dust contains lots of nasties that WILL infect your beer if you are not careful as it will cover EVERYTHING nearby the mill with a fine layer of grain dust when milling grain. I always mill my grains outside of my brew shed just as a precaution.
Haha! Still have bottles of that first batch if anyone is ISO.
Also, I have to disagree with not drinking to excess on brew day. Now that I know what I'm doing, I could knock AG brews out while sleepwalking.
I really like to tie one on during the brew.
Hahaha, I'm guilty of number 4. My first batch I tried to ferment one gallon of beer in a one gallon carboy. Boy, what a mess.
The batch still turned out great through. I made John Palmer's brown ale, and now I have my own brown ale recipe!
If your batch tastes like vinegar, bottle it anyway and tell your friends it is a classic style - malt vinegar liquor. Pairs well with fish and chips...
My first all-grain batch, I had picked up a free turkey burner from CraigsList, and didn't test it. I also decided to do a step mash by mashing in for 144 and then draining wort, heating it, and pouring it back in. Yes, this was my first all-grain batch.
Also - the "mash tun" was an uninsulated bottling bucket with a false bottom and a BIAB mesh bag... and it was 40 degrees out.
So brew day comes, and I start heating the water - or try to. The burner is so corroded that all I am getting is big fat lazy orange flames. After 30 minutes, the strike water is not up to temp, so I decide I better run to Home Depot and buy a new one. By the time I get there and get back, it's too dark outside, so I have to do the brewing the next day.
Next day rolls around, and get the water heated, mash in, and realize after 20 minutes that the wort is cooler than it needs to be. I start heating it (about 2 qts at a time), then pouring it in the top, and drawing off another 2 qts. This goes on for 30 more minutes. I barely get it to 144... I never get it to 156.
So - I decide to sparge off anyway. I collect my wort and start the boil.
About 10 minutes into the boil, I run out of propane. So off to the local store to do a tank swap, and back again. At this point, I have no idea what kind of bittering I am getting out of the 60 minute hops, but I soldier on.
At the end of the boil, I chill pour into my sanitized bucket, and add the dry yeast.
In the end, it was drinkable, but certainly forgettable.
One of the biggest mistakes homebrewers make is to blindly follow the advice on this, or any, forum without thinking it through and checking other sources first. There is SO much bad, old and mis-information out there. I've been around long enough to see most of it. Don't automatically believe anything...test it, blind taste test it, then decide for yourself.
In number 7, don't trust the refractometer after there is alcohol in the solution! I've seen this mistake happen a bunch on the forums. There is a way to convert it, but it's more difficult than just reading the refractometer.
Trying to brew out of your ABV zone. Aka, brewing a 12% during your first few brews. Doesnt turn out so well.
After reading this I realized just how lucky I am. I work full time 45-55 hours a week with long commutes both ways, so naturally I like to drink my HB and Brew on the weekends.
Did two brew days back to back this weekend, drinking both times. The morning of the second day I realized That I put the Hop schedule for the Saison into the Pale Ale! O well with another trip to the lhbs and now having 3 batches in primary I'm sure I will end up better off.
I also bottled the wrong beer a few weeks back! Such an idiot. Trying to bottle a 3 week primary Amber. Ended up bottling what was going to be an IPA, now a very fresh Pale Ale-one week in primary. Luckily it was finished. Now a favorite of me and my friends.
Regarding turning your back on a boil, I regularly do this, after the temperature is stabilized, and with fermcap.
-Begin heating as the mash drains, with first wort hops
-when boil reached and mash finished, adjust to desired boil level
- got for a bike ride, clean the house, or something else, with timer running on cellphone
- return when boil complete and continue
This may take a little experience to do, but is my standard procedure
These are fantastic, and a great article to point someone to that's new to brewing.
So guilty of having a few beers while brewing..... did I put in the Amarillo yet???????
Very nice writeup Manny. I tell new or potential brewers the keys to good beer are temperature control, cleaning/sanitation, proper procedure, and good ingredients. Your list has all those things and more so good job.
Awesome article!! Even with a lot of research everyone will make mistakes. Taking good notes help me see what cause and effects result in my beer. Wish I had this list at the beginning...
"(One exception is Weissbier, or Hefeweizen, as Americans call it.)" Incidentally, German people also call it Hefeweizen. Crazy, eh?
6. Pitching late
While I agree, pitching late is not ideal, I feel it is much more important to pitch at a favorable temperature than pitch quickly. I feel too many noobs feel a great urgency to get the yeast pitched, that they will pitch hot.
Always better to pitch at the proper cooler temp then pitch quickly to warm wort.
@bbohanon Great point about milling away from the equipment. I hadn't thought of it, but that dust is going to be full of fermentables.
@ZebulonBrewer That's exactly right. There's a good refractometer correction tool at Brewersfriend.com, but you have to know the wort correction factor to get accurate conversions.
@Micha Good to know! I asked about it in Switzerland, and they didn't seem to use the term. But I'm looking forward to a trip to Germany!
I think it's funny that the picture of blowoff incident was actually using a blowoff - you don't see that too often! Prepared, just not prepared enough I guess ;)
My first brew ever. Followed the direction to a T!
Bring water to temp, check
Add grains, check, add hops, check
add dme, check
chill wort, check
add to secondary, check
Bottle, check
Let sit for 2 weeks, check.
Open on Superbowl Sunday.
Wow this is bitter.
The directions said add the hops. They never said that they needed to be added at different times. I added 4oz of hops at the start of the boil.
I just switched to all-grain and i already made a couple of mistakes on my first try. Everything went well until it came to chilling the wort and i didn't check all connections. Luckily it didn't come apart in the wort but only broke connection on the chiller that was in the ice bucket and melted all the ice. Second i started drinking before brewing so i was a little sloppy probably why i didn't check all the connections and i had a spill over once or twice. Also since i couldn't get the wort to fermentation temp i pitched the yeast way above recommended temp. Not sure how it will turn out i put it in the fermentation chamber to chill but that took a long time. I'm going to pitch yeast again in hopes that i can salvage the batch because I'm sure the temp killed most of the original yeast. Oh well you live in learn. Don't drink too much on brew day!!!!