thaen (thaen) wrote in geekbeer,

first brew failure

Originally published at GeekBeer. Please leave any comments there.

Think of this post as an introduction of characters. There’s me and Tom, the core of geekbeer, but we also have a lot of other folk in the mix. We’ll try to add bios as time allows.

(Worth noting: If you don’t know anything about brewing, I’ll be writing a series of “really basic brew stuff” articles over the course of the next few months. In the meanwhile, I’ll try to keep brew-specific words to a minimum, or at least make sure that they are easily Googled if you’re so inclined.)

I’ve brewed on and off for a while now, but I’ve never brewed with my own gear. It’s a bit pricey to get started all by yourself, so I’ve always gone in on beer equipment with friends. This time, I’m doing it right: Tom is going to help me with brewing, hosting, etc., but all the gear will be mine. This is good for him (he gets to brew without investing anything in gear) and good for me (there’s no entanglement of resources to deal with, and all brewing mishaps are mine to deal wit

This summer, we tried to brew for the first time in ages with a friend from work… It didn’t go well. We tried to brew 3 times, and each time we ended up with this nasty earthy funk to our brew, regardless of how well we cleaned our gear.

Tom and I disagreed about where the funk was coming from. A friend of mine, Dan, who brews consistently and is getting his masters in BioChem in California, pointed me at a site that explains off-flavors in beer, and I found the fuck was likely coming from the water we were using to cool the wort after the boil. Tom, through the use of his nose, found that the funk was extremely strong in our primary fermentation vessel (just a big plastic bucket), and assumed that despite bleaching the shit out of that thing, the funk was coming from there.

In any case, we stopped brewing after 3 failed batches. It’s hard to keep up momentum in face of crushing defeat.

We brewed again last week. All new plastic was recommended by Tom, so that’s what we did. I designed a recipe for a rather insipid Northwest Pale (low hop bitterness, mostly extract, 4-5% alcohol… We’ll get into more beerish terms later).


  • 4.5lbs dry extract
  • 1lb 40L Crystal
  • 10oz German Munich
  • 1lb American 2-row
  • 1oz Cascade hops (bittering)
  • .5oz Chinook (aroma, last 10 minutes of the boil)
  • Wyeast 1056

More comments about the recipe will follow in a vidcast later this week.

The brew went fine. Actually, much better than expected, considering we were using brand-new equipment in my kitchen. The part that didn’t go fine was the pitch.

We’ve long been subscribers to the Alton Brown school of brewing, which uses a bag of ice to cool down and dillute a concentrated wort. It’s a great way to keep extract brews and liquid amounts manageable in the kitchen. The basic idea is that instead of using a wort chiller, you simply dump the wort directly from the boil kettle over a bag of ice. It’s worked wonderfully in the past, and we’re usually able to pitch between 80 and 90 degrees. Not ideal, but not bad for not having a wort chiller.

It didn’t work this time. The ice wasn’t enough to chill the wort, so we ended up having to risk pitching at 110 degrees or thereabouts.

24 hours later, the wort was not bubbling — the high temperature pitch had killed all the yeast. I poured it out last night.

This weekend, we try again. With a wort chiller.

Tags: brew reports, recipes

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