4 Mar 2009

Failed attempt

Last weekend I was finally able to try to brew my first beer. The result, unfortunately, was not good. The positivething is that I know what I did wrong, or at least so I believe.

But I still wanted to share with you the experience that, though not successful, was still interesting and quite some fun.

I had read quite a bit, consulted with friends from several countries who gave me many useful tips. I had planned everything carefully and had all the ingredients ready, which had been donated by friends (thanks Honza and Laďa). The equipment was a bit improvised, but since I was only going to brew 5l, I didn't think necessary to buy anything too big.
I like cooking very much, but I'm not the kind of person that follows recipes. Most of what I cook are my own recipes, many of them improvised pretty much on the spot. The few times I do go to a recipe book I do it mostly to get an idea of cooking times and methods, adapting the ingredients to what I have at hand or I find during the shopping. I had the same approach for the beer.

The recipe I came out with was 50% Munich malt, 30% Caramel and 20% wheat and 30g of Saaz hops pelets. I started around noon. I put the grain, about 1,2kg, in a vegetable strainer that could also be used for steaming, and put that in a pot with 3,5l of warm water. I had another 3l warming up in a similar pot.

As recommended by U Medvídku's brewmaster, I went for a three step mashing. Resting for 15mins at 50°C, then 20 minutes at 60° and finally another 20 minutes at 70°. Controlling the temperature was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I picked one of the bar stools, sat in front of the cooker and had some beer while I kept a an eye on the thermometre. My wife, who was a bit afraid the process will stink the whole house, was actually surprised by how well the infusion smelled.
With the mashing finished I took the colander out of and put it on top of the spagetti pot I was going to use for the boiling. I slowly added the water that had been warming on the side, I wanted it to take as much of the sugars as possible, and I repeated the procedure with the very dark "tea" that I had in my "mashing tun".
Once the boiling started I begun with the hopping: 25% at the beginning, 40% at 30 minutes and the rest by the end.
Now it was the most delicate part of the whole thing. The cooling. The day was quite chilly. I had filled a tab with cold water and left it on the balcony during the boiling. I had been told that I shouldn't worry about contamination because the micro-organisms that cause that are not active in cold weather. I took the pot to the balcony and, carefully, dipped it into the water. The temperature went down much faster than I had expected, which made me happy.

I had to improvise when it came to take the density. The evening before I realised that my saccharometer was way too long. While I was thinking what measures to take I remembered that the 2l ornamental glass from Franziskaner I have in my office (I knew someday it was going to do something else than gather dust). I sterilised it with boiling water and worked very well. I looked that the beer wouldn't be very strong, I only measured 8.5% in the scale, but I didn't mind really.
Somewhere around here is when I think I made the mistake. The day before I had been given the yeasts (ale ones) in glass jar with water, which I put in the fridge once I got back home. I had been told that I had to take what I would need out and let them reach room temperature, and I forgot to do that. Neither did I take the hops that were floating about in the wort. Was that also a mistake?

So now I have a plastic box with a very aromatic brown liquid that has not given any sing of life. The yeasts are all in the bottom, I tried adding some more, without any results. It is not easy to accept the fact that I will have to throw the whole lot down the toilet, but I don't think I have any other alternative, or do I?

I will have another go. I will ask the right questions to the right people to see what I that I have to do differently. Needless to say, I'll be more than happy to get your bits of wisdom. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the mistakes were more than one.

Na Zdraví!

Choose your preferred Prague hotels and get free transport.


  1. By the sounds of it, you pitched an essentially good yeast culture into a reasonably warm wort, and I think this would have shocked the yeast into inaction. Definitely need to try again, anf don't forgot about the smoked malt I have sitting around. My next project is likely to be Belgian style wit beer, but using lime peel instead of orange.

  2. Oops, meant "cold yeast culture" not "good yeast culture".

  3. I think you are right (and there is no reason to assume the yeast culture wasn't good).
    My next question is, the little buggers are in the bottom, is there a chance I can use them again?

  4. I am not sure to be honest, but if they have suffered a case of thermic shock then I would be very surprised.

  5. I wouldn't ditch it just yet. Rock the container gently to get the yeast mixed up with the wort. Give it another day or so, and the yeast might wake up and start working.

  6. I've heard of salvaging otherwise good beers with neutral yeast, like Champagne yeast. Combined with the suggestions from Mike, you might be able to save it.

    Otherwise, I say try another batch using the knowledge you gained from this one. That's what homebrewing is all about.

    Good luck, Pivero!

  7. Are home brew supplies widely available in Prague?
    With the prevalence of cheap, good beer, there is probably not much market for it.
    But, home brew sales in the UK are on the up, because of the credit crunch.
    Next time I go to U Bulovky, I must ask them if they have any spare yeast :)

  8. No, not really. Homebrewing is something relatively new here.
    There is a website that sells kits, some equipment and ingredients.
    I bought the thermometer at a kitchen supplies shop and after quite a bit of walking, same with the hydrometer, which actually is a wine sacharometer.
    The ingredients I got from friends.