Homebrew update: don't treat homebrew books as gospel

We may have found the answer to the stuck fermentation problem we were having.


The last brew looked to be going the same disastrous way. We had an Original Gravity of 1066, which we would expect to drop to between 1017 and 1022. After an initial strong fermentation and then appeared to stop. We took a reading a week later, and were disappointed to find it had only dropped to 1032. Another week, and we were at 1028. We almost gave up but thought we may as well leave it. Good move, as after three weeks it had dropped to 1021, and was actually beginning to taste drinkable too. It’s now around 6.1% ABV! We’ve put it into secondary fermentation, and think we might leave this to mature in bottles for a couple of months.

Anyway, the point here is: don’t get hung up on what homebrew books / websites tell you. They all disagree with each other and often contradict themselves within a few pages.  We were getting worried because most sources seemed adamant that a week should be sufficient for a primary fermentation. We’d read that primary fermentation should be 2-3 days and also 3-5 days. In the same book. But then the book goes on to give recipes with up to 4 weeks primary fermentation.

Similar with mash temperatures – I’ve read that it should be 65degC, 70 deg C and even 75-80 degC. The thing is that all of these books are so dogmatic, and terrify you into thinking you will ruin your beer if you’re a degree or two out. Whereas in fact it may make the difference of a few grams of sugar BUT IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!

Sure, if you’re running a microbrewery or more, precise temperature measures, careful water treatment etc might make all the difference, but by then you’ve probably moved on from “basic” homebrew manuals.

The trouble is, for amateur homebrewers like us, it’s very difficult to work out what advice is absolutely essential (possibly the sanitising stuff?) and what advice is just what works for that particular author, with his particular set up (it always does seem to be a “he”). It would be great to see more homebrewing guides a la Jamie Oliver (“just bung the malt in there, heat the water a bit, leave it a while” etc).

If I was into lazy gender stereotypes, I’d suggest the overly complicated and specific homebrew book is the natural result of a male-dominated hobby. Perhaps we need to think back to the middle ages, when most households (Read: housewives) would brew their own. I’m sure they didn’t worry about the hop utilisation rates, or the ph of the water.


4 replies on “Homebrew update: don't treat homebrew books as gospel”

What are you reading that they all disagree. I have MANY books and the time for primary is 2 weeks standard on ales. As for the Mash temp I think it’s very specifically a matter of the style you are brewing. If you read Papazian’s book there is a definate relax and enjoy the brew approach you speak of, heck he is generally credited with the phrase ‘Relax and have a homebrew”, while this is a major contrast to John Palmer’s approach, remember many engineers are homebrewers and prefer a more technical approach to the topic.

I am definately a more laid back approach brewer the last time I took a gravity reading Clinton was in his first term.

Thanks for dropping by, Thomas. I don’t know the Papazian book, perhaps we’ll have a look at that sometime.

I think different authors believe different elements make a difference. For example, one of our books doesn’t suggest changing the mash temperature for different styles at all – for him, there is one ideal temperature only.

Papazian’s book is nice for beginners, but the best resources are your peers in the hobby, who have ‘been there, done that.’ I recommend the hombrewer forums on sites like Northern Brewer or BeerAdvocate.

Stuck fermentations are quite common with certain yeast strains. I have had made Saisons that did not get to target gravity for nearly a month. As for different mashing temps, it all depends on what you are mashing(corn wheat, oats, rye and barley) in what proportion and what your goal is(fermentability v. mouthfeel).

Good Luck with the homebrew and great blog!

Thanks Brendan. We’re generally using standard Nottingham ale yeast but also tried some yeast we propagated from a bottle of Young’s.

Brewing again on Sunday – not sure what we’ll do differently this time (the last brew again appears to be rather slow / stuck)

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