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 thoughts on “Homebrew update: don’t treat homebrew books as gospel”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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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