Experimenting with dodgy homebrew

We made a ludicrously strong pale Belgian-style beer last summer.

Perhaps because we used too much sugar, or maybe because the yeast (Wyeast 1388) was too inyerface, it didn’t really live up to expectations. It tasted of alcohol and little else, with a very harsh finish. It was “only” 8.3% but tasted much stronger, and not in a good way.

We left it alone for a few months (some in bottles, some in a carboy) to see if time would heal it. It tempered the alcohol flavour a little bit, but there still wasn’t much else to it. We stashed a few bottles away in case it does magically develop some complexity, but we used most of it to experiment, in the hope of discovering what it was missing.

We spiced up five litres (in a polypin) to make a Christmas beer, using 3 cloves, a piece of star anise, and the zest of a satsuma. I tried it on my family at Christmas. My brother went back for seconds, but he still has a bit of a skint student attitude to free booze. The rest of the family made polite noises. I reckon it was a definite improvement on the “raw” beer, and the spices worked well and were not overpowering, adding a touch of complexity. I’ve paid for worse beers in my time, and we’ll use that spice mix again on a better beer. But it was still short of about seven layers of flavour, and I didn’t have the appetite to finish the cask.

We added about half an ounce of Cascade hops to another five litres. This was interesting, as we were expecting it to make it taste weird and “un-Belgian”, but the Cascade flavour didn’t really come through. It added a nice balancing bitterness, reinforcing the conventional wisdom — the bigger the beer, the more hops you need, just for balance. The raw beer had definitely lacked hops, so the dry hopping helped. It still wasn’t enough to make it a beer we particularly wanted to drink (especially not over the bottles of Westmalle Tripel we have in).

So, not a wasted batch, as we learnt a number of things from it, but it would be nice next time to produce something that actually tastes nice!


5 replies on “Experimenting with dodgy homebrew”

I enjoy reading about all brewing attempts. Much can be learned. The failures are sadly inevitable. Why not share the problem? The best thing about the web is the audience who offer advice. ( I haven’t got any to offer, I’m afraid. Spiced beer baffles me.)

I am intrigued, as this year I hope to start brewing my own beers.I fully expect disaster at every stage. One question though..

“It still wasn’t enough to make it a beer we particularly wanted to drink (especially not over the bottles of Westmalle Tripel we have in).”

Would it beat Greene King IPA or any number of similar type bottled beers?

I’m hoping even with my expected incompetence, that my beer will suffice.


Dry hops are a great way to hide the badness of a beer. Sometimes I think that’s the strategy of some commercial brewers.

As soon as you’re making bad beer, you’re pushing your boundaries. But at the same time, it’s nice to make good beer every now and then. Why don’t you try a nice simple Pale Ale or Stout or something?

The most shocking thing to me is that you got that much carbonation from a flip top bottle!

Thom — we’ve picked up some great tips through comments on accounts of our failed brewing attempts!

Ben — this particular beer was probably preferable to a pint of GK IPA, but only just. Some of our simpler beers have worked really well, and it’s tremendous fun experimenting even when they don’t. Our biggest regret, though, was using kits and extracts for a year instead of jumping straight into all grain brewing, which we found gave us better results from the first batch. And malt smells and looks so tasty.

Keith — This particular dodgy beer carbonated beautifully in second hand flip-tops, and looked fantastic. Quite low carbonation, but lots of protein in the beer, I guess? We’ve nailed pale ale, but our stouts have all been so-so. Having said that, a stout we made last year which didn’t taste much good at first is maturing quite nicely and is now pretty pleasant.

Comments are closed.