Fermentation Friday: Homebrewing Horror

Posted on 10.30.08 8:13PM under All-Grain, Bottle Conditioning, Brewing, Fermentation Friday, Stories, Troubleshooting, Yeast

It was early in my all-grain career. A beautiful sunny day. Nothing like the cold stormy darkness of Halloween night. Not the sort of scene you’d expect for the tale of terror that will unfold before us.

A Duvel clone. That should have been the first clue. The Devil was at work here. A step mash was called for, but me with my igloo cooler and no real way to do a decent step mash. Eerily, that part went fine. Great, even. I got the best efficiency of my brewing life up to that point on that batch.

The thing was coming along great. After a few weeks, it was time to transfer to secondary. The recipe also called for a bunch of corn sugar to be added at transfer. I was skeptical. My OG was already above the expected value for the recipe, even without this adjunct addition. But I followed the recipe like a zombie seeking delicious brains. I was curious to see how far I could go. I was also curious to see how far I’d come. I bottled one bottle at transfer time with a measured dose of priming sugar.

Two weeks later it was time for me to try out the single bottle made at transfer time. I hadn’t seen much activity in the airlock after adding in all that corn sugar, and I was a little nervous. A bit of positive reinforcement should do the trick. If this one bottle was good, then I should be in good shape.

The sample bottle was incredible. It was fizzy and golden and spicy and all the stuff you’d expect a Duvel clone to be. I was incredibly optimistic.

Then a few weeks later it was bottling time. The gravity reading was my first warning sign. It was way too high. This beer might not have fermented any of the additional sugar I added when I transferred to secondary. Uh-oh.

But I pressed on and bottled it anyway. After all, it was time, and I was ready to have this beer ready to drink.

Two weeks passed. The bottles were still as flat as a glass of water. There was maybe a tiny bit of CO2 dissolved in the beer, or that might have been the beer’s bite. Two more weeks. No more bubbles. I was distraught. That and it tasted totally oversweet and there was some other weird flavor in there. I had botched the extra sugar addition.

I even went so far as to try to add more yeast to the beer. I mixed up a pack of US-05 dry yeast with some water to rehydrate it. Then I opened every bottle of the flat beer and added about a half a teaspoon of the yeasty solution to each beer and recapped it. I thought I was sure this would work. But it didn’t.

In the end, I had a sweet flat oxidized beer with a weird off flavor. It was terrible. And it still is. I saved a few bottles of this brew, hoping that it would somehow magically heal itself with the passage of time. Well it has been over a year, and they’re just as terrible, if not worse, than they were last summer.

Moral of the story is: don’t mess with your beer too much. It might get more messed up than it was in the first place.

Read Comments

  1. Posted by rob on 10.30.08 9:18 PM

    Hilarious. Yet terrifying. A perfect addition to this month’s FF! Thanks for joining in.

  2. Posted by Damon on 10.31.08 9:00 PM

    I think you got lucky. If you had restarted fermentation in the bottle with all that sugar you would have had beer bombs. It sounds cool, but I wouldn’t want to clean up a case of exploded beer.

    Whenever I have problems with a strong beer I add Champagne yeast. It’s a lot more tolerant of alcohol and it isn’t strong flavoured.

  3. Posted by Keith Brainard on 11.01.08 5:28 AM

    Good point… I had never thought of it that way.

    Never had a bottle bomb, and hopefully never will.

    I take that back. One time I had a yeast culture in a bottle that I took in a very sloppy way, just pouring some of the yeast from the bottom of an old batch in a bottle.

    These bottles sat around for a long time. Then one accidentally dropped. As soon as it hit the ground, it exploded and shattered into a million pieces. I still find bits of glass and clumps of yeast around the beer fridge.

    That is not an experience I wish to repeat, especially not for 48 bottles!