Lessons From the Bottom of the Barrel

This post is not about the glory - it’s about the guts. The guts to admit that you royally screw things up sometimes and be open about your mistakes with your Brewmies. “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” I may have never needed to hear it more than I did this week. Let’s start from the beginning.  

I decided to follow Johnathan Hagen’s advice on splitting batches and double the fun and experimental capacity by replacing my punctured five gallon fermenter with two three gallon fermenters. I use the frowned-upon method of two three-gallon pots to brew instead of a six-gallon (or larger) pot because I find the smaller pots easier to manage. I felt I had finally found a way to use my small pot setup to my advantage!

So excited was I at the possibilities my beautiful new acquisitions (“The Girls”) afforded me, I started mashing my first split batch of 35% wheat IPA… at 8:30pm that day. I planned to split my single mash between the two pots and two fermenters. I planned to single-hop with Galaxy and Ringwood Ale Yeast (1187) in one, and single-hop with the new variety called Waimea from New Zealand and American Ale Yeast (1056) in the other. Not only were these going to be two fruity IPAs for my spring arsenal, but it would provide the Brewminaries and Bitter and Esters an opportunity to try out Waimea in a single hop batch.

90 Minutes Later

It’s 10pm on a Thursday and my mash is stuck solid. Rice hulls, you say? No, I completely forgot to add those. I’m fighting what appears to be actual Jell-O forming throughout my mash and just hoping I can drain enough wort for one three gallon fermenter before dawn. I was able to squeeze six gallons out of it, but not without lots of expletives yelled into the night. Pre-boil gravity was irrelevant since mash efficiency went out the window after the clock struck midnight. I wasn’t looking that beast in the eye.

2 AM...

I’m ready to pitch my yeast. I pat myself on the back for overcoming the mash debacle and keeping my hop additions straight considering I was doing two hop schedules at one time. Three minutes later, I’m pitching Ringwood into the wrong batch - the Waimea batch - that is supposed to have that clean American Ale backbone so we can all experience the new hop.

I comfort myself knowing that if I just give it a diacetyl rest it will still be pretty clean, and my Galaxy batch with 1056 will probably be even more slammin’ than the original. I even get sassy and add some fresh guavas to the Galaxy batch during week three. Despite the yeast mixup, both fermenters are smelling like a vacation after dry hop additions and I am sure the Galaxy and guava combo is going to get me the brewing cred I could seriously use as a new Dictator.

Bottling Night

I decide to prep the bottling sugar for three batches to make the long night go a little more efficiently I had an Imperial Stout that needed bottling as well, which goes off without a hitch. Halfway through bottling the Galaxy/guava brew, I realize I’ve made a huge mistake. I forgot to scale down my priming sugar addition for the 2.25 gallons of beer I had instead of 5. I am certain to have bottle bombs, and all my grand plans are RUINED!!!

“Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.”
– Charlie Papazian  

Seeing no other options at that point, I relaxed, and I had some damned homebrew. Sipping on the Oyster Saison I made for Charlie Papazian’s visit to Bitter and Esters last year, I realized it doesn’t really matter if my big plans for the split batch don’t work out. I still have two awesome and quite similar beers that I can combine together to make a 5 gallon batch and balance out the priming sugar concentration. The beer will probably still be fine - and if it isn’t, that’s fine too. Sure, my guava addition will probably be too dilute to detect - but it’s better than having exploding bottles!

I brew because I enjoy the craft, the science, and the company. I love our community, and I love that we have been able to start this homebrew club where I can share these pathetic but hilarious stories without judgment. I readily admit that these were completely avoidable mistakes, and I hope to remind those of you out there who are also making them to join in the fun! Let’s screw up and learn from each other - or at least get some adult supervision during bottling. In the words of Rafiki: Ah yes, the past can hurt. But...you can either run from it, or learn from it!

Sheri Jewhurst

Sheri is a native Long Islander and brewed her first batch in 2011 after volunteering at a brewery in Tasmania, Australia. Sheri co-created the Ladies-Only Brewshop 101 and Brewprenticeship courses at Bitter and Esters, but spends her days as a water quality scientist. Sheri has a soft spot for any Australian hops and likes to brew sessionable beers.