Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Adventures in Homebrewing: Monastic Misery

You may have noticed a real lack of homebrewing posts here as of late and I'm here to tell you why.
I screwed up my last batch something awful.

Back in August I brewed what I was expecting to be a Belgian Golden Strong Ale for my homebrew club's Monk Melee competition. This was my first crack at the style but I was confident that I had done enough research to put together something that would satisfy my own tastes and hell, maybe even win something at the competition I helped organize. As you may have surmised from the title of this post, that did not happen.

This batch turned out totally undrinkable and a good chunk of the bottles never even carbonated. I gave it plenty of time to condition just hoping that something would come of it but it was all for naught. Unlike many fellow homebrewers, my first batches came out quite well and I even won some competitions with very few brews under my belt. It took me more than a year to concoct this travesty but hopefully I've learned something here. I received my scorecards from the competition judges (who I'd to apologize to for subjecting them to such misery) and they left me plenty of comments, here is the jist:

-scorched malt
-only a little fruitiness
-burnt rubber and cereal
-no carbonation
-a bit hazy and dark for style
-no head
-sour cider vinegar
-not balanced with hop bitterness
-no peppery spice flavors at all
-very sweet like honey
-full body
-acidic and thin
-very problematic
-not to this style at all
-sanitize everything
-pitch plenty of yeast
-this is not a Belgian golden strong

Who the hell knows what happened here? Obviously the batch was dumped down the drain one very sad winter's eve. I'm fairly confident with my sanitation but you can never be sure, I'm thinking that the real problem was with my yeast and fermentation. I was really surprised just how off the appearance was though, I was not expecting this to turn out nearly as dark as it did.
I've finally gotten around to getting another brew together for (hopefully) this weekend and I'll be sure to be much more aware this time around. I figured I would share just how much can go wrong with a well intended brew if you're not careful.

Anyone else have some sad tales to tell with a failed batch out there? I'm sure there are plenty.



  1. i have 1.5 weeks to wait until my first batch is done with the with the bottle fermentation. ill let you know if its glory or failure!

  2. I recently had an English IPA that I was confident in, and made two batches at once. All was good up until bottling. Over 100 bottles had to be dumped. Since then I have replaced most of my bottling equipment, tubing, and sanitized the hell out of everything else. The only time I ever think about the cost of homebrewing is when a batch goes terribly wrong.

    1. A double batch...ouch! I'm definitely going to be picking up some new equipment as well, hopefully that will take care of some the issues here.

  3. sounds like some yeast problems for sure. That's why it seems thick, undercarbonated, and some off flavors. Did you pitch enough yeast? Did you do a yeast starter at all? Just my 2 cents. Also the burnt/scorched comments are interesting. Are you doing all grain or extract? If all grain, make sure you vorlauf and keep grain out of the kettle. If extract, save some of the malt addition until the last 15 mins or so. Having not tasted it, that's the best I can offer.

    I've yet to dump a batch, but I have a stout that went sour (lacto infection), so I let it keep fermenting and later added some Brett to make it really funky. In a few months it will either be funky-good or funky-terrible, so I may have my first dumper.

    1. I'm partial mash/extract as of right now. I actually did split up my malt additions as you suggested, hoping to keep it on the lighter side but apparently it didn't work. I didn't have a yeast starter here but should have probably done so since these Belgians are so dependent on the yeast.

      Good luck with that stout, sounds like it could turn out interesting at least.

  4. Maybe it was the magnet's fault!

    Sorry to hear about your troubles. I recently brewed a batch of pumpkin ale that can be described with some of the comments above... not the best feeling in the world. Haven't dumped it yet, but probably should.

    I would agree with Chris that fermenation conditions may be to blame. Sept/Oct can be tough to brew in the Northeast b/c you typically have the AC off. One day can be 85F and another 50F. The burnt malt flavor could be due to some candi sugar scorching.

    Give your equipment a deep cleaning, sanitize the hell out of everything and get back on the horse. You're only as good as your next brew...

    1. I wasn't totally thrilled with my pumpkin ale at first my after letting some sit for a while it turned out much more enjoyable. Some things just need time I guess.

      I never thought about the candi sugar scorching, I tried to keep them in motion but that might have been it.

  5. Second batch i ever made only two of the bottles turned out the rest were undrinkable. Just learn from your mistakes and move on to the next batch.

  6. kyle was that batch where you dropped the magnets into the pot?

    1. Yeah this was the magnetic batch, let's just blame them and move on.