Category: Homebrewing (Page 1 of 3)

Brewing with Old Yeast vs. New Yeast – Pt. 1

Yeast can be the most influential ingredient in beer, and many brewers often take special care to provide ideal conditions for their yeast in order to attempt to produce excellent beer and avoid certain yeast-derived off-flavors. Likewise, brewers often concern themselves with pitching yeast prior to its “best before” date and also trying to ensure an appropriate yeast cell count for a given batch of wort.

Curious as to how yeast beyond its “best before” date would perform, a 10 gallon batch of wort was brewed and split into two 5 gallon vessels, one batch was inoculated with one vial of yeast pitched prior to its “best before” date, and the other batch was pitched with the same variety of yeast that had exceeded its “best before” date by approximately 5 ½ years.

Old Yeast vs New Yeast.

The particular yeast tested in this experiment was White Labs Belgian Style Ale Yeast Blend WLP 575, one vial with a “best before” date of Sep. 10th, 2012, and the other vial with a “best before” date of Feb. 10th, 2018. Both vials of yeast had been stored at approximately 37 °F (2.78 °C).

[Note: The manufacturing date of White Labs yeast is said to be four months prior to the “best before” date listed on the packaging.]

Essentially, two things are being tested here:

1. Can enough (or any) viable (live) yeast cells survive after being in a vial for nearly six years in order to ferment wort?
2. Assuming wort can be fermented with six-year-old yeast, will pitching the reduced amount of viable yeast affect the final character of the beer enough to be identified in a taste test when compared to a similar beer made with newer yeast and thus a higher pitching rate?

Experiment Considerations

Being that Belgian yeast is being tested, it seemed only fitting that a Belgian style wort should be brewed. But what kind of Belgian wort would be best so as to minimize stress on the yeast and provide the best possible chance of growth, especially considering that the almost six-year-old vial of yeast might not have much if any viable yeast?

After careful scientifical consideration, it was concluded that a Belgian Dark Strong ale recipe with a starting gravity of 1.116 would be a good testing ground for old yeast, because as Euclid’s 6th Postulate clearly states: “Go Big or Go Home.”  Also, esters and other compounds which develop during the yeast’s growth phase may be more noticeable and therefore easier to detect in a beer of higher gravity that’s been fermented with under pitched Belgian yeast.

Of course there are some more serious dangers of under pitching yeast including the potential for other microorganisms to infect the beer, and the possibility of a stuck fermentation with the resulting under-attenuated beer.

Not to be deterred, the next order of business was to determine what the potential viability of the yeast was based on its age, and also what an appropriate cell count estimate might be for a wort with a starting gravity of 1.116.

Fortunately, online calculators have been designed for just this purpose.

One such program is the Yeast Pitch Rate and Starter Calculator from the website where the tagline is “brewing with total confidence.” After entering the details of the age of the yeast and the starting gravity of the wort, the viability of the yeast in the vial was estimated to be at approximately 0%. In other words, the calculator reassuringly estimated that 0% of the yeast would be alive. Based on this figure, the program further suggested that the pitch rate of the old yeast would be just a tad bit short… by about 644 billion cells… which is to say we are under the recommended pitch rate by 100%.

For good measure, the viability and suggested pitch rate for the new yeast was also calculated, and the program indicated that the viability of the yeast was about 17%, and thus the recommended pitch rate of the new yeast would be a little short as well, but only by 627 billion cells.

Viability of Old Yeast vs. New Yeast

Brewer's Friend: Brewing with Total Confidence

Armed with this information, the requisite “total confidence” was obtained in order to move forward with the experiment.


In order to keep variables as consistent as possible, no yeast starters were made for either the old or new yeast.

One 10 gallon batch of beer was brewed, chilled to 64 °F (17.78 °C), split into two vessels with one vessel receiving the new yeast, and the other vessel the old yeast, the vessels were shaken vigorously for one minute to oxygenate, and finally placed into a temperature controlled refrigerator set to 68 °F (20 °C) on January 29th, at 2:00 AM.


1. The old yeast might make beer. Or it might not.
2. The under pitched new yeast will probably make beer, but maybe it won’t.


1. Turns out that both predictions from above were correct!
2. The beer with one vial of new yeast began to form a krausen approximately 72 hours after inoculation.
3. The beer with one vial of 6 year-old-yeast began to form a krausen approximately 78 hours after inoculation.
4. Both the beer with the old yeast and new yeast exhibited vigorous fermentation and a similar-looking krausen, however the beer with the old yeast was more vigorous, pushing krausen through the airlock.
5. On day 8, airlock bubbling slowed dramatically, and by day 9, it had stopped. By day 10, the krausens of both beers had still not fallen.
6. A sniff check on day 9 revealed that the aroma of the beer with the new yeast was more fruity and complex, whereas the beer with the old yeast exhibited more of a generic overstated yeast character, and not as much of the complex fruity character typical of some strains of Belgian yeast.
7. A sniff check on day 10 revealed that the aroma of the beer with the new yeast maintained its same fruity complexity, but the beer with the old yeast had toned down some of its predominant generic yeast character, and begun to develop a more complex and better integrated yeast-to-beer balance.

Further Predictions

1. The beer with one vial of new yeast will attenuate to within 5 gravity points of the beer with the old yeast, give or take 20 gravity points.
2. The two beers will be repeatedly distinguishable based on a triangle taste test performed by 10 supertasters (significance will be reached with a p-value of <0.05). However, a subsequent and more advanced trapezoid test will reveal that statistical significance was not reached by a population size of 20 non-supertasters.

Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, American Homebrewers Association Member, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

BJCP Entrance Exam Mock Practice Test

Welcome to the BJCP Entrance Exam Mock Practice Test presented to you by the good fellas at

The BJCP Entrance Exam Mock Practice Test is designed to better prepare you for the online BJCP Entrance Exam and to provide practical training using the Beer Style Compare-O-Matic, which is simply the most effective free resource for the actual exam.

Compare-O-Matic Screen Shot

Both the difficulty of the questions and time limit on this practice test are very similar to the actual online BJCP Entrance Exam.  However, the focus of this practice test is strictly related to knowledge of the 2015 BJCP Beer Style Guidelines, an area that makes up approximately 50-60% (or more) of the actual Entrance Exam.

Just like on the actual online BJCP Entrance Exam, the questions on this practice test are either true-false, multiple-choice, or multiple-choice/multiple-answer.

If you have not done so already, please review the How to Pass the Online BJCP Entrance Exam Tutorial to familiarize yourself with what you need to know to be successful on the exam over all.

Good luck.

BJCP Entrance Exam Mock Practice Test

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Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for, Beer and Drinking Writer, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Beer Traveler, and Shameless Beer Promoter with a background in Philosophy and Business.

How to Save a Bad Batch of Homebrew- Part 2

[Read part one of this article, How to Save a Bad Batch of Homebrew- Part 1, and learn how to save an “infected” beer.]

What to Do With a Stuck Brew

I was enjoying a pint of beer and chatting with a commercial brewer when the topic of stuck fermentation came up.  (By the way, a stuck or stalled fermentation refers to beer that does not fully attenuate to the targeted final gravity for some yeast-related reason.)

Turns out this brewery was sitting on a formidable batch of American Barely Wine that hadn’t completely fermented out and as a result was unable to be sold.  The brewery had tried all the standard tricks to get the beer un-stuck like pitching more yeast, raising the temperature of the fermentation tank, and other tips mentioned in the article How to Beat the Stuck Fermentation Monster, but nothing was working and they were left facing the very bleak reality of having to dump the entire batch.

And big badass Barley Wines ain’t exactly cheap to make either.

I asked if the brewery in question had ever thought about blending the under-attenuated beer with some other beer they had on stock (or could quickly whip up), to which the brewer replied, “Now there’s an idea.”  We also talked about the possibility of pitching a cleaner variety of Brettanomyces (Brett) to break down some of the longer chain dextrin sugar molecules that typical Saccharomyces ale strains do not, thereby lowering the final gravity of the beer into a more palatable range.

Of course there was concern about Brett getting loose in the brew house and infecting other beers because even though Brett is a yeast and not a lactic acid producing bacteria like Lactobacillus or Pediococcus, it is no ordinary yeast and can be noticeable in very small quantities in beer.  Not to mention, there were worries about exactly what types of esters and other aromatic characteristics Brett might impart.

Caution be damned: the brew house opted to execute Operation Brett.

Three anxiety-ridden months later, I’m happy to report, the stuck fermentation was no more and the beer in question was flowing on tap and customers were throwing down a premium for a taste of this delicious imperial brew that narrowly escaped the drain.  The beer itself wasn’t Brett-funky nor was it cloyingly sweet, but it lacked the pronounced hoppy character you might expect from an American Barley Wine, but by no means was it a drain-pourer.

The Lost Abbey Barrel Room

While some breweries shun potential beer spoilers like Brettanomyces, others like The Lost Abbey embrace it as noted on the plaque above their barrel room which states “In Illa Brettanomyces Nos Fides”, which translates roughly from Latin as “In the Wild Yeast We Believe”.

Now, if you plan on calling Brett to the rescue in the case of a stuck fermentation at the home level, I would consider having at least a separate set of tubing when using Brett to help prevent cross-contamination, but to play it safe, a different set of plastic or vinyl equipment for any Brett or bacteria beer wouldn’t be a terrible idea either.

If working with Brett is a bit out of your comfort zone, you may be able to blend your way out of trouble too.  The end goal or every blended beer may be different, but in the case of a stuck fermentation, it is usually to balance your overly sweet beer with a drier beer.  It’s up to you whether you want to try and blend in a completely different style of finished beer or simply a more sessionable version of your under-attenuated one, but the key is to blend and measure small incremental amounts of the two (or more) beers together in a separate smaller vessel (like a measuring cup) and then to taste the blend at every incremental addition in order to obtain the proper ratios and desired flavor profile because the final ratio may not be a straight 50-50 blend.

Shandification, Hopification and Coffeefication: Magic Tricks for Meh Beer

Ladies and gentlemen, for my final trick, I will demonstrate how to transform a meh beer into something, potentially, truly spectacular. Of course “meh” beers aren’t necessarily bad per se, but they’re not exactly all that great either, so in some cases, it pays to know a bit of brewer’s magic.  In all cases below, we are essentially trying to mask some off-characteristic(s) of a less than stellar beer.


Story time: Back in the summer of 2011, I brewed a Belgian Wit spiced with the typical combo of coriander and bitter Curaçao orange peel, but tweaked it by adding a touch of dried rose buds and Osmanthus flowers (which contribute notes of apricot and peach).  The aroma wafting from the fermentor smelled like glorious success, but after sampling the beer post bottle conditioning, let’s just say, Hoegaarden it was not.

Disappointed but not defeated, I thought, it being summer time and all, why not see about turning this brew into a shandy-type thing, i.e. beer mixed with lemonade, or some other citrusy juice— heck, even grapefruit juice would work.

So I picked up a few gallons of quality premixed limeade, filtered out the pulp, dumped a couple gallons of limeade in the bottling bucket, popped the caps on about two gallons of the meh Wit beer, mixed it with the limeade, and bottled again.

I figured there’d be enough yeast in the bottles to ferment the limeade, and I was right.  Explosively so.

Three days later, a bottle bomb went off.

Luckily my shandy “exBEERiment” was packaged in closed beer boxes so tiny shards of glass didn’t find their way into my eyeballs, but I learned a valuable lesson that day: don’t add an unknown amount of sugar (in this case from the limeade) to your beer right before bottling.

Once again, I popped the caps off all the bottles, poured all the shandys into a fermentor, and this time I waited a week or two until fermentation was complete before bottling for the third and final time.

The result?  Awesomely complex, sour lime shandy.  Off flavors?  None detected.  Was the acidity in the limeade too much for the yeast to ferment or was there too little yeast from the bottles to do the job?  No and no.  Was oxidation a problem from all of the pouring and refermenting?  Well, I found a bottle of this brew in the back of one of my beer refrigerators four years later, and, drum roll please… it was even better than I remembered with no telltale signs of cardboard, apple juice, sherry or any other descriptor commonly used to describe old oxidized beer.  [Side note: I also experimented— sorry, exBEERimented— by refermenting the beer with raspberry (pink) lemonade, but the limeade shandy was far superior.]

Will this trick work with all styles of beer?  Maybe, maybe not.

So here’s another idea.


You may have heard of Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Co. who’s credited with inventing the style of beer known as Double IPA.  True story: when Vinnie was brewing at the Blind Pig brewery prior to Russian River, he used to add copious amounts of hops to the brew in order to cover up possible off flavors that came from brewing with rather old brewing equipment.  And thus the Double IPA was born.

You can probably tell where this is going.

Yep, why not try hopifing your meh beer by laying down a dry-hop carpet bomb of your favorite hop combo.  Simply call your redo-brew a hopped up, or “West Coast”, version of a fill-in-the-blank beer and legions of hop-obsessed super fans suffering from alpha acid numb-tongue will thank you.

If you want to follow in the footsteps of Russian River’s Pliny the Elder dry hop schedule, try something like this (based on a 5 gallon net batch):

Measure out .25 ounces of Columbus, Centennial, and Simcoe for a total of .75 ounces, dry hop for 7-9 days, and then add a second round of the same amount and combination of hops for 5 more days.


Coffeefication is similar to hopification in that you’re simply adding some amount of coffee (beans, grounds, or cold pressed coffee) to your less than great beer.  Conveniently, you can add coffee to almost any style of beer, but usually less coffee is needed in lighter colored beers.  Dry hopping with coffee beans (ground or whole) or adding cold brewed coffee to the beer will work, although some brewers prefer dry hopping with coffee beans so as not to dilute the beer with already brewed coffee.

Not all coffee is the same, for example some coffee is more fruity, roasty, or chocolaty than others,  so choose a kind that you think will mesh well with your beer.

If dry hopping with coffee grounds or beans, figure 1-2 ounces per gallon of beer for darker beers, and .5-1 ounce for lighter beers for 48 hours (older beans work better to reduce the capsicum character).  These amounts are general guidelines as brewers have reported success adding a wide range of differing amounts of coffee beans/grounds to their beer, so fortunately you have a wide margin of error here. On a side note, adding coffee beans to beer often has little impact to the color.  This may add some extra wow-factor to a light colored coffee beer.

For adding cold pressed coffee to a darker beer, a ratio of 12-32 ounces of cold pressed coffee per gallon of beer is a good rule of thumb. Of course, when adding cold pressed coffee to beer, it’s best to pull a sample of your existing beer, and slowly add pre-measured amounts of coffee to the beer to better determine the ratio that best suits your taste for the particular style.

As always, no matter what style of beer you’re brewing, it’s best to rely on solid brewing practices like these so that you don’t need to resort to brewer’s magic.  Not to mention, even the most potent brewer’s magic may not be able to save you from the foulest of brewing abominations.

Nevertheless, the history of beer is replete with tales of happy accidents and certainly a little bit of brewer’s magic played a part in at least a few of the amazing beer styles available today.

So with that I say cheers to the underdog brewers who had the audacity not to dump and were handsomely rewarded with something truly sublime.

And cheers to those who tried anyways.

Like this blog?  Well, thanks- you’re far too kind.  

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Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter:

Or feel free to drop me a line at:

Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.  Interests? Beer.


How to Save a Bad Batch of Homebrew- Part 1

Sooner or later, every homebrewer brews a batch of beer that doesn’t quite live up to expectations.  Sometimes, a batch falls so far below the mark that a swirly sacrifice is rightfully demanded by the insatiable porcelain god.

Other times, the beer can be saved.  So let’s talk about those other times.  Those times when there’s still hope— when it’s still possible to bring your beer back from taking that final step into the light.

Let’s consider three cases in particular: infected beers, stuck fermentations, and meh beer, and then three corresponding solutions to each problem.

Fair warning: the better the beer you’re starting with, the greater the likelihood of successfully salvaging said beer.  As far as brewing a quality beer goes, there are plenty of best practices including using fresh ingredients (malt, hops, yeast, etc.), following careful sanitation, fermentation, and recipe procedures, and a few other recommendations you can find on the Top 40 Ways to Improve Your Homebrew article.

Yes, in every case where your beer doesn’t turn out as perfect as intended, it’s a good idea to go back through your process and figure out how to improve it.  But this article isn’t about woulda, shoulda, coulda nor are any of the solutions discussed here intended to be taken as a way around trying to brew the best beer possible from the very start.  The aim here is to talk about what can be done on those hopefully rare occasions where you find yourself with less than satisfactory homebrew.

The Infection Resurrection

Hang out long enough in any online brewing circle, and invariably an anxious brewer will post a photo of something growing on top of their beer inside a fermentor along with a question like “Is my beer infected?

For practical purposes, an infected beer simply means that some uninvited dinner guest (usually wild yeast and/or bacteria) has gotten into your beer and started to chow down, potentially altering the brew’s intended character.  To be clear, an “infected” beer is a matter of prospective.  For example, if you were intentionally using 100% bacteria to ferment your beer and somehow a common ale yeast found its way into your beer, your beer would be “infected” with common ale yeast; sort of the same way roses in one person’s garden may be considered weeds in someone else’s.

Semantics aside, sometimes it’s possible to make an educated guess as to whether a beer fermented with common brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae or Saccharomyces pastorianus) is “infected” with some other unintentional microorganism by simply looking at the beer in question.  For instance, common souring bacteria like Lactobacillus or Pediococcus and sometimes yeast like Brettanomyces (Brett) can form a pellicle (protective barrier) on top of beer which often looks like a layer of off-white or tan stationary bubbles covered with chalk dust or powdered sugar as in the image below.

Lactobacillus Pellicle

Lactobacillus Pellicle

Other times, it’s harder to tell if a beer is infected based on appearance alone as with the picture below of an uninfected Imperial IPA fermented only with Safale US-05 (formerly called US-56) which formed “yeast rafts”, or clumps of flocculated yeast, floating throughout and on top of the beer in the fermentor.

Yeast Rafts

Safale US-05 Yeast Rafts

[While only aesthetically unappealing if present, yeast rafts can be settled to the bottom of the fermentor after about a week of cold crashing (i.e. lowering the temperature of the beer to near 32° F), and gently rocking the fermentor while cold.  Otherwise, the rafts can be skimmed or filtered out.]

Needless to say, an infection usually suggests that you need to tighten up your cleaning and sanitation procedures, being particularly mindful of anything that comes into contact with your wort.

With respect to bacteria-formed pellicles, the earlier an infection is caught, the better chance you may have of minimizing the effects of the infection by lowering the temperature of the beer.

But, and this is critical, EVEN IF you find a full-blown pellicle formed inside your fermentation vessel, it’s not recommended that you automatically dump your beer.  You have to smell and taste your beer first (pull a sample using a sanitized wine thief or turkey baster) in order to make the best decision.  Depending on the stowaway bacteria or wild yeast, your beer may or may not turn sour or funky.

For example, the image of the Lactobacillus pellicle in the photo below occurred after pitching a mixed culture of yeast and the lactic acid producing souring bacteria, Lactobacillus.  Even after months of aging with a visible pellicle and then a year of bottle conditioning, the beer never really turned sour. In fact, it’d probably be an overstatement to say that the beer was vaguely tart, but it was nevertheless exceptionally refreshing and delicious with no hint of an off-flavor.

Lactobacillus Pellicle

Developing Lactobacillus Pellicle

Naturally, it may be helpful to attempt to deduce what type of pellicle-forming microorganism(s) you’re dealing with in order to respond accordingly, although 100% positive identification would require an appropriate microscope and proper training, assuming the microorganism(s) in question has already been identified and recognized by science.

Profiling Possible Invaders

Three common safe-to-consume pellicle-forming bacteria are Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Acetobacter, and the yeast Brettanomyces may form one as well.  Although it may not be possible to identify the mystery bacteria or yeast by the particular appearance of the pellicle, smelling and tasting the infected beer may potentially narrow things down, especially if you know a little bit about how the different microorganisms can behave.

Lactobacillus is probably the least influential of the bunch, often adding nothing more than mildly tart amounts of lactic acid over the course of about a month.  Pediococcus, on the other hand, typically takes a longer time to ramp up lactic acid production compared to Lactobacillus (months versus weeks), but produces lactic acid over a longer time period and the sourness is often increasingly more noticeable than with Lactobacillus.

But even more telltale of Pediococcus is the buttery byproducts (diacetyl) that most strains produce.   If you like your new buttermilk beer, roll with it.  But if you’d like to remove the butter and leave the sour, try inoculating your brew with a vial of Brettanomyces (Brett) yeast which should clean up the diacetyl for you.  In addition, some strains of Pediococcus may eventually develop slimy, viscous, gelatinous “ropy” strands in beer, which can also be eliminated in a few weeks after adding a culture of Brett.

Speaking of Brett, if you see a pellicle, you may be able to further speculate on the presence of Brettanomyces based on the aroma.  Depending on the strain of Brett, and there are quite a few, you might detect aromas of pineapple, mango, apricot, peaches, pear, mustiness, or horsiness and the taste may be tart or not.  Although with significant quantities of oxygen, Brett can produce acetic acid as well, but not as easily and quickly as Acetobacter.

Acetobacter is probably the most potent souring bacteria which can form a thin white film of a pellicle (few if any bubbles), but is easier to identify by its distinctive vinegar (acetic acid) aroma which can develop within a week, usually after primary fermentation is complete.   Acetobacter thrives in warmer temperatures (75 – 85° F) and in oxygen-rich environments.  Early detection is the best defense against Acetobacter which if left unchecked will continue to convert ethanol into acetic acid, potentially leaving you with an intensely vinegar-y beer. Luckily, the majority of beer styles are fermented below 75° F, but reducing the temperature and ensuring that your fermentor is properly sealed are two actions that can reduce the effects of Acetobacter.

It should also be noted that bacteria and Brett do not always form a pellicle (they only do so in the presence of oxygen), which means your beer could develop an infection with no visual indicator.

To be clear, the presence of a pellicle does not mean that your beer will make you sick, nor does it mean that the character of your beer will have changed for the worse.  And as discussed, depending on the pellicle-forming microorganism in question, the beer may not even become tart, let alone sour.  Lastly, if you notice an unexpected pellicle, there may be more than one type of bacteria and/or Brett at work.

Hold ‘em Or Fold ‘em

If you’re uncertain about the type of bacteria (or yeast) forming the pellicle on your beer and you happen to be an adventurous sour fan, why not double down and add a culture of a pre-mixed bug blend like WLP 665 or dregs from one of your favorite unpasteurized sour beers to your existing beer, wait three months to a year and you might have created a most epic accidental sour.  If this is your first sour, just remember that unlike a yeast krausen, a pellicle may never fall, so when you’re ready to rack your beer away from an existing pellicle, simply pierce the pellicle with your auto-siphon and proceed as normal (just try to leave the pellicle behind when racking underneath it).

If you decide to let the infection run its course, keep in mind that bacteria like Lactobacillus and Pediococcus may consume sugars and reduce the gravity of the beer slowly over time (weeks and months, respectively), so you’ll want to take gravity readings until you notice no change in gravity after a three day period (five days to be safer), particularly if you’re bottling (in order to avoid potential bottle bombs).

If you don’t want to find out where the unknown bacteria or yeast in your beer may be taking you, smell and taste your beer, and if it tastes good enough, you may decide to keg or bottle the beer and drink it immediately.   If bottling before the bacteria or wild yeast has finished fermenting your beer, the microorganisms may very well still be producing excess CO2 in your bottles and you are taking the risk of potential bottle bombs.  So to mitigate that risk, as soon as your bottled beer is carbonated to your liking, refrigerate the beer and keep it cold as bacteria and yeast tend to slow the rate of metabolism at lower temperatures.

Whether you decide to drink the infected beer quickly or let it age in the fermentor, it’s recommended that you buy a new set of whatever plastic and vinyl equipment that comes in contact with the infected beer so as to avoid accidentally contaminating future batches of beer.

Mold and Beer

If you notice black, green, or fuzzy hairy patches growing on your beer, mold is the likely suspect.  A couple cases where mold has been known to crash the party are when unsanitized fruit or wood is added to the fermentor.

Now, what to do in the case of mold is somewhat controversial.  John Palmer advised in his book How to Brew, that if you encounter mold, take a sample of the beer, and if it doesn’t taste foul, you can skim the mold off [or rack the beer out] with no lasting effect on the beer’s flavor and infections in beer caused by mold are not dangerous.

However, the USDA points out that while some molds are beneficial, there are types of mold that cause allergic reactions, respiratory problems and produce poisonous mycotoxins that can make you sick.  One such mycotoxin called “aflatoxin” is produced by some species of Aspergillus mold (A. fumigatus and A. flavus), and can be found on grain and groundnuts; aflatoxin is both carcinogenic and can be a deadly toxin in high enough exposure levels.

Scientific research on the ability of foodborne pathogens to survive in beer is scarce.  While one study [2014] showed that certain common bacterial pathogens could survive in fermented beer for up to several weeks, no mold (fungal) pathogens were tested.  Another study [2011] demonstrated poor survival of common bacterial pathogens in moderately hopped wort, with a final ethanol concentration of 5 % ABV, and concluded that if the pathogens tested* were to contaminate such a wort, “there would be no immediate concern to public health.” [* Tested pathogens: Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella Typhimurium, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus.]

Again, no molds were tested in either case, so until there are more (or any) scientific studies concerning the growth and survival of pathogenic mold species in beer, proceed at your own risk when it comes to mold.

One final note to keep in mind about infected beer is that it may not turn out as you originally planned prior to the infection, and you may not personally like the end result or want to tie up your brewing equipment while the beer develops.  That said, an infection doesn’t mean the beer is unsafe to drink nor does it mean the beer can’t be saved.  If you have the time and patience (and a penchant for sours, depending on your particular infection), you may be pleasantly surprised with the final product.


P.S. Join us next time where we’ll wrap up the discussion of how to save a bad batch of homebrew with tips on how to bounce back from a stuck fermentation and how to transform meh beer into a meh-raculous brew.

[As fate would have it, “next time” is already here. Read part two of this article, How to Save a Bad Batch of Homebrew- Part 2]

Like this blog?  Well, thanks- you’re far too kind.

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Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter:

Or feel free to drop me a line at:

Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.  Interests? Beer.

Daniel J. Leonard and Jean Van Roy

Dan with Jean Van Roy of Cantillon Brewery

Top 10 Beer Bottling Tips to Make Bottling Day a Success

When it comes to homebrewing, some people like the bottling process.  Others would rather read the latest proposed changes to income tax law.  I fall into camp number two.  And I don’t keg.

Assuming you don’t have the extra money, interest, space, or time to set up a kegging rig, or if you simply want to improve the efficiency of your current bottling procedure, this guide’s for you.

Not to mention, if you only keg but also enter homebrew competitions, anecdotal evidence of side-by-side taste tests suggests that people prefer the taste of bottle conditioned beer over the same kegged beer.  Try it and see for yourself.

This guide also assumes that you have at least minimal experience with bottling beer, or are generally familiar with the process and the basic equipment required.  If not, here’s a guide to bottling 101.

And with that, let’s take a look at some best practices for preparing bottles for glorious bottling day.

1. A Rinse in Time Saves Nine

If you collect your own bottles for future homebrewing needs, once you’ve poured the beer out of the bottle, give the inside of the bottle a quick rinse with water right away.  This will save you from having to scrub the bottle too much once bottling day comes.  You can usually identify the bottles that have been pre-rinsed versus those that haven’t by holding the mouth of the bottle up to your eye like a telescope, and then directing the bottle towards the light.  The bottles that haven’t been pre-rinsed often have hairy fungus or bacteria growing inside the bottle, which is usually the last thing you want your future beer to come in contact with.  Yum.

2. De-Labeling Made Easy

Although it’s not necessary to remove the commercial labels from used beer bottles to make great beer, there are at least six reasons some people do it: (1) When cleaning bottles that still have labels on them, there’s a chance that little pieces of the label can fall off and make their way into the bottle itself (or clog up your dishwasher, if you clean bottles that way), (2) removing labels makes it easier to add your own personalized labels to the bottle if you were so inclined, (3) some people like collecting the commercial labels for various projects, (4) leaving the commercial label on can confuse or subconsciously (negatively) influence people that you’re gifting your homebrew to, (5) some people might perceive leaving the original label on a bottle of homebrew as lazy, tacky, or otherwise showing a lack of pride in your craft, and (6) many homebrew competitions require that labels be completely removed from the bottle.

Assuming any combination of the above applies to you, let’s look at a few easy tricks to get labels off.

Soak, Scrape, Scrubbie, and sometimes Vegetable Oil

Ideally, you would have removed the beer labels prior to bottling day, but either way, simply soak them in warm or hot water for about 30-60 minutes.  This can be done in a clean sink, or better yet a clean plastic bin.  Some people like to add a bit of soap, Star San, One Step/Oxyclean or some other similar cleaning product into the soaking water, but really water and time are all you need.   Not to mention, using One Step/Oxyclean may leave a milky white film on your bottles, which can be removed by soaking the bottles in a diluted vinegar mixture, but why not avoid the extra work, and simply stick with warm/hot water bath.

Removing Beer Label in Water

That being said, leaving bottles soaking in a plastic bin filled with water in excess of a week may leave your bottles smelling a bit funky, and possibly promote the growth of some interesting fungal creatures.

While some labels will fall right off after soaking in water, others will require a little extra persuasion.  Your best bet is to buy a glass scraper (basically a retractable razor blade with a handle), and use it to scrape the less cooperative labels off.

After the labels are off, the remaining glue will usually come right off with the aid of a brewer’s best friend, a little green scrubbie (see image below).

Scotch Pad (Green Scrubbie) and Scraper

For those tough cases involving exceptionally sticky glue (usually found on bottles that have transparent plastic labels), you have two choices: (1) toss the bottle, or (2) you can apply some vegetable oil to a paper towel and then rub the paper towel on the glue on the bottle.  The glue will loosen so that it can be more easily scrapped off with a scrapper.  If necessary, apply more vegetable oil and continue to scrape the glue off the bottle until the glue is removed.  Once the glue is off, wipe off the excess oil on the bottle with a clean paper towel.  I’d only recommend this extra step for bottles you are dead set upon keeping, otherwise, it’s probably not worth the effort.

Canola Oil and Paper Towel

While some people like using chemical products like Goo Gone to remove tough label glue, vegetable oil is arguably the more food-safe option.

3. The Wallpaper Tray Cleaning Method

Wallpaper Tray

When it comes to cleaning the inside of bottles, one of the cheapest and most useful pieces of brewing equipment a bottling homebrewer can have on hand (in addition to a bottle brush) is a plastic wallpaper tray.  You can purchase one from your local home improvement store (Lowe’s sells them for about $3).  Once acquired, pre-rinse the inside and outside of your bottles with water.  Mix up a one-gallon batch of One-Step, Star San, or your favorite cleanser/sanitizer, and then pour it into the plastic wallpaper tray until the tray is about ¾ full.

Lay four 12 oz bottles down into the wallpaper tray to soak, all facing the same direction.  Once you’ve scrubbed the inside of one bottle with a bottling brush, face the bottle in the opposite direction so you know it’s already scrubbed.  Remember, Star San is tougher on your hands than One Step, so when using Star San when sanitizing and scrubbing either limit direct contact to your hands to about 30-45 minutes or consider wearing plastic or vinyl gloves.

Cleaning Bottles in a Wallpaper Tray
Cleaning Bottles in a Wallpaper Tray

Some homebrewers use a vinator, which is a plastic tool used to spray cleanser/sanitizer into the bottle.  There are at least three disadvantages with the vinator: (1) it costs roughly $20 whereas a wallpaper tray costs about $3, but more important than the cost benefit, (2) you can only clean/sanitize one bottle at a time instead of four with the wallpaper tray, and (3) with a wallpaper tray your bottles stay more thoroughly in contact for a longer time with the cleaning/sanitizing solution.

4. The Dishwasher Option

First things first, a dish washer isn’t necessary to adequately clean and sanitize bottles, but it can help make your life A LOT easier.  Even so, it’s not recommended that you rely solely on your dishwasher to clean your bottles for at least two reasons: (1) the dishwasher won’t scrub the inside of your bottles, and (2) using dishwasher soap can reduce the head retention of your beer and potentially cause your bottles to take on a dishwasher soap character.

That said, using a dishwasher gives you a few potential benefits when bottling:

A) Makeshift Bottling Tree and Bottling Station: If you’ve already cleaned/sanitized your bottles, you don’t necessarily need to run the bottles through a dishwasher cycle. You can instead use the dishwasher as a makeshift bottling tree and bottling station. Once your bottles are sufficiently clean, simply place them upside down in your dishwasher (after a clean cycle).  And, presto: instant bottling tree which prevents dust or other debris from falling into the bottles.

Dishwasher as a Bottling Tree

Not only that, the dishwasher doubles as an ideal bottling station:  Simply pull the door of the dishwasher open and bottle right on it so that if you spill, the sticky beer spills on the inside of the plastic dishwasher door instead of your counter tops or floors.

Dishwasher Bottling Station

B) OCD-Clean Bottles: If you’re the type of person who really likes to go the extra mile to ensure your bottles are as sanitary as possible to avoid any potential bottle- borne infections, you can place your already rinsed/sanitized bottles upside down in the dishwasher, and run them through a no-detergent heat cycle in order to better sanitize the bottles with heat.  Again, using a dishwasher doesn’t replace the step of scrubbing the inside of the bottles with a bottling brush because the water from the dishwasher mainly will cover the outside of the bottles, and won’t thoroughly get inside the bottles to clean out any bacteria or mold spore deposits.

5. The Procrastination Tactic

If you’ve already cleaned/sanitized your bottles and don’t want to or can’t bottle right away (especially if you’ve run the bottles through the dishwasher and don’t want to tie up the dishwasher any longer), simply place your cleaned bottles in a box, cover the mouths of the bottles with plastic wrap, and your bottles will stay clean and be waiting for you when you’re ready.

Plastic Wrap to Keep Bottles Clean

6. Don’t Be Cheap.  Buy a Bottling Bucket, Auto-Siphon, and Bottling Wand

Can you bottle beer without a bottling bucket, auto-siphon and bottling wand?  Yes.  Does this equipment make your life easier on one of the less fun days of the brewing process?  You betcha.  Here’s the thing: You can use a standard fermentation bucket or carboy and transfer the beer into bottles with some tubing and a funnel, but you are asking for trouble in the form of potentially infecting your beer (assuming you started the siphon with your mouth) and exposing your beer to unnecessary oxidation which can cause your beer to stale sooner and produce papery, wet cardboard (trans-2-nonenal), sweet apple cider notes (2,3-pentanedione), or sherry-like components (benzaldehyde ).  The use of a bottling wand not only helps to reduce oxidation, but also allows you to better control the flow and amount of beer going into each bottle.

7. Avoiding the Trouble with Trubbies

Speaking of not being cheap, don’t be greedy either when it comes to siphoning your beer into your bottling bucket.  In other words, while it may be tempting to siphon up every last drop of beer from your fermentation vessel, you also risk sucking up a fair amount of sediment (trub) as well, which will likely find its way into your bottles, and eventually into your drinking glass.  Not only is excess trub in a beer visually unappealing, it can also contribute to an overly yeasty character in your beer the longer the beer stays in contact with the trub in the bottle.

To further manage the trouble with trubbies on bottling day, after you’ve moved your fermentation vessel to wherever you’ll be bottling (ideally a counter top over the dishwasher), allow the disturbed trub in the vessel to settle back down to the bottom of the vessel again for about 30 minutes before siphoning.

8. For the Love of Carbonation… Make Use of a Priming Sugar Calculator and Scale

Most people know the importance of a properly carbonated beer, but not all brewers do it well.  Each style of beer has its ideal carbonation level and the best way to achieve that perfect carbonation is by using a free online priming sugar calculator to determine the exact amount of sugar to add when bottle conditioning.  Simply input the volume of beer you wish to carbonate, the type of sugar being used, the highest temperature the beer reached post fermentation, and your desired level of carbonation level (most calculators provide recommended carbonation levels depending on the beer style).  I like using TastyBrew’s priming sugar calculator because it’s simple, but there are other good ones out there too.

Once you know how much sugar to prime with, use a digital scale to weigh out the correct amount, and it’s easy to switch between ounces and grams especially when you need the kind of accuracy that working in grams provides.  A good scale will run about $20 at most big box stores and it’s worth every penny.

Weighing Priming Sugar with a Digital Scale

As for which type of sugar you should use, that is entirely up to you. Different kinds of priming sugars may contribute different characteristics to your beer, including honey, however most sugar sold in your local homebrew shop (U.S.) labeled as “priming sugar” is corn sugar, which is said to be relatively flavor-neutral when used to prime.  Table sugar, which is usually cane sugar in the U.S., can reportedly contribute apple cider type flavors/aroma to beer.

Whatever sugar you end up choosing, add it to your bottling bucket, and remember to stir it in thoroughly with the beer.  Unevenly distributed sugar in the bottling bucket leads to unevenly carbonated beer bottles which may lead to exploding bottles (bottle bombs).

Along with measuring the correct amount of priming sugar with a scale and thoroughly stirring that sugar into your bottling bucket, go the extra step and place your bottles in a closed box just in the off chance something went wrong in the bottling process and a bottle was over-primed or the beer hadn’t completely finished attenuating during primary fermentation.

9. Sanitize Your Bottle Caps Prior to Use

According to Crown Beverage (the maker of oxygen absorbing bottle caps), it’s recommended that you sanitize your bottle caps for two reasons: (1) it helps prevent the last thing that comes in contact with your beer from infecting your beer, and (2) getting the caps wet activates the oxygen absorbing effect. Simply place your caps in a sanitizer solution like Star San for about two minutes, and then rinse the caps off with tap water if you like. Only sanitize the caps you plan on using immediately because once the oxygen absorbing barrier becomes wet, it will eventually lose its ability to absorb oxygen. Also, do not boil your bottle caps on the stove or heat them in the oven as this may cause the gasket insets in the cap to become defective.

While sanitizing your bottle caps is recommended, leaving metal equipment like a bottle capper, bottling brush, or bottle caps in cleaning solutions like One Step or Star San for a prolonged period of time may cause the metal to rust. Even though rust from your bottle caps probably won’t get into your beer to create a metallic taste, you might as well avoid the possibility by only soaking your bottles caps (and any other metal equipment) in your cleanser/sanitizer solution for no more than 10 minutes.

That said, we recently tested a few Crown Beverage bottles caps by placing some in Star San and others in One Step for seven days, and no rusting was detected even when removing the caps from the respective solutions.  Your mileage may vary.

10. Use a No-Rinse Cleaner/Sanitizer

Back in 2006, homebrew god John Palmer wrote in his now classic book How to Brew, “If you use bleach solution to sanitize [bottles], allow the bottles to drain upside down on a rack, or rinse them with boiled water. Do not rinse them out with tap water unless it has been boiled first. Rinsing with unboiled tap water is a number one cause of spoiled batches.”

Let’s address two things:

A) While you can use bleach to sanitize your brewing equipment including glass bottles, bleach can corrode steel, copper, brass, and aluminum and get absorbed into plastic if exposed to either for more than 15 minutes. This is why some brewers prefer using a more practical sanitizer like Star San which won’t damage any of your brewing equipment, and also doesn’t require a rinse after using.

B) But back to the original point: while I’m all about sanitation, recommending that brewers must boil (then cool) tap water used for rinsing out bleach (or some other cleaning solution) because of the idea that tap water is allegedly the number one case of spoiled beer, seems a bit excessive.  Of course this may also depend on the country in which you live.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s safe to drink the tap water in many countries including the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, and New Zealand (sorry South Africa).  If the tap water is safe to drink, then it’s probably okay to rinse the remaining cleaning residue out from the inside of your bottles with tap water.  Even though the tap water is safe to drink and will most likely not cause an infection in your bottled beer as the beer itself already has preservative features such as alcohol and usually hops, it may still be a good idea to rinse the tap of your faucet with Star San.

Or, better yet, sidestep the issue and simply use a no-rinse cleaner or sanitizer to clean your equipment like One Step or Star San.

If you’re curious about which countries have safe tap water and which do not in case you ever plan on travelling or homebrewing abroad, here’s a nifty infographic created by NeoMam Studios— or you can just click on page 2 of this article below. (Spoiler alert: no countries in South America or Africa made the safe tap water list).

Have any helpful bottling tips of your own?  We’d love to hear ’em and other bottlers would too, so feel free to comment below.

Cheers and happy bottling!

[Footnote: Some homebrewers report having success sanitizing or sterilizing their bottles by placing aluminum foil over the mouths and baking the bottles in the over for a given period of time at a particular temperature; 338°F (170°C) for 60 minutes to sterilize per John Palmer.  However, as Palmer also points out, “bottles made of soda lime glass are much more susceptible to thermal shock and breakage than those made of borosilicate glass and should be heated and cooled slowly (e.g. 5 °F per minute). You can assume all beer bottles are made of soda lime glass and that any glassware that says Pyrex or Kimax is made of borosilicate.”  As I do not have data indicating to what degree various glass types are weakened over time at various temperatures before the glass fails (explodes) under certain volumes of CO2 , I did not recommend the baking method in this article.  I care too much about beer for you to take that risk.  😉 ] 

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Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.  Interests? Beer.

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