The Real Reason Why All Your Homebrews Taste the Same
Ever wondered why all your homebrews have a distinct taste? This is especially common for first-time homebrewers, and it doesn’t happen by chance. So what causes it?
The real reason why all your homebrews taste the same is your choice of brew ingredients and the equipment. Acquired brewing habits and some of the mistakes you repeat regularly may also contribute to the taste of your homebrews.
In this article, I’ll explain some of the reasons why all your homebrews taste the same and what you can do about it.
Why All Your Homebrews Have the Same Bland Taste
There is no specific reason why all your homebrews taste the same. In my experience, I’ve found out that it is usually a combination of reasons. Check out the reasons below and take note of the ones that apply to you.
You Don’t Have the Right Equipment
As a DIY homebrewer, you don’t have the state-of-the-art equipment and the expertise to brew to perfection.
Comparing your beer to the big brands will show you how far off the mark you are due to inadequate equipment.
These brands brew in commercial quantity and quality.
Even the microbreweries produce great beer.
While you use buckets, they use various standard equipment.
It’s the sad reality you have to accept first.
However, you can improve the taste of your beer and try to match up to commercial standards if you invest more into your brewing apparatus and correct some of the other mistakes we’ll cover below.
You Are Using Dry Yeast
If you regularly use dry yeast in your beers, you will notice a dry, bland taste in each brew. Most dry yeast strains are the same. Some new strains have come out in the last few years, but there’s a high chance you’re still using the same strain.
Dry yeast is great because it encourages faster fermentation than liquid yeast. However, you need to pay attention to the strains you use. Switch things up a bit to see how it will affect the taste of your homebrews.
You Are Underpitching Yeast
Not pitching yeast enough is one critical factor that makes your homebrew taste like the homebrew it is and way different from what the top breweries offer.
Underpitching leads to the many off flavors you get after home brewing for a few reasons.
For one, not adding enough yeast to your beer will force the little yeast you add to work more than it’s supposed to, and over an extended period. The insufficient yeast will undergo stress while doing a lot more than it should.
When it goes into this stress, it’ll wear itself out and deliver the same off flavors in your final homebrew.
Since you don’t have sufficient yeast, it’ll take a lot of time to initiate and sustain the fermentation process. That extra time exposes the beer to infection.
The chances of beer infection will rise because the wild yeast and bacteria have little competition from the brewing yeast. So, they will feed on the nutrients inside the beer and establish a stronghold presence.
But if the brewing yeast is sufficient, the bacteria and wild yeast have stiff competition for nutrients.
The bacteria feeds from the same nutrient as the brewing yeast. So if the brewing yeast is enough, it will gulp all the nutrients from the beer, leaving the bacteria and wild yeast starving and largely inactive.
So how do you add the right amount of yeast?
You can do the following to add the required amount of yeast to your brew.
- Use recipes with information on the required yeasts sufficient for the job.
- Check the expiry dates of yeasts before using purchasing.
- Make a yeast starter to ensure the yeast is sufficient and healthy for fermentation.
- Use a pitch calculator to get accurate measurements.
- Use the perfect yeast strain for the job. Some yeast strains are best for ales, while some are for lagers.
Can I Add More Yeast if My Beer Is Not Fermenting?
You can correct the mistake of adding insufficient yeast if your beer isn’t fermenting.
But you have to note this:
When your fermentation process is ongoing but stopped, some of the yeast in the wort will die.
Adding new yeast will be of no value since you’ve lost some of the wort’s nutrients to the previously insufficient yeast.
There will be nothing left for the new yeast to work with. Hence, you include additional yeast using a yeast starter for the fermentation to continue.
It’s also one of the reasons I said you should make a yeast starter to ensure your yeast cell count is enough for fermentation.
You Don’t Control the Brewing Temperature
Temperature plays an essential role in fermentation. Neglect it, and you will see the consequences in the taste of your final brew. Higher temperatures during fermentation produce esters which lead to off-flavors.
The best way to reduce the production of esters is to lower the temperature. When you lower the temperature, the yeast coagulates and slows the production of esters.
I recommend that you stick to the approved yeast temperature range in the recipe or manufacturer’s manual.
And even when you maintain the ideal yeast temperature, you should also ensure the yeast is enough for fermentation. Reducing the temperature can stop the fermentation process if you underpitched yeast.
Sometimes, you can increase the temperature and produce premium-quality beer. Some yeast strains do well under high temperatures, but this is a chance you don’t want to take. Stick to the ideal temperature, and everything will be fine.
Take note of the following temperatures when fermenting at home:
- Ideal temperature range: 60F – 72F (15-21C)
- Worst temperature for yeast: 122F (50C)
- Ideal temperature for yeast strains: 40F – 54F for lagers, and 55F – 70F for ales.
You Don’t Practice Good Hygiene and Sanitary Habits
Bacteria and wild yeast can infect your beer at any stage. And as I mentioned, not using enough yeast can breed bacteria.
But that’s for yeast. I’m talking about hygiene now.
Failing to properly clean your buckets, bottles, and kegs is bad hygiene. Your equipment is not safe after the last brewing session. Using this equipment without sanitation exposes your brew to bacterial infection that produces lactic and acetic acids.
These acids are responsible for the sour taste of beer. Many bacteria love to eat sugar and will do so when you invite them with unclean equipment.
One of the main reasons commercial breweries produce high-quality beers is that they are very careful about hygiene.
They have zero tolerance for dirt. These breweries use pharmaceutical-grade cleaning practices to ensure they leave no chance for bacteria, wild yeast, and their counterparts to enter the brew.
Sometimes, your homebrews taste like your equipment because they spend enough time in it, allowing some of the uncleanness to rub off on the beer. The least you can do to prevent this is to clean your equipment thoroughly.
I’m using the phrase the least you can do intentionally here because cleaning is not enough.
You have to sanitize your equipment as well. Cleaning with water won’t kill the germs and bacteria lurking within the walls of the plastic or steel, as the case may be. It’ll only make the equipment appear neat and shiny despite being highly unsafe.
Sanitize your equipment with an alkaline-based brewery wash, and sterilize all equipment. I soak mine in a hot water bath for a long time to ensure bacteria don’t survive by any slight chance. But this is only possible if all your equipment is stainless steel like mine.
You can’t sterilize plastics. That’s one of the reasons I recommend you invest in high-grade equipment for your home brewing if you want to make a difference in the taste.
When your beer is contaminated, it will still be drinkable since the alcohol kills any harmful substance inside. However, the taste won’t be what you expect.
You might be lucky enough to still get great-tasting beer despite contamination, but the chances of that happening are very slim. It’s a gamble I wouldn’t advise anyone to take.
You Allow Oxidation
Exposing your beer to oxygen during fermentation can affect its taste. It’s one precaution commercial brewers don’t joke with. Beers move from vessel to vessel in these breweries leaving no room for air.
They even ensure receiving tanks are air-free before getting filled with beer. This is to ensure all flavors that will evaporate on exposure to oxygen are kept intact and the beer stays fresh.
You can tell if your beer is oxidized when it tastes like either wet paper, cardboard, or simply stale. Its aroma will smell like wine or wood as well. Oxidation can stir reactions inside the beer due to alcohol and other chemical ingredients.
Oxygen reacts with alcohol to produce acetic acid in beer, leading to a sour taste. When this happens, the goal of fermentation is defeated.
During fermentation, you want to ensure that all extra carbon dioxide produced in the process dissipates out of the beer and also restricts Oxygen from entering the brew. The goal should always be to reduce the entrance of air to the barest minimum when fermenting.
However, keeping out oxygen during fermentation is just one-half of the solution.
Oxygen can also gain access to your beer via the processes involved in packaging. So when siphoning your beer bottle, you must ensure you submerge both ends of the tube and limit distortions on the surface as much as possible.
Some splashes and foams during bottling invite air into the beer and spoil the flavor, so pay as much attention to the packaging as the entire homebrew process. Once you’ve pitched your beer with yeast, it should be seen as wort and treated as such.
You Neglect Water Treatment
Beer is 90% liquid, which makes water the most critical ingredient in any brew. When the essential component is not healthy enough, it ruins every other thing you add to it.
Tap water is renowned for being ideal for brewing, but that’s the minimum standard required for a successful beer. You must treat it to remove even the tiniest impurities.
Chlorine is the most common chemical compound homebrewers using tap water have to worry about because it can lead to off-flavors. It’s almost ever-present in tap water because it’s used as the main disinfectant in most city water supplies.
Other noteworthy impurities to look out for when brewing with tap water include bicarbonate, fluoride, and iron.
The best water for brewing is hard water. Distilled water is soft and clean, but it’s not the best fit for homebrewing for a couple of reasons. Fortunately, you can “harden” soft water by adding salts.
However, you can’t add just any salt to soft water in a bid to harden it. The finest brewers choose between calcium sulfate and calcium chloride. It’s the same reason you can’t pick any hard water since you don’t know if they have these ideal salts.
If you get ready-made hard water, check for the minerals components to be sure it has sufficient calcium and magnesium. You want the calcium content to be in the 50 to 200 ppm range. The magnesium content can be 10mg/l to 150 mg/l depending on the role you want this mineral to play.
What do I mean by “role”?
Well, magnesium plays two roles in brewing. First, it nourishes yeast, a critical requirement for any brewing process. Second, it acts as a secondary water hardener alongside calcium.
If you’re using magnesium solely as a yeast nutrient, levels in the 10 to 30 mg/l range will do. But if you’re also using it as a secondary hardener, you may need to get it to at least 50mg/l.
In my opinion, choosing soft bottled water and hardening it manually with salt is the best route because it gives you ultimate control of the salt levels. I’m a brewing enthusiast, so I often pay the price to invest in quality bottled water that brings me closer to my ideal beer taste.
You should be careful of every little detail when brewing at home.
If you get one area wrong and all others right, the mistake will reflect in your beer’s taste. Mistakes can sometimes lead to pleasant discoveries like a better taste or a new lesson about homebrewing, but you shouldn’t make them intentionally unless you’re experimenting.
The actions and inactions above are why your homebrews taste the same and differ from commercial counterparts. However, commercial breweries are not your competition. If you can weed out the mistakes above, you can achieve your desired brewing goals.