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Home Brewing: What Lurks Behind the Shower Curtain of Shame?

Yesterday I posted the five things I hate about craft beer, and number five on that list was homebrewing.  While I love the IDEA of homebrewing, I tend to slack off when it comes to actually doing the work, which leads to guilt, which leads to stress, which leads to me saying I hate homebrewing when actually I hate myself.

My real shortcoming is bottling.  I’ll cook a batch up and even siphon it off to secondary, but when it comes time to bottle, I always find I have something “more important” to do. I know I can keg it to simplify things, but I’m hesitant to sink any more money into a hobby that is so obviously incompatible with my lackadaisical lifestyle.  Plus the idea of having gallons of beer on tap in the garage is a scary one – that’s like a kid having the keys to a candy store where they also sell video games and Gatorade and Doritos.  I’d be plump and dazed in no time!

Anyway, some people have skeletons in their closets that’ll come back to haunt them, but I have carboys, and mine are hidden behind the shower curtain of shame.  Let’s peel it back and take a look at the two carboys that lie behind it.  Maybe these puppies can be salvaged, or maybe it’s just too late. 

Carboy #1: Here's the Imperial Stout that's been in secondary for six months. That tinfoil airlock makes me nervous!

Carboy #1 holds an Imperial Stout that I brewed the last weekend in January.  Being a lazy piece of crap, it took me until Mid-April to port it over to secondary (which you see here) where I introduced some oak chips that had been soaked in Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon.  I was letting it go for a bit, then I forgot about it, and then I hurt my back and avoided any heavy lifting/twisting for a several weeks as I healed.  Excuses, excuses!  Anyway, six months later I’m not sure if this one can be saved – the tinfoil airlock makes me nervous.

Carboy#2: This Belgian Dubbel's been stewing in his own yeast cake for seven months. Eww!

Carboy #2 has a Belgian Dubbel on board that I brewed in early March.  It’s been sitting in its own filth since then, as I didn’t have a secondary to send it to (that was tied up holding the neglected Imperial Stout above).  It’s been steeping in its own yeast cake for over seven months, and I’m pretty certain it must taste like a tinfoil and sewage by now, but who knows.

I’m happy to report my back is better and my sense of guilt about these beers has driven me to the point where I’m ready to bottle them or dump them.  But I gotta do something – I’m tired of them silently mocking me!

So what do you think, can these batches be saved?  Are they a lost cause?  Should I been inducted into the Homebrewing Hall of Shame?

Please let me know below!

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Categories: Beer, Home Brew, Home Brewing

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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39 Comments on “Home Brewing: What Lurks Behind the Shower Curtain of Shame?”

  1. October 19, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    I think they’ll be fine, assuming that certain bacteria did not sneak in and that you sterilized properly. Bottle them. Relax. Have a homebrew.

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:43 am #

      Is it okay that I’ve been showering with them? 😉

  2. Michael
    October 19, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I haven’t yet tried homebrewing so I can’t guess whether it is salvageable. However, no hall of shame for you. Like most of us other things take precedence like family, day job, and of course drinking beer and whisky that is ready made.

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:44 am #

      Yeah, and X-Box and Netflix. Breaking Bad isn’t gonna watch itself!

  3. October 19, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Surely someone on this Blog lives close enough to Jim and has enough home brewing smarts to go and help him bottle this stuff (for a share of the results perhaps?)

    Once that’s done Jim, I heartily recommend that you sell the gear on E-Bay–you’re a consumer not a producer.

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:45 am #

      I can bottle it – I have the vessels and the knowhow. But I also have a ton of stuff to do all the time and would rather relax with the two hours I get to myself instead of wrestling with beer.

      That’s a pretty good way of saying I’m lazy, huh?

  4. October 19, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Your Stout may very well be an absolutely beautiful beer at this point. I’ve left beers in secondary for over 6 months before. With you’re belgian, however, I would be worried about autolysis, which is where the yeast basically commits suicide by self-digestion. You might want to put a clothespin on your nose before removing that stopper!

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      Hopefully I’ll know by the smell if it’s worth trying to save the Belgian.

      then again, I could just call it “sour” as those typically taste like old gym socks anyways.

  5. October 19, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Simple. Try it. If you like it, bottle it. If you don’t, bottle and give it to people you don’t like 🙂

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      Kind of like Santa gives out coal to the crappy kids – good idea, Peter!

  6. October 19, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Take a taste of each before you do anything. That’ll save you a lot of time and/or heartbreak. Bottling is not too bad if you have help. Since I brew with two other guys, we can just motor through our bottling sessions. In your case, offering free beer can win friends and influence people to help you bottle.

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:47 am #

      I think I have to get my kids into it – that’s who I hang out with most. Maybe my five year old daughter – she’s got a huge motor and is very industrious.

      She gets it from her mother (obviously).

  7. October 19, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    I’ll bet the stout is great. I’ll echo Michael’s concerns about autolysis on the Belgian. While I think that the risk of autolysis is sometimes overrated, six months is a long time for a beer to stew in its own filth.

    Definitely bottle the stout, and I’d give the Belgian a try from your hydrometer sample. If it tastes REALLY terrible, dump it. But even if it tastes just a little bad, it’ll clean up some with bottle aging.

    I can virtually guarantee that they’ll both be great after 3-4 high ABV commercial brews. 🙂

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:48 am #

      That’s a good strategy – have a big glass of whiskey and give them a try. At that point, who cares?!

    • October 19, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

      Yeah, a friend of mine made some really, really bad honey wine (not mead) with some of my Tulip Poplar honey once, but after it had some age on it (about 2 years), it drank just fine!

  8. October 19, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    I would place my money on the Imperial Stout coming into its own at this point. Big beers do very well with 6+ months of aging. I would guess the Dubbel is going to smell like death when you pop the airlock due to the yeast stuck to the side of the walls, but as long as you sanitized well the beer should still be great. I would recommend doing as clean a transfer as you can to leave all the yeast cake behind. Don’t stir that thing up! You’ll have to sacrifice a half gallon or so of beer to ensure you don’t get into that possibly dead yeast cake on the bottom.

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:50 am #

      Uh…yeah…ummm…that was always my plan…age the stout in secondary…for like…uhh…six months. I meant to do that!

      I’m hoping it’s still doing well and agree that it might be awesome.

      I’d be psyched if the Belgian is salvageable at all. If I have to lose half a gallon to keep it clean, that’d be fine by me.

  9. Tom
    October 19, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    The beers are probably fine! If not, try to avoid pouring, as my brewing mentor once advised against pouring a batch as he was insistent that drinking a batch of crappy beer was the best incentive to becoming a better homebrewer. He was right!

    You are not alone If the prospect of bottling is the deal breaker in your homebrewing process. While requiring additional space, equipment and expense the solution for me has been to keg instead of bottling. (Ball lock Cornelius kegs, a Johnson Controller, chest freezer, Co2 tank, Regulator, keg disconnects, tubing, picnic taps and daily browsing on Craigslist.)
    Now if I could just get my wife to agree that the chest freezer really does look great on the patio!

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:51 am #

      Put it on wheels, then it’ll look good ANYWHERE!

  10. October 19, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    I would taste them before doing anything… I agree with Matt, the Belgian may smell like death…. probably developed flavors from autolysis if you left it sitting on the yeast cake that long and not much you can do there…

    For the Stout, if you are afraid to taste because of an infection or wild yeast, then take a gravity reading, then take a sample and leave it sitting at warmer temperatures (around 80 F) and check the gravity about 48-72 hours… if there is a significant change, then you may have wild yeast or bacteria… I doubt that is the case…

    I’m actually willing to bet the Stout might have improved with the aging provided no autolysis happened in the first three months… I think 3 months is about the cutoff, so you are probably good…

    Bottling is my least favorite part as well… I’m now looking for kegging equipment…

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:53 am #

      The stout was put in secondary about 6-8 weeks after brewing, so it should be a yeasty mess. I’m not gonna do all that measuring and waiting stuff you suggest because I’m lazy. That’s kinda the whole point of the post! 🙂

      I’ll give the Belgian the sniff test and take it from there. I just need to be smart about where I open her up. Sounds like something my wife wouldn’t appreciate happening in the master bath!

  11. October 19, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    I will happily help you bottle. I’ll just put myself in the mail and see you soon 🙂

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:54 am #

      Just don’t come C.O.D. Don tells me he once ordered a bride that way and the postage was too expensive when she arrived.

      Back to Bulgaria, honey!

  12. October 19, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    It seems you have an answer. Now, get to tasting, bottling, and updating the progress, slacker!

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:55 am #

      I would, but a Matlock marathon just started…

  13. October 19, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Another recommendation to taste them. If you taste an overwhelming flavor that is describable but maybe shouldn’t be there, google it- things like that flavor of green apples or metals can indicate different funks going on.

    Also, I don’t know what you mean about the danger of having 5-gallon kegs in your garage. We’ve got our homebrew keezer in the dining room with four 5-gallon kegs, and we manage to make it to work mostly sober almost every day. 🙂

    • October 19, 2011 at 11:56 am #

      Almost every day, huh? That’s good enough!

      I agree on the taste thing. I’m actually kinda curious to see how the stout is doing. It might be awful or it could be amazing.

      The Belgian will probably be a different story, but you don’t know until you try I guess.

  14. John King
    October 19, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    Since I mailed you those Four Roses Oak Chips…please send me some bottles once you bottle the Imperial Stout.

    In all honesty, your laziness probably has been beneficial to your imperial stout. I know, and Zach is as well, pretty impatient when it comes to letting big beers sit and age before you bottle. So congrats on your apathy…it might be a good beer!

    • October 19, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

      Those aren’t your chips – they are staves I bought at a homebrew supply place. I’m still holding onto those Four Roses barrel shards you sent me – it’s the one thing that is keeping from giving up brewing completely – I want to taste a beer made with those puppies!

      • October 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

        But I’m happy to send you some bottles of Imperial Funk when she’s ready. A few crappy beers for some amazing wood? Sounds like a bargain to me!

        • John King
          October 19, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

          I love a man who can share his amazing wood!

        • Don
          October 20, 2011 at 9:49 am #

          That’s what she said…whoka whoka…

    • October 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

      That said, my beer turned out to be pretty nice. I will let it bottle age as long as I can stand it.

  15. October 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    Hey Jim, What’s up with your Jets dude? That Superbowl appearance that Rex keeps talking about isn’t looking great… I’m not too sure that Sanchez is the man.. I’m in Cincinnati, trust me, I know all about USC QB’s not panning out… I feel your pain Pal…

  16. FatCatKC
    October 19, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    The Imperial Stout will be fine as it needs to age a long time to meld the flavors anyway. I read an article in Brew Your Own magazine that experimented with leaving beer on the yeast for extended periods of time. It concluded that it has a negligible effect on the outcome and I think their longest experiment was in excess of 6 months. I personally would go ahead and bottle the Belgian regardless of the taste out of the fermentor. It will be hard to judge the outcome of the beer warm, uncarbonated, and fresh out of the fermentor. Bottle and carb it and then try it after a couple of weeks in the fridge. This will in effect “lager” it and many off flavors will blend away. This happened with a lemon wheat beer I had. Aweful out of the fermentor but after a week in bottles in the fridge the weird twang disappeared.

    Good Luck!

    PS kegs full of homebrew are the devil. My kegerator is conveniently located in the garage where most of my “chores” are based out of. Do I want to mow the grass or drink keg beer? HMMMMM tough choice.

  17. October 19, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Belgian is probably OK, the Stout who knows….

  18. Crazy Horse
    October 21, 2011 at 6:38 am #

    Never dump a batch. 6 months is nothing. If they’re spoiled, it will be completely obvious as soon as you pop the locks. If you are still unsure after a whiff and a taste, then they’re good. Bottle em up.
    That said, you may not like the finished product enough to drink 5 gallons. But there are plenty of uses for sub par brew: marinades, sauces, christmas gifts to neighbors you don’t care for…

    • Crazy Horse
      October 21, 2011 at 6:42 am #

      You could also turn it into beer liquor by fractional freezing, or “ice distill” it as the hillbillies say.

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