When to Part Ways with a Challenging Batch of Beer

There are numerous potential issues that can arise during the brewing process. From insufficient carbonation to bacterial contamination, there are many factors that can steer your beer off its intended course. However, just because your journey takes a different path doesn’t mean you can’t still reach your desired destination, or perhaps even end up somewhere better.

Possible Contamination

The answer to this question is always no. While it’s important for every brewer to prioritize cleanliness and sanitation, it’s not necessary to assume that a breach in sanitation will result in ruined beer.

For example, I know someone who accidentally dropped an unsanitized airlock into his beer. He called me, concerned, and asked if he should dump the entire batch. He even considered buying more yeast, boiling the entire batch again, and then chilling and repitching with new yeast.

I advised him to go with the flow and see how the beer turned out. He let it ferment, tasted it, and then bottled it. Surprisingly, it turned out to be a delicious beer with no signs of contamination.

And this is actually a quite common occurrence. Whether it’s dropping an unsanitized gallon of distilled water or having a leaf fall into the fermenter, there are numerous things that could potentially contaminate your beer. However, most of the time, as long as you remove them and follow proper procedures, everything will be fine.

Here’s why:

You are already doing everything possible to give your yeast the upper hand. When it enters the wort at the correct pitching rate, the extremely small number of microorganisms that may be introduced when you drop your airlock into the wort have no chance against the yeast that has been specially bred to thrive in your beer. The entire environment created when brewing beer is designed to make yeast thrive, not other bacteria. Although some bacteria or wild yeasts may try to consume your wort, the yeast you pitch, assuming it’s the right amount, will win the battle.

In essence, you should almost never assume that a small mistake will completely ruin your entire batch. If your yeast is healthy and you have a good pitching rate, it will outcompete most contaminants and still produce good beer.

Stuck Fermentation

A homebrewer experiences stuck fermentation when their initially active beer suddenly stops fermenting. This can be triggered by temperature changes, unhealthy yeast, or sometimes for no obvious reason at all.

However, don’t give up on that batch just yet. There are several things you can do before considering it a lost cause.

Try transferring it to a secondary vessel. Make sure to take a gravity reading first and take note of it. The act of transferring will stir up some yeast and might restart fermentation without any additional intervention. If the recipe calls for dry-hopping, it’s advisable to wait until you can determine if the beer requires further action.

If the final gravity falls within a reasonable range and you’re certain that fermentation is complete (at least three days without a change in gravity), you can proceed to package and consume the beer. It might turn out slightly maltier and lower in alcohol than intended, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

If none of these steps work and fermentation still doesn’t restart, you can always add some extra yeast. This especially helps if you suspect that the original yeast might have been compromised or unhealthy.

When to Dump a Stuck Batch

Never, unless it tastes awful. If the beer has truly finished with a higher gravity reading, give it a taste. If it’s drinkable, package it and enjoy it. Even if it doesn’t match your initial expectations, it’s still beer.

Other Mistakes

There are various mistakes that can occur during the brewing process, such as forgetting to add an ingredient or failing to seal a fermenter, even blowing the lid off the fermenter causing a foamy mess. Each of these mistakes carries its own risks, but most of them don’t necessarily mean your beer will be ruined.

Forgot to add Irish moss? Your beer might be slightly hazy.

Forgot to add aroma hops? Leave them out or try dry-hopping instead.

Worried you introduced oxygen while siphoning into the secondary vessel? Don’t worry too much. Let it finish and taste it when bottling.

Accidentally left a gallon of iodine sanitizer in the fermenter and added your beer anyway? Dump that batch. No one wants iodine poisoning.

When to Dump It

There are a few instances where dumping the batch might be necessary. In each of these cases, you must be absolutely certain that the beer is ruined. Most of the time, this can be determined by tasting the beer after fermentation. However, sometimes you’ll just know. If you have to question whether your batch is ruined, give it some time. Remember, even if a beer doesn’t turn out as expected, it doesn’t mean it’ll be undrinkable.

Steps to Correcting Your “Ruined” Beer

1. Don’t panic.

2. Don’t give up on your beer.

3. Never dump a batch unless it shows signs of mold or you are certain it’s infected. If you’re unsure, it’s probably not infected.

4. Reserve judgment until the beer is carbonated. If it tastes off, give it some time in the bottle. Time can improve the flavor of beer.

5. Remember, your beer isn’t fragile. Small mistakes won’t ruin it.

6. Allow your yeast to do their job. Never rush them and trust that they know what they’re doing—it’s in their DNA.

7. Be patient, patient, patient.

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