Brewing Lessons

We cracked open the first bottle of a Honey Porter that I brewed about a month ago. And it tasted GOOD! That was a first. The previous batch of beer tasted worse than sour. This one tasted like beer AND like a porter. Double bonus!

Honey Porter by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson © 2015
Honey Porter by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson © 2015

Brewing is very time consuming on brew day and despite what people tell you, my experience is that brewing is like most chemical reactions. Very fussy about time, temperature and ingredients.

After the first batch flopped, I had to ask, “Do I love this enough to try again after failing?” It reminded me of what my Dad used to say when I was working to become a better basketball player in high school, “How bad do you want to be able to do left-handed layups?”

So, I went to school. The UC Davis Extension Master Brewers Program offers a Brewing Basic weekend course. From 9am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday you learn to brew from the essentials of sanitation to wort cooling. As a result, I learned several things for the next batch.

  1. Clean, rinse and sanitize are 3 different steps, not 1. Rinseless sanitizer does not clean!
  2. Use a stainless steel spoon to stir the malt and hops. Wooden spoons can carry bacteria and even though the mixture will boil and kill all those bacteria, better safe than sorry.
  3. Don’t squeeze the grain bag! It adds bitterness rather than sweetness to the water.
  4. Take the temperature of the cooled wort with a digital thermometer and make sure it falls well within the best temperature range for the chosen yeast before adding the yeast. You cool the wort with ice around the wort container. My wort became too cold and it took all afternoon to hit that temperature window precisely!
  5. Leave the fermenting wort in the carboy for a full 2 weeks. Don’t try to short the cycle. Be patient. Learn to use the bottle filler properly so that there is very little head space in my bottle.

Things I learned on the second batch:

  1. You also have to be careful of the temperature of water you are using to warm up the yeast, a Safale US-05. I killed it by using water that was too hot.
  2. In the midst of brewing you can’t just run out and buy a replacement package of a Safale yeast. So I substituted an English yeast for the American yeast that was part of the American Porter brew recipe. It worked out okay.
  3. A hot day even in cool house can cause your fermenting wort to go above the desired temperature and kill the yeast!

After all this, I’m willing to brew at least one more batch. I have a Rum Runner Stout and a Bourbon Barrel Porter on the list next.


  1. So glad our Brewing Basics class helped! Good luck with your next batch!


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