Brewing to Lose: 10 Tips for Making Bad Beer

by Brad Smith on September 14, 2008 · 0 comments

Anyone who has visited the trophy wing of Chateau Smith inevitably asks the tour guide the same questions. How can someone who has been brewing beer for almost a quarter of a century have so few wins? Where do you keep the big trophies? How does one consistently place last in a category with only 4 entries? Tell us the truth – how does he always manage to lose?

For a long time I merely dismissed such talk as idle chatter. Recently, however, I’ve come to realize that the stream of Chateau visitors were sincere – they do actually want to know how to lose. While I previously wrote about making better beer, losing is a topic that little has been written about. Yet losing is something that every brewer needs to know.

Losing is a secret desire we all aspire to. The truth is that no one likes a winner. Winners are smug, brash, and unpopular. Winners are often the target of sabotage and assassination attempts. People talk about them behind their backs.

Winners are hated, but everyone loves a loser. Losers are popular, friendly and beloved. They blend into the crowd. No one ever feels intimidated or threatened by a loser. We love to hang out with losers – after all they make us feel good about ourselves.

The good news is that every human being has within himself the innate ability to lose. Sure, any moron can produce bad beer occasionally, but I’m talking about losing on a consistent basis – year after year. That kind of losing takes dedication and effort. It requires expertise and forethought.

What you need is advice from an expert in losing. I can show you how.

Sure we all remember our early brewing days when it was easy to make bad beer. Pitch the yeast into boiling hot wort to kill it off, throw in a few pounds of cane sugar, toss it all into our unsanitized open bucket, bottle a day or two later and voila – bad (and sometimes explosive) beer. How easy it all was back in the good old days. Losing required no effort at all.

However, over the years many of us forgot our old habits, allowed experience to creep in and lost the magic recipe for really bad beer. At first the beer became passable, then drinkable and perhaps even good. We gradually slipped from the bottom of the pack to the middle and perhaps even into the dreaded top 10%.

Fear not – for old bad habits can be relearned. With practice you can slip back out of the winner’s circle into the realm of mediocrity. Without further ado, I present 10 expert tips for making award losing beer – the kind that will make your brewing friends grimace and reach for the malt liquor. In fact, many losers have achieved consistently poor results using as few as three of these ten tips.

1. Never Sanitize or Sterilize your Equipment – Bad beer requires bacteria, wild yeasts and other beasties to produce sour off flavors. The Belgians have known this for hundreds of years, and relied on wild yeast and bacteria in many of their greatest brews. Go Belgian on your next brew – stop all of that unnecessary washing and sanitizing and let your equipment go native. You will save money and precious time. No one likes to clean their equipment – so just reuse the rotting gunk from your last batch to spoil your next one.

2. Never Use Brewing Software, Keep Notes or Record Recipes – Everyone knows that brewing good beer is a matter of pure luck and not repeatable. Who needs a bunch of notes cluttering up the place? If you don’t measure anything, never keep any notes and never write down your recipe, then you will never miss your target gravity or volume.

Don’t use brewing software – that might help you match a particular style or know your color or bitterness in advance. It’s much better to find out the sex of the baby after its born. You can always enter it in whatever style category you feel like the day of the competition. Plus, if you do accidentally make a good batch of beer there is no need to panic. Without a recipe or consistent technique your next batch is certain to be completely different.

3. Store your Ingredients in a Warm, Moist, Sunny place – Bad beer requires some forethought and planning – you can’t just expect to throw something stinky together on the spur of the moment. Prepare first by storing your ingredients in the hot sun, or at least a nice moist corner of the cellar. As I mentioned in my article on hops storage, hops degrade quickly under heat and sunlight leaving a warm skunky smell and flavor in your beer. Malts can’t be ignored either – crush your grains weeks ahead of time so they will oxidize and keep them wet and warm to make sure they spoil before brewing. If you’re lucky some mold or weevils will gain a foothold for additional character.

4. Don’t Boil – Just Mix and Ferment – The best brewers boil their entire wort for at least 90 minutes to improve clarity, flavor and beer stability. But stability and clarity are mortal enemies of bad beer – so I think its best to just dump the ingredients in and mix them for a minute or two. Plus if you don’t boil you will save precious time and money (no need for a pot!)- just toss the yeast in with some water, malt and sugar and call it a day. Be sure to leave the fermenter open for a while so the wild yeast and bacteria can start souring it. No need to leave anything to chance.

5. Add Low Quality Yeast, or None at All – Bad beer starts with bad ingredients. Don’t stop with just stale malt and hops – add some old dry packet bread yeast. You’ll save big dollars over the “winners” who probably purchased high quality liquid yeast packages. Also – never create a yeast starter. Yeast starters give your yeast an unfair head start in the wort, and don’t allow for bacteria and wild yeasts to take hold. If you are still producing good beer with low quality yeast, consider using no yeast at all! There are plenty of wild yeasts floating around in the air that are free and guaranteed to make bad beer. As I mentioned earlier, the Belgians have been doing this for years.

6. Ferment in a Hot Place – Yeast prefers cooler fermentation temperatures – usually under 70 degrees F for ales and down in the 50+F range for lagers. If you ferment at higher temperatures you can create undesirable flavors of all kinds. Lagers in particular will suffer from fermenting at excessively high temperatures, so turn up the heat and enjoy!

7. Add Sugar and Lots of It – Many of us carry fond memories of our first homebrewing kit that came with 3.3 lbs of malt and instructions to add 3-4 pounds of nice white cane sugar. The net result was a beer that tasted like a cross between malt liquor and sour cider. You can get that old cidery flavor once again, and save money on malt by adding delicious table sugar to your next brew.

8. Bottle and Age Improperly – Bottle your beer by dropping a bit of sugar in each bottle. This gives you random carbonation. Alternately you can mix a random volume of sugar, though this sometimes results in bottle bombs that can make a mess of your kitchen. Be sure you never measure the sugar by weight or mix the sugar in a separate tank before bottling, as this could give you a consistent carbonation level. Once your beer is bottled, store it in a warm sunny place, ideally in clear bottles as the sunlight and heat will rapidly add off flavors and break down its stability.

9. Compete with Style – When you compete, the proper attitude is critical to losing. You need to have a losing attitude going into the competition. Remember that the word “contest” is derived from the word “con”. Everyone involved is there to cheat you – why else would they volunteer to work on the contest for free? Prepare and present your beer to minimize its appeal. Grouse about everyone and everything you possibly can – complain about the venue, the setup, other competitors, the categories and the rules.

It helps if you review the rules and make a list of complaints in advance. Complain about the judges whenever they are around as this will really impress them. A consistent negative attitude will endear you to your fellow competitors, who will no longer be threatened by you. It will also clearly mark you as one of the losers.

10. Never Take Advice – Brewing advice is worth just what you paid for it – nothing. In the case of books, its worth even less than what you paid for it. Do you really believe that brewing experts give away their trade secrets for free? Do you think someone who really knows how to brew would put it in a book for just anyone to pick up and read? No – the secrets of the trade are just that – secrets!

Anything you read in a book, on a discussion forum or especially in an online blog is obviously part of a large right wing (or left wing depending on your political leanings) conspiracy to make you brew bad beer so the “cons” can win the “contests”. As an old famous guy once said, “a little education is a dangerous thing”. Better to hole up in your fallout shelter and develop your own secret recipes until the Ruskies drop the big one.

And whatever you do – don’t ever listen to anything you read on my homebrewing blog – especially anything written in this article. The worst thing you could do is subscribe to learn more, or drop a vote on BrewPoll or Stumbleupon.

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