Many homebrewers are very anxious to taste their beer and may wonder if they can drink homebrew before bottling. Since this is a question that I had for myself during my first brew I thought I would dive into this topic and answer it for everyone!
So, can you drink your homebrew beer before bottling? Yes, it is perfectly safe to taste your beer at any stage of the brewing process. Just before bottling, your homebrew has already gone through every change necessary to turn it into beer and you will simply be tasting warm, flat beer. In fact, there are many reasons that you should taste your homebrew before bottling!
Of course, just because something won’t kill you doesn’t mean that it’s something we want to rush to do, right? When it comes to tasting homebrew, however, there is really never a bad time to take a taste (as long as you are careful!) and you can learn a lot about the process by tasting the changes that are taking place over time. Let’s dive into all of the reasons I like to taste my homebrew before bottling.
Make sure that fermentation is complete
If you are just getting into homebrewing, it is a challenge to keep track of all of the variables that go into a successful beer. One of those variables is the actual fermentation time and it’s crucial to let your yeast finish doing their thing to enjoy a great-tasting beer that won’t explode your bottles later on because fermentation is still happening!
In practical terms, you should have already taken the original gravity (OG) reading right after you added your beer into the fermenter and before you added your yeast.
Depending on your recipe, your beer should finish at a specific final gravity (FG) that lets you know all of the sugar has been eaten up and your beer is ready to move onto the next stage. Your recipe will likely have all of the information listed for you as well as a recommended fermentation time (usually 2-4 weeks).
Once you are fairly confident that your fermentation is complete (after the 2-4 weeks has passed and there is little or no activity) you can take a final gravity reading to see if you have hit your number. Even if it’s at the correct reading, it’s still a good idea to wait at least a few more days and take another reading to be sure that it isn’t changing.
Since you are already pulling beer out of the fermenter to take a reading, this is a fantastic time to take a little taste for yourself as well! Can you really taste homebrew this way before bottling? Yes!
If the beer tastes overly sweet, something might be wrong because almost all of the sugar should be gone from your beer unless you’ve added some non-fermentable sugar due to your beer’s style. For all intents and purposes, the taste you have should taste like warm, flat beer.
If it does, you are looking good!
Check the flavor profile of your recipe
Since your fermented beer is, well, just beer you will be able to get a real feel for what your beer tastes like and what it will turn into after a few weeks or more of bottle conditioning.
Take this opportunity to slowly savor the flavor and search your palette for the flavors you should expect to find given the recipe you used.
If you have brewed an American IPA, then you should taste the hop character coming through a clean malt profile. If you have a Stout or Porter, you should be tasting some roast, chocolate, coffee, toffee, and other goodies.
True, your beer still has a ways to go in terms of conditioning so it should still taste pretty green. Despite this, however, the foundation of flavor should be present!
Look for any off-flavors in the beer
While you are admiring the flavor profile of your beer, it’s also time to look for any off-flavors or signs that your beer is infected.
Typically, you won’t have to wonder too long about whether or not something is wrong – your taste buds are pretty good at this sort of thing. While sour beers and other fancy stuff should taste a little funky, we want to make sure that there isn’t any funk where it doesn’t belong.
Here are some of the most common off-flavors to look out for:
- Green apple
- Alcoholic or hot
- Fruity (usually banana)
- Medicinal (like Band-Aids or cough syrup)
- Wet cardboard
- Overly sweet
Some of these flavors will naturally go away on their own while others might be the result of an error during the brewing process, recipe, or something else. Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with any of these!
Add some last-minute dry hops
One awesome thing about homebrew is that you can really make changes to suit your personal tastes and preferences as you go.
Let’s just say that you’ve made an American Pale Ale and when you go in for a taste you just aren’t really getting the hop flavor you were looking for in the recipe.
Since hop flavor is someone that tends to get weaker over time (if only slightly) you know that your final bottle conditioned beer might not be what you are looking for. At that point, you could consider adding in some extra dry hops for a few days just to give it an extra kick.
It’s your beer!
Observe the difference between a short and long fermentation
It’s a pretty widely held belief that a longer fermentation is always better than a short one. While it’s definitely possible to go too long on your fermentation time, letting your beer go for at least 4 weeks or so is likely to produce a better flavor, all other things being equal.
That’s because while yeast can convert sugar into alcohol and technically turn your wort into beer pretty quickly, it takes a much longer chemical process to clean up some of the off-flavors and other byproducts of the fermentation process. If you give your yeasties a little more time, your beer will benefit!
Don’t be afraid to give your beer a taste after fermentation is ‘done’ – around 1 or 2 weeks. Then, let it sit for another 2 weeks and give it another taste. My guess is that you will be able to tell a world of difference!
You get to taste beer!
This reason might not have much to do with ensuring that your brewing process was on point but it certainly is fun to drink beer!
As always, don’t be afraid to have a little fun with your homebrewing journey and learn along the way!