Homebrew: Ignore the instructions

Flavor extracts are easy to use... but their intensity casts a long shadow.
Flavor extracts are easy to use… but their intensity casts a long shadow.

It seemed so simple. I bottled half my brown ale straight-up (which turned out fine). I bottled the other half with hazelnut extract added to the bottling bucket. What I thought would be a passable cousin for Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar, wound up being 2.5 gallons of smelly nut juice.

Many things in brewing work well when you follow basic instructions. (You know, like “sanitize everything that comes into contact with your wort.”) But sometimes we come across instructions that are best ignored.

Brewcraft’s extracts are no stranger to my brew kitchen (so we’re clear, I don’t fault Brewcraft for this, just the brewer). An ounce of their apricot extract balances the Zeus hops in my apricot pale ale, one of my and my wife’s favorite beers. I know to ignore the label when it says to use the 4 oz. bottle to flavor 5 gallons of beer.

When the Hazelnut bottle said to use the entire 2 oz. bottle to flavor 5 gallons of beer, I should have known better. But instead of following my good sense, my experience and my instincts, I threw those away and followed the dang instructions.

At least, I thought I knew better. “I only need to flavor two and a half gallons, not five,” I thought. “If I use one ounce, I’ll be fine.”

Um, no.

What should have been a subtle yet detectable nuance of nuttiness, instead overwhelmed every other aspect of my beer.

My wife and I struggled through a few bottles before she said no more. I continued, out of a belief that as a captain goes down with the ship, a cook and brewer must down his mistakes.

Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore either. Most of that beer wound up in soups and braising sausages (which actually worked well).

Which brings us to a vital lesson. Instructions have their place, and sometimes their place is nowhere near your beer. Use your judgment and rely on your experience. And if using an extract to flavor beer, whatever you think you need to use, cut that number in half.

Reprinted from the Cascade Brewers Society Newsletter, October 2012

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