Is homebrew a stinky business?
February 10, 2007 10:17 PM   Subscribe

Is home brewing beer stinky business?

I have always wanted to home brew myself up some beer, but am worried about the stink factor.

I live in a 2 bedroom apartment, so I don't have a garage or basement to stick it in. I do have a whole bedroom I can devote to it, and some ventilation (as it gets warmer out).

Will it be overwhelming or acceptable?
posted by cschneid to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My friend lives in a 700 sq.ft one-bedroom apartment and brews beer every other Sunday. The smell is strong, for sure, but I can't smell it from the hallway, and it doesn't overwhelm the apartment or linger for too long. He does it in the kitchen and doesn't have the greatest ventilation, so I imagine if you're sequestering the brew, there shouldn't be a problem.
posted by Zosia Blue at 10:24 PM on February 10, 2007

If you've got a whole room to put it in, you'll be more than fine. The smell will depend on the type of beer you're making but even if you can smell it, it's generally more of a pleasant yeasty/fruity smell than anything sour. You only get an unpleasant "off" or sour smell if you get a bad yeast (something wild growing because you didn't clean your gear properly) or if you spill brewed beer and don't clean it up.

Leave a window part open and, if you're in a very cold part of the world right now consider buying a brew-belt. They're a cheap, mostly-washable electric-blanket sort of arrangement that will keep the wort warm enough that fermentation will chug away nicely.

Go for it!
posted by ninazer0 at 10:41 PM on February 10, 2007

There's definitely a strong odor, but stinky is in the nose of the beholder. In my own experience, I don't think many people would find it an objectionable smell. It's really only present during the actual brewing, which will take you an hour or two.

If, however, you get some nasties in with your yeast during the ferment, you will know it in a big bad way.
posted by sonofslim at 10:46 PM on February 10, 2007

As others have noted, the cooking of the wort produces a very strong malty, hoppy odor - I don't think it's unpleasant (quite the opposite) but it is not subtle and for me anyway it hung around the kitchen for a couple of days.

Odor from the actual fermentation is minor - you know it's there if you're in an enclosed space with it but it's really nothing bad or powerful.
posted by nanojath at 11:53 PM on February 10, 2007

The malt smell is good... it's a sugary, organic smell, with the slightly bitter smell of hops. There aren't really any other odors involved. I find that it's gone in hours, sadly too soon. The strength is comparable to doing a huge all-day simmer of chili or spaghetti sauce.
posted by rolypolyman at 11:56 PM on February 10, 2007

Best answer: My husband's a home brewer, and I have to say it's a fairly smelly business. He tends to brew from grain (not kits). I actually like the smell of the "mash"; it's a nice bready, yeasty smell. It's the hops that are the problem. I don't know if it's that he's a hophead and uses more (or stronger) hops, but both of us always end up with headaches after he brews. He's started doing it out on the front porch instead, but it's still fairly smelly. Maybe we're just both extra sensitive to it or something.

(Ooh, he just got home! He says if you're doing it from canned kits, they're usually not very smelly.)
posted by web-goddess at 12:21 AM on February 11, 2007

Best answer: There will be a strong aroma when you're actually boiling the wort, and it may linger around your living area for a day or two. It's not a bad aroma, certainly, but it's a strong one, and it might hang around for a little while. There's basically no odor at all while it sits in the corner fermeting; it's just the aroma from the initial boil that hangs around for awhile.

Do not, however, think of it it as a stench. Think of it as the greatest fragrance a person can produce in his or her own kitchen. You are, after all, MAKING YOUR OWN BEER.

If you're seriously interested in good beer, you absolutely MUST homebrew for awhile. Your first batch will be pretty mediocre; your friends will tell you it's good, of course, but when you ask them if they want another, they'll ask what else you have. Do not let this discourage you. Keep at it, and adopt some advanced techniques like liquid yeasts and a two-stage fermentation. Your beer will get better very quickly.

You'll know that you've arrived when, rather than pushing it on your friends, you're getting pissed at them for drinking too much of it. It was at this point that I decided that the division of labor in society is a good thing, and that it was worth it to go plunk down six bucks for a great six-pack of beer that somebody else here in town made, rather than spend the time to do it myself. I don't brew myself very often anymore, but believe me, once you've made a beer as good as what you can buy, you'll appreciate beer in a whole new way. It's like the guitar and piano lessons I took as a kid -- I don't really play either anymore very often, but that knowledge is the whole foundation of how I listen to music. My homebrewing experience has the same effect on how I taste beer now.

There's no finer feeling than sitting on your deck, pleasantly hammered with a tasty beverage that you brewed yourself in your own kitchen, knowing that it's as good as what they're making at the local microbrewery. That, my friend, is what craftsmanship tastes like.
posted by Vercingetorix at 12:21 AM on February 11, 2007 [5 favorites]

The smell is okay, and like Vercingetorix says, there's a real satisfaction in getting a buzz from quality brew that you made yourself... and greater satisfaction in knowing that you're drunk for less than a dollar.

However, you MUST clean the tank pretty soon after you use it. I once left a couple of inches of brew in the bottom of a tank for a month or so. I swear I thought I had emptied it, but when I went back to it, I found it still sloshing around in the bottom.

I knew it would be bad, and I waited until everyone had left for the day, and employed a US military surplus mask before I cracked it open.

I could still catch a whiff of it, a sort of hyper yeasty putrescent stench. I emptied it down the sink - pouring it out in the garden would have made the garden stink.

Still, I was surprised I could smell it through the mask. I cracked the seal slightly and WHAM, the stench was incredible, like a tangible presence inside my nasal cavity. I snapped the mask shut again and breathed deeply, then went about opening all the windows and scrubbing the sink and brew tank with bleach.

Amazingly, that same fermenter was used again many times, but that smell... ugh... I still shudder.

If you have a room with any sort of ventilation, you will hardly notice the smell, I'm sure. Good luck with your brewing!
posted by tomble at 4:23 AM on February 11, 2007

I used to homebrew in a one bed apartment kitchen. Full mash i.e. from grain.

Caveat: I always full mashed. Kits or concentrate will make this potentially less messy.

The mash smell always reminded me of Ovaltine or Horlicks (a pair of rather charmingly archaic malt drinks), probably the US equivalent is "malted milk".

Once the mash is done there's the boil. Boil the whole lot up for 90 minutes or so with hops at various stages. I liked this - lots. The smell gets a bit more intense and the hops can liberate a lot of volatile aromatics, and the boiling liquid creates a lot of steam. Steam, and the resulting condensation onto the kitchen walls was my worst enemy, LOTS of ventilation required.

Human assisted alchemy done it's time to let the yeast do its job. Initial fermentation kicks off fairly rapidly (or in one or two memorable cases alarmingly rapidly). For the next couple days or so there will be a lot of scummy yeast on top of the brew if it's an ale, or just bubbles of CO2 if it's a lager. This is the worst time for

a) yeast aroma. I don't mind it but in a confined space it can be quiet strong

b) Overflows. This will stink if not cleaned up pronto. ALWAYS put down some kind of membrane below and around the fermentation vessel

After that it's time to exercise some patience before racking into the final vessel and priming the beer (a little more sugar, maybe a secondary yeast).

If you are bottling store the filled, primed bottles somewhere where one of them exploding (and I've seen flip top Grolsch bottles go, explode is not an exaggeration here) will be easy to clean up etc.

Then sit back and enjoy true craftsmanship, you made that and it's as good if not better than the micro brewed beer you PAY FOR!
posted by hardcode at 4:26 AM on February 11, 2007

as most here have pointed out -- boiling with the hops produces the most powerful odor in the process.

just head to your local homebrew shop and pick up 1 oz of Northern Brewer or some other high-acid hop pellets. open this up and get a good strong wiff of it. now imagine your kitchen with that smell and lots of steam for over an hour.

that, and the aformentioned 'ovaltine' odor, will mix to create a smell not everyone will think is pleasant. if you've got a hood on the stove, or can aim a fan out a window, that'll help.

back when i had roomates, i had one complain about the smell. but that all stopped once we got around to *drinking* the outcome.
posted by garfy3 at 5:13 AM on February 11, 2007

The only bad smells I've ever encountered homebrewing is when I was lazy and forgot to clean something up.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:31 AM on February 11, 2007

If you've got a commercial brewery nearby, you could walk by and get a whiff of what you'll be getting into. Also, as a kid when my dad homebrewed, I couldn't stand the stench, but I really like it now.
posted by glip at 6:26 AM on February 11, 2007

Boiling the wort, as mentioned, makes a strong smell. It's sort of sweet, and kind of smells like you're making bread. But really, really strong. Once you're done with that step, the smell doesn't linger.

Go for it. The smell is gone after a few hours. Some people like the smell, some don't.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:22 AM on February 11, 2007

Go for it. The boil (pre-hop) smells like raisin bran. Some people like it, some people don't. I do, my wife does. The smell doesn't linger the way other smells do. I will readily brew beer in the winter, while I will not cook fish and avoid frying.
posted by plinth at 8:23 AM on February 11, 2007

To circumvent the law, I did a fair bit of homebrewing when I was 18-20. Toward the end, I switched to mead, which I found more expedient both in production and drinking. Not to mention that I found it easier to convince young ladies to try it if it tasted like honey, rather than malt and hops.

The boiling of your wort will cause a very strong scent. It smells like malt. And if you use strong hops, you'll certainly smell those too. I liked the scent, and I never had any friends complain about it. I can certainly imagine that if you're the sort who's easily offended simply by strong smells, it'll probably get to you.

Boiling honey for mead, on the other hand, produces a smell so sickly sweet, cloying, and overpowering that it nearly made me vomit the first time.

I could never detect any particular odor from the fermentation process, unless I got right up next to it. The exception is if it overflows, in which case you'll smell whatever biological activity takes place in the spilled wort.

Take care in measuring alcohol content at each step, since you'll need that information to fine your beer when you bottle it. If you have too much remaining malt sugar, and you add too much fining sugar, your bottles could easily explode. Alternatively, you can simply wait until all primary fermentation has finished before fining and bottling.
posted by Netzapper at 9:42 AM on February 11, 2007

Best answer: When my wife and I lived in an apartment, I kept our homebrew (beer, cider and mead) in the 2nd (spare) bedroom. Since I can't smell (anosmia), I repeatedly asked her to check in the room to ensure nothing smelled amiss. My wife's closet was in the room, so she had a vested interest in not having anything stinking up her clothes. She said there is a smell, but it's not overpowering, that she kind of got used to it, and that it did not permeate her clothing. If you keep the window open you should have no problems at all.

The real smell comes from the actual mash and boiling process. I'm fortunate that my wife actually enjoyed the smell, but it's apparently pretty strong, especially when using lots of hops.

The only issue with smell that ever arose between me and my wife was when I started making sauerkraut. It sat in the spare room as well and apparently smelled a bit more strongly than the beer. A touch of that smell, she says, did in fact get into her clothing.

Aaannnd, she just saw me answering this question. She says that, as long as you're not doing both beer and sauerkraut in the same room with no ventilation, you should be a-OK.
posted by cog_nate at 11:06 AM on February 11, 2007

Note to potentially goofy college students under 21 years of age: don't brew beer in your dorm room. Your RA will know. Luckily, my RA was more amused than outraged, and I didn't get in trouble. :)
posted by funkbrain at 12:55 PM on February 11, 2007

Further note to potentially goofy college students under 21: don't brew drunk. I witnessed some students trying this and they didn't have the wherewithall to note that a 4 quart saucepan didn't have the capacity for a the main boil. That cost them dear. From my own experience, I've found that it's best to hold off on drinking until you're cooling the wort. There's still plenty of time to enjoy your beer, but far less chance to screw it up due to impairment.
posted by plinth at 6:45 AM on February 12, 2007

The smells produced during the actual brewing will fade quickly. Sometimes there are unavoidable messes because of spillage during fermentation. Be sure to keep your carboy or bucket in an easily cleaned tray or refrigerator. The smells from beer getting into the carpet or under the floor covering would be awful.
posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN at 11:40 AM on February 12, 2007

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