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Old 09-29-2010, 01:17 PM   #1
nelsonbaggins
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Default A few specific questions

I've been scouring the forums and Google looking for all my brewing answers and have done quite well, I just have a few more specific questions that I've had trouble finding answers for. I've brewed with a friend about a half dozen times and we've only had two batches that were drinkable and yet still didn't blow me away. I'd appreciate some quick help to improve my brew skills.

1. Water. I'll be buying gallons of water from the store (Kalamazoo tap water is lamentable). Is there a specific brand or type of water that anyone could recommend?

2. Yeast. There seems to be no real consenus on whether or not liquid is superior to dry or vice versa. Liquid offers more options and comes out on top for that reason as far as I can tell. But I've seen recommendations for using two packs of yeast, either dry or liquid. Also, yeast fuel is recommended as well. If I were to use one pack of fuel with one pack of yeast, will that be equivalent to 2 packs of yeast & no fuel? What if I used 2 packs plus fuel; is that overkill? Would there be a benefit to using one dry and one liquid?

3. Clarity. I've seen people using grain bags for their hop additions, even when using pellets. Is this recommended for added clarity? Our batches have been coming out cloudy with a lot of sediment in the bottles, and I wonder if it's producing an off flavor. It may just be that the ales we've made so far were simply too green. But they've all had a distinct flavor that doesn't diminish entirely or fast enough for what I should expect according to what I've read. Is clarity really an issue though, or do you think there is some other issue producing the off flavor and I should stop focusing so much on it?

4. Malt. Our two most successful batches we're brewed with DME, the other's were liquid. So I feel that DME is the way to go for an extract brewer, although we do plan on moving to at least partial mash brewing very soon. I do feel discouraged though because plenty of extract brewers seem to do just fine with DME or liquid and I wonder if there's something else I'm doing wrong. Is it possible that, just by simply moving to a partial mash my quality should increase dramatically? Or is it likely that there's something I'm doing wrong with the extracts that will carry over to partial or all grain?

FYI, we've been fermenting in plastic with a stable temp, no secondary, a 3 week ferment, 3 weeks in the bottle, only dry yeast thus far, single packets, no starter, no yeast fuel, basic ale recipes, pellets mostly, dry leaf once.

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Old 09-29-2010, 01:28 PM   #2
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1) Not sure... I use my tap water.
2) I would stick to either a dry or a liquid yeast, not both at once. Dry yeast is a little easier, IMO, since you do not have to make a starter, and since I have no LHBS, it is just easier than dealing with shipping in the summer heat. Yeast fuel adds nutrients to your wort that the yeast need to grow... Especially when using canned kits that are thinned with corn sugar. There is a downside to overpitching your yeast... Only EVER pitch as much as is needed. There are calculators for this, but dry yeast typically pitches 1 package for OG less than about 1.060, 2 packages for over 1.060. Yeast nutrient, as I understand it (correct me if I am wrong) are generally only needed with liquid yeast. Just make sure to rehydrate and prime your dry yeast before pitching.

3) I use hop bags for the pellets, just because it keeps the majority of the pellets from sludging up the wort. It wont keep out 100%, but it helps. Given enough time, the beer should clear regardless of whether you use bags or not for your hops.

4) Extract ingredients have different qualities, some are better than others. Dark extract contains more unfermentable sugars, and many people advocate only using light extract and PM or steeping grains to achieve what you need... This is what I do. I prefer to have more control over what goes into my brew. If the extract is old it can have a "stale" type flavor, as I understand it, which you can spruce up by steeping some specialty grains.

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Old 09-29-2010, 02:22 PM   #3
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If you buy water, get spring water and not purified water. Clarity is not necessarily an issue and there are many factors that can cause your beer to be cloudy. How fast are you cooling your wort?

I personally will take liquid yeast over dry yeast. You don't need two packs of yeast though. Instead, you want to do a yeast starter and build up your yeast cell count depending on how big your beer is.

There is nothing wrong with LME, and it probably is something else in your process that's going wrong. If you can't brew a good beer using extract you are probably less likely to brew a good beer with all-grain. All-grain doesn't necessarily improve the quality of the beer, it just gives you more control and more options...

Can you describe the off flavor?
What temperature are you fermenting at?
What temperature are you pitching yeast at?
How are your cleaning/sanitizing habits?

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Old 09-29-2010, 03:32 PM   #4
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1) As BeerJorge said, make sure you use mineral or spring water. You need some minerals in there for yeast health and flavor. You could add your own, but starting with spring water is easier - you can always adjust as you get used to the water

2) I have had success with both dry and liquid yeast. I usually use liquid since, like you said, there are more options. With dry yeast, I rehydrate 1 packet and then pitch. With the liquid yeasts I try to make a starter a day or so ahead of time. I've never used "fuel", so can't comment on that.

3) I don't use hop bags, but I do put the wort through a strainer when dumping it into the fermenter. Your clarity issue might just be chill haze. All the hops should settle out in the fermenter as long as you leave the beer in the fermenter long enough (I would recommend 2-4 weeks). Off flavors could also be a result of bottling and/or drinking too soon. The yeast need time to clean up after fermentation is done.

4) I've had better success with DME as opposed to LME. Not sure why - maybe my LHBS's DME is fresher. However, I did find a vast improvement once I went to partial mash. It's definitely worth going that route if you're thinking about it.

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Old 09-29-2010, 03:51 PM   #5
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1. Spring water.
2. Two packs of dry yeast, rehydrated. Make a starter if you use liquid. There is a calculator online at mrmalty.com that will tell you how big of a starter to make. Ferment at 65-70 deg F. Place your primary fermenter in a large bucket with water and a towel or t-shirt wrapped around the primary, and blow a fan on it. Swamp cooler they call it here. Or a fermentation chiller.
3. Patience. 1-2-3 is minimum for clear beer.
4. partial grain with give your beer more body. So will maltodexdrine.

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Old 09-29-2010, 05:09 PM   #6
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This beer used no hop bags, no filtering, and no fining other than Whirlfloc.

Clear beer takes patience and good brewing practice. Nothing more.

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Old 09-29-2010, 07:27 PM   #7
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1. Water. When brewing with extracts you can use spring or distilled water, either will be fine. I personally send my well water through an active carbon filter.

2. Yeast. There is a great pitch rate calculator at mrmalty.com, pitch the recommended amounts of yeast. I'll use dry yeast whenever I can (it's cheaper and easier), but some styles of yeast are only available as a liquid. I'll always make a starter for liquid yeast. I've only used yeast nutrient once and couldn't tell a difference in the finished product.

3. Clarity. I use bags for my hops (5gallon paint strainer bags actually) but I doubt that this is causing the off flavor in your brew. Can you describe the off flavor that you are getting? That may help us to narrow down the cause.

4. Malt. You can make fine beer using extract w/steeping grains. I buy DME only because it keeps better than LME. If you give us your recipes/process from start to finish we can probably figure out what happened to the previous brews.

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Old 09-30-2010, 12:04 PM   #8
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We haven't been too scientific with the fermentation temps. ~70 degrees (room temp). My friend will ferment in his basement where it's a little cooler, and I use my closet, which is the coolest spot in my house. We never get the banana flavor though, so I don't think it's ever gotten too warm.

We pitched once we cooled it to room temp as well. We've just been cooling it down in the sink with running water.

It's hard to describe the flavor. It seems to me to taste like the way the trub smells. Very earthy and almost mossy. I wouldn't think it would be too green because even Palmer talks about 2 weeks ferment then 2 in the bottle and drink. We've been doing 3 weeks each.

As far as sanitation goes, we thoroughly sanitize everything that touches the wort post-boil. We don't go too crazy though (the yeast packets being tossed into the sanitizer, etc.) Maybe we should.

Thanks all, for the quick responses!

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Old 09-30-2010, 12:26 PM   #9
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Ferment cooler, try to get in the low to mid 60's ambient because at the height of fermentation your fermenter can be ~5F higher than that easily. Once active fermentation has completed (usually after the first week) you can start to raise the ferm temps to help keep the yeast awake.

You want to pitch cooler rather than warmer, get that wort down to the low 60's then pitch if possible, it's always better to let the yeast warm themselves up to start fermentation. Make sure you're also pitching enough yeast, with liquid yeast you want to make a starter, with dry just pitch it in.

Can't be to anal when it comes to sanitation, sanitize your yeast packets/vials as well as the scissors you use to open them.

Try using a fining agent like gelatine, or even just cold crashing. This will get the yeast & trub out of suspension, maybe reducing the earthy/mossy flavor. I'm guessing this is from hop residue, they will give an earthy flavor sometimes. Try using the paint strainer bag (5 gallon) clipped to the side of your pot, just add each addition to the bag and stir, that may help keep that stuff out of the beer. Be careful when racking, you don't want to suck up the yeast/trub when your siphoning in to your bottling bucket from the primary. Also, are you decanting your beer from the bottles in to a glass or just dumping everything in? There is about an 1/8" layer of yeast sediment in the bottom of the bottles that you may be picking up.

Let me know if any of this helps, or if you have any other questions.

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Old 09-30-2010, 12:49 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nelsonbaggins View Post
It's hard to describe the flavor. It seems to me to taste like the way the trub smells. Very earthy and almost mossy. I wouldn't think it would be too green because even Palmer talks about 2 weeks ferment then 2 in the bottle and drink. We've been doing 3 weeks each.
With all respect to John Palmer, 2 weeks to ferment and 2 weeks in the bottle is not usually enough time for beers to fully condition. 3 and 3 is better, but still not enough. I go the 3 and 3 route and have found that the beers may be good and carbonated, but that they're still young. They continue to improve week by week...up to a point. In general, I find that my beers are best after 6-10 weeks in the bottle. The best one is usually my last one - which is why it is good to have enough beer in your pipeline so that you can forget about the one you just bottled and let it come into its own. When you only have one batch, it's hard, if not downright impossible, to give it enough time to fully develop.
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