How long is too long on yeast?
I have a Kegarator with 3 five gallon ball lock kegs and 4 additional five gallon ball lock kegs for storage. I use 4 fermenters: 2 of the new style Coopers fermenters with no airlock and the removable collars and 2 six gallon Better Bottles.
I have been keeping all 7 kegs and all 4 fermenters full all of the time. As one of the kegs in the kegarator becomes empty I clean it and then fill it from one of the fermenters. I then clean the fermenter and then start a new batch. I only make beer in the two Coopers fermenters and only make cider and apple wine in the two better bottles. I have one tap in the kegarator for beer, one for cider and one for sodas. Since I have one storage keg for each fermenter the beer or cider spends the same amount of time the fermenter as it does in the storage keg. For beer shortest amount of time I like to use is a month in each. For cider its two months in each. That yields about ten gallons of beer a month which works out to about 4 twelve ounce beers per day. For the cider its five gallons per month for around 2 twelve ounce servings per day.
The concern I have is that my beer demand is not very consistent. I currently have a bock that has been sitting in a Coopers fermenter for about 4 months and a honey apple wine that has been in a Better Bottle for over 6 months. I am less concerned about the better bottle with vodka in the airlock getting contaminated but I donít know if having it sit on the yeast too long is going to be a problem. I am concerned about the Coopers fermenters becoming contaminated over time. So far, I have only had one contaminated beer batch and I suspect I made a dirty yeast starter. The bock is starting to get a little white film on the top but the small samples I took out of the spout taste perfect so far.
What happens if the beer or cider sits on the yeast too long and how long is too long?
I donít want to use a secondary fermenter because I am lazy. Should I pick up more kegs? I could get three or four more kegs and then leave the fermenter empty for a while before making a new batch.
Thanks for any advice.
Autolysis (yeast death and decomposition) is the biggest risk letting your beers rest on the yeast cake. This can produce off flavors, but is usually more of a risk in large conical fermenters. That being said, there are high gravity beers (old ales, barleywines, etc.) that have sat for six months to a year lagering on the yeast cake with no ill effects.
I'm assuming your bock was made using a lager strain, which usually prefer a long cool fermentation for four to six months. I think you'll be fine as long as your samples taste good and you keep everything as sanitary as possible.
I was worried about leaving mine on the cake for a month, but Info here: http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f163/secondary-not-john-palmer-jamil-zainasheff-weigh-176837/
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