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Old 01-18-2011, 11:45 PM   #1
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Default Low final ABV, more than a little bit of a bite on finished product

Hey all,

Finally joined up after nerd sniping myself on this site by reading a ton of posts before brewing my first batch. and decided I would ask if any of you can guess where I am messing up, if you want to call it that. I bought myself a 5 Gal brewing kit for a new job warming gift in October. It came with a Irish Red kit with a dry yeast.

So for my first brew of the Irish Red, the OG wasn't near as high as it should have after soaking the grains and adding the malt extracts/adding hops/etc. After adding the yeast and letting it age for a week, then racking to secondary since it came with a carboy and I figured what the hell, why not. After the two weeks in secondary, I found that the beer only ended up at 3.3%. Not what it was supposed to be, but what the hey, not bad for a first attempt. The beer after bottling and time to carbonate itself turned out perfectly clear though a touch on the sweet side and a weak head. Still, a first beer that came out well, you know I am hooked.

My second beer was an Oatmeal Stout kit, yes I have beer ADD. This was supposed to be a harder beer, but following the directions I hit the OG spot on. Primary and then secondary as before, and the FG ended up 0.014 high. Once again, a much lower ABV than I was supposed to get (only 3.28% rather than the 4.4-5.5% it was supposed to reach). After bottling and self carbonation, this was a deliciously black beer with a wonderful head though a bit of a bite. After a couple sips though you get used to it and can really enjoy it. Definite success in my eyes.

For Christmas I decided to brew an Imperial Nut Brown kit with my father. We got nowhere near the desired OG or FG once again (unfortunately I don't have the sheet with my notes from the brew to give exact figures) Upon sampling the beer on bottling day (this past Sat) the beer also has that strong bite which I am sure will fade while it carbonates.

My question, after writing this book of a post is where could I be screwing up? Is there anything I must be screwing up that would cause fermentation to not drop the gravity or ending up with an ABV anywhere near what the kits are claiming they should, and getting the bite. I imagine I must be boiling too hot or long with the hops or maybe just not cooling it fast enough to get it off the hops before it bitters too much. I am making a point to follow the directions to the letter.

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Old 01-18-2011, 11:57 PM   #2
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The ingredients and process are very important tools for people to help diagnose. It could be hitting the 1.020 wall (search for the 1.020 curse on HBT) as well.

For instance, not hitting O.G. could be adding too much water or not mixing it well enough. Not getting the attenuation could be caused by multiple factors.

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Old 01-19-2011, 12:01 AM   #3
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Well, it could be a few things.

When it comes to low OG, with extract there's not much to it. Right amount of extract + right amount of water should give you the desired gravity, so if that is being missed I am thinking somewhere in the quantities (ie: too little extract or too much water) it's getting messed up.

As far as higher FG, extracts tend to have a bit of a problem with that, but if you hit 1.020 instead of 1.015 it's not going to be the end of the world for your beer. It shouldn't make a huge difference, outside of a bit sweeter flavor up front. But if you're way too high (ie: well above 1.020) you could be having problems with the yeast attenuating properly. In that case, you might want to look at your aeration (try shaking the carboy more!) and your ferment temps (is it going too low and making your yeast sleepy?)

You might post the specifics from one of the beers (ingredients, amounts, your process, etc. etc.) and we can see if we can't find any info from that.

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Old 01-19-2011, 12:13 AM   #4
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Ok. Here is the info from the Oatmeal Stout, where I took the best notes.

Fermentables
3.3lb Special Dark LME
3lb Extra Dark DME
1lb Maltodextrin

Specialty Grains
1lb Oats
6oz Dark Chocolate
12oz 2-row Pale
2oz Caramel 120L
4oz Victory

Hops
1oz bittering
1oz flavoring

What the kit claimed was:
IBU 25-35
OG 1.048-1.056
FG 1.012-1.016
ABV 4.4%-5.5%

What I actually got:
OG 1.055
FG 1.03 (yeah I know, I was doing so well to start)
ABV 3.28%

I don't consider it a fail as it it delicious, and was a heck of a lot of fun, but I would love to get it down so I can start playing with recipes eventually and probably make some truly awful brews.

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Old 01-19-2011, 12:19 AM   #5
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Some people find they have a hard time getting an accurate OG with extracts, because the wort isn't thoroughly mixed with the top off water. This isn't a problem if you can boil a full 5 gallons of wort though.

If you find your beer is not attenuating as well as you'd like, try leaving it in the primary for 2-4 weeks and skipping the secondary, this gives more yeast longer to work. Additionally, if you find during the last week or so you are still too high you can try GENTLY swirling the fermentor to re-suspend the yeast (gently because you do not want to aerate your beer at this point!) and/or bringing the temp up closer to 68-70*F if it has been fermenting at a cooler ambient temp then that.

I would not transfer my beer until the gravity is unchanged over the course of three days.

my 2 cents...

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Old 01-19-2011, 12:35 AM   #6
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Thanks. I look forward to becoming as knowledgable as you all some day and be able to help others out.

I think I probably am not aerating it enough to start, and probably am also fermenting at a bit low of a temperature. The directions say nothing about aeration and I was worried about oxidizing the beer before it had a chance. As for temperature, I am renting a basement and even though I keep it in the room with the furnace, etc which is an inner most room with the most consistent temp, it can and does get a little chilly in here.

For Fermentation, all 3 batches have appeared to be really happy hyperactive yeast. The morning following brew day and the rest of that day it bubbles away merrily. I see much reduced action for the next few days, but can always stir up some more action through the day I usually rack to secondary. I guess I ought to give it longer in primary as well. I think before I brew my next batch (next week or the week after, I have been given lots of commercial beer recently that I currently have available to drink in the meantime for the bottles, though it doesn't taste anywhere near as good after drinking my own) I am going to build myself a at least partially insulated fermentation box out of blueboard and an improvised warmer of a thermostat and a electric blanket. The immersion chiller is in the process of being fabricated as well.

All in all I think I need to work on patience. I don't even like to wait the 3 weeks to try my first of any brew.

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Old 01-19-2011, 01:52 AM   #7
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Aerating your wort before you pitch your yeast is fine. Early in the fermentation yeast go through a reproduction phase that requires oxygen, which is lacking (especially in full boils) after boiling the wort. This is more of a concern for high gravity beers or when using liquid yeast. A good dry yeast usually has plenty of cells and don't need to reproduce as much to reach a healthy population.

After the fermentation has started you don't want to add any more oxygen, because that will lead oxidation. Savvy?

Also, I might have seen something in one of your posts about bubbling, don't worry about the bubbles. They are not a reliable indicator of fermentation for a few reasons;
1) If your fermentor does not have a good seal, CO2 can leak out with out producing bubbles in the airlock.
2) after fermentation, the beer will have dissolved CO2 in it, as well as pockets of CO2 in the yeast cake/trub at the bottom of the fermentor. The dissolved or trapped gas can come out of solution or be displaced for a host of reasons including temperature changes, air pressure changes and jiggling the fermenter.

The activity you see after racking COULD be re-invigorated yeast going back to work, or it COULD be CO2 coming out of solution because you've "disturbed" the wort.

So bubbles can give you a false positive and a false negative in different situations.

Hydrometers on the other hand are very reliable, once calibrated to your brewing water, and easy to use, as you know.

Just thought I'd mention it because some times people will jump all over you for implying that bubbling = activity. They are right though, and most on the forums will agree that SG readings are the only reliable way to tell what's going on with your beer.

I know it's hard not to think of it that way, but I thought I'd mention it.

Careful with the blanket that it doesn't get too warm, more off flavors are produced by fermenting too warm early in the fermentation process than too cold. Too cold will put the yeast to sleep though.

If the fermentor is on a concrete or dirt floor, getting it up off the floor, even on a piece of blueboard/pinkboard might be enough.

ps hope I'm not coming off as one of those guys who will jump all over you for equating bubbles with activity My preferred method of reading the tea leaves these days (when I don't want to take gravity readings to often and I'm worrying about it) is to watch the temperature of the stick on thermometer on my ale pail. If it comes up from ambient I know something in there is producing heat. Don't tell anyone, I'm sure someone will say it's as bad as watching bubbles.

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Old 01-19-2011, 02:11 AM   #8
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Haha, no worries. I don't offend easily and admit to my ignorance. I kinda expected as much, but the bubbles are rather exciting to see, along with the wonderful smell that comes off of it. I trust only the hydrometer, but still like seeing the activity. So oxygen before yeast = OK, after = BAD. Gotcha.

Ok then, on second thought, I am going to go with the homemade wort chiller this time, and build the box and take temperatures and see how it goes. For this brew I will take your elevation advice.

Thanks for all the information.

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Old 01-19-2011, 03:34 AM   #9
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Glad you found it useful.

The best advice though is to read everything you can, the stickies in the different forums, search out threads on topics you're wondering about, etc... There are some real experts on this forum who have a ton of experience and knowledge. Read all you can a see what makes sense to you.

RDWHAHB and patience patience patience are also excellent pieces of advice, but it sounds like you already know that.

Good luck and happy brewing!

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Old 01-19-2011, 03:42 AM   #10
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For this beer specifically, if your volume was 5.9 gal then the OG reading was correct. If the volume was 5.0 gal, then your OG was 1.065, give or take a couple points. Yes, with extract it's possible to be that sure. Like munche said, x sugar + y water = z gravity, every time.

The FG problem is pretty understandable, actually. The maltodextrin will add about 8-9 points on its own, and is completely unfermentable. Oats will also add a lot of unfermentables, as could all the other grains depending on how they were mashed. Was this advertised as a mini-mash kit? Did you do a mash? The pale malt is an odd choice for an extract kit.

Anyway, taking out the maltodextrin and assuming your total volume was 5.0 gal, your apparent attenuation was about 62%. That's actually pretty good for dark extract - to do better, you need to use lighter extract.

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