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Old 11-27-2012, 06:40 PM   #1
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Default Newbie Questions (gravity measurement, secondary fermentation, preventing explosions)

Last week, I brewed my second batch (a Sweetwater Festive Ale clone) after a fairly successful first batch from a Brewer's Best English Pale Ale kit.

Brewing day went quite well, and my beer is happily fermenting away in the bathtub. My OG reading was 1.073, which seems about right since the finished product is supposed to be 8.5% ABV. So, a few questions:

1) How do people generally measure gravity during fermentation? Do you just drop the hydrometer in your primary fermenter, or do you siphon off a bit and measure that? If the former, doesn't the krausen interfere with a good reading? If the latter, what do you typically siphon off beer into, and how do you keep the hydrometer from getting stuck to the wall of whatever container you're using?

2) I've been reading a lot of the debate about whether or not to use a secondary fermenter, and to me, the decision comes down to if it's worth risking contamination to achieve a greater level of clarity. This is a dark beer (I'm told it should be around 30 SRM), so I don't know that a little cloudiness would even be perceptible, but at the same time, I want to produce the best beer I can, and am fine with the extra work (and additional risk) to achieve that. Also, the fact that I have two engineering degrees (one of which in chemical engineering), and spent quite a bit of time in labs to get those degrees means I'm pretty comfortable with my ability to keep things sanitized/clean so I'm not as worried about contamination if I rack to a secondary fermenter.

Okay, that's a whole lot of preface before I get to a question, so my question is this: assuming I'm going to rack to a secondary, when should I do so?Everything I've read about racking to secondary says that you want to wait until fermentation has slowed, but not stopped, before you rack to a secondary fermenter. Well, my fermentation has definitely slowed (yes, I'm looking at a bubbling airlock, but I'm fairly certain I have a pretty tight seal based on how well it's been bubbling), but it's still going about twice a minute. I could do a gravity reading, but since I'm still a bit uncertain about how best to do that while it's fermenting (and I want to minimize how many times I open my bucket), I'm using a non-invasive method, at least for now.

As a corrolary to this, do the two methods (just primary vs. primary and secondary) differ in total fermentation time? I read about the 1-2-3 "rule," but then also read about some people fermenting in a primary for months, particularly for higher gravity beers. I can see arguments for either method fermenting faster (the primary only method will have more yeast, but the secondary provides for some additional aeration in a case where oxygen may be the limiting ingredient). The only reason I'm concerned about this is because I'm hoping to bottle 3 weeks after my brewing day, and if one method gives me a better chance that I can do so, that's probably the one I'll choose.

3) A brewing friend of mine recently had a batch explode, and given the high gravity in this batch, I was concerned about a potential explosion since the yeast would have so much sugar to snack on. Thankfully, this hasn't been a problem on this batch (at least so far, but things are slowing down so I'm hopeful). I've read about people using a blow-off tube to prevent explosions, but haven't really seen a good description of what this is or how to make one. Also, what are some other methods to prevent explosions, if any?

Okay...so that was a little long-winded, and if you made it this far, thanks for reading. Also, thanks-in-advance for any responses.

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Old 11-27-2012, 07:00 PM   #2
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Hey,I like a good novel as much as the next guy,but sheez. I use the tube the hydrometer came in for testing. I sanitize it with starsan first,hydrometer included. Just draw off a sample into the tube till the hydrometer floats. Do this for OG test before pitching yeast.
I get crystal clear beer without the secondary. I & many others only use it for fruit additions,oaking,or aging a big beer. Primary is even fine for dry hopping. Just let the beer reach FG & settle out clear or slightly misty 1st. This prevents the hop oils from coating the yeasties & heading down to see old Hob. And never rack to secondary before FG is stable!
Initial fermentation can be very vigorous & produce explosive messes. Just like when you have the hearshey squirts reeeeally bad. Same thing with fermenters,but in a good way. Here's a link to a beersmith blog about the Burton blow off method; http://beersmith.com/blog/2009/10/10/better-beer-with-the-burton-union-blow-off-method/
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Old 11-27-2012, 07:06 PM   #3
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"How do people generally measure gravity during fermentation?'

You don't. Just leave it alone until fermentation is done. If there is a big krausen bubbling away, you really don't need any measurements to tell you it isn't finished yet. Once everything dies down and you don't see any activity for a couple of days, then you can take a measurement.

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Old 11-27-2012, 07:10 PM   #4
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For the hydrometer you can get a 10-12" plastic cylinder, just like a laboratory graduated cylinder without the graduations. Get a wine thief or a turkey baster, sanitize them, and use them to fill the cylinder mostly to the top. Drop the hydrometer in and take the reading, spinning the hydrometer to get rid of bubbles that stick and add buoyancy.

The general consensus on these forums is that a primary will achieve the same level of clarity as a secondary, possibly just a little more slowly.

A blowoff tube is basically just a really big airlock. You stick a tube where the standard airlock goes and immerse the other end under water.

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Old 11-27-2012, 07:11 PM   #5
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I don't wait till I think fermentation is completely done. without measuring,how would you know? But I should've mentioned I wait till the two week mark to test it to see where it's at.
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Old 11-27-2012, 07:13 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unionrdr View Post
[FONT="Georgia"]I use the tube the hydrometer came in for testing. I sanitize it with starsan first,hydrometer included. Just draw off a sample into the tube till the hydrometer floats. Do this for OG test before pitching yeast.
This is what I assumed you are meant to do, but I have 2 issues with this:

1) Every time I try to take a measurement in the tube, the hydrometer just sticks to one of the walls of the tube and I can never get a good reading
2) How do you typically draw-off a sample? Is there something better to use than an auto siphon/hose, which is something of a pain to sanitize, particularly if you're taking a reading every day.

Quote:
Originally Posted by unionrdr View Post
[FONT="Georgia"]I get crystal clear beer without the secondary. I & many others only use it for fruit additions,oaking,or aging a big beer. Primary is even fine for dry hopping. Just let the beer reach FG & settle out clear or slightly misty 1st. This prevents the hop oils from coating the yeasties & heading down to see old Hob. And never rack to secondary before FG is stable!
Yeah...I'm having a hard time justifying a secondary at all, but then I wonder if I'm just being lazy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by unionrdr View Post
Initial fermentation can be very vigorous & produce explosive messes. Just like when you have the hearshey squirts reeeeally bad. Same thing with fermenters,but in a good way. Here's a link to a beersmith blog about the Burton blow off method; http://beersmith.com/blog/2009/10/10/better-beer-with-the-burton-union-blow-off-method/
That method requires fermenting in a carboy - is there something similar for a bucket, or should I just start doing my primary fermentation in a carboy?
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Old 11-27-2012, 07:22 PM   #7
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I set the tube on my desk & give it a spin. I just had to find a spot where it stays roughly centered. I have spigots on all my FV's & bottling bucket. But a sanitized baster will work as well. And you don't need to rake readings every day. I wait two weeks,test. If it close to FG range,I give it another week. It's usually settling out by then,but test again. If it's in FG range,wait till the third day & check to se if the number's the same. If yes,bottle.
They just used a carboy as an example since most used them. I don't. I save 1/2 gallon plastic vodka jugs for blow offs. Use 3/8" tubing with a cut off end from an old airlock stuck in one end. This goes in the airlock grommet on the FV. The other end to the bottom of the jug 1/3 full of water & a splash of starsan.
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Old 11-27-2012, 07:28 PM   #8
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For gravity readings, I use a wine thief to draw off a sample then just drop the hydrometer into the top of the thief. After measuring, the sample becomes a tasting sample.

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Old 11-27-2012, 07:31 PM   #9
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Im sure I wont be popular for this response but here goes. You can use alot of "By Guess And By Golly" in beer brewing. Most recipes have a recommended ferment time(if you use a kit or known recipe that is). If not guess. Hmmmmmm its been 2wks I guess ill take a reading. and 2-3 days later take another reading if u want to be sure. Give the hydrometer a spin as you are placing it in the reading tube. If it sticks do it 3 or 4 more times if all eadings are the same. I guess its good. As far as needing a secondary, golly thats ur call. I used one because my primary was also my bottling bucket, doing a secondary gave me time to clarify, as well as free up my bottling bucket to get properly cleaned for bottlingday. This has always worked for me.

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Old 11-27-2012, 07:36 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by billl View Post
"How do people generally measure gravity during fermentation?'

You don't. Just leave it alone until fermentation is done. If there is a big krausen bubbling away, you really don't need any measurements to tell you it isn't finished yet. Once everything dies down and you don't see any activity for a couple of days, then you can take a measurement.
How does this work when using an opaque bucket for a primary fermenter? I can't see anything unless I open the bucket (which I understand you don't want to do), and I've seen several threads caution against using a bubbling (or not-bubbling) airlock as an indication of fermentation.

I get your point though - there isn't really a reason to measure gravity during fermentation. I meant it more generally as "How do you measure gravity once you've transferred your wort to a fermenter?"
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