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Old 11-16-2012, 05:18 AM   #1
Nov 2012
Posts: 13

I've butchered the fermentation of my return to brewing and I need advice on where to go from here. I'm doing a Chocolate Stout with the following grain bill:

1# crystal malt
8oz brown malt
4oz chocolate malt
4oz black patent
4oz roast barley
6.6# dark malt extract
1# lactose
4oz malto-dextrin
8oz cocoa
1 pack Wyeast 1187

First problem: The OG was 1.040 instead of the 1.065 it was supposed to be. In retrospect, that may be because I did not mix up the carboy thoroughly once I topped off with water.

Second problem: For the first time I used a "smack pack" of yeast. Following the packet's instructions, I waited three hours for the yeast to reactivate and (as the packet recommended) I didn't worry too much when the packet was not bloated. Turns out I smacked only one of the packets of nutrients and the other was still intact. I had none of the experience, time or patience to do it right, so I opened up the other nutrient packet, pitched the yeast and crossed my fingers.

Two days later, there was no significant fermentation. Figuring the problem was the unbroken nutrient packet, I bought another packet, smacked the crap out of it to break both of them, waited the three hours it said on the packet and pitched the yeast again. The next day I read in a book that the packets should take three DAYS (not hours) to fully reactivate and bloat the packet! Damn it!

Fours days later there had been some fermentation, including some krausen, but not as much as I expected. Two days after that, fermentation had pretty much stopped again. A hydrometer reading had the gravity at 1.03. I tried to rouse the yeast by vigorously shaking the carboy. No dice.

The day after that I tried one more time to add more yeast by dumping a packet of regular Red Star yeast in and giving it another stir. Still nothing. Two days later the gravity has dropped to 1.029, so there's something going on, but it's pretty slow.

So .... now what? Do I just wait for another two weeks in the primary fermenter for the gravity to drop to 1.02 (hopefully)? Do I add yet more yeast (and properly activate it this time)? Do I just go ahead and rack it to a secondary fermenter? Even if it's ruined, I DO want to continue through the entire process so I can learn my mistakes on a single bad batch, even if the end product is undrinkable. For what it's worth, when I tasted the wort out of the hydrometer, it does taste like flat beer and it does have some carbonation in it.


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Old 11-16-2012, 07:53 AM   #2
Ogri's Avatar
Sep 2011
Osaka, Japan
Posts: 885
Liked 94 Times on 85 Posts

Sorry to hear of your trouble but wanted to say thanks for the laugh. The term "butchered" and the progression of your exploits are well suited.

What sort of temperature is your brew at? Might it be a good idea to raise the temp and swirl the fermenter in an attempt to rouse the yeast back into action?

Also, it looks like you have a grain bill that would have the potential to finish with a pretty high FG so maybe it isn't really that far off what it would have attenuated to.

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Old 11-16-2012, 08:34 AM   #3
adam62cb's Avatar
Feb 2011
wilmington, delaware
Posts: 47
Liked 1 Times on 1 Posts

I agree, you should have plenty of yeast. I would check your fermentation temp. I have always pitched within a few hours of smacking unless I have made a yeast starter. Is it possible that your fermentation is getting too cold? That could explain the slow start.

I can't really comment on your low OG without knowing more about your process. Your mash temp, boil time, etc...

Good Luck! Let us know ow t turns out.

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Old 11-16-2012, 05:58 PM   #4
Nov 2012
Posts: 13

The first day or two was about 75 degrees while I dialed in the "fermentation closet". Since then, it has been fermenting at a constant 69-70 degrees. I don't think I should go much higher than that with ale yeast, should I?

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Old 11-16-2012, 06:05 PM   #5
Nov 2012
Posts: 13

The first day or two was about 75 degrees while I dialed in the "fermentation closet". Since then, it has been fermenting at a constant 69-70 degrees.

The mash was about 155F for 30 minutes. The boil was supposed to be 45 minutes but it ended up being closer to 55 minutes at a slow rolling boil. I tried to get the wort cooled as quickly as possible and I got it to 85F before I ran out of ice, time and patience. It was probably 80-85 when I pitched the first batch of yeast, 70F when I pitched the second batch a few days later.

I've got three batches of yeast in there already. I wonder what would happen if I just tossed in two slices of whole wheat bread and a big glop of sourdough starter?

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Old 11-16-2012, 06:42 PM   #6
kh54s10's Avatar
Aug 2011
Tiverton, Rhode Island
Posts: 11,897
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First, it is not necessary at all for the nutrient pack to be broken. This is just a proof that your yeast is viable. The yeast will do their thing without the nutrient.

3 hours is enough for the smackpack and 3 days is extreme. (Get rid of that book!) I usually smack the pack, wait a few hours then make my starter.

How old was the yeast?

You should make a yeast starter whenever using liquid yeast in a 5 gallon batch that is >1.035 or so. Without a starter the yeast will ferment the beer but you will have a longer lag time before active fermentation starts. You may also get some off flavors from underpitching.

2 days for the initial package to start fermentation would not be unexpected when not using a starter.

Your fermentation temperatures are too high and the height of fermentation may have only lasted a few hours then the krausen would diminish.

You do not have to use a secondary at all. If you do wait until about day 10 take a gravity reading then on day 13 take another, if they are the same, transfer. Or you can primary for 3 weeks then bottle.

So now, wait it out, check your thermometer and hydrometer's calibrations.

The hydrometer should read 1.000 in distilled water.

It sounds like impatience mostly. You should end up with a good beer.

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Old 11-16-2012, 07:57 PM   #7
Nov 2012
Posts: 13

OK. So lessons learned so far:

1. Don't mill dark malts (didn't know that until after they went through the mill).
2. Have a full bag of ice on hand to cool the wort. I was making fast progress until I ran out of ice.
3. Always use a yeast starter. Sometimes it's required, and even when it isn't it can't hurt.
4. Dial down the fermentation closet to 67-68F.
5. Be PATIENT!!!

More lessons to be learned as I finish off this batch. Thanks to everyone.

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