A handful of questions from a first-batcher

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sonetlumiere85

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Hey guys,

I just joined these forums the other day, and I'm definitely learning a lot, this is a really neat place. I started my first batch of home brew on Friday night, a True Brew red ale kit - it was a fun experience for sure. I'm pretty sure I slipped up here or there, but practice makes perfect, right? Anyway, I have a handful of questions in all sorts of areas, so I guess if anyone is in the mood to answer common questions, that'd be great!

Sanitizing/Cleaning - I used C-brite, which was included in my kit, to clean my fermenter bucket, airlock, and lid. However, the kit didn't come with enough to clean the bottling bucket as well, so I've yet to do that. However, with a potential deadline of this Friday for bottling, I want to make sure to have supplies on hand. I got some Oxy-Clean at the store, and a "alternative" bleach, which is hydrogen peroxide and water. Would I be able to achieve satisfactory cleaning and sanitizing by using the Oxy-Clean, rinsing with hot water, then using the peroxide/hot water to sanitize? I've read that other one-steps break down to peroxide to achieve their sanitation, so I would think that the same result would be possible with the real thing.

Secondary Fermentation - Since I'm brewing a red ale, I've read that secondary fermentation (out of bottle) isn't necessary - the True Brew instructions don't mention it, they just say to go primary fermentation -> bottling bucket/sugar -> bottling. Is secondary a common practice when brewing ales? I've heard that it is beneficial for clearing sediment and such. Should I bother with this first batch?

Is it done? - I've read lots of different things about when primary fermentation is finished, and I'm somewhat surprised that my yeast is as inactive as it currently is. The yeast picked up very quickly, starting to bubble within 2 hours, and it had been quite vigorous up until later today, which I'm thinking may be a temperature thing. The temperature started on the high side, around 75, then fell to 68-74, where bubbling was most active; now it is around 65, and the bubbles are very far apart (30+ seconds, erratic). My apartment uses radiators, so I've been careful to control the heat. Related to this is darkness - I've been covering the fermenter during the day with the oversized box it came in, to keep things dark, but then I take the box off at night, could that affect yeast activity? I should note that I anticipate waiting the full 7 days, since I'm still about 10 bottles short.

Crushing the barley? - I realized after I finished steeping my barley that I might have been expected to crush it before steeping, which I didn't do. I still got a nice golden yellow color out of it, and some good aroma, too, so I don't think all is lost, but my directions didn't indicate that crushing was necessary. Anyone have any insight on this?

Also, I used my bathtub to fill the primary fermenter with cold water for the initial wort chilling - I'm thinking that its the same water, so there shouldn't be an issue, and I know water is a big point of contention, but does this sound like an outright bad idea to anyone?

OK, I think that'll do for now. Sorry for all the questions, but ever since the kit and ingredients came, I've been spending basically every waking minute studying these topics and more. I look forward to any answers! Thanks again :)
 

Mutilated1

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I would not rely on Oxy Clean alone for cleaning a fermenter, a fermenter needs to be as sterile as possible not just sanitary. It should be ok for a bottling bucket and your bottles though and pretty much everything else, but I'm personally inclined to use bleach and hot water on anything that will touch wort between the boil and getting into the fermenter. I had a couple batches early on that might have been infected and since trying the bleach I've not had any problems.

As far as your secondary fermentation, its true people say it clears the beer, but if you're making extract beers I think a few extra days in the primary maybe a week is good enough. But if you want to do a secondary it certainly wont hurt anything.

Is it done ? Get a hydrometer, seriously - only a few bucks and its very worthwhile. If you don't have one, then just be patient. If you have to ask if its done, then wait another day - be patient.

The best advice anyone's ever given me on these forums I will now pass on to you - Instead of worrying if your first batch of beer is done, go ahead and start another batch.

5 gallons of beer doesn't last nearly long enough, it will be gone sooner than you think. Get another batch going now because once you get a couple batches in the pipeline it makes it so much easier to relax dont worry and have a homebrew.
 
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I have used nothing but Oxiclean and Idophor for over a year now. Oxiclean cleans the carboys I use for fermenting just fine. I would not use the Oxiclean as a sanitizer though.

From what I have read the 1 step doesn't do as good of a job sanitizing as Idophor, StarSan, or Bleach. Many people have gotten away from using Bleach. If Bleach is improperly used or rinsed it will lead to off flavors. Not as bad with Idophor and even less with StarSan. If I was buying sanitizer it would be StarSan.

If you can get away without a secondary do so. I don't think the benefits out weigh the risks especially for a new brewer. That doesn't mean to skip the time the beer should be in it though. Just be real careful when you rack to the bottling bucket not to disturb the trub.

The grains should be crushed before brewing. You will not get as many of the sugars out of a whole grain as a crushed one.

I am confused about the water question maybe someone else can step in.
 
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5 gallons of beer doesn't last nearly long enough, it will be gone sooner than you think. Get another batch going now because once you get a couple batches in the pipeline it makes it so much easier to relax dont worry and have a homebrew.

+1
 

The Bone2

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I understand the need to crush the grains, but my brew-partner took a class at a brewpub and they told the students to basically "pulverize" the grains. The directions I have read said to crack the grains, which we do. Pulverizing seems excessive, but my partner said they pulverized almost into a powder.

Another one of those "can't get a straight answer".:mad:
 

Mutilated1

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If you're brewing with extract and just steeping the grains, then crushing them isn't critical. I always get mine crushed when I buy them anyway, and I'm not to the point of stocking bags of barley yet.
 

mrk305

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If you bought a True Brew kit, the grains were already crushed. I made a few of those when I started out. Pretty nice kits for a starter.
 
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sonetlumiere85

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Cool, thanks for all the responses so far guys! I'm going to head to the nearest home brew store (Brewer's Coop in Warrenville), some time this week, I'll check out StarSan for sure.

As for the water thing, basically what I'm asking has to do with the water used to bring the entire batch up to 5 gallons. What I did is fill the fermenter with 3 gallons of cold water, which came from the spout from my bathtub, since the bucket wouldn't fit in my sink. Personally, I don't think it'll be a problem, but I wonder if that sets off any alarms for you guys.
 

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Well, I always used water out of my faucet for my top off water. But, I really have great water with no possible chloramine or bacteria or other "bad" things. If you know that your tap water is 100% reliable and dependable, it should be fine. If you're not so sure, though, bottled spring water is the way to go.
 
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sonetlumiere85

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I'm using Chicago Metro water, and it tastes great to me, no noticeable off-flavors at all (it comes from Lake Michigan, after all). I'm sure they add chlorine and fluoride, but I doubt it's that bad. I guess time will tell!!
 

zacster

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Speaking from the experience I had 15 years ago when I did this, the only thing you really need to worry about is sanitation. I used bleach exclusively, rinsed with water or let air dry, and everything came out fine. Bleach kills everything, and dries off pretty well.

I used NYC water from the tap to top off the wort, I didn't always crush the grain, I used all different types of hops, I pitched the yeast when it was too warm. I goofed often enough, but only the very first batch didn't come out and I never could figure out why. It was probably something dirty. I vaguely recall that it went into the bottle not tasting very good. After that though I never had a problem.

I'm brewing a batch now with all new equipment and following my old procedures as far as I can remember them and so far, so good. It smells like beer.

Don't worry, just enjoy the beer. And if it doesn't come out, try again, you'll have better luck the second time.
 
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sonetlumiere85

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I was pretty sure that everyone makes a lot of these mistakes, but it does make a difference to get that confirmed. :) I've ordered some extra equipment so I can do two batches at once; maybe having two beers to worry about simultaneously will decrease my net stress levels? Haha.

Thanks again for all the insight, guys.
 

ibrewdou

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i've been told, and plan to use bottled spring water. is it really going to take 7 days to get 10 bottles?, where's your motivation? 10 just sounds like a solid days work!! don't fear the foam or the home brew. or so i've been told. good luck
 

Jumbo82

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sonetlumiere85 said:
I've been covering the fermenter during the day with the oversized box it came in, to keep things dark, but then I take the box off at night, could that affect yeast activity? I should note that I anticipate waiting the full 7 days, since I'm still about 10 bottles short.
What did you mean by "I anticipate waiting the full 7 days?" Maybe I am reading this wrong, but it sounds like you are planning to bottle after just 7 days in the primary. If you plan to rack to a secondary for a couple weeks, then 7 days in the primary is fine. But if you go straight to bottling then you should leave the beer in the primary for 3 weeks.
 
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sonetlumiere85

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Well, my kit indicates that once I get to an appropriate gravity, I should be set to rack/bottle, and then age. I didn't intend on doing a secondary, but from what I've read and figured out, 7-10 days in primary should be plenty for the batch I'm making.
 

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Well, it might be plenty to avoid bottle bombs but I'd still wait 14-21 days. Your beer will be better, clearer, with less sediment in the bottle, as well as less likely to have bottle bombs due to incomplete fermentation. If you're not using a hydrometer, I think it'd be a good idea to wait.

Many kits tell you to bottle when fermentation is done, or in less than 10 days. They don't tell you that so that your beer is at its best- they tell you that so you buy the kit. A new brewer starting out isn't likely to buy the kit that says, "Beer in 6 weeks!" when the other kits say "10 days".
 
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sonetlumiere85

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OK, I can definitely wait now that I have more stuff on the way. I ordered an additional bucket with both a tap and a lid/airlock, so that I can use it as either a primary or a bottler. Are there any risks with using a bucket that has a tap? I would imagine that they make the seals really tight, but I just wanted to check with you all. I am using a hydrometer, but I neglected to take an original gravity reading. The latest reading I took was 1.020, and my kit recommends achieving final gravity of 1.012-1.014. The sample did look quite cloudy, though, so I'll wait another week at least.
 

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Regarding the water question, I've read conflicting information...while some tap water is fine to use when brewing, remember that water quality will definitely impact the quality of your beer. That said, I've always used spring water in gallon jugs that you can pick up for less than a buck a jug from the grocery store. Just remember to get spring water -- not distilled water.
 
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sonetlumiere85

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Cool, I think I may use spring water for the next batch.

I have a new question. How important is it to keep the fermenter in a dark place? Most of my apartment has lots of windows, and my closets are all full. I'm keeping the fermenter in my pantry, since there's lots of space, but it can get pretty bright in there. I usually keep a cardboard box over the fermenter just in case, but is that entirely necessary? Is this another one of those "do it your way" things?
 

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I bought 3 one gallon jugs of spring water for my last batch and placed them in the refrigerator over night. Adding them to top off my 2 1/2 gallons of tap water I started with for steeping my specialty grains and boiling of extract took me right up to my final 5 gallons and helped cool the wort. I wasn't sure how much it was going to bring the temperature down, so next time I'll try freezing one.

My first batch was an all extract no boil kit, and came out better than I expected with only one week in the primary and strait into the bottles. They went into the bottle a little cloudy, but settled out over a few days and now pour crystal clear. They have definitely improved over time, but were very drinkable after just a couple weeks in the bottle.

My current batch is a Honey Brown Ale partial boil with specialty grains with a hop addition. I'm going to try to let this batch sit for two to three weeks before bottling. I only have one container, so I'm not going to do any racking to a secondary. Based on my first batch and other comments on this forum, I'm going to stick with the one container for now. I also purchased priming tablets so I don't have to worry about stirring up any sediment by adding priming sugar.
 
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sonetlumiere85

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Took another hydrometer reading today, it was essentially identical to yesterday. If I'm at 1.020 and my target is more like 1.014, should I just keep waiting? Pitch more yeast? I haven't seen bubbles in the airlock in about 2 days.

here's an image for what its worth.
 

RJRobb2

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sonetlumiere85 said:
OK, I can definitely wait now that I have more stuff on the way. I ordered an additional bucket with both a tap and a lid/airlock, so that I can use it as either a primary or a bottler. Are there any risks with using a bucket that has a tap? I would imagine that they make the seals really tight, but I just wanted to check with you all. I am using a hydrometer, but I neglected to take an original gravity reading. The latest reading I took was 1.020, and my kit recommends achieving final gravity of 1.012-1.014. The sample did look quite cloudy, though, so I'll wait another week at least.

I have a bottling bucket with a tap. I did my first batch a couple of weeks ago and I found out that my tap wasnt screwed on tight enough and lost nearly a half gallon of beer before I realized it. So, please make sure that thing is on as tight as possible before putting anything in it.
 

RJRobb2

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TinmanDan said:
Regarding the water question, I've read conflicting information...while some tap water is fine to use when brewing, remember that water quality will definitely impact the quality of your beer. That said, I've always used spring water in gallon jugs that you can pick up for less than a buck a jug from the grocery store. Just remember to get spring water -- not distilled water.

So, you can use the Spring Water in the gallon jugs? Is it sanitized? That would help greatly with cooling the wort. It took me seven hours to cool the wort for the my first batch just because I wasnt prepared.
 

RJRobb2

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YooperBrew said:
Well, it might be plenty to avoid bottle bombs but I'd still wait 14-21 days. Your beer will be better, clearer, with less sediment in the bottle, as well as less likely to have bottle bombs due to incomplete fermentation. If you're not using a hydrometer, I think it'd be a good idea to wait.

Many kits tell you to bottle when fermentation is done, or in less than 10 days. They don't tell you that so that your beer is at its best- they tell you that so you buy the kit. A new brewer starting out isn't likely to buy the kit that says, "Beer in 6 weeks!" when the other kits say "10 days".

Im doing an IPA right now and the instructions my brew store gave me said to bottle in 7 to not more than 14 days. Do you think I should ignore that and let it sit longer? It will be two weeks on Monday and I was thinking about bottling on Sunday.
 

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It won't hurt it to wait, in fact it will be better. I've let beers sit for a couple months before kegging. There will be enough yeast to carbonate your bottles even if the beer looks crystal clear.
 

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RJRobb2 said:
So, you can use the Spring Water in the gallon jugs? Is it sanitized? That would help greatly with cooling the wort. It took me seven hours to cool the wort for the my first batch just because I wasnt prepared.
Yeah -- spring water works fine. Remember, it's at least as sanitized as the water coming out of your tap. Also, it works wonders to wool down your wort...2-3 gal of hot wort, when added to 2-3 gal of cool water, brings the overall temp down perfectly. Saves a lot of time!
 

Danek

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RJRobb2 said:
Im doing an IPA right now and the instructions my brew store gave me said to bottle in 7 to not more than 14 days. Do you think I should ignore that and let it sit longer? It will be two weeks on Monday and I was thinking about bottling on Sunday.
I'd suggest that you wait. The 7 to 14 days is a reasonable estimate for when you could safely bottle (fermentation should be largely complete by then, so your bottles will be unlikely to explode). But it's not an estimate of when your beer will be best - for that, I think the consensus is that waiting a little longer will make a big difference. I'm making an IPA this weekend and I plan to leave it in primary for four weeks, and then bottle. This is based on advice on here from wiser folks than myself; although fermentation should usually finish within two weeks, I gather that the extra time in primary allows the yeasties to clear up after themselves, giving a nicer end product.
 
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sonetlumiere85

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Hey so I'm back with more questions. I bottled tonight, everything went well as far as I know. I have some questions based on what I experienced with bottling.

1.) I cleaned all my bottles/equipment with "oxoclean," which is the "natural" version of oxiclean - active ingredients are sodium percarbonate and sodium carbonate, and it seems to do a very nice job. However, when moving everything to StarSan for sanitizing, I didn't rinse any of it. I know that StarSan is no-rinse, and I assumed that the slight reside of oxoclean would be cleared up by the StarSan. Additionally, no scary chemical reactions ocurred, so I think everything is fine. Does anyone have any insight on that process?

2.) I got the sugar mixed and boiled with water just fine, but then thought that since it had been sitting at room temperature for a little while, I should heat it up a bit again. I heated it over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes - no signs of boiling or really that much temperature increase ocurred, but it did create a little steam when I mixed it into the racking wort. Is this something to be concerned about?

3.) I'm not sure how relevant it is, since I didn't take a starting gravity measurement, but my final gravity was .06 above what the recipe called for. I decided it was safe to bottle because that gravity had been stable for the past three days, and airlock activity had ceased for five. Also, this brought me to exactly one week from the day the wort entered the fermenter. Should I be concerned here?

My main questions I suppose have to do with avoiding the dreaded bottle bomb. I'm very excited and pleased, though, because my tasting of the beer at bottling time went very, very well - no off flavors at all. I'll be sure to let you all know how it goes. Thanks again for your answers!
 

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Since you didn't do a starting gravity reading, I'm not sure how much a final gravity reading can actually help you. Stable for three days is one sign, but it seems like kind of a short time to me. Maybe I've just been indoctrinated into the 'more time is better' camp, but I personally would have left it in there at least another couple of days if not another week.

Are you using a carboy or a bucket? When I did my red ale it was in a bucket, and I never saw any airlock activity other than a few stationary bubbles in the sanitizer solution (made it look carbonated).
 

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sonetlumiere85 said:
My main questions I suppose have to do with avoiding the dreaded bottle bomb. I'm very excited and pleased, though, because my tasting of the beer at bottling time went very, very well - no off flavors at all. I'll be sure to let you all know how it goes. Thanks again for your answers!
Well, I would have rinsed the oxoclean before using the sanitizer. I don't know if there is any detergent in there or not, but there would be some sort of residue, I'd think. You might have some off flavor from it, but maybe not. I'm not a fan of mixing chemicals, so I would have recommended rinsing the cleaned equipment. Not only to remove the dirt, etc, but to remove the chemicals. Star san is no rinse, and I use it all the time.

The priming sugar is fine. I always put mine in the bucket, and let it cool before racking the beer into it. It'll still be ok.

I'd be somewhat concerned about bottle bombs- that's why everyone on this thread mentioned it was a good idea to wait at least two weeks before bottling. You gain nothing by bottling early.
 
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sonetlumiere85

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No bottle bombs so far, I guess my reasoning for bottling so soon was in thinking that it is bad for the beer to sit in the primary for too long - I'm going to either do two weeks in there or transfer to a secondary this time.

In any case, speaking of my second batch, I got a kit from Midwest Supply - their Big River brown ale. I realized when taking inventory today that the recipe calls for 1oz Fuggle hops, but there are no fuggle hops in the package. I'm assuming this is due to the hop shortage. Will it matter too much if I don't get fuggle hops into the recipe? They're being used as aroma in this case.

Here's the full recipe:
3.3 lbs amber lme, 3.3lbs dark lme
12 oz caramel 80, 2 oz special B, 2 oz chocolate malt
1 oz cascade, 1 oz fuggle
 

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Damn, you started your batch a week later than my first batch and mine is still sitting in primary. I dont think I am going to bottle until this weekend. I have been told over and over again that patience is key in this hobby!
 

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sonetlumiere85 said:
No bottle bombs so far, I guess my reasoning for bottling so soon was in thinking that it is bad for the beer to sit in the primary for too long - I'm going to either do two weeks in there or transfer to a secondary this time.

In any case, speaking of my second batch, I got a kit from Midwest Supply - their Big River brown ale. I realized when taking inventory today that the recipe calls for 1oz Fuggle hops, but there are no fuggle hops in the package. I'm assuming this is due to the hop shortage. Will it matter too much if I don't get fuggle hops into the recipe? They're being used as aroma in this case.

Here's the full recipe:
3.3 lbs amber lme, 3.3lbs dark lme
12 oz caramel 80, 2 oz special B, 2 oz chocolate malt
1 oz cascade, 1 oz fuggle
What did you get instead of the fuggles?
 
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sonetlumiere85

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They didn't replace them with anything. I think I'm going to do without for the time, and pick up some...is it German Tradition? and try dry-hopping. Maybe not, I dunno. What do you think I should do?
 

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I'd give them a shout. They should send you what you purchased.

Stick with the star san too. It's some good stuff. I've learned to love the foam. There're other good no rinse sanitizers too (e.g. One Step) but star san seems to be the choice here.

Back on your original questions, since you don't have a grain mill, but are using specialty grains, you can crush them on a baking sheet using your can of extract (to keep it all beer'ified) or a rolling pin.
 
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sonetlumiere85

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Even though it is really really early, I couldn't resist temptation. I cracked a red ale open today, there's a picture attached. Some questions related to it:
1.) When the bottle was first removed from the storage area, there was substantial sediment at the bottom, and the rest of the brew was quite clear. I mixed the sediment in, since i knew I wouldn't be opening the bottle for a good 6 hours, giving the bad stuff time to settle out. Some of this sediment seemed to be black liquid. Is any of this cause for concern?

2.) I'm slightly concerned about oxi-clean infection, but the only off-flavor (again, its young, I know) was a bad aftertaste - slightly sugary and generally unpleasant. I know for a fact that not all the sugar has dissolved, since there was a ring of residue on the bottom of the bottle. Would I notice any other problems?

3.) How much taste improvement can I expect/ how much longer should I let it develop in warm temp vs. cold - until the sediment reduces considerably? Should I redistribute the sediment in all the bottles to make sure they carbonate effectively?

Thanks to everyone's help. The image is attached. This is a True Brew red ale.

 
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