Can't get beer to be alcoholic?

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histo320

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This is not a problem I am having, but a friend of mine has tried to brew 3 times, and all have turned out to be little to no alcohol content. He says he is going by the book in his brewing process but obviously not.

I think problems are pitching yeast to early at too high of a temp and having high fluctuations in fermenting temp.

What are some common problems you have come across making NA beer.
 

Fingers

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Is 'your friend' making extract or all grain brews? Do you check OG and FG? Your original gravity will tell you the potential of the brew and the final gravity will tell you the actual. Give us a few details and we can throw some ideas your way.
 

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I have a feeling that the only issue your friend has is reading a hydrometer. What happens with a hydrometer is some people are kind of misled into looking at the "potential alcohol" scale- saying they'd have a "5%" beer. Then, check with the hydrometer scale again, and seeing they'd have a "2%" beer. That's not correct- the potential alcohol scale isn't to be read like that. It's simply a marking on the hydrometer winemakers can use to make sure the wine will have enough alcohol in it when finished to preserve it.

Once the sugars are present in the wort, they don't magically go away. They are there until the yeast eat them, and then produce ethanol and co2 as a result. So, it's not possible to make a NA beer by pitching yeast into a sugar solution. I can't even make a completely alcohol free soda, if I use yeast to carbonate. Yeast eat sugar, and produce alcohol and co2 as a result.

A better way to calculate ABV is this: take the OG (original gravity) of the wort. This is typically in the 1.050 range, depending on the beer. Totally ignore the potential alcohol scale- it's meaningless for beer makers. Then, take the FG (final gravity) of the beer. Again, on the specific gravity scale, ignoring the other scales. Then subtract those numbers and multiply by 131. That gives you a pretty accurate guess as to the alcohol by volume of a substance.
 
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histo320

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Honestly it is really a friend, its not like making beers is like herpes! If i was having a problem I would come right out and say it.


A better way to calculate ABV is this: take the OG (original gravity) of the wort. This is typically in the 1.050 range, depending on the beer. Totally ignore the potential alcohol scale- it's meaningless for beer makers. Then, take the FG (final gravity) of the beer. Again, on the specific gravity scale, ignoring the other scales. Then subtract those numbers and multiply by 131. That gives you a pretty accurate guess as to the alcohol by volume of a substance.
This is how he measured the alcohol. His recipes are part grain then extract. I'm thinking it is the yeast. He has been using a starter yeast.
 

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Honestly it is really a friend, its not like making beers is like herpes! If i was having a problem I would come right out and say it.

This is how he measured the alcohol. His recipes are part grain then extract. I'm thinking it is the yeast. He has been using a starter yeast.
I hate to say I don't believe it, but I don't! If he has ANY fermentation at all, then he's misreading the hydrometer. Either than, or he's getting NO conversion from the grains, and not using enough extract.

What kind of FGs is he getting? And what kind of OGs is he starting with?
 

Edcculus

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If the beer is really sweet, its a fermentation problem. If it tastes pretty much like beer should, hes reading the hydrometer wrong.
 
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histo320

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He says itis extremely sweet, almost not bitterness, and it was a porter that he brewed.
 

whitemax

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I would have him drink say 6 or 7 beers, if he gets drunk then it is probably safe to say it is alcoholic.
 

Yooper

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He says itis extremely sweet, almost not bitterness, and it was a porter that he brewed.
So, he's drinking wort? Actually wort is pretty darn bitter (and sweet), so I just wonder if the porter is underhopped and the hydrometer was misread.

Ask him for a taste of it, and see how it is. Then we'll be able to help figure it out. (Take an SG sample, too- maybe the yeast is just very underattenuated).
 

Joker

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If he kept records of his brew process and OG and FG post them up.
 

Edcculus

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If he kept records of his brew process and OG and FG post them up.
Yea, thats the best way. If its really sweet, thats possibly underattenuation. When I taste my wort, it tastes like bitter sugar water (well bitter malt water). The strange thing is why he would keep having underattenuation in all of his beer. Thats why we are thinking he is reading the hydrometer wrong. Ive had no instances where pitching yeast does not lead to alcohol production. Even if my beer underattenuates, it gets up to 4%.
 

Boerderij_Kabouter

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If he pitched his yeast into HOT wort. They could have died, causing no fermentation. However, if it showed any signs of fermentation then he should be fine, maybe unattenuated, but fine. Not enough info to properly answer the question. Maybe buy your friend a copy of "how to brew" or just send him to the website.
 

Nanik006

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I hate to say I don't believe it, but I don't! If he has ANY fermentation at all, then he's misreading the hydrometer. Either than, or he's getting NO conversion from the grains, and not using enough extract.

What kind of FGs is he getting? And what kind of OGs is he starting with?
i read somewere that its possible to basically kill the conversion from the grains by steeping or mashing at too high a temperature ... i think above 170 degrees. i don't remember exactly ... but it was something about the temperature basically getting too high and stopping the chemical reaction that brings the sugars out of the grains. it also stated that once this was done, the conversion cannot be restarted by bringing the temperature back down to the 150-155 range. maybe thats his problem? or part of it? actually ... can anyone verify that this is even true?
 

Nanik006

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well ... here's part of it from chapter 14 of "How to Brew"

Conversion Check
The brewer can use iodine (or iodophor) to check a sample of the wort to see whether the starches have been completely converted to sugars. As you may remember from high school chemistry, iodine causes starch to turn black. The mash enzymes should convert all of the starches, resulting in no color change when a couple drops of iodine are added to a sample of the wort. (The wort sample should not have any grain particles in it.) The iodine will only add a slight tan or reddish color as opposed to the flash of heavy black color if starch is present. Worts high in dextrins will yield a strong reddish color when iodine is added.

What do these two enzymes and temperatures mean to the brewer? The practical application of this knowledge allows the brewer to customize the wort in terms of its fermentability. A lower mash temperature, less than or equal to 150°F, yields a thinner bodied, drier beer. A higher mash temperature, greater than or equal to 156°F, yields a less fermentable, sweeter beer. This is where a brewer can really fine tune a wort to best produce a particular style of beer.
 

tmoney1224

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Honestly it is really a friend, its not like making beers is like herpes! If i was having a problem I would come right out and say it.

This is how he measured the alcohol. His recipes are part grain then extract. I'm thinking it is the yeast. He has been using a starter yeast.
So when you say part grain and extract are you talking partial mash or steeping grains?
 

DeathBrewer

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this is really almost impossible. if you put extract in a container with yeast, they will eat it and produce alcohol. the only possible way it didn't ferment out at all is if ALL of the yeast were dead.

does it have any carbonation?
 
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histo320

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I called my friend today. He bought another hydrometer and all is checking out well. There must have been a problem with the hydrometer. He said it almost immediately sank to the bottom so that is why his readings were off.

A problem on one of his previous beers he thinks was that he had used a lager yeast rather than an ale yeast for a porter.

I told him about HBT, and think we will be having another new member soon!
 

GrizzlyRed

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Along these same lines, I just transfered to the secondary and took a reading an I made the mistake of reading the "potential alcohol content". The second post in this thread was great, btw. I am concerned about the gravity at this point. The starting was about 1.66 and as I looked around the whole hydrometer (all scales) it didn't look like it moved all that much (around 1.50)
The thing is, within 3 hours, the first fermenter was bubbling (65-70 degrees) and continued for at least a full day after that. Not "going to town" bubbling, but fairly consistent. I also used 2 packs of dried yeast as I used 6 lbs of LME and 1.5 lbs of DME.
Does this sound like I just am reading the hydrometer wrong? D I have anything to worry about in your opinion? Is there a good place on the net where I can get a class on how to read a hydrometer? I feel kind of dumb :0

Thx,
Grizz
 

Yooper

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Along these same lines, I just transfered to the secondary and took a reading an I made the mistake of reading the "potential alcohol content". The second post in this thread was great, btw. I am concerned about the gravity at this point. The starting was about 1.66 and as I looked around the whole hydrometer (all scales) it didn't look like it moved all that much (around 1.50)
The thing is, within 3 hours, the first fermenter was bubbling (65-70 degrees) and continued for at least a full day after that. Not "going to town" bubbling, but fairly consistent. I also used 2 packs of dried yeast as I used 6 lbs of LME and 1.5 lbs of DME.
Does this sound like I just am reading the hydrometer wrong? D I have anything to worry about in your opinion? Is there a good place on the net where I can get a class on how to read a hydrometer? I feel kind of dumb :0

Thx,
Grizz
Don't feel dumb! Hydrometers are not at all difficult, but they are not especially intuitive either. I had trouble at first, too. I wanted to either put wort IN the hydrometer (like a scale) or fill a tube and have it just give the right reading. It's not really as simple as it appears at first- but after you "get it", then it really will be simple.

Do you have a camera? You can take a picture, post it someplace like photobucket, and then post a link. We can then actually look at it, and tell you your reading. A couple of tips- make sure that you add enough wort to the test jar so that the hydrometer floats. Give it a spin and a bit of a dunk (to release any air bubbles that might be under it) and then let it rest away from the sides of the test jar. Put it on the counter, and bend over and read it at eye level.
 
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