My first brew - a few questions

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TxBigHops

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If you look at how long I've been lurking (and posting) here, you will probably wonder why this is my first brew. I've actually helped a friend with a couple of all grain brews, but I wanted to do it my way so I started accumulating equipment several years ago. Why it took so long - just busy and a little bit of a procrastinator. Bottom line - I had a blast and am already thinking I may do another batch next weekend.

I'm brewing an Imperial Red Ale. Hopefully I didn't bite off more than I can chew. LHBS said it was no harder than a lower gravity beer, but it was more expensive if I screw it up. It was an extract beer (9 lbs) plus 4 lbs of specialty grains.

I know even with a couple of screw ups that it will still be beer, but I do have two concerns.

First, I used pellet hops. Was I supposed to bag them? Cause I just threw them into the boil. One ounce at the beginning of the boil, one ounce after 45 mins, and one ounce at flame out. Most of this ended up in the fermentor after transfer.

Next, when topping off to get to five gallons, the markings on my Better Bottle were very faint. I'm thinking I may have added around 1/2 gallon too much water, because OG was supposed to be 1080, but was actually 1072. I have the 6 gallon BB carboy, and the beer line is 6 1/2 inches below the top of the bottle. I'm assuming the only effect will be a beer with lower alcohol level.

Now as to fermentation, I'm pretty pleased. I noticed the first airlock activity just 7 hours after pitching. There was a bubble about every 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. That was at 11:30 last night. I woke up this morning to significantly more bubbles and about one inch of creamy krausen. By 1:30 this afternoon I had two inches of krausen and the bubbles were coming about 22 per minute. By 8:45 PM there was three inches and 34 bubbles per minute.

So next question. Since I've never observed fermentation (previous brews were at my friends house about an hour away) Can I assume this krausen will continue to grow and fill the entire head space of the carboy? Should I hook up a blow off tube before I go to bed tonight?

Final question. Since I transferred all that hop residue to the fermentor, would that prevent me from harvesting the yeast to re-use it? Yeast was WLP001 which I will probably brew with a lot since west coast hoppy ales are my favorite style. Hops used were Columbus, Centennial and Cascade, again hops that lend themselves well to the styles I enjoy.

Thanks in advance for your help!
 

Uziyahu

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You don't need to bag pellet hops. There are positives and negatives to doing it either way. For your first brew, it's no big deal what way you do it.

Yep. More water means lower OG. Also not a problem.

I use a blow-off tube for every time, just in case. It's up to you.

There's a method for washing yeast. You can find it by searching.
 

Cyclman

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Hook up a blowoff for all beers over 1.060, better safe than sorry. Nylon bags are what I use for pellet hops, they're cheap, work great, with minimal trub. Chop and Brew has a great video on washing yeast, for a 1072 beer you might have stressed out yeast, so some would not recommend re-using it.

Good luck, now you're going to be hooked.
 
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TxBigHops

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Thanks guys. I'm going to let it go for tonight. If the krausen rises any more by morning I'll hook up a blow-off before I leave for work. It hasn't risen much over the past 3-4 hours.
 

IvanTheTerribrew

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Congrats on your first brew. The hop residue doesn't matter too much but you could either put them in a muslin bag, nylon paint strainer. Or you can install a ball valve to your kettle which would help you leave behind the gunk. If you do full boils that's why you'd want to boil around 6 gallons so that way whatever boils off and whatever is left behind is still above 5 gallons. Then you will also lose a little beer when you rack to bottling bucket after fermentation.

Like someone above said, adding more water just dilutes your beer. Just the same way that if you don't add enough water your beer will be more concentrated.

I would personally have worried about the small head space you're describing because if you had had a vigorous fermentation you would have had a big mess on your hands.

Washing yeast is easy and fun, check out the threads on here they're great. All you need is 4 or so mason jars with kids, a 1 gallon demijohn , tongs, water and a kettle. But make you sure do your best sanitation practices because you def don't want to contaminate the yeast that will go into another batch in the future.

Good luck and keep on brewin!
 
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TxBigHops

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Congrats on your first brew. The hop residue doesn't matter too much but you could either put them in a muslin bag, nylon paint strainer. Or you can install a ball valve to your kettle which would help you leave behind the gunk. If you do full boils that's why you'd want to boil around 6 gallons so that way whatever boils off and whatever is left behind is still above 5 gallons. Then you will also lose a little beer when you rack to bottling bucket after fermentation.

Like someone above said, adding more water just dilutes your beer. Just the same way that if you don't add enough water your beer will be more concentrated.

I would personally have worried about the small head space you're describing because if you had had a vigorous fermentation you would have had a big mess on your hands.

Washing yeast is easy and fun, check out the threads on here they're great. All you need is 4 or so mason jars with kids, a 1 gallon demijohn , tongs, water and a kettle. But make you sure do your best sanitation practices because you def don't want to contaminate the yeast that will go into another batch in the future.

Good luck and keep on brewin!
Thanks for the comments ismedeiros88! I actually do have a ball valve on my kettle, but in typical n00b style I just tipped it up and drained every last drop into the carboy! I'll do differently next brew.

Another thing I've been thinking is the OG reading may have been low due to the water I added and the wort not having completely mixed yet. The reason I say that is I noticed right after I took my reading that the liquid at the top felt a lot colder than the liquid at the bottom. I tipped it over and mixed it up some more right before I pitched my yeast. If that is the case, I guess I will never really know what the correct OG was.

So when I checked everything this morning, the krausen had not risen any more over night. It's still a nice 3-4 inches thick, but at least three more inches from reaching the top of the bottle. The fermentation has contined to increase the number of bubbles to the airlock. I measured approximately 72 bubbles per minute, as opposed to 38 when I went to bed last night. So I left it with just the airlock. I'm assuming I am now past the point where I could get a blow out! As of 7:30 this morning it had been 32 hours since I first noticed airlock activity.

I could upload some photos of my setup and the carboy if y'all are interested.
 

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Instead of washing yeast I do what a fellow here showed, which is to just make a larger starter and decant what you need and save the rest. No bottles to clean up later, no mess to deal with, and you won't have to worry about flavors or stressed yeast. It'd think it much less likely to mutate much over time too.
 
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TxBigHops

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So, my Imperial Red Ale has been bubbling away for just over 48 hours now. Gonna try to upload some photos, but first a couple more observations. I have learned the positive of using a clear carboy instead of a bucket is that you can see everything going on during fermentation. The negative is... you can see everything going on during fermentation! So many questions!

Temperature: I left the beer thermometer setting on the tub to monitor air temps - I assume its as good at that as measuring the wort. It's been a pretty steady 68 F. On the way home tonight, I stopped at the LHBS to pick up supplies for my second brew! (BierMuncher's Centennial Blonde) I also bought one of those stick on thermometers for the carboy. Looks like temps in the bottle are about 73. I'm assuming that's well within the desirable range. I was going to put the bottle in a water bath, but decided that might drop it too low and delay the start of fermentation. Good or bad decision? Almost forgot - yeast is WLP001 Cali. That's probably pretty important!

Recipe says the foamy head will subside in 3-5 days at which time I can rack to secondary and dry hop. I'm hoping that will be by Sunday morning, as I'd like to brew batch number two on Sunday afternoon, and I only have the one primary. My wife decided that the boil process stinks up the house, so I don't think she will be happy if I want to do it on a week night. So what is the clearest sign that the beer is NOT yet ready to rack, the head not completely subsided, or SG? Recipe says it should be below 1024.

Photos: My brew Kettle, the four pounds of steeping grains, fermentation at 21 hours after pitching, and fermentation at 56 hours.

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20140101_131633 Krausen at 21 hours.jpg


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Britinusa

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WLP001 fermentation range is 68f to 73f so you are good there, you need to leave it about a week then dry hop, most of us do not secondary I just dry hop in my fermenter.
Are you bottling? you need to take Fg readings a few days apart and once you get the same reads, you are done fermenting.
i dont wash yeast I save some beer in the fermenter shake it all up into a slurry and decant that into my vials, but then I dont transfer trub into the fermenter and I dry hop in a bag.
 

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So, my Imperial Red Ale has been bubbling away for just over 48 hours now. Gonna try to upload some photos, but first a couple more observations. I have learned the positive of using a clear carboy instead of a bucket is that you can see everything going on during fermentation. The negative is... you can see everything going on during fermentation! So many questions!

Temperature: I left the beer thermometer setting on the tub to monitor air temps - I assume its as good at that as measuring the wort. It's been a pretty steady 68 F. On the way home tonight, I stopped at the LHBS to pick up supplies for my second brew! (BierMuncher's Centennial Blonde) I also bought one of those stick on thermometers for the carboy. Looks like temps in the bottle are about 73. I'm assuming that's well within the desirable range. I was going to put the bottle in a water bath, but decided that might drop it too low and delay the start of fermentation. Good or bad decision? Almost forgot - yeast is WLP001 Cali. That's probably pretty important!

Recipe says the foamy head will subside in 3-5 days at which time I can rack to secondary and dry hop. I'm hoping that will be by Sunday morning, as I'd like to brew batch number two on Sunday afternoon, and I only have the one primary. My wife decided that the boil process stinks up the house, so I don't think she will be happy if I want to do it on a week night. So what is the clearest sign that the beer is NOT yet ready to rack, the head not completely subsided, or SG? Recipe says it should be below 1024.

Photos: My brew Kettle, the four pounds of steeping grains, fermentation at 21 hours after pitching, and fermentation at 56 hours.
As you have noted already, wort temperature is not the same as air temperature. While your wort temperature is within the range for that yeast I would recommend that for the next brew you use the tub of water you mentioned to keep the wort temperature closer to the bottom of its range as it will be a cleaner tasting beer. Putting it in the tub of water and keeping it cool would delay the start of fermentation. Nothing wrong with that, mine usually take nearly 30 hours to show signs of fermentation.

Kit directions almost always want you to rush your beer. Beer doesn't rush without consequences. Good beer takes time and you should just let it have that time. You don't need to rack to secondary, that instruction is from years back and has never been upgraded. Use your hydrometer to tell if the beer is ready for dry hopping, taking your first reading at about 10 days, then again in 3 days. If it isn't changing, you can dry hop right in the primary. That eliminates the chance of oxidation and infection from making the transfer. I know that that leaves you with an empty carboy. What will you do with that? Wine? Cider. Or you could just leave it sit empty until you make a beer that does require secondary.
 

rodwha

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Being that you are in Texas I'll assume you have an HEB nearby. Go to their bakery dept and ask if you can have some of their food grade icing buckets. They have large ones that are 5-5.5 gal and small ones that are ~2 gals. Get she of each!

It takes quite a bit to get the icing out, and it will still smell of icing, but mine have worked well, though they are somewhat small. I think you can do about 4.8 gals in one. But it's FREE!!! I clean mine outside and then pull the top rack from the dishwasher and run it followed by an Oxyclean wash in the bath tub. It will likely kill your grass in a small spot.

If you don't want to do that, and want to do the secondary I'd give it 2 weeks, or at least 10 days before you transfer.
 
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TxBigHops

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Thanks again for all the help! There are several reasons why I planned to rack this particular beer to a secondary.


  • This is a fairly big beer. Depending on how accurate my OG reading was it started somewhere between 1072 and 1080. It's gonna need more time than a smaller beer and I thought I understood that it was best to get bigger beers off the trub and into a smaller vessel with less headroom. I'm definitely not bottling for at least 3-4 weeks. I'm OK with patience.
  • I do want to use the primary to brew another smaller beer that I want to have ready about the same time as this one. Quite a few of my friends are excited about me doing this, and want me to throw a tasting party. Gotta have more than one beer for a party!
  • The beer will be dry hopped. I thought that was a good reason to use a secondary.

I don't mind leaving it in the primary for an additional 5-9 days after Sunday (10-14 total days in primary) if that will definitely result in better beer. And if it really is best to leave it in primary only, then I'll just go buy a bucket for my second beer. I really do want to brew this Sunday though, because I may have to work the following weekend, and I don't want this second beer put off too far behind the first, even though it's supposed to be a much quicker one to brew.

So if the above are not good enough reasons to secondary, then what beers do require it?

Final question for now, if I did ferment at a little too high a temp, will leaving it in the primary longer, or racking to secondary, or anything else help to clean up any off flavors from the higher temp? Or am I just stuck with them for this beer? What about increasing the amount of the dry hop? Or is dry hop only for aroma?
 

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As Britinusa says -- no need to secondary. Let it go a couple weeks in the primary, check the gravity on several consecutive days. After the third or so time it reads the same, consider it done and dry hop if you want.
 

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I have only done 2 brews. The first one had really bad off flavors in it. I think this was caused by fermentation temps fluctuating big time and being to high. The contents of the bucket had to be in the mid 80s. This was back in march. Im going to be brewing a few more next week now that the temps are better for us here in Texas. And before the summer I will find a freezer and get a temp controller to rig up on it.
 

rodwha

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You won't fix flavors from higher temps. It's stuck.

Go get another bucket.

A secondary is necessary with beers that age (months) or adding things such as oak or fruits.

Since it is a bigger beer I'd want to give it 4 weeks fermentation and 4 weeks or more of conditioning. Extra fridge time is good too.
 
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TxBigHops

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OK, so when I came home last night I decided to go ahead and put the carboy into a tub of cool water. Airlock activity had dropped off to around 20 bubbles per minute. Wort temp was 72. Air temp was 68. Water temp was 62.

Wort had cooled below 70 within an hour or two. By bedtime it was down to 68 and bubbles in the airlock were down to 15/min.

A few minutes ago I checked it. Airlock activity is only about 2/min and wort temp was down to 64. I think. I have one of those black stick-on thermometers. The 64 was a green color. Below that the 63 was blue. Above it 65 was skipped so the next number was 66 and it was a just barely discernible gray. So which one is indicating the correct temp? What do each of the colors mean? Other times I've noticed that one of the numbers that had changed was a white color.

I've decided to put off my second brew for a week. At this time I am not going to buy another bucket for a primary. My wife is already going crazy over the volume of equipment I'm acquiring and where it's going to be stored. Confession - I'm a bit of an acquirer of stuff. Lots of hobbies and I can't stand to get rid of things that I might want or need down the road. Truth be known, if I wasn't married I would probably be a borderline hoarder.

So this first brew is going into secondary, probably Friday night or Saturday morning. I've done my research and I'm comfortable with my sanitation abilities and understand the risks. When should I start taking gravity readings? I know it has to be completely done fermenting before bottling, but it's okay if it's not quite done when I rack to secondary, right? I would prefer to only open up the carboy once to take a reading before, or even better, at the same time that I rack to secondary. Will that be enough? And I realize that if the SG is not low enough (below 1024 according to LHBS) that I will leave it on the yeast cake longer, and will delay my second brew further. (or buy another bucket)
 

rodwha

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Usually the brightest color or the one in the middle of what's colored is right. I don't think they are exactly accurate.

No need to buy a bucket. You can get free ones from the bakery dept at your grocery store. Ask for a food grade icing bucket and lid. Pain to clean, but it's free.

I like to keep things I feel I might need too. Never know!

I don't bother taking a reading until I'm ready to bottle (used to be at the three week mark, but now I wait 'til 4). If it's near FG I bottle it.

You can move to secondary before it's completed. I'd wait 2 weeks and move it if you do indeed want to. I don't bother anymore. And transferring is a good time to check it.
 
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TxBigHops

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It's now been a little over 7 days since I pitched, and I'm beginning to wonder why the krausen hasn't gone down all the way yet. It's lower than at the peak of fermentation, but there is still at least an inch or more of thick creamy foam all across the top of the beer. Is that okay at this point in the fermentation time line? Is it possible that I cooled down the wort too far or too fast when I put it in the water bath? Could that have shocked the yeast into going to sleep or slowing way down. Wort temp right now is about 61-62.
 
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TxBigHops

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I realize that I ask a lot of questions. I'm extemely detail oriented - probably why I became an accountant. I'm a math and science guy, so I'm really trying to understand the WHY of the fermentation process. I've looked at a lot of other first time brewer's threads, and it seems that by day 6 or 7 the krausen has mostly subsided and you can actually see the top of their beer. I should also mention that around Sunday night (Jan 5) all airlock activity ceased. The inside piece of the airlock is resting on the top of the tube and hasn't moved for nearly 3 days. And yes, I know that doesn't necessarily mean that fermentaion has stopped.

Can I assume that becasue I dropped the temps the fermentation has slowed and will now take a little longer, and that's why there is still a lot of krausen? In other words, is the presence of krausen a sure sign that fermentation is still taking place?

I am planning to rack this to secondary this weekend to use the primary for my next beer. Should I NOT rack it if there is still a lot of krausen?

Before I rack I want to take a gravity reading. Again, should I NOT take a reading if there is still a lot of krausen? Or is it okay to dip my sanitized thief right through the krausen?

Thanks for hanging with me and all these questions.
 

rodwha

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This forum is for those asking questions. I've asked my share, and still do.

It seems more often that fermentation subsides within a week.

It depends on how low you dropped the temp, but the cooler it is the slower they work.

If you have krausen you have active fermentation. Do not check gravity, nor move it to secondary.
 
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TxBigHops

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Alright, I'll just give it more time. May have to put off batch #2 for another week. So I will plan to do nothing except let it sit until most of the krausen has subsided and I can see the top of my beer, which I doubt will ocur by this weekend.

Should I be able to detect activity within the krausen? Reason I ask is because when the airlock was bubbling I could see bubbles in the krausen bursting and new bubbles forming. But now it just sits there. It's like a permanent foam across the top of the beer with no visible activity, which is why I'm worried that the yeast has stalled out. What if I reduced the amount of water in the tub to try and raise the temp of the beer a bit? Maybe try to get it from 61 up to the 65/66 range? With the recent cold snap that we're experiencing here in Texas, the temp of the water in the tub had dropped to 56 degrees this morning.
 

rodwha

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The water temp is likely good. The beer temp is likely 5* warmer, though with the majority of fermentation completed a little warmer might not be a bad idea, especially if it could get colder.

56* could mean your beer dropped to 60*, which is likely the bottom end of it's spectrum.

Since it's been a week + warming it up a bit can't hurt too much, but don't let it get too warm.
 
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TxBigHops

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The water temp is likely good. The beer temp is likely 5* warmer, though with the majority of fermentation completed a little warmer might not be a bad idea, especially if it could get colder.

56* could mean your beer dropped to 60*, which is likely the bottom end of it's spectrum.

Since it's been a week + warming it up a bit can't hurt too much, but don't let it get too warm.
Thanks. I got home tonight and dropped the water level around the carboy from about 3 inches deep to 2. Weather was a little warmer today so the water had warmed up to 58 and the beer was 62.

I did watch the krausen more closely tonight and there are a few bubbles bursting every now and then. I also looked really close at the beer and there are millions of tiny bubbles rising from the bottom to the top, so as you said, I'm pretty sure that all is well. Just gonna let it sit now.
 
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TxBigHops

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Update - the krausen finally came down over the weekend. Lots of nice reddish brown beer visible across the top of the carboy by yesterday evening. So tonight I filled my bottling bucket with sanitized water, cleaned everything up and started with a gravity reading. Came in at 1015, so I'm pretty sure the beer is almost done. Since the original recipe called for an OG of 1080 and an FG of 1020 I'm now pretty sure that my OG reading of 1072 was probably correct. Gives me a 7.5% alcohol beer. Stoked! :rockin:

So I sanitized my 5 gal carboy, crunched up my hops a bit and poured them in. I then siphoned in the beer and it seemed to go in really smoothly. I used a two cane siphon with the cane in the target carboy almost touching the bottom, so hopefully I didn't oxidize the beer much. There was no foaming as it flowed in.

There was a huge amount of trub in the bottom of the primary. A big layer of hops on the bottom, and a layer of yeast on top of the hops. As the level of beer went down I lowered the cane nearer to the bottom of the primary, and it started sucking up some yeast. Couldn't really be helped and there was still lots of beer - too much to leave behind. I should have tilted the carboy a little sooner, but eventually I did, and I probably left 2-3 bottles of beer behind, but by then the siphon was picking up about a 50/50 beer yeast mixture, so it was time to stop.

Already, just a few hours later, there is a thin layer of yeast settling down to the bottom of the secondary. And a nice even layer of hops floating all across the top. I was also surprised to see an occasional bubble in the airlock, so I guess there is still some fermentation activity taking place. I hadn't seen a bubble in the airlock for nearly a week. I'm going to secondary for 11 days and bottle on Jan 25. Should I expect the gravity to drop another point or two during secondary?

All in all, in spite of a few blunders on brew day, I'm pretty encouraged that this is going to be a good beer. I did drink most of the sample I took, and it's definitely beer! Seems to have the correct color and basic taste. It's a little harsh, but I imagine that after it cleans up in secondary and bottle conditions that it will come in as a successful first brew. Wish I could invite you all over for a taste in about 6 weeks.
 

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Anytime I rack beer, or just pick it up and move it around, the airlock starts bubbling again. It's just dissolved co2 coming out of solution from jostling it.
 
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TxBigHops

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Anytime I rack beer, or just pick it up and move it around, the airlock starts bubbling again. It's just dissolved co2 coming out of solution from jostling it.
Okay, thanks. Can't wait till its done. Now it's on to brew day number 2 this Saturday!
 
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