Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum:

1-270.jpg

This morning I walked in to my "brew (fermentation) room", the fourth bedroom filled with accumulated junk, elated with the very lovely aroma of beer brewing only to find that the ceiling and walls were covered in yeast froth. The air-lock was clear across the room; my first blow out in twenty batches of beer since I began this addictive hobby last December of 2011. I had heard of the occurrence but had somehow avoided it. Perhaps I can chalk this one up to improved techniques in pitching yeast, preparing the yeast for pitch (this one being a Nottingham dry yeast re-hydrated in approximately 10 times its weight of sterile water), or worse yet, pitching at nearly 80*F then not getting the temp down fast enough. The pitch was the morning before so the blow out was less than 24 hours into the fermentation. (At the time of submitting this article there have been two blowouts, the second after fitting the bottle with a blow off tube.) At any rate, it was a new experience, which is, ultimately, why I wanted to write this article; to summarize what I have learned from my first year as a home brewer; as well as how it has effected my life, or rather, my living space. Some day soon, with the completion of the "official" beer room, I won't have all this stuff scattered throughout the house.
2-271.jpg

3-272.jpg

The art and science of home brewing is not such a foreign concept to me. My schooling has left me with a master's degree in Molecular Biology with all of its associated training in microbiological technique and basic cellular biology/chemistry. Many years earlier I had looked into brewing when presented with a re-gifted Home Brew kit, obviously not wanted by the original giftee, so to speak. I accumulated bottles from my occasional embibation and had good intentions of starting this road to home brewing, but yet, I somehow lost interest, got busy with other things or just plain forgot that I was going to do it, what with all the distractions a growing, healthy young male might encounter in the wiles of his developmental youth; aka - girls. That being said, last year while browsing the internet I happened upon an advertisement by Mr Beer, a major player in many home brewers initiation to the hobby. An online order and a few "how to" videos later, I was on my way. Needless to say, I've been hooked ever since with a continual desire to parooze home brewing supply stores, buy up gadgets and brewing kits for that all elusive massive hoard of home brewed beer to satisfy my needs for many years to come. Somehow that massive build up of home brewed beer seems to remain in a constant state of equilibrium with consumption. Sad, and yet not.
It has become increasingly clear that the brewing industry is undergoing a bit of a renaissance in the birth of many local micro-breweries and brew pubs. Here in the DFW metroplex there are no less than 6 micro-breweries, each with its own unique take on how to make a great beer. It is very highly enjoyable to attend the weekend "tours", sampling to my hearts content the many varieties of such a delectable beverage in all of its many forms and tastes. Having embarked upon this adventure I feel the same urge to launch out upon the road of master brewer, becoming a legend of the industry with loyal followers flocking to my brewery (see above) and the many restaurants who gleefully carry and serve pint after pint of my own "flavor of the month", finding that serving DrVertebrae's brews continually brings in those hungry and thirsty crowds of money toting patrons. Well anyway . . .
All that aside, I want to share some of the things I have learned over the many, or rather the "year", that I have been wielding my brew pot around the kitchen. In fact, here is a list of the things that I have discovered, quite totally on my own (right!), which seem to be important in the careful and successful manufacture of this, the Lords, holy brew:
  1. Maintain temperature control
  2. Patience, patience, patience; as in aging, lagering, maturing your beer
  3. Sanitation
  4. Yeast - Powdered versus liquid or starter
  5. Stratification (very interesting) - as it might effect OG, pitching and dry hopping
  6. That one beer I didn't like - it comes down to taste (yours of course)
First of all, it's mostly about the temperature. Simply put, maintaining temperatures in the 60's for ales has had the single greatest effect on my finished brews. I say that but then recollect the notion of aging. So let's say both have had a huge effect on the final product. If you're a lover of weird flavors not normally found in the brews you get at the store or your favorite bar/restaurant/microbrewer/pub then this might not be a big thing. Excessive fruity flavors, esters, and in general, "off" flavors which make you ask, "What the heck is that?", are prevalent when the brewing temp is above 70*F for a significant amount of time, which makes me worry about the home brew I mentioned earlier. Its temp was still at 74 when I left it this morning surrounded by jugs of ice which I find usually can keep it at a respectful 66*F in most cases. That being said, there is a new microbrewer in the area here (I'll not mention his name else I might find my head in a sling) who brews his beers at 71*F. When pressed for his reasoning as to why, he simply said it just seemed like the middle of the range of temps recommended by the manufacturer of the yeast he uses. Well OK then. He had some quite tasty brews, especially his "house" ale. But then there was one with a very green character and some pretty wild flavors. I think perhaps 71*F might be a tad high.
I previously made one brew which seemed laced with banana; basically a result of fermentation temperature too high; the temp was maintained at about 72-74*F. I was severely uneducated at that time. Yuck. I used to think I liked bananas. Not in beer thank you very much. As I later found out, these extreme fruit flavors are the result of chemicals called esters which form in large amounts when the fermentation temp is too high. (Generally, most "flavors" we are familiar with are esters.) The banana flavor did, however, diminish and finally disappear from "view" with more aging. Which, of course, reiterates once again, the second important thing I have learned; these things take time. Lots of time is generally necessary, it seems, when one is anxious to taste the fruits, not necessarily the esters, of his/her labors. Most of the brews I have made were sampled too early and then, semi-regularly, until I would reach the end of the line some weeks later, when they were finally reaching their peak of deliciousness. Of course, by then they were gone. Oh, the times I have wished I had waited the time necessary to begin to embibe upon their glorious gift. Simply put then, keep the temps a bit lower and give it time. I made a cider which, at 7 months of age, is tasting pretty darn good.
With my background in biology I find it natural to handle things like glassware and foods in a sanitary fashion; maintaining sanitary conditions and keeping contamination to a minimum, which is certainly all important, can be underestimated. Yet, for all of my knowing laziness with regards to sanitation and brewing, being less than totally careful from time to time, I find that it is not actually the all encompassing concern to homebrewers one might think from the reading on the subject. Note that many of those who brew mead (I have five under my belt) don't boil, pasteurize or even heat their concoctions and have, by their own accounts at least, turned out some mighty good tasting stuff. Of course those things dangerous to us of the human variety, bugs like bacteria, don't like the lower temps associated with brewing, although just about anything has the potential to be pathogenic. Thus one should strive to maintain a good clean work environment, wash the hands a lot, sanitize things to the nth degree, assume anything not sanitized to be contaminated with something potentially harmful (both to you AND your beer), clean up afterward, wash out bottles the very minute they are emptied, get rid of any visible build up on brewing containers like better bottles and even kettles, etc, etc. It's not that difficult or time consuming. Why take chances, right? But at the same time, if something does happen, don't sweat it too much. The chances of everything turning out OK are very good. And don't let brewing interfere with cooking a nice meal either. Observe my kitchen below. There's a lot going on there including the preparation of a pot of beans. Below left is a dishwasher in full swing, emitting a bit of steam in and around the room. I have given my brews adequate opportunity to be contaminated but it just hasn't happened yet. So be clean and sanitary, but don't sweat it that much.
4-273.jpg

Then there are the yeasts, those beautiful little makers of delight. There has been so much to learn about them. First of all they come in two basic forms or packages; liquid and powdered. Is there a big difference in results from one form to the next? Do you need to make a starter for pitching? I'll just say that I have done all methods of pitching; dry dumped right into the wort, dryre-hydrated, and complete starters in active growth. Basically, I have had many good results using all three methods but I must say, fresh starters and properlyre-hydratedpowdered yeasts have produced beers with much less of the off flavors as has been produced by just throwing (pitching) powdered yeast or even the liquid yeasts poured right into the wort. One could obviously say that my sample size for drawing this conclusion is rather small but my memory and notes on my brews, at least to my satisfaction, have born this out. Of course if you read about it, the "experts", those that write books, will concur with that. Faster start times, more vigorousfermentation, more completefermentation, fewer off flavors and compounds are the result. Thus, if I begin with a liquid yeast sample, I will put it in a bit of sterile wort for a day or two prior to pitching. That way I can see that it is healthy and growing when it is pitched. With the powdered variety, I just do the recommendedre-hydration; that being basically just suspending the yeast in approximately 10 times their mass of water. So 10 grams of yeast is re-hydrated in 100 ml of sterile water. The brew I mentioned earlier which blew itself all over the room was pitched with Nottingham yeastre-hydratedin about 100ml of water. For what it matters, from a biologists point of view, I would rather see the yeast swirled rather than shaken. Proteins are denatured if shaken in a liquid environment although not in excess, but in my dealings with growing bugs and suspending various compounds into solution, good technique dictates no vigorous shaking. Of course, aerating your wort requires a pretty vigorous shake but I would recommend doing that prior to pitching. Just sayin'.
Additionally, on the topic of yeast and aeration, it would appear that it takes a good bit of shaking to get fair aeration as opposed to actually bubbling oxygen onto the wort. The recommended is about 10ppm O2, but according to what I have read, 5 min of vigorous shaking will only get you to about 5ppm. But here, we can utilize some basic physical science; that being, gases dissolve better in cold solution than warm. First get your wort down to pretty low temps and shake big time. Next, the water that you bring the final volume up with can be refrigerated and shaken big time as well. The lower temp of the refrigerated water will result in higher dissolved oxygen levels. Thus you will be adding highly oxygenated water into the wort. Then shake some more.
On a much more interesting note, I have learned that many different types of yeast can be used in the same brew. In addition, it would appear that the times they are pitched plays a key role in the flavor of your beer. Apparently the key flavor components are produced in the first few days of fermentation. Many yeasts that produce very flavorful beers do so in that time but many of these will not attenuate as much as you might like, depending upon how sweet or alcoholic you want the final product to be. I prefer dryer beers or "less sweet" varieties. I also like them highly attenuated which is essentially the same thing (at least in government work). I have learned that we can follow our initial "flavor" yeast (which we pitch first) with a more attenuative variety after about 3/4 of the fermentation process is completed, thus yielding a more attenuated but still flavorful beer. This idea of combining yeast strains offers a near infinite number of possibilities and combinations when one considers the wide variety of grains, both base and specialty, one has to choose from when concocting a new recipe. I am getting ready to try all grain mashing/brewing. The possible varieties have my mouth watering to say the least.
At the risk of being overly verbose (that means talking too much) about shaking and mixing your wort, I have discovered something which I found rather interesting which emphasizes the need to get things mixed up pretty well before you set your brew aside to ferment for weeks at a time. It has to do with stratification within your fermentor. I have read some articles and some forum threads regarding variable measurements of OG as possibly not actually being the true OG of the batch. Take a look at the picture below.
5-274.jpg

That is five gallons of water into which I added 1oz of Star San. Look at the level of stratification or rather the level of "not mixing". Imagine if I had just pitched my yeast or combined my wort with water to adjust final volume to five gallons. Even with pretty vigorous mixing and shaking, some level of stratification was difficult to overcome. One can see how problematic it would be to get an accurate reading of OG if the wort is not thoroughly mixed. Or imagine how the yeast would initially behave if it stratified in to one region and not another. Basically, anywhere the yeast is not at, is a dead spot. I've read how the shapes of the huge fermentation kettles in commercial brewing could affect the final product due to stratification and the resultant dead spots but I never imagined it could so readily occur in a five gallon jug. The take home lesson here is that without good mixing, the wort will not have adequate oxygen to kick off good yeast growth and your OG could be off as well.
Yes, I am still quite the beginner but I am learning. Of course the test of the beer AND the brewer is in the taste. It is interesting that one doesn't find too many home brewers being very critical of their own brews. But you know, we all love our children and each one of our brews is a child of our efforts. Honestly, however, we probably all remember at least one of our batches that we just plain didn't like. For me it was a wheat beer. It didn't gag me but it certainly wasn't one I would want to make again. On the other hand, I had once bought a beer touted as the best beer in Texas per a group of "beer judges". In that instance I don't think I could have distinguished between it and the IPA I had in a keg at that time. The bottom line is in how you like your beers. If you do then continue on. If you want to make efforts to change them or possibly change them into something you might enjoy more, I hope that there is something of my experience here that might help. Simply having better control of temperatures plus a little patience will make a huge difference and go a very long way toward truly good beer.
Oops, I forgot to mention bottling, kegging, using a secondary, dry hopping, using bigger brew kettles, specialty grain steeping, flavor hops versus aroma hops, etc, etc. It just goes on. I know that by now my current brew has settled down to the temperature it needs to be. I guess I'll find out later just how much that little bit of fermentation at too high of a temperature has effected it. If not ruined, then I'll be able to share how that little change altered the brew. Assuming I don't drink it up too soon. From my experience, I'm betting it turns out just fine. If it goes bad, I'll just have to repeat the process. After all, repetition is the secret to learning. It is also the secret to enjoying a nice homebrew.
Also, don't forget the other fun things to brew, Mead and Cider. They can be flavored with fruits, spices and just about anything you can think of. A favorite of mine is the Mead-mosa (mead and orange juice) or as my lady friend calls it, vigorous orange juice. The first ones are soon to be bottled.
Something else, in addition to the brewing is all the stuff that goes with beer and brewing. Everything from openers to glasses and T-shirts with your home designed emblem on them. The DragonFly Brewery image at the top of this article was designed by my artistic teenage daughter. So far I have had it placed on a custom painted cap and had it printed on a custom made T-shirt. Next will be glasses and I envision framed, stained glass mirrors and windows. It's endless and I am just a beginner but for less than a year, I've learned a lot. I hope this information is helpful to my fellow newbies to the hobby.
5-274.jpg
 
OP
OP
D

DrVertebrae

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2011
Messages
246
Reaction score
6
Location
Dallas
? What is it you don't understand? The obsession with brewing? Me neither. But why ask why?
 

hambonez

Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2013
Messages
13
Reaction score
1
Location
Boston
Thanks! Nice article. I look forward my own first year. Today is day 6. Maybe I won't bottle that first batch tomorrow after all.
 
OP
OP
D

DrVertebrae

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2011
Messages
246
Reaction score
6
Location
Dallas
@hambonez Absolutely. Give it time. Some of the really experienced guys on this site leave their brews in the fermentor a minimum of three weeks. Bottom line is it just always seems to benefit the beer to let the yeasties have the time they need. The off flavors of autolysis don't really come into play with the flat bottomed brew vessels we use. Another rule is that if you take SG readings three times in a row and there is no change then it is done but I still think there is a bit of clean up done by the yeast even after that point is reached. Good luck with your first year! I'm lovin it!
 

csbcmike

New Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2013
Messages
2
Reaction score
0
Great article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, especially the microbiology perspective, which you don't always hear. (I've just hit a year of brewing, too, so cheers.)
 

thetmaxx

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 28, 2010
Messages
111
Reaction score
1
Location
West Sacramento
Once I got my pipeline built up I stopped getting overly anxious to bottle my beer too early. Just keep brewing so you always have beer to take your mind off of the fermenting beer!!
 

offenbeckerm

Member
Joined
Jan 9, 2013
Messages
9
Reaction score
4
Neat article! I just started this week and I'm looking forward to being somewhat close to this experienced in a year. For now, I'm just soaking up knowledge and waiting for beer to mature before drinking "my child". This article certainly helps and gives me both knowledge and optimism.
 
OP
OP
D

DrVertebrae

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2011
Messages
246
Reaction score
6
Location
Dallas
Youre gonna love brewing. And no sooner do you get one bottled than you start planning the next one, and the next, and the next. "Pipeline" is exactly right. A few days ago I put one of the choc stouts and one of the IPA's in the frig for tonight after racquetball. Those and the ones after doing a lawnn in the heat are the very best ones.
 

Ullapool

New Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2013
Messages
3
Reaction score
0
I'd love to hear your ideas on HOW to aerate. I think I aerate my wort well but it then just sits in the primary fermenter. Are you suggesting shaking up the primary? I'm not sure how to easily shake 5 gallons of liquid while also trying to be sterile. Popping the lid to stir it up vigorously with sterilized utensils seems very risky of infection.
Or we're you only talking about at brew time?
I also just completed my first year but I went slow and only made 4 brews. Thanks for the article!
 
OP
OP
D

DrVertebrae

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2011
Messages
246
Reaction score
6
Location
Dallas
To be sure, shaking 5 gallons of wort to aerate is difficult at best. I have read about aerating with an air stone or oxygen but I have never tried it. I have read about the length of time needed to achieve certain optimal PPM of O2 using each of these methods.
I try to exploit the physical properties of gases. I have most of my brew water very cold and shake that vigorously for several minutes. Most gases dissolve in cold fluids much better than warm. This is the cold water that I add the cooled wort to. I then aerate vith vigorous shaking. Yes thats five gallons and it takes some effort. Of course this method only works for the smaller boil volumes. Once you get to boil volumes of 4 and 5 gallons then this method becomes obsolete. I am thinking of getting an aquarium air stone and pump to aerate with. It would probably take about 10 min of aerating with regular air to achieve optimal aeration. I don't have my yeast book with me to look up the exact values.
 

ByramMike

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2011
Messages
86
Reaction score
6
Location
Andover
I'm in just over 1.5 years. Your lessons learned are what I learned as well... except the stratification thing, never thought about that.
Brew on!
 
OP
OP
D

DrVertebrae

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2011
Messages
246
Reaction score
6
Location
Dallas
Thanks man. Indeed I will. I have a new drill attachment aerator and so it will alleve a few of the aeration issues. I used it for the first time this past weekend and it was sweet. Tht beer took of tremendously.
Now I want to do some more. Thinking of another mead. they really benefit frome aeration daily through a good bit of the fermentation process.
 

Brewsday

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 7, 2011
Messages
185
Reaction score
20
Location
Near Portland
Regarding aeration...I'm no pro (maybe 200 gallons brewed) but I have some suggestions. Seeing is believing. At some point I suggest doing a primary ferment in a carboy so you can watch the process ("stratification" comments in a moment). To aerate, steal that old tennis ball from your dog and put it under the carboy..preferably on a carpet or even a sturdy padded stool). Cover the top with a sandwich bag (I squirt starsan in but new bags are sanitary already inside...I used to sell plastic food bags). One hand on the bag and one on the carboy...commence to rock and swirl on the ball. Watch how the air interacts with the wort. You will soon see that random crazy "rocking" sends a LOT more air into the wort than mindless swirling in a consistent direction. In my experience your arms should ache if you do it right for 10 minutes continuously. If you make big starters you may have to wait a while for the foam to subside or you won't be able to add 1-2 liters without a huge mess (obviously depends on how full the carboy started). Observing this will "teach" you how to shake a bucket if that's your usual primary. I firmly believe there is value in good "shake technique". Now, put your carboy where you can watch it ferment (but not in the constant light). Pour in the starter (or dump dry yeast on top of the foam). Don't agitate...especially dry yeast...it's just fine on the surface in my experience. If you are like me you will be peeking at it about every 2 hours. It's a ton of fun to watch the phases. First it'll stratify. I have never perceived that to be a problem so I leave it alone. Then the fireworks will start. Once the yeast reach "critical mass" you will see just how much wild churning goes on, especially if you've always used buckets for primaries. Chunks of stuff rising and falling. You will learn what's going on when the bubbler stops. One thing about carboys, you never need to wonder if there's a leak in the seal (I never quite trust buckets to have perfect seals). There are phases to watch after the bubbling stops (or almost stops). Eventually you will see that all churning action has ended...but wait, there's more...often the longer you wait the clearer the beer. Racked carefully to another carboy for dry hopping is fun too. You will see "the dance of the hops". Then cold crash and siphon to bottling bucket. I prefer to go from a carboy to a bottling bucket so I can really see well what I'm sucking up. Hope this helps some newer brewers. I also hope some of the more experienced add comments.
 

barnyard203

New Member
Joined
Feb 5, 2013
Messages
2
Reaction score
0
During the last 3 years, I've bottled nearly 200 gallons of various brews (started growing my own hops last year)and about 30 gallons of wine (all from fruit grown in the back yard). I've messed up a couple gallons of the earliest wine, but I've yet to have any big problems with beer. I make 5 or 6 gallon batches, ales, stouts, and various wheat beers. Perhaps the most important thing I've learned is that this does not have to be a complicated undertaking. I use plastic buckets (the seals work well sometimes, sometimes not - but it doesn't seem to matter). I use soap and water for sanitation (I threw out all the sulphur smelling stuff after a short time). I freely experiment with yeast, hops and other ingredients, sometimes doing exactly what the experts tell me I should not do. In spite of ignoring the "right way" to do everything, I've never had a batch go bad and visitors don't seem to hesitate to enjoy whatever is in the fridge downstairs. Am I the only lazy brewer who looks for the easy ways to enjoy this hobby?
 
OP
OP
D

DrVertebrae

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2011
Messages
246
Reaction score
6
Location
Dallas
Sounds like you have it going. There are many things the "experts" ell us about sanitation and brewing that can be ignored....for the most part, but eventually, the short cuts might get you. I too haven't had any problems except for my two bottles of "gyzer" stout. But my background in biology and microbiology have me a litle more cautious than most might be about sanitation. I also think that as our tastes develope that we might begin to see some effects of the short cuts that we might want to take care of by eliminating the short cuts in favor of the advice of the more experiencecd brewers. Otherwise, I agree totally.
 
OP
OP
D

DrVertebrae

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2011
Messages
246
Reaction score
6
Location
Dallas
@countshockulaI just noticed your comment. I would have to agree with your observation regarding being "overly verbose". Thanks for the comment.
 

Cyclman

I Sell Koalas
HBT Supporter
Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Messages
7,641
Reaction score
1,393
Location
Aurora
Wonderful article, very interesting information on the stratification. Might explain my inconsistent Refracto readings. I guess I need to mix better before taking readings or just not take them...beers always come out great anyhow.
I use an O2 stone and think it an excellent investment. Pain to clean, but I find it worth it- my fermentations have been very strong since I started using it.
I hope you contribute more articles, it really was a great read.
 
OP
OP
D

DrVertebrae

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2011
Messages
246
Reaction score
6
Location
Dallas
Thanks guys. Glad this could help. Cyclman, I have gotten pretty lazy about doing the SG measurements. Its fun to know the alcohol content but I can usually gauge that by drinking it; at least fairly closely and they just always seem to turn out good, especially if I can let them sit for long enough.
 

mmarty1

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2012
Messages
77
Reaction score
0
Location
Imperial
Loved the article! I too am in my first year of brewing and can connect with so much of your article that I almost feel I'm reading my own writing. One of the sections I connected too the most was your comments on how important it is to maintain temperature during fermentation and aging. But I also have that "one" brew that I just didn't like and for me it was a cream ale. Keep up the journey and I hope to see more of your articles in the future.
 
OP
OP
D

DrVertebrae

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2011
Messages
246
Reaction score
6
Location
Dallas
Thanks mmarty1. I appreciate the kind words.
Home brewing is an amazingly addictive hobby; not from an alcohol point of view but just from being able to brew your own and do so many things with it. With my science background it is the perfect past time. Makes the house smell so good too.
This weekend I'll be bottling or kegging a couple of batches which have been coming to a rest over the past week or two. These have a total time of original fermentation of right at 4 weeks. I looked at them yesterday and they are perfectly clear. Very fun.
One is a rye ale and the other is a Wee Heavy with maris otter. As you mentioned temperature, I used a british ale yeast with this one and allowed the fermentation temp to stay at about 72 degrees. I was wanting something with a bit more estery/british ale taste. The yeast is a lower attenuator so I hit it with a highly attenuating yeast after 3 days of pretty vigorous fermentation which was nearly complete. It should be interesting.
 
Top