The ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’: #5 Fermentation

Temp Controller

For those who haven’t read my blog before, the ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’ gives a basic run down of the all grain brewing process. By no means is this an exhaustive description of the process but does set down a basic structure to allow the reader to have a bit more context of the brewing process.

I find when people ask about homebrewing, they want this kind of high level overview of what you do to make a brew. In later posts, I will likely explore each element in a lot more detail. Today we are going to talk about what is likely the most important part of the process, fermentation.

If you read enough beer blogs, you will come to see the same wanky bits of advice pulled out time and time again. One particularly wanky comment I see all the time is ‘Brewers create wort, yeast create beer’ or something similar. Whilst my first reaction is ‘Cool Story Bro’, this comment does highlight that this is the part of the process where you give up control of making the beer.

For those who don’t know, fermentation is the process of allowing yeast to consume the sugars in your beer and create alcohol. Not only does yeast create alcohol it creates a number of by-products which contribute to the taste of your beer. Different yeasts give off different qualities and are therefore are used for different styles of beer. This is why beers can taste so unique even though they are made with similar ingredients.

Different varieties of yeast prefer different environmental conditions to create a preferred taste. Generally ales will range from about 16 degrees Celsius to 28 degrees Celsius and lagers will be in the late single digits/early teens. Living in Queensland, we experience the perfect temperature for about 15 seconds of the year, so I would highly recommend you use a fridge and temperature controller to ensure that the yeast maintain the temperature you want. Too cold and the yeast will go dormant and struggle to perform, too hot and the yeast will perform too well and throw off a lot of off flavours.

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Yeast also require oxygen to ensure a strong fermentation and this can be achieved in a number of ways. The most popular (because it is the cheapest) is to splash and shake the wort and introduce oxygen in this way. There is a lot of conflicting information about how effective this method is but it is generally accepted that the best you can achieve is about 8ppm. How much oxygen you need depends on the Original Gravity of the beer but I find that this method seems to be sufficiently effective for your usual full strength beer. Where you start to run into trouble is with ‘Imperial’ beers of 8% or above and with lagers.

If you have one of these beers, it may be worth trying an oxygenation system (which simply puts air into the fermenter) or pure oxygen. I haven’t tried either so at this stage can’t really give you any recommendations. I am interested however in giving the oxygenation system a go and will do a post if I go down this path.

The final variable relates to the size and activity of your yeast pitch. I tend to use dry yeast a lot and pitch it far heavier than recommended. My readings have suggested at the homebrew level, it is very unlikely to overpitch whereas it is quite easy to underpitch. I’ll generally rehydrate 2 x 12g packs and pitch into a usual full strength beer.

If you are using a liquid yeast, it is generally recommended you do a starter and I will discuss this in another post.

Fermentation usually lasts about a week but the only way to know is by doing a hydrometer test. If the same FG is recorded over a couple of days, the beer is likely finished. It is generally recommended that you err on the side of caution and give the brew a couple more days even once its reached FG. In most instances, I will wait 2 weeks before I start doing gravity tests. From here I will generally ‘crash chill’ the beer which involves putting the refrigerator on full blast to drop out all of the material in the fermenter.

I will finally add a fining agent such as Gelatin before kegging or bottling. Sometimes I doubt how effective this is but tend to do it simply because Gelatin is so cheap and it adds very little time or complexity to the process.

Fermentation is probably the most important stage of the beer brewing process. It is the time you present up your wort and hope the yeast does what you want them to do. If all goes to plan, you are far closer to drinking that delicious, delicious beer that is waiting for you.

Feel free to post your questions below.

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The ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’: #6 Bottling

Bottling

This is the last of a 6 part post on the ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’, a series designed to provide a basic overview and structure to do your first all grain home-brew. If you haven’t seen this before, I recommend you go check out #1 Mashing which will give you a lot more context.

Today we are going to talk about bottling. Bottling is one of those things that doesn’t get enough attention. After having spent hours slaving over your beer trying to make it perfect, its amazing how many people don’t give a second thought to bottling. Another option apart from bottling is kegging and I will talk about this in a later post, but if you’re a beginner, you are likely bottling.

When bottling you essentially have 3 major goals. The first is to successfully get the beer off the ‘trub’ which is the mixture of yeast, hops and gunk at the bottom of your fermenter. The second is to ensure the beer is being provided with enough additional sugar to ensure sufficient carbonation of the beer. The third and rarely explained in beginner material goal is to ensure you minimise oxygen pick up. Oxygen is the enemy of beer and should be avoided at all costs. This is particularly relevant for those beers that are particularly vulnerable to oxygen such as IPA’s.

There are 2 popular ways to bottle from your fermenter, bulk priming and individual priming. When you individually prime, you put the required amount of sugar in each bottle to ensure sufficient carbonation. If you are just starting I would recommend doing it this way. Whilst it means you may end up with slightly inconsistent carbonation (if you don’t put the same amount in each bottle), it will minimise the opportunity for oxygen pick up. You can either measure out the sugar using a sugar scoop or alternatively use sugar drops. The sugar drops are even more inconsistent and are expensive but can be massively convenient during a less than fun task.

When you bulk prime, you essentially work out the right amount of sugar for the whole batch (including any beer you intend to leave behind in the fermenter), boil this in water and then add to a second ‘bottling bucket’. You can then rack your beer on top of the sugar to ensure sufficient mixing of the material. I would not recommend this for beginners as the opportunities for oxygen pick up and the opportunity to fail to mix the items is far higher than individually priming. After you have got some practice, maybe try bulk priming. Or do what I did, decide you hate bottling and spend an extraordinary amount of money on kegging gear.

craft-beer-hobby

When filling anything, make sure you do so from the bottom ensuring minimal splashing. You are probably seeing a theme here? When bottling it is ok to leave a little bit of oxygen in the bottles as the yeast will clean most of it up in the carbonation process but don’t let it go crazy.

To work out how much sugar to add either use a sugar scoop or carb drop, or you can find online calculators if you want to get advanced and carbonate for the particular style.

Once you have it in the bottle, use a bottle capper to seal the bottle. You should be clear on whether your bottle capper will work on twist tops as some will not. If not you will need pop top bottles which are a little harder to come by in Australia. If you’re looking for them, Coopers is your best bet.

The beer will need a couple of weeks to carbonate at room temperature (approx 20 degrees). If you’re really keen on knowing exactly when they are carbonated and don’t want to waste any bottles a good tip is to bottle one in a plastic bottle. When the plastic bottle is hard, your beer is carbonated.

Once again, sanitation is key to this. Make sure your beers and all your equipment is clean and sanitised with starsan. Whilst your beer will be a little more resistant to infections because of the alcohol and hops, an infection can still take hold.

Another tip is to always make sure your beer has finished before bottling otherwise you will end up with the dreaded ‘bottle bombs’. The way to know if your beer is done is to check the finishing gravity using your hydrometer over a couple of days and if you get the same reading, you are good to go. I would recommend leaving at least 2 weeks before you start checking this.

Obviously this is a very ‘High Level’ overview of bottling and we will get into more advanced topics such as cold crashing and finings in future posts. Once again, if you have any questions please hit me up below.

The ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’: #7 Kegging

Kegerator

If you’re a keen observer of this blog, you may have noticed in my ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series: #6 Bottling’ I mentioned this was the last of the posts. I’ve had some people ask me about kegging and thought it may be a great opportunity to give an introduction into how to keg your beer.

One thing I should note is that setting up a keg system can be quite complex and I will likely go into this in detail in another post. For the purpose of this post, I will assume you have a ready made kegerator set up and run through my basic process for kegging and carbonating my brews.

The first thing is getting your beer out of the fermenter and into the keg. As always, sanitation is key and it is important to make sure everything you use has been sprayed down with StarSan (no-rinse sanitiser). Before putting beer in your keg, it is good practice to put a blanket of C02 on the bottom of it. This will assist to minimise oxygen pick up in the transfer. I’ll then elevate my cold crashed fermenter, attach a hose which goes to the bottom of the keg and release.

Once full, I will connect my keg to the C02 and use the force to tightly seal the keg, closing the top. I’ll then ‘bleed’ off all the oxygen in quick sharp bursts. Supposedly oxygen is lighter than C02 so will come out before the C02.

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There are a million different ways to carbonate your beer and I will discuss this in a later post. I will generally just hook up the C02 and let it sit for a week. This ensures consistent carbonation and helps to avoid over carbonating your beers. One thing I will note is you should keep a bottle of Starsan lying around so you can spray all the connections and ensure there are no gas leaks. I lost a bottle of C02 before I figured out that handy tip.

Once again, this is a very high level overview of the kegging process. In future posts, I’ll go into further detail about the different keg setups possible and the different ways to carbonate your beer.

As always if you have any question, don’t be afraid to leave them below. If you’re thinking them, likely many people are.

 

The ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’: #2 Sparging

Welcome to number 2 of the ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’. If you missed it, go and check out #1 Mashing. Without it, this post may be a little bit confusing.

So you have had a successful mash? At this stage you have removed all the blankets on your mash tun, measured your temperature and it has only dropped a couple of degrees. Now you need to get that sweet wort from your mash tun into your kettle. Read More

The ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’: #1.5 BIAB Mashing- Guest Post by Sean Hasselback

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This is how we brew it

In the ‘Mashing’ instalment of the ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’, Ben mentioned the Brew In A Bag method of mashing.  Well I’m Ben’s friend, Sean, I brew in a bag, and I’m gunna tell you how!

If you haven’t already read the Mashing post, read that first.  Also, if you haven’t seen the Bad Lip Reading channel on YouTube, you should watch that too.  It is not relevant, but it is hilarious. Read More

The ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’: #1 Mashing

Esky Mash Tun
It seems fitting that the first post in my ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’ is for mashing. Not only is this pretty much the first step in the process, it is also the part which confuses non-brewers the most as they are used to seeing a can of goop replacing this step.

If you are confused, the can of goop is what is called ‘extract’ and is basically a pre-done mash for you. Whilst this can afford great time efficiencies, I enjoy making the beer from scratch as it guarantees I have the freshest beer I can make (plus I enjoy it). Read More