What’s the difference between cleaning and sanitising? Can I sterilise?

Cleaning is the process of using a cleaning agent, soaking as well as mechanical action to remove grime or residue from the surface of brewing equipment. Sanitising is using a sanitising an agent to kill most of the bacteria at a microscopic level. You cannot effectively sanitise if you are not starting with a clean environment. Sterilise is often said in regards to what people mean as sanitise

How long should my beer ferment?

The answer is a s long as it takes to ferment. With every brew your hydrometer will tell you when it has finished fermenting. To be sure make sure the bubbling has slowed down or stopped then take a hydrometer reading. Wait 24 to 48 hours and then take another reading and if that reading is identical it means that the sugar level is stable and it has finished fermenting. This assumes that it is not too cold because in extremely cold conditions a yeast will become dormant and then begin fermenting again when the temp rises.

What does the hydrometer do? Why do I need it?

The hydrometer is one of the most useful tools that you can use for brewing and understanding what’s going on with your beer.  It measures the Specific Gravity (S.G) of a liquid which is the density of the sugars contained in that liquid. You take a sample in the test flask and float the hydrometer in it to measure the S.G. For reference the S.G. of water is 1.000 measured at the meniscus (the surface of the liquid) at 20 degrees Celsius. You take this measurement before you begin fermentation (i.e. before adding yeast to wort), which will tell you your Original Gravity (O.G). The hydrometer will float more in the solution as the sugars will make it more buoyant. So what does this mean in the context of brewing the beer? Yeast, dependent on its strain type will ferment an amount of the sugars contained in the beer wort, typically a percentage ranging from 65-85%. Over the course of fermentation the sugars in your wort are converted to alcohol by the yeast. After a week of fermentation if you were to check the gravity reading you will have noticed that the reading is falling. Ethanol what alcohol is, is lighter than water and as the sugars have been converted and those that haven’t are in lesser concentrations, the hydrometer when you put it into the test flask should sink closer towards 1.000 (but not completely).

Why is the hydrometer important?

First off you can use the Final Gravity (F.G, the point at which the yeast cannot ferment any more sugars) to determine whether you can bottle the beer, as the yeast is not fermenting any more sugars except for those that you add to prime the bottle (carbonation drops) for secondary fermentation once capped.

How can I use my hydrometer to calculate Alcohol %?

 It can also be used to determine the alcohol percentage of your finished beer using this formula..

ABV = (OG - FG)*131

(1.045 – 1.010) = .035 x 131 = 4.56% ABV

My original gravity is really high?..

An original gravity can be really high because there were a lot of sugars added to an extract wort but commonly a reading may be false as the sample for the hydrometer was taken from the tap at the bottom of the fermenter and the dense sugars dropped to the bottom and gave a false reading

The Bubbling won’t stop!

Bubbling from the airlock is simply gas escaping from the fermentation vessel. Some yeasts work slower than others and you will notice that the corresponding slow bubbling will relate to a change in specific gravity which can be confirmed using the hydrometer. But gas release from the fermenter can also relate to changes in temperature, a liquid will retain more gas in it at colder temperatures than at higher temperatures and that slow bubbles after fermentation has finished will be the beer ‘giving up’ the gas that was in the beer.

 Why is the yeast frothing through the air-lock?

The yeast frothing through the airlock is a sign of a vigorous fermentation but is also dependant on the yeast strain used as well as related to the amount of headspace in relation to the volume of liquid in the fermenter. It isn’t a bad problem to have although it is a messy problem to have and can be solved by taking the airlock out, cleaning and sanitising a piece of thick tubing and using that in place of an airlock as a ‘blow-off tube’. The tubing should be adequately wide in diameter and should run to a vessel (a 1-2 Litre flask or flagon will suffice) filled to ¼ volume with a sanitiser solution, situated below the liquid level in the fermenter. German Wheat, Belgian Wit and some English yeasts typically require headspace of 1/3 fermenter volume (i.e 20-21 litres in a 30 litre fermenter). Higher gravity beers (greater amount of sugars – higher concentration and more yeast needed therefore greater activity) can result in the yeast and beer trying to escape the fermenter.

 What’s with the Sediment in the bottle?

The sediment at the bottom of a bottle of homebrew (or unfiltered bottle conditioned commercial beer) is a mixture of yeast and precipitated proteins – not unlike that seen at the bottom of a fermenter at the end of fermentation. As bottle conditioned beer relies on re-fermentation in the bottle – yeast consuming a source of sugar leading to production of a small amount of alcohol, and carbon dioxide being the source of carbonation (fizziness). Once the yeast has finished re-fermenting it settles to the bottom of the bottle. Time in the fridge can hasten and compact sedimentation and the beer can be decanted into a glass (though the sediment is rich in Vitamin B and can be safely consumed).

Why do you use carbonation drops in the bottle?

Carbonation drops are a dosed measure of sugar for the yeast to re-ferment in the bottle. During bottle conditioning an amount of carbon dioxide is produced by the yeast fermenting the sugar from the carbonation drop and that gets trapped in solution and leads to the fizziness in your finished beer. Carbonation drops are dosed 1 per 330-375ml, 2 per 750ml bottle.

Over-gassed beer? Why? Solution?

Over-gassed or over-carbonated beer can be due to a number of reasons. Commonly an over-carbonated beer is due to bottling before the beer has reached its final gravity in the primary fermentation. The yeast continue to consume the sugars from the primary fermentation as well as the sugars added, leading to a build-up of excess carbon dioxide gas in the bottle. When you go to open and pour the beer the build-up of gas leads to gushing of your beer out of the glass. In the worst situation there is a risk that the bottles may explode. Confirm that the yeast have finished primary fermentation before bottling using the hydrometer with stable readings (i.e 1.010 one day, then 1.010 the next – at fermentation temperature) over the course of a couple of days.

Over carbonation can also be due to further fermentation in the bottle from an infection from wild yeasts or bacteria. Often there will be a change in the flavour profile of the beer from when you bottled it to when you try it, off flavours sometimes including fruity and spiciness. In this case make sure that you are reviewing your sanitation methods and cleaning procedures. Sometimes yeast from a previous fermentation can live on and taint the next batch without diligence in cleaning equipment.

What kind of bottles should I use for bottling my beer?

Heavy amber beer bottles are most appropriate, green and clear bottles should be avoided as light striking the bottle and interacting with the hop compounds in the beer can lead to what is termed ‘skunked’ beer, possessing an aroma not unlike that which a skunk produces. Think the aroma of dusty green bottles of European lager that have been sitting around a bottle shop for too long.. Amber beer bottles block the wavelength of light responsible for skunking of beer.

What are hops?

Hops are a vine growing plant that produces flowers that look more like cones. Inside of these cones when the hops are ready to be harvested are an array of oils which account for . When the hops are harvested they are dried out and are commonly processed into tightly packed pellets

Why does my fermenting wort smell like rotten eggs?

The smell of rotten eggs coming from the fermenter which is the smell of sulphur dioxide which is a by-product of yeast fermentation, typically that of lager yeasts and remains slightly in the beer to enhance the crispness of flavour. It’s a good thing that you can smell it, because that’s a sign that it’s being released from the beer during fermentation. It is recommended that when brewing lagers you give the beer adequate time to clean up this by-product at the end of fermentation – if in doubt, taste and smell the hydrometer sample for any evidence of the flavour.