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What is Secondary Fermentation? And Glass vs Plastic Carboys

Sometimes when you pick up a beer ingredient kit at the local home brewing store it recommends a secondary fermentation. What does that mean?

Why Use Secondary Fermentation?

Secondary fermentation is the practice of transferring your beer out of its original fermenting vessel into a different vessel. Somewhat ironically, this should only be done after the actual fermentation of the beer is mostly complete.

Transferring the beer to a secondary fermentor gets it off of the trub that is sitting in the bottom of the primary fermentor and allows any residue, such as hops that were not filtered out, to settle out of the beer. It makes for a more clear and cleaner tasting finished product.

Secondary fermentation also allows you to make adjustments to the flavor of the beer. It gets the beer off of the dead yeast from the primary fermentation to prevent that flavor from overtaking the beer, and it allows you to add spices, fruits, or dry hops to the beer to get the flavor where you want it to go.

The Secondary Fermentation Vessel

Most home beer brewers use glass carboys like this one for their secondary fermentor. Glass is generally seen as best for secondary fermentation because it keeps excess oxygen out. If beer becomes overly oxygenated it can pick up some off flavors.

The size of the secondary fermentor comes in to play also. In general you do not want much head space at the top of the secondary fermentor. Fermentation in the primary fermentor fills the head space with carbon dioxide, but usually there is not much fermentation in the secondary vessel so this space will be filled with oxygen. Once again, too much oxygen will cause problems with the beer.

If you are adding anything with fermentable sugar to the beer, though, such as dried fruits or some type of syrup, you will want some space at the top of the vessel to accommodate any fermentation that might take place as a result.

Have you tried using secondary fermentation? What was your experience with it? Let us know in the comments below!

Home Brewing Log Books

Home brewing supply stores usually offer  any type of beer brewing or wine making equipment that you would ever need. The books that they offer can be pretty limited, though.

Sometimes home brewing and wine making supply shops will have basic books on the how-to’s of beer brewing and wine making. Sometimes they will even have books about making cheese, cider or mead. Beyond that, though. You might not find much.

When I first started brewing beer I looked around for a good book that I could use to record all of the details about each batch of beer that I brewed. I like to keep detailed notes about the ingredients, the brewing process, and the fermenting process so that I can repeat a beer exactly in the future if I wish, or so that I can pinpoint where something might have gone wrong in a batch and improve it the next time I brew.

For a while I kept a log book using just a blank tablet of graph paper. Ittook forever to write out my notes on the blank paper each time, and if I wasn’t careful to format each page the same it would take me a long time to find the notes I wanted when scanning back through previous brews.

The books that were available online were pretty generalized. They said “home brewing log” or “journal” on the cover, but they were just lined pages inside. Not really a step up from the graph paper.

Finally I sat down one day and created my own brewing log format on my computer. I put together a journal that I liked and which helped me to take notes as efficiently as possible, and then I printed it out and started to use it. I liked it a lot.

Some of my friends liked the idea and wanted my log book as well. Eventually I figured that this journal design would be useful to a lot of people, so I made it available in a book format online. It took a little bit of tweaking, but I eventually worked it out so that the margins were wide enough to allow easy writing in the book but the size of the book was small enough to keep it affordable.

If you think that you or a brewer you know would benefit from quickly and accurately recording notes about their brewing experiments it might be worth your while to check out the Home Brewing Journal.

Journal Cover

The Home Brewing Journal is available in soft cover format on Amazon, Here, and in an extra-large hard cover format on Lulu, Here.

What do you use to record the details of your home brewing and wine making? Let us know in the comments below!

Yeast Starters

You are browsing through the local home brewing store. You want to pick out a beer ingredient kit to brew, and you want it to be something good and tasty. Maybe a porter, or maybe an IPA. All of the beers that you look at, though, say “Yeast Starter Recommended” on the label. What does that mean?

What is a Yeast Starter?

A yeast starter is a way of building up a strong culture of yeast ahead of brewing your beer so that if it is a stronger beer with more sugars to ferment the yeast will be able to handle it without being overwhelmed. In short, to make a yeast starter you brew a mini-batch of wort using just plain malt and add your yeast to it for an extended period of time. The yeast activates and starts fermenting that mini-batch but it also starts multiplying and becoming stronger.

What Do You Need for a Yeast Starter?

You honestly do not need much equipment to make a yeast starter. I have seen it done with nothing but a one-gallon pot, although the process is much easier and more sanitary if you use a pyrex Erlenmeyer flask like this one. Why? These flasks are temperature-resistant, so you can boil wort in them and then place them directly in an ice bath to cool without worry about glass shattering. They also have narrow necks so it is easier to prevent contamination in them. Finally, it is easy to set up these flasks with a stir plate to enhance the yeast activity.

The flasks come in several sizes, from 1 liter to 5 liters, but most of the time all you really need is a 1 liter flask. The larger flasks will be better for brewing very strong beers. Any home brewing supply store should at least have the Erlenmeyer flasks available, and most will also have stir plates available.

How Do You Make a Yeast Starter?

There are several steps to the yeast starter, but they are pretty simple. It can be done in about twenty minutes. Here is a video that I like from Beer Geek Nation that explains the process well:

That is all there is to it. Yeast starters are pretty simple and do not require very much equipment, but they go a long way in improving the quality of home brewed beer.

Read more about yeast starters with 7 Questions and Answers About Yeast Starters and Enhancing Yeast Starters.

Have you used a yeast starter before? What was your experience with it? Let us know in the comments below!

What In The World Am I Drinking? Ed. 2: Uerige “Alt”

Last time we looked at what beer from around the world I was drinking it was from the brewery Uerige Duffeldorf-Altftadt, and it was their “Sticke” which is a stronger version of an altibier. This time I tried the same brewery’s “Alt.”

It took me a while to figure out which beer I was drinking this time. For one thing, the label is all in German. In the same spot that the label said “Sticke” on the last bottle, this one said “Dat Leckere Droppke” and I could not find a beer by that name online. With a little bit of digging my wife was able to figure out that this is actually a slogan or motto for the brewery. With a little more digging we determined that I was drinking the “Alt.”

Drinking this beer side-by-side with the “Sticke” I would not have been able to guess that they were similar styles. The Alt was very fruity – the aroma made me think of grapes and the taste did as well. Once I got over the shock of the flavor I didn’t mind it, but I did not love it as much as the Sticke.

Here is what the beer looked like:

Uerige Alt

Uerige Alt

And here is my Beer Tasting Log Book entry for this beer:

Uerige Alt - Beer Tasting Log Entry

Uerige Alt – Beer Tasting Log Entry

Have you tried Uerige “Alt”? Leave a comment below and let us know what you thought of it.

The Best Piece of Equipment for Improving Your Home Brewing

 

We all want to brew great beer, but sometimes it feels like you have to invest hundreds of dollars into a fancy stainless steel brewing system to make beer that tastes decent.

There are parts of the brewing process that are tough to perform correctly for the beginning- to mid-level brewer.

Nowhere is the home brewing process more tricky than in the transfer of wort or beer from one vessel to another.

This might be from the kettle into a carboy for fermentation, or it might include a transfer from a primary fermentor to a secondary fermentor.

Not only do we want to prevent spills, but it is imperative to keep contaminants from entering the beer and in some cases it is necessary to prevent oxygen from mixing in.

You might be sucking on a hose to start a vacuum to transfer the beer (and dramatically increasing your odds of infecting the beer) or you might be trying to start a vacuum by filling the tubing with water and letting it drain out to pull the wort with it (meanwhile spilling all over your floor).

These are examples of doing things the hard way.

If you get to the end of the process and your beer just doesn’t taste very good, this might be one of the main reasons.

One of the biggest surprises for a new brewer is that there is an inexpensive piece of equipment that performs the transfer for you. It’s called an auto-siphon, and you can get a good one for just $15.

Auto-siphons are configured to allow you to form a vacuum and start pumping beer from one vessel to another with a couple of quick pumps of the handle.

Use of an auto-siphon reduces the risk of introducing contaminants and oxygen to the beer. It also removes the mess of spilling and the frustration of failed transfers.

Here is a quick (fairly low-quality) video demonstrating the use of an auto-siphon to start a transfer:

We recommend getting an auto-siphon like this one.

Have you ever used an auto-siphon for home brewing or wine making? What was your experience with it? Let us know in the comments below!

What In The World Am I Drinking? Ed. 1: Uerige “Sticke”

My wife had a brilliant idea the other day: we needed to use resealable beer bottles to package some of our Christmas gifts. It meant we needed to run down to the liquor store and find some beers that came in bottles with the little silver handles and rubber-sealed caps that seal the bottle tightly shut. It also meant I had to empty the bottles (aw shucks).

The coolest part about this process is that we picked up some beers that we otherwise would not have. The first few we got are from a brewery in Germany called Uerige Duffeldorf-Altftadt. All of the descriptions on the beers are written in German, so I had no idea of what kind of beers these were until I got home and looked them up.

Here is tonight’s beer, called Uerige Sticke, in a large photo so you can try to read it (if it looks illegible it may be the blurriness, or it may be that it’s in German):

Uerige Sticke

Uerige Sticke

 

Uerige Stick Top

and here is how it looked poured out:
Uerige Sticke

The style of this beer is “altbier” which translates to “old beer.” It is a style that originates from Dusseldorf in Germany, which is where the brewer of this beer is from. Altbier is a type of brown ale that is conditioned longer than usual, and a “sticke” is a stronger version of this. If you glace through the ratings by style on BeerAdvocate.com you will see that this altbier by Uerige is actually one of the higher ranked beers in this category in the world. Other beers that represent this category are Alaskan “Amber,” Widmer Bros “Alt,” and Terrapin “Tree Hugger.”

In my own estimation it is obvious why this particular beer is rated so highly. The color, flavor, smell, and mouthfeel of this beer are outstanding. Every sense that this beer affects it leaves happy.

I’ve been keeping my reflections on the tasting of beers in the Beer Tasting Log Book, so I just took a picture of my notes there to summarize my thoughts on this beer:

Have you tried Uerige Sticke? What did you think of it? Or have you ever tried a beer without knowing anything about it? How was the experience for you? Let us know in the comments section below!