Home » 2014 » February

What is Fermcap-S and How Does it Help Home Brewers?

On one of my trips to the local home brewing supply store an employee of the shop suggested I try something called “Fermcap-S.” It was a little brown vial of liquid, and he told me that it would solve any problems that I was having with boil-overs while brewing. I bought a vial and tried it out with great success, so I looked in to how else it could be used.


What is Fermcap Used For?

Fermcap breaks surface tension, preventing excessive foaming. If you add it to the boil while you are brewing beer it will prevent a boil-over. I have read several stories of brewers boiling seven gallons of wort in a 7.5 gallon kettle successfully with use of Fermcap.

If you add Fermcap to the fermentor after the brew it will prevent excessive blow-off. It is often recommended if you are using a carboy for a fermentor because it prevents the krausen (foam created during fermentation) from filling up the neck of the carboy. I recently fermented a strong porter in an Ale Pail and I still had problems with the krausen exploding through the airlock and causing a mess. I did not use Fermcap on that batch of beer because I ran out of it, but now I wish that I had run down to the home brewing store to pick up another vial.

Another use for Fermcap that did not occur to me, though it may be the most useful application, is for yeast starters. Yeast starter kits come with a pyrex Erlenmeyer flask for boiling/cooling small volumes of wort to use for growing yeast. The problem is that there is a very high risk for boil-overs when using a flask due to the shape and volume of the container. When I create a yeast starter I actually boil wort in a pot and then carefully pour the liquid into the flask after it has been cooled. This is a difficult and annoying extra step. Now I realize that adding a single drop of Fermcap to the flask will prevent a boil-over and make the whole process a LOT easier.

How to Use Fermcap for Brewing

Fermcap comes in a little vial with a dropper attached to the cap. If you are adding Fermcap to the boil kettle you add one to two drops per gallon of liquid being boiled. If you add it to the boil you do not need to add it to the fermentor separately.

If you are only adding Fermcap to the fermentor use two drops per gallon.

If you are using Fermcap in a yeast starter you just need to add one drop, since there is just a small volume of liquid in the flask.

Be careful not to add more than the recommended doses, as this will elevate the levels of silicone in your beer higher than FDA recommendations.

How Does Fermcap Affect the Beer?

If you add the Fermcap during the boil it will not affect your beer at all. It will settle out during the fermentation and it will be left behind when you transfer the beer out of the fermentor. If you add the Fermcap just for the fermentation it will increase the retained bitterness of the beer by about ten percent.


8 Things You Should Know About “Cold Crashing” Beer

Beer clarity is essential for many beer styles, and can make or break a beer in a competition. There are many ways to help clarify your beer, and some are easier than others.

A semi-advanced home brewing technique used to improve clarity is a process called “cold crashing.” Just hearing the term may bring to your imagination a much different process than what is actually involved in cold crashing.

If done correctly, cold crashing will give your beer a clean, crisp appearance.

1. What is Cold Crashing?

Cold crashing is a process used to clarify home brewed beer by cooling it to near-freezing temperatures before bottling. Cooling the beer actually encourages yeast and other sediment suspended in the beer to flocculate (group together) and sink to the bottom.

This allows you to transfer the beer out of the fermentor for bottling while leaving behind much of the sediment that would cause a haze in the finished beer.

2. How is Cold Crashing Done?

To cold crash a beer you simply need to place it in a temperature-controlled environment. A lagering fridge that is outfitted with a temperature controller (this controller is most often recommended) is ideal. Regular refrigerators actually fluctuate in temperature which causes problems with the beer, while a fridge with a controller is held at a constant temperature.

The cold crashing temperature that is recommended varies from 33 degrees F to 40 degrees F, with 38 degrees F being the most common.

The recommended duration of cold crashing also varies. Some brewers say that only a day or two is needed, but it is most common to cold crash for one week.

3. Can Both Lagers and Ales Be Cold Crashed?

Although cold fermentation is only done for lagers, cold crashing can be done on both ales and lagers.

4. When Should I Cold Crash?

Cold crashing should not be done until fermentation has finished. This is usually determined by using a well-sanitized hydrometer or a refractometer to measure the specific gravity of the beer. When the specific gravity is steady for three days in a row fermentation can be considered complete (if gravity is decreasing from one day to the next, fermentation is still taking place).

Cold crashing can be done in either the primary fermentor or the secondary fermentor, although it is probably most common to see it done after secondary fermentation to encourage an even clearer beer.

5. When Should I Dry Hop if I Plan to Cold Crash?

This is a common question that comes up with cold crashing: should the dry hopping process should be done differently.

“Dry hopping” is the practice of adding hops directly to the fermentor for the last few days of fermentation to impart some hoppy aroma to the beer. The question is whether the dry hopping should be done during the last few days of the cold crashing process rather than the last few days of the fermentation, before cold crashing.

There is concern that the hop acids which give the beer its hoppy aroma will dissipate over time, and adding them before the additional cold crashing time will reduce the overall hop aroma of the beer. While this might happen to a limited extent, it is generally advised that the dry hops be added at the regular point at the end fermentation. The cold temperatures of the crashing should prevent much of the aroma being lost.

6. Will Bottle Carbonation Take Longer if I Cold Crash My Beer?

Yes. Since cold crashing will remove some (but not all) of the yeast from the beer it will take longer to carbonate the beer in the bottle.

Bottle carbonation is done by yeast consuming the priming sugar that is added to the beer while bottling. The yeast gives off alcohol and carbon dioxide as a result, carbonating the beer. With fewer yeast cells it will take longer for this process to occur. Instead of setting aside the regular two weeks for carbonation you might be waiting three or four weeks, or sometimes even six weeks depending on the beer style.

7. Are There Other Methods of Clarifying Beer After Fermentation?

There are several different clarifying agents (or “fining agents”) that can be added to the beer after fermentation to promote clarity. Some examples are gelatin, Isinglass, Super Kleer KC, and Biofine Clear. A good example of how fining agents are used to clarify beer is shown in this video by Don Osborn:

8. Are There Methods of Clarifying Beer During The Brewing Process?

Yes, many of the proteins that cause hazing in beer can be precipitated out by cooling the wort rapidly after boiling using a wort chiller like this one:

Other additives can be used during the boil to help clarify beer as well. These include Irish Moss and Whirlfloc Tablets.

What methods have you found effective in clarifying your home brewed beer?

Batch Sparging, Fly Sparging, and Continuous Sparging

We recently talked about the processes of mashing and sparging while home brewing beer and what they involved. We only lightly touched on the process of sparging, which is also called “lautering.” There are actually a couple different types of sparging.

Batch Sparging

Batch sparging is the most simple form of sparging. After mashing you completely drain the liquid from the mash tun. More water is added to the mash tun, stirred, and then left to sit for at least half an hour before it too is drained. The two drained batches are typically combined to create the wort.


While batch sparging has historically been seen as less efficient than other methods, modern grains prepared specifically for brewing beer have allowed the efficiency of this process to become equal to other sparging methods. Batch sparging is desirable because it is a much faster process than other sparging methods.

Batch Sparging: Parti-Gyle Brewing

It is possible to create multiple different beers with the batches emptied from the batch sparging process because each successive batch will have a lower specific gravity than the previous and will create a lower-alcohol beer. Brewing in this fashion is called “Parti-Gyle Brewing.”

Usually in Parti-Gyle brewing the first batch that is sparged, called the “first runnings,” is used to create a strong beer, maybe a stout or IPA or a strong Scottish ale. The second runnings are used to create a middle-of-the-road beer,  such as a lower-strength Scottish ale. Any further runnings would be used to create a very light, low-alcohol “session” beer.

Fly Sparging

Fly sparging, also called “continuous sparging,” is a process that was created to maximize the efficiency of the brewing process by getting as much of the sugar out of the mash as possible. A “sparging arm” is used to slowly sprinkle water into the mash tun and the liquid in the mash tun is allowed to drain out at the same flow rate as the liquid is entering the container.

Equalizing the input and output flow rates allows the liquid containing the sugars from the mash to be drained from the mash tun equally, rather than allowing a “channel” to develop which allows water to flow out of the container while bypassing most of the grains and sugars. Channeling reduces the efficiency of the process.

Fly sparging is much more hands-on than batch sparging because it requires the brewer to monitor the input and output flow rates to keep them balanced, as well as monitoring the specific gravity of the water mixture in the mash tun. Usually when the specific gravity has dropped between 1.008 and 1.010 the sparging is stopped to prevent tannins and other undesirable material from entering the wort.

Have you tried either type of sparging? Which do you prefer and why?

What is “Mashout” in All Grain Brewing?

In our recent series about all-grain home brewing we have talked a lot about the mashing and sparging processes. If you read any all-grain recipes you will hopefully be able to understand what these processes consist of at this point. One term comes up regularly that you might find confusing, though. At the end of the mashing process, just before sparging, it is pretty common to see “mashout.” What does this mean?

The Definition of Mashout

Mashout is actually pretty simple. It means to bring the temperature of the mash up to 170 degrees F. This might be done by adding hot water to the mash, or by applying external heat to the vessel. Mashout can be usually be skipped without major consequences, but there are a couple of good reasons to perform this procedure.

Why Perform Mashout?

Raising the temperature of the mash to 170 degrees F stops any enzyme action that is going on in the mash. It essentially “freezes” the profile of sugars that will be in your wort. It is important to note that the tannins in grains will become more soluble above 170 degrees and will contribute off-flavors to the beer, so holding the temperature right at 170 degrees is important.

A second reason to mashout is that raising the temperature of the mash to 170 degrees also decreases the viscosity of the mixture by making the sugars a little more fluid. This will increase the flow of the liquid and decrease the time needed for sparging.

Have you utilized the mashout process in your brewing? What were your results?

What is “Malted” Barley?

We all use malted barley to make beer. It is the staple ingredient. What does “malted” mean, and why does barley have to be malted for brewing beer?

What is Malted Barley?

Malted barley is essentially barley which is sprouted and ready to grow into a plant. The maltster takes the grains of barley and soaks them. They are then laid out and brought to a set temperature in an aerated room where they are encouraged to grow. The barley is rotated regularly to encourage sprouting without setting down roots and to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.

The barley sprouts, and over the course of several days a small leaf called an acrospire grows within the grain (you actually have to split a grain open to see it). When the acrospire has grown to between 80% and 100% of the length of the grain the process is considered done (to the point that brewers would like).

Once the sprouting is complete the barley is dried at a constant temperature around 120 degrees F. This stops the growing process and traps the starches in the barley in a state that is ideal for brewing beer. The leafy stems that grow out of the barley during malting are removed from the grains, and they are ready for use. The barley is often roasted at this point to give malt different flavors that are used to changed the characteristics of beer.

Why is Barley Malted for Brewing Beer?

The starches and sugars that we need  during the brewing process are locked up in a “matrix” in unmalted barley. The malting process unlocks these starches and sugars, and creates enzymes needed to break them down into the sugars that are eventually used by yeast to ferment the beer.

Check this book out for more information!

What Is “Partial Mash” Home Brewing?

There are a few different methods to home brewing beer.

The simplest is called “extract brewing,” which means that you add extract from malted barley in a liquid or powder form to water to create wort. The sugars from the malted barley are extracted ahead of time and sold to you in a condensed form.

All the equipment you need to create this beer is a large kettle for boiling the water and the malt extract together.

Most home brewers start out with extract brewing.

The most complicated method of brewing beer is called “all-grain” brewing, which gives you more control over the flavor of the beer by allowing you to control the sugars that are extracted from the malt.

Extra equipment is needed for this style of brewing, requiring you to at least buy a couple of insulated coolers to perform the “mashing” and “sparging” processes. A quick primer on what “mashing” and “Sparging” are can be found here.

There is a lesser-known home brewing method that lies somewhere in the middle called “partial mash” brewing. This is not as complicated and does not require as much equipment as all-grain brewing, but it gives you more control over the beer than extract brewing.

How to Brew Partial Mash

Partial Mash Brewing Equipment

Partial mash brewing barely requires more equipment than extract brewing.

Alarge kettle, one that can hold at least four gallons, to serve as your mash tun and boil kettle, is needed.

In addition a second pot that can hold at least two gallons of water, a thermometer, and either a larger strainer or a nylon mesh bag for straining the grain during the sparging process are all required.

How Partial Mash Works

In partial mash brewing a mashing process is essentially performed in the brew kettle, not in an insulated mash tun. The process works like this:

  • Measure out a quart of water for every pound of grain that you will be using.
  • Heat the water to ten degrees F higher than the first specified mashing temperature in the recipe.
  • Add the grains to the water and make sure that the mixture stabilizes at the desired temperature. The grains should be crushed, meaning they are cracked open but not ground into powder.
  • Maintain the desired temperature for the specified time.
  • Use low heat to raise the mash to the second designated mash temperature in the recipe and then hold this temperature for the specified time.
  • In the second (smaller) kettle heat up an equal amount of water to what you started the mash with (a quart per pound of grain) to 170 degrees F. This will be your sparging water.
  • Raise the temperature of the mash to 168 degrees F (referred to as “mash-out”).
  • Use the strainer or mesh bag to separate the grain from the water (saving the water, which has now become your wort).
  • “Sparge” by slowly pouring the sparging water through the grain to rinse out the sugars. Add this water to the wort.
  • Add water if necessary to reach your normal boil volume.
  • Proceed as usual with the boil, adding malt extracts at this point.

You might be surprised at how simple this process is. Instead of solely pouring in malt extract, just heat water and grains to specific temperatures for a specific amount of time to alter the overall flavor of the beer and then add the extracts afterward.

This really lets you control the specifics of the beer’s flavor without the extra  expenditures of all-grain brewing.

Have you tried partial mash brewing? How has it worked for you?

Home Brewing: What are “Mashing,” “Sparging,” & “Lautering?”

Most home brewers start out with basic extract brewing equipment and then over time, if desired, improve their gear and move into all-grain home brewing.

All grain brewing gives the brewer more control over their beer, but it is more complicated and requires extra equipment.

Extract brewing means creating the beer with malt extract, a liquid or powder that contains the sugars from malted barley in a condensed form.

In all-grain brewing you create these sugars yourself through a process called “mashing.”

What is Mashing?

In the mashing process malted barley is heated in water to a certain temperature and kept it at a certain pH level to convert complex starches in the barley into simple sugars that can be used by yeast to create beer.

When barley is malted (before you buy it) the enzymes are created that are needed to break down the starches that are already present in the barley. Those enzymes are utilized in mashing to get the sugars that are needed to ferment beer.

The enzymes are active at certain temperatures and pH levels, so great care must be taken to control these variables during the mashing process.

A table explaining the temperature and pH levels needed to activate certain enzymes is provided in the classic home brewing book How to Brew by John Palmer.


“How to Brew” is a great resource for every brewer to have at the ready when they brew, but you can also find it online at www.HowToBrew.com and the table referenced above can be found Here.

What Brewing Equipment is Needed for Mashing?

Mashing, at least for home brewers in the early stages of their brewing, usually requires the use of insulated coolers with a false bottom and a ball valve.

The vessel in which the mashing takes place is called the “mash tun.” Such setups are sold at any home brewing store and look like this:

These coolers come in different sizes, typically varying from five to ten gallons. The size needed depends upon the batch size and type of beer being brewed.

Stop in to your local home brewing store and talk to one of their experts to determine the exact setup that will meet your desired standards.

You may also need to add an instrumentation for monitoring temperature and pH to your home brewing arsenal to ensure a high-quality mash.

What is Sparging or Lautering?

Sparging and lautering are two words that refer to the same thing.

After the mashing process the sugars that were converted from the barley are in suspension in the water in the container. Hot water (usually at a specific temperature) is added to the mash tun to run through the grain and pull all of the sugars along with it as it runs through the false bottom (which allows the water out while holding the grain back) and out through the valve in the container.

This creates the wort that is then boiled and hopped to make the beer.

Are you planning on making the jump to all-grain brewing soon?

Brewing Beer With Bourbon and Oak

I recently brewed a be that is a little different than anything I have brewed before. I have dry-hopped beer and I have added dried fruits and honey to beer before, but on this beer I will be adding oak cubes and bourbon.

Unusual Home Brewing Supplies

If you stop in to your local home brewing store you will probably see a whole section of unusual brewing ingredients that you might not have realized can be added to beer. Dried fruit is a popular one, especially for the Christmas season or in the hot days of summer, and honey and coffee are also popular additives. There are many spices such as coriander and anise that can be added. I have even seen such things as rose hips, spearmint, ginger, and lavender at the store down the street from me, though I would have to think that most of those are actually better for adding to wine.
I have even tried a stout that was fermented with spruce tips, although I would have to say that it was not a phenomenal beer in my estimation. I have also heard that some breweries, like Alaskan, use spruce tips in a few beers with great success. This is something that I might have to try out sometime.

Wood As A Home Brewing Ingredient

Occassionally you hear about beer being aged in used bourbon barrels or in other styles of barrel. This seems to be an especially popular practice with porters and stouts. Used barrels are not cheap to acquire, though, which is why home brewing stores offer cubes of different types of wood to use in flavoring your beer.
The wood cubes that you buy from a brewing supply shop are not going to be pre-conditioned with a flavor like bourbon as an aging barrel would be. How do you get the same flavor then? The instructions in the kit that I bought say to soak the cubes in bourbon for one to two days and the add the cubes to the secondary fermenter for two weeks or so. This is after the beer was conditioned in the primary fermenter for two weeks and then transferred to the secondary fermenter and conditioned for two to three more weeks.
At the same time that you add the oak cubes you also add a pint of bourbon straight into the beer. This intrigues me quite a bit. Although the bourbon will be diluted into five gallons of beer it will surely contribute to the alcohol content of the beer and, of course, the flavor. Part of me wants to do an experiment – bottle some of the porter without the bourbon or the oak cube conditioning, condition some with just oak cubes (no idea how I would pull that off unless I used a growler or picked up an inexpensive one-gallon experimental brewing kit to use for the conditioning) and condition the rest of the beer with both the bourbon and the oak cubes. It would be very interesting to see the subtleties of difference between all three.
Have you ever brewed with any type of wood for conditioning the beer? How did it work for you?