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“Gardening for the Homebrewer” Book Review

As the temperatures warm and gardens are planned, home brewers and other DIY beverage enthusiasts might consider taking a swing at growing ingredients for their concoctions from home, rather than purchasing them.

Most people do not know anybody who has grown hops, barley, grapes, or other useful beverage ingredients in their home gardens, so it might appear to be a difficult task.

In fact, these plants are not terribly difficult to grow, harvest, and prepare on your own. The comeback of home craft beverage making has recently increased the popularity of raising these plants in backyard gardens.

You know the feeling of accomplishment, and the extra level of tastiness, involved with enjoying a beer or wine that you made from scratch. That feelin will be raised even higher when you make a beverage from scratch, using ingredients that you tended over the course of a summer and harvested from your own yard.

In the search to learn more about enhancing our home brewing through the garden we came across a very useful resource by Wendy Tweten and Debbie Teashon, appropriately titled “Gardening for the Homebrewer.

What the Book Accomplishes

The authors of this book make sure to clearly state that they are first gardeners and then homebrewers. Their specialty is the typical brewer’s weakness – gardening – but they have enough knowledge about making beer, wine, cider, and other craft beverages to provide a useful resource for leveraging the garden to produce these drinks.

The book gives basic information about the process of brewing, fermenting, or otherwise preparing each type of beverage, but only enough to make sure that you know where each garden ingredient fits into the process.

The authors generally assume that you know what you are doing to the point that you can, for example, brew a batch of beer and feel comfortable making small adaptations to a recipe to work with the plants that you are growing.

Topics Discussed in the Book

The book covers the topics of gardening for making beer, wine, cider, perry, and liqueurs.

In general, each chapter talks about the various plants that can be grown for use in these beverages and provides the basic background about each plant, how much is needed for brewing, the regions where it grows best, and tips for growing it (such as space, soil, light, and water requirements, as well as management and harvesting tips).

In many cases, there is also a recipe included to illustrate how the plant can be incorporated into a brew.

As far as the beverages go, here is a little detail about what each section covers:

Beer Brewing

The growing, harvesting, and processing hops and barley is covered in detail, including the malting of barley. Neither of these are as difficult as they sound. Hops are especially reasonable for the novice gardener to start growing in many different climates.

Different plants and herbs that can be used to flavor beer are introduced, and considerations are discussed for planting a garden based on what you want to accomplish with your beer.

Wine Making

While much space is dedicated to the discussion of raising wine grapes, for obvious reasons, this book also discusses fruit wines and the pairing of various fruits and herbs for wine. The fruits that make great wine, and their growing properties, are explained in detail.

Cider Making

Although beer and wine making is going to be the most relevant for most readers, this book is really unique because of the information it gives about other drinks.

For the avid home brewer or vintner cider may seem like the cop-out chosen by those who can’t appreciate or handle a well-crafted beer or wine. If this is you, the chapter on cider making in this book will completely change your perspective and have you longing for the autumn apple harvest.

Did you know that hard cider was once a very prevalent beverage across North America due to the ease with which apples grow and the minimal equipment needed to produce the cider?

The diversity of cider apple trees across the United States was destroyed with the onset of Prohibition, when growers began to favor dessert varieties for eating, making it harder to find good cider apple trees these days.

In just the last few years there has been a reawakening of craft cider making and cider apple varieties are finally on the rebound.

This section of the book discusses the selection of apple varieties, finding the best site on your property for the trees, planting, grafting, and pruning trees, and harvesting, preparing, and fermenting the apples.

It is possible to grow some varieties of apples almost anywhere in the United States, so after reading about growing apples for hard cider at home you may well find yourself investing in the trees for this simple and delicious DIY beverage.

Perry Making

Perry is not as familiar as beer, wine, or cider, though it is quite similar to cider. It is in fact made in the same way as cider, only using perry pears (as opposed to “dessert” varieties of pears).

Perry is like a fancy cider, historically enjoyed by those on the higher rungs of the societal ladder.

Like cider apples, true perry pear trees fell out of favor and have become hard to find. Perry is a beverage that has never had a large profile in the United States, but with the rise of craft beverages lately it has started to grow in popularity.

Just like with cider, this book discusses the selection of perry pear varieties, the grafting, pruning, and harvesting processes for the pear trees, and the process for preparing and fermenting the pears into perry (which has some slight differences from cider and takes a little longer).

Liqueurs

The book ends on a slightly different style of beverage, one that is not fermented at home but rather uses ready-made alcohol mixed with various ingredients from the garden to produce a fantastic result.

Liqueurs, sometimes called cordials, are mixtures of fruits and/or herbs with alcohol to which a simple syrup is added for sweetening. Infused spirits are the same, but without the syrup. Examples of these that you may recognize are Benedictine and Chartreuse.

If you have never made liqueurs or infusions before you will be capable after simply reading this section of the book. This is the only section of “Gardening for the Homebrewer” where you would not need to seek more informational resources in order to be equipped to start out in the hobby with no prior experience.

With beer, wine, cider, and perry it is advisable to either have knowledge of the process already or seek more fundamental instruction on how to carry out these processes before moving forward with the information in this book.

The great thing about liqueurs is that they are quick and easy to make. One or more herbs and fruits from the garden are added to vodka or some other liquor with at least 40% alcohol content, and the mixture is left to sit in a sealed container for hours or days and then strained off to provide the flavored liqueur.

With no fermentation to wait for, and herbs being some of the simplest and fastest plants to grow in the garden (or in a pot in your house), this is a great option for trying new flavors without a big investment in time and resources.

The book walks you through the selection and growing of the relevant herbs and provides some simple recipes that you can use to be enjoying your own liqueur within the next few days.

Overall Thoughts on the Book

Without a doubt, this book gets two thumbs up. It is written to be engaging and approachable for the average home brewer who may not have deep knowledge of gardening. The authors know what you need to know, and they give that to you without bogging the book down with extra information that is not necessary.

As was said earlier, this book is not the best resource to teach you how to make beer, wine, cider, or perry (though it will get you started on liqueurs pretty well). You will want to learn those hobbies through other means.

If you would like to take these hobbies to the next level by growing your own ingredients, however, “Gardening for the Homebrewer” is a must-have resource.

If you like to make you own beer, wine, cider, perry, or liqueur and would like to start growing some of your own ingredients at home to supplement the hobby, you need to take a look at this book.

Click Here to Learn More about “Gardening for the Homebrewer” by Wendy Tweten and Debbie Teashon

 

Controlling Fermentation Temperature

What is the most basic and critical factor that drives the fermentation of your beer? Obviously, the yeast. Did you realize, though, that the temperature at which fermentation occurs will dramatically affect the flavor of your beer?
Each yeast strain has a narrow range of temperatures at which the ideal fermentation will occur. Too warm, off-flavors will be formed in the beer. Too cold, fermentation will not be vigorous enough to complete.
When I started home brewing beer I was letting it ferment in the hallway of an apartment without air conditioning, in the middle of summer, at temperatures of 80 to 85 degrees. I did not realize at the time that this is what was causing my beer to have some funky off-flavors.
The ideal fermentation temperature for most types of ale yeast is in the mid-60’s Fahrenheit (lager yeasts like it cooler). In many areas it is difficult to keep fermenting beer at this temperature because it is too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter.
Even with forced air heating or cooling your house, there is likely to be a several-degree swing in temperature
There are some tricks that can be used to help the beer ferment at a steadier temperature, though:

Keeping Beer Warm Enough

Carboy Parkas

If you have to ferment you beer in a basement or garage in the winter (I’ve even had difficulties in an unused spare bedroom in the winter) you likely will not have the sufficiently warm 65 degree ambient air temperature that you need.
A simple way to keep your fermentor warm enough (if you are fermenting in a carboy, rather than a bucket) is a carboy parka. These come in many different variations, but they are always a fitted cover that is meant to provide insulation to reduce temperature fluctuations.
These work especially well because the process of fermentation will naturally heat up the vessel, in some cases as much as ten or fifteen degrees, and the parka will keep this warmth in. Carboy parkas also have the benefit of blocking out harmful UV rays from the beer.
Some carboy parkas are really basic, and some nicer ones (like the one pictured below) are made of a more insulated material and come with handles for moving the carboy easily.

Electric Carboy Parka with Handles

Electric Carboy Heaters

If a carboy parka just isn’t enough to keep your beer up to fermentation temperature then an electric carboy heater (like the one pictured below) is the way to go. These are simply electric heater pads that hook up to a temperature controller to keep your beer at a very specific temperature. They can be used on glass, plastic, and metal fermentors.There is not any guessing involved about the temperature, like there might be with a carboy parka. Electric carboy heaters will keep your fermentor warm enough no matter the conditions.

Electric Carboy Heater

Keeping Beer Cool Enough

Swamp Coolers

The most basic method of keeping a fermentation vessel cool enough in hot temperatures is commonly referred to as a “swamp cooler.” This term refers to keeping the fermentation vessel in a tub of water filled up at least to the level of the beer in the fermentor. Since water is more resistant to temperature change than air, it will not heat up as quickly or cool off as quickly as the air in the room. A floating thermometer can be placed in the swamp cooler, or an adhesive thermometer label called a Fermometer can be placed on the outside of the fermentation vessel to monitor temperature.
Even outside of avoiding temperature extremes, it is easier to control the temperature of the fermentation when the fermentor is surrounded by water. If the water is too warm it is easy to add ice or a frozen bottle of water to cool it off. It is even possible to set up a pump to circulate water from a tub of ice water into the swamp cooler. The pump can be activated by a temperature probe if the water in the swamp cooler gets above a specified temperature .
If it is difficult to keep the fermentor cool enough you can also wrap it in a towel, with just the bottom of the towel touching the swamp cooler water. The towel will wick water up to cover the fermentor, and as the water evaporates away it will naturally cool the fermentor. For an added boost to the cooling, place a fan nearby and have it blow past the vessel to encourage more rapid evaporation.
If the water in the swamp cooler gets too cold, an aquarium heater can be dropped in to heat it up.
Swamp coolers are a great option if you are looking for a way to automate temperature control without committing a lot of money or space to a converted chest freezer (see fermentation chambers, below).

Fermentation Cooler Bags

A simple alternative to swamp coolers are Fermentation Cooler Bags, like this one, that are essentially the cooling version of a carboy parka.
Cooler bags are made of heavy-duty insulated material into which you place your fermentor and bottles of frozen water. Each one-liter bottle of ice will typically cool the fermentation temperature by about five degrees Fahrenheit, down to about 30 degrees below the ambient room temperature.

Fermentation Cooler Bag

Fermentation Chambers

A more sophisticated method of stabilizing fermentation temperature is to build a fermentation chamber.

Most fermentation chambers are built from an insulated container such as an old refrigerator or freezer. A temperature controller is used to regulate the temperature of the chamber. If the chamber is kept in a cold area, such as a garage, a heater may actually have to be placed in the chamber to keep it from getting too cold.
Monitoring the temperature of your wort in a fermentation chamber is a little more tricky than doing so in a swamp cooler. The wort will heat up and cool down more slowly than the air in the chamber, so to obtain a more accurate reading you need to either add a temperature probe to the wort, or add a probe to a container of water that is also in the chamber to mimic the wort temperature.
A nice piece of equipment that will help regulate your fermentation chamber is a switch that can be activated by a temperature probe. When the temperature in the chamber falls outside of the specified range the switch will activate either the refrigerator or the heater as necessary.
Have you tried any other methods of controlling fermentation temperature? Tell us how they worked for you in the comments below!
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Simple Advice from a Home Brewing Professional

Last week I was in my local home brewing supply store asking an employee about the finer points of a specific brewing process that I was about to try for the first time.

He gave me a very non-specific, but helpful answer.

“For hundreds of years illiterate Germans were able to brew incredible beer by throwing hot stones into wood vats to boil wort. They didn’t even know what yeast was. Just try things out and you will be ok.”

So, there you have it. Sometimes we need to stop thinking so much about making beer, and just make beer!

4 Questions and Answers About First Wort Hops

A slightly advanced technique that you might come across if you begin brewing using “partial mash” or “all grain” techniques is called “first wort hopping.” This is a technique that caught me off guard when I bought my first partial mash kit – good thing I actually read the instructions for that brew!

What Are First Wort Hops?

“First Wort Hopping” refers to adding hops to the boil kettle and then running the wort in on top of them as you sparge. This all takes place before the boil, where you would normally add the hops. This is actually an old technique that was re-discovered in the last twenty years.

Why Use First Wort Hopping?

There are two big advantages to first wort hopping: it increases the overall bitterness of the beer by about ten percent without adding extra hops, and it produces a more uniform bitterness rather than a “sharp” flavor. Both of these changes take place because the hops are added when the wort is hot but not yet boiling. This causes some processes to occur within the wort to increase hop utilization and prevent some of the more aromatic oils in the hops from boiling off.

What Hops Are Best For First Wort Hopping?

Hops that are low in alpha acid work best as first wort hops because they do not cause a sharp increase in bitterness. Instead, they enhance bitterness while producing a smoother flavor and smell.

Most sources recommend using about 30 percent of your hop schedule as first wort hops. Some say to simply move your first hop additions from the beginning of the boil to the first wort hopping phase, but most (including John Palmer) recommend taking the hops from your late (“aromatic”) hop additions. The later hop additions are typically lower in alpha acid and work better as first wort hops.

What Beer Styles Should Utilize First Wort Hops?

The best styles for using first wort hops are those that emphasize the hop profile of the beer. Typically this includes pale ales, IPAs, ESBs, and some pilsners, but experimentation can be done with other styles. I have even heard of first wort hops working well in Belgian tripels and wit beers.

Do you have any experience with first wort hopping? How has it worked for you?

5 Things You Should Know About Sour Beer

Every few years a different style of beer becomes the new darling of home brewers and takes over the discussion of the craft beer world.

For a while it was the IPA, and there was a time that everybody was talking about and brewing Russian Imperial Stouts. There was even a period of Belgian beers.

Lately the trend has been sour beers.

Sour beer historically has been difficult to find and expensive to buy in the United States, so many craft beer lovers are unfamiliar with it.

1. What Is Sour Beer?

Sour beer is specifically brewed and fermented to have a sour taste, which can range from the slightly tart to the very sour. Some varieties even described as having qualities similar to the face-puckering candy “Warheads”.

These beers have a high acidity and improve with age over the course of several years.

2. What Are the Characteristics of Sour Beers?

The color of sour beers ranges from a pale golden color to brown. The hop flavor in these beers is usually subdued, coming in at only 20-40 IBUs. The carbonation is usually very noticeable, and the mouthfeel of the beer is light to medium.

There is a large range of alcohol contents between sour beers, but they usually fall between four and nine percent alcohol by volume. The beer styles most often associated with sour beers are the Flanders red ale and the Belgian lambic.

3. How Are Sour Beers Made?

There is a heftier price tag for sour beers because they are very difficult to make well, almost impossible to reproduce consistently, and take a long time to brew and ferment.

Sour beers are brewed like a normal beer but they are typically aged in a wood barrel, often a wine barrel. A strain of yeast called Brettanomyces is most often used to give the beer a unique flavor, and a couple of specific strains of bacteria are added to help the beer acquire the sour flavor.

Some brewers will even expose their beer to the outdoors to allow wild strains of yeast to work on the beer. The beer takes a long time to ferment and pick up the sour taste – at least six months, but more often between one and three years. The brewmaster will taste the beer periodically during that time and can make adjustments to the flavor by adding different strains of bacteria.

4. Why Are Wood Barrels Used to Make Sour Beers?

The wood barrels are important to the sour beer making process. The barrels contain bacteria from the wine that they had previously held, and this bacteria aids in the aging and souring of the beer.

The wood allows some air to permeate and diffuse into the barrel, which feeds the Brettanomyces yeast and helps it to do its work on the beer.

5. Why is There Inconsistency In Sour Beers from One Batch to the Next?

There are so many variables at play in sour beers – the beer ingredients, the bacteria that are added, and the bacteria in the barrels, among others – that it is tough to reproduce a sour beer consistently. Even within the same batch different fermenting barrels will produce different flavors.

The brewmaster can make adjustments with bacteria, but even then some barrels from every batch have to be dumped because they simply do not turn out well. This is what drives up the price of sour beers and makes them discouraging for breweries to produce.

Even with all of the difficulties in producing sour beers, and the long wait from brew date to enjoyment date, we are seeing and increasing demand for this style and an increased supply from breweries as a result.

Have you tried a sour beer? Which is your favorite?

Enhancing Yeast Starters

A great way to improve the overall quality of your beer and to ensure a great fermentation is to use a yeast starter.

This post builds on our previous posts, an introduction to Yeast Starters and 7 Questions and Answers About Yeast Starters.

If you would like to improve the process even further it is possible to enhance the yeast starter using one of a few different methods.

Swirling

As simple as it sounds, swirling a yeast starter every couple of hours will actually help you to grow more yeast. As the yeast starter sits still everything begins to settle to the bottom. When yeast piles up at the bottom of the flask it can not consume the sugars in the wort effectively, thus it can not multiply and strengthen. When you swirl the solution the yeast returns to suspension and can work more efficiently.

Constant Swirling

The only thing better than swirling your yeast starter regularly is swirling it constantly. This can be done with a stir plate. You can pick up a stir plate at just about any home brewing supply store. It is simply a platform that magnetically spins a little bar, which you place inside the flask with the yeast starter. As the bar spins it creates a vortex which constantly swirls the entire yeast starter. Stir plates can seem expensive for having a limited task, but the service they provide improves the output of your yeast greatly.

Aeration

A great way to help yeast proliferate is to add oxygen to the yeast starter. This can be done by shaking the flask fairly vigorously or even by setting up a diffusion stone to disperse oxygen into the beer. This setup can be tricky to pull off in a controlled yeast starter environment, and it brings other challenges. When oxygen is vigorously introduced into fermenting beer it produces diacetyl, which causes an off-flavor in the beer.

If you use this method of enhancing your yeast starter it will be necessary to refrigerate the starter for several hours to encourage the yeast to settle out. The liquid is then decanted off of the settled yeast, leaving only enough liquid to use in suspending the yeast so that it can be poured out. Since swirling the yeast starter using a stir plate introduces some oxygen to the wort anyway, you might find it easier to just use that method instead.

Temperature

This one is simple: no matter what type of yeast you are using, let the yeast starter incubate at temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees F to encourage yeast growth. Yes, this temperature works even if you are using a lager yeast that is generally kept at lower temperatures.

Yeast Nutrients

These days there is some debate about whether it is necessary to add yeast nutrients to a starter. Since liquid yeasts are produced to be quite robust and are packaged with nutrients already, it is possible that adding extra nutrients will not in fact be used by the already-satisfied yeast, but will instead be used by other organisms which will then grow and possibly cause off-flavors in the beer. Even so, many brewers still encourage the use of just a pinch of yeast nutrient for yeast starters. Often, the recommended quantity is just 1/8 of a teaspoon per pint of yeast starter. This enhances the viability of the yeast and speeds up fermentation.

Great Yeast Starter Information

An excellent video about yeast starters by Northern Brewer:

Have you tried any other methods of enhancing your yeast starters? What has worked well for you?

7 Questions and Answers About Yeast Starters

Taking your home brew to the next level requires some upgrades in your brewing process, and one of the most essential upgrades needs to be your yeast.

If you are brewing a strong beer, or would simply like to ensure that there is enough yeast to ferment your brew, the cheapest and most effective way to do so is with a yeast starter.

1. What is a Yeast Starter?

A yeast starter is a mini-batch of wort that is prepared to help yeast activate and multiply before being added to an actual batch of wort. A small batch of light dry malt extract is boiled and cooled, then a packet of yeast is added and allowed to grow for a day or so.

You can read an Introduction to Yeast Starters Here.

2. What Are the Benefits of a Yeast Starter?

There are at least five huge benefits to using a yeast starter:

1. A yeast starter will help yeast multiply so that there is a sufficient number of yeast cells to perform the fermentation, especially when brewing a stronger beer or a higher-volume batch.

2. Have you ever checked the manufacture date of your yeast? The older it is, the less viable the yeast cells are. If yeast is getting old and is less healthy (less viable) than usual, a yeast starter will bring it back up to strength.

3. Yeast will take action faster when added to the wort, limiting the chances for other microbes to take over and infect the beer.

4. While the same effect of raising yeast cell count can be achieved by buying two packages of yeast, the yeast starter will give the yeast a little bit of a kick-start and reduce the “shock” of being pitched into the environment of a strong batch of wort.

5. The boosted yeast cell count and the kick-started yeast will accelerate the fermentation process.

3.  When Should I Use a Yeast Starter?

There is rarely a time a yeast starter will not serve a brew well. A yeast starter is not always necessary when brewing lower-gravity (less alcoholic) beers, but it still brings benefits that will improve the beer.

In many cases a yeast starter is crucial. Brews with an expected original specific gravity of 1.060 or higher require a yeast starter to provide sufficient yeast for fermentation of such a strong brew.

Many brewers actually swear by yeast starters on any beer with a starting gravity as low as 1.040. Some home brewing stores say that all of their employees use a yeast starter for every single batch that they brew.

4. When Should I Not Use a Yeast Starter?

It is safe to pass on a yeast starter for an especially small batch of beer or one that has a low starting gravity. In these cases, adding too much yeast might cause the formation of some off-flavors.

When dry yeast is used for fermentation (as opposed to packets or vials of yeast in a solution) it is actually cheaper to just buy more packets of dry yeast than to buy the necessary ingredients for a yeast starter. Dry yeast does need to be activated in water before pitching it into the wort, but this is different than making a yeast starter for it.

5. What Volume Should My Yeast Starter Be?

The volume necessary for your yeast starter depends on multiple factors including the batch size and starting gravity of your beer and the age of the yeast you are using. In general the liquid yeast that you buy from the local home brewing supply store can be sufficient for a five gallon batch up to a starting gravity of 1.060 if the yeast is relatively young.

It is important to remember that the viability of the yeast (essentially, its health) decreases rapidly. If your yeast package was produced a month ago it is only 75-80% viable, meaning it has lost 20-25% of that original fermentation power.

There are formulas that will help determine the proper starter size after taking these factors into consideration, but we recommend using the handy MrMalty.com Calculator to make this process a lot easier.

Most home brewing supply stores sell yeast starter kits in both a One Liter size and a Two Liter size. Some supply shops even sell yeast starter kits in a Five Liter size. We have found a two liter yeast starter kit to work well for most everything that we brew.

6. What Specific Gravity is Ideal for a Yeast Starter?

Even if brewing a beer with a very high starting gravity a strong starter wort is not ideal. Create a starter wort with a gravity of between 1.030 and 1.040. Wyeast Labs, one of the two big producers of brewers yeast, recommends a gravity of 1.040 for yeast starters.

The idea is to create a starter that makes it easy for the yeast to activate and start multiplying. Creating a starter that is too strong might actually overwhelm the yeast and prevent it from becoming stronger.

7. How Do I Make a Yeast Starter?

If you are unsure about the details of making a yeast starter check out our post about that (with video) Here.

Want to learn how to enhance your yeast starter? Read more Here.

Want to learn more about yeast in general? Check out this book.

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?