an update on the wheaton and son homebrewing experience

Today, Ryan and I racked (that's fancy homebrew language for "moved") our beer from its primary fermentation into its secondary fermentation. We know now that we probably moved it a little early, but since we're learning and everything, we'll just chalk it up to experience and hope for the best.

I've been worried about our beer (I know, I know, that's explicitly contraindicated by the system's operating instructions, but it's part of my firmware), because we made some mistakes: we didn't oxygenate it nearly enough after the coldbreak, we didn't rehydrate the yeast, and we forgot to put liquid into our fermentation lock for close to 24 hours.

Whoops. Kind of important things, there, it turns out. I understand that it isn't the biggest of deals, and we're going to learn from our mistakes for our next batch, but I still feel a little silly for making, well, rookie mistakes.

I never saw bubbles in the fermentation lock (our primary was a bucket), even after we put some vodak into the fermentation lock, but I just hoped for the best … and got a plesant surprise a few days ago when I bumped the lid and the lock bubbled, indicating positive pressure inside, and GOOD THINGS HAPPENING GO YEAST GO HUZZAH! This morning, we took a SG reading and saw that it had moved from 1.045 to 1.022 (temperature corrected). I couldn't find anything in our notes or on the recipe that told me when it was safe to rack it to secondary (which, I also know, isn't something you need to do with an APA, but a choice we made anyway) so I assumed that, since it was a bit more than a week later and the SG had fallen, we were safe to move it and let it keep fermenting in the carboy.

I think we may have racked it too soon, because I'm told by the Twitters that I should have waited until it was closer to 1.018 … and I may have screwed my FG if I didn't get enough active yeast into the secondary.

But even if we messed up, I'm not all that upset about it. It was still really fun and exciting to see and smell our beer for the first time since we locked it away in the fermentor. We're not giving up on this one, and we planned to do another batch pretty soon, anyway. In fact, I have two kits coming from the Brooklyn Brew Shop that we're going to make next week.

Question for the Homebrewers: did we screw up? If we did, how badly did we screw up? I don't think we got enough yeast into the secondary, because there was a huge yeastcake on the bottom of the primary when we were done. Can/should we pitch some more yeast into the carboy?

67 thoughts on “an update on the wheaton and son homebrewing experience”

  1. You’re fine, don’t worry about it too much. Generally, you want to do a couple days of checking SG. When it doesn’t move for a couple days, then you rack/bottle/whatever.
    As it stands, (as people have said) you might not have enough yeast, which means you’ll have residual sugars, which just means it’ll be a little sweeter than it should be, and a little less alcoholic.
    Either way, it will still be beer, and drinkable and awesome.

  2. No, you probably didn’t really screw up at all. Don’t bother pitching more yeast. The active yeast is microscopic, so you’ve still got several billion of them in the secondary.
    If you’re concerned, wait a week and take a gravity reading again. You’ll probably see that it changed. What you are describing is basically my standard procedure for most beers – one week in primary, one week in secondary. I don’t even bother with gravity readings anymore!

  3. Honestly? It is pretty hard to screw up homebrew. With the exception of improper sanitation almost any mistake can be recovered from with just a bit more time. You’ve got nothing to worry about.

  4. Screw up? Nope. You still made beer!
    Will it be the best beer ever? Nope, but you still made beer!
    None of the mistakes you mentioned (oxygenate, rehydrate yeast, airlock) are terrible. I never rehydrate dry yeast and I always have a few spare packs handy.
    Biggest thing I’ve learn is patience. My first batch I bottled way too early and it wasn’t very good. Everything after that has been good (with a few GREAT). Three weeks primary is minimum for me on everything except Hefe’s.
    Check your gravity in another week, I’ll bet it will have dropped a little more. Mark it down as experience and move on the the second batch.
    RDWHAHB – Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew

  5. The words to live by are “relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.” or RDWHAHB, which sounds like one of Cthulu’s cousins to be quite honest.
    Of course since this is your first brew you might have to buy a beer or two ;-). Learning to homebrew is an improvement process, but it never turns out as bad as you think it will, it’s almost always tasty and good in the end and you get better with practice.

  6. As long as your beer is drinkable it was not a mistake, it was a controlled experiment. .004 points is not a ton, your beer may just turn out a little sweeter than expected but in a week or so it can go down that much. You still have a lot of yeast suspended in solution. Everytime you move it you expose the beer to oxygen so don’t worry.
    I never even worry about racking to secondary. It won’t hurt anything to let the beer sit on yeast, you won’t pick up off flavors from dead yeast for 6 weeks or more.
    If you are really worried take a clean and sanitized turkey baster and steal a sample. As long as it tastes ok you are fine. At this point it will be a little yeasty and sweet. If it tastes like cardboard or nail polish you are in trouble.

  7. I’d say you probably screwed up a little, but not in a really lasting way. My first batch was a nightmare, and I made quite a few mistakes but it turned out to be perfectly drinkable beer. Let it sit in secondary for a couple of weeks before bottling and just make sure to take gravity readings before bottling. If it is the same three times/days in a row then bottle. Beer is by no means a weak and delicate flower. Be patient and all will turn out well.

  8. Go to http://www.homebrewtalk.com, free register, Forums, Beginner’s Beer Brewing forum, and read the ‘Is My Beer Ruined Thread.’ Some of the answers are hilarious. Based on your post, you’re fine.
    Turns out you really need to mess up to ruin your beer, it may not be the strongest batch, but you can make up for it with your next one. Remember, RDWHAHB! (Relax, Don’t Worry, Have A Home Brew!)

  9. Hey Wil,
    I don’t think you have screwed up the batch. There should still be enough yeast in suspension. It may take a little longer to convert the alcohol. I have found that most homebrew batches are pretty forgiving. The best advice I can give is to let it sit. In a week or two start checking the gravity every day. Once it stabilizes you can proceed with bottling or kegging. Good luck, and glad you guys are having fun.
    Cheers,
    James

  10. It’s not a big deal. You’re using Ale Yeast which is top fermenting. You should see it on the top of the fermenting beer. There is some possibility of contamination from not having water in the airlock for the first 24 hours, but it’s not like the beer had a massive opening to the world. I wouldn’t worry about it, and honestly, it’s not worth freaking out about. In a few weeks you’ll drink it and it’ll be good, or… off. You’ll have some lessons learned that will make your next batch better.
    I always rack after the first week or so. I use liquid yeast from white labs so I typically have active fermentation after 12 hours. There ends up being a lot of trub (gunk, proteins, dead yeast cells, vegentable matter from hops and grains that settle out) at the bottom of the fermenter, it’s not just yeast, and though I’ve been told not to worry to much (relax) if your beer spends too much time on that yeast cake you could get some off flavors. It would likely take a big beer and a month on the yeast cake to make it noticeable.
    Make sure you keep your fermenter and beer between 65 – 75 degrees. That’s the best temp for the yeast to flourish. Also, I hope you took a sample out of the fermenter or the gravity and dumped it out (not returning it to the fermenter). That prevents contamination of the beer. If you tooke the measurement in the fermenter, or dumped the sample back in don’t worry about it (relax). Since your beer has alcohol in it now the chance of some other microbe destroying your beer is low. Just learn from this batch for the next one.
    Leave it over night and see if you get any more activity. It’s going to be subtle if there is any since your SG is so low. Be patient and let the little guys do their thing.

  11. First of all, to quote Charlie Papazian: “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew!”
    Usually your primary should ferment between 5-7 days, but really depends on when the activity drops, as well as the yeast. When there is little activity and the yeast has formed a good cake at the bottom, I rack to secondary.
    The goal of secondary is to let the beer finish fermenting, clear and do any dry hopping (if you so choose). You actually don’t want to allow much, if any, of the trub or yeast to siphon over to the secondary. But believe me, there will be enough yeast still in suspension to allow the beer to ferment out and eventually reach your FG.
    If after a week your gravity is still around 1.020 you could pitch some fresh yeast (I recommend liquid yeast from White Labs or Wyeast) into the secondary, give it a swirl and let the beasties do their job. But before you do that give your beer a taste. If it tastes too sweet, then consider adding a boost of yeast. Or if it tastes good to ya, bottle that bad boy.
    I’ve never heard of Brooklyn Brew Shop as I shop locally (well, relatively local) at a full service shop in Woodland Hills. Check out http://www.homebeerwinecheese.com/ (cheesy website, but GREAT store). If you need liquid yeast, check them out. They also sell kits, but very quickly you’ll find yourself creating your own recipes. I also recommend a recipe book called “CloneBrews (2nd ed.) Great recipes and advice to start cloning/creating your own.
    Happy Brewing!

  12. I don’t think you’re far from being able to enjoy your first creation! When I take mine from primary to secondary, as long as I’m real close, it moves over. I also lager it in the fridge for a few weeks before I crack one open so I don’t really see much difference.
    Like the Pope said…”Welcome to the homebrewing family”

  13. Agreed. I don’t mess with gravity readings unless I’m really trying to nail down a recipe for a contest… but then again, I don’t enter contests anymore. :) I just brew to enjoy.

  14. It tasted a little bitter, like a mouthful of hops, but it didn't taste like cardboard, nailpolish, or any of those other gross things that indicate "bad" beer, so I guess it's okay?

  15. I spat in the bottling bucket of my first batch as the siphon was not working properly (insert memory of siphoning gas from cars and doing an automatic spit take). Don’t ask me what I was thinking… continued with bottling and it tasted just fine. :) My friends never knew anything.

  16. If you end up in PDX for another round of Chaos you should check out some of the local shops here for supplies, get some fresh hops and such – http://www.mainbrew.com/ is a great shop. Now that I have a garage I am looking forward to starting homebrewing as well, several coworkers brew and make some great beer.

  17. I honestly couldn’t tell you what I screwed up on my first homebrew. The result was extremely strong (I think it could fight with my usual Scotch and win). It had a really nasty initial taste, and an amazingly wonderful aftertaste.
    It wasn’t something I was going to offer other people to drink, but I certainly enjoyed it, one bottle a night.

  18. I just have to +1 pretty much what everyone has said. You really didn’t mess up. You may not have followed the process exactly, but who cares, it’s home brew. You do it for fun and because you can. Experimentation, either intended or not, is a big part of it. The only way to really screw up is by improper sanitation, and even then, I know a few people who are a little lax when it comes to that part too.
    I personally don’t take gravity readings. I also wouldn’t pitch more yeast. Just let it do what it’s going to do. Patience is the key. If you’re very concerned, let it sit in the carboy a little longer than planned. Time is your friend with the homebrew.

  19. Thanks for all that info, and the book recommendation.
    I'm all about supporting local shops, too. I got everything I have from the shop in Eagle Rock (and took their class two Sundays ago), but I ordered the kits from Brooklyn because they're only a gallon, they're all-grain, and they just looked cool to me.

  20. Yeah, you’re fine. Generally, regardless of the ale type I’m working on, it’s one week primary, two secondary, two+ bottle.
    If I’m working on something where I’m continually adding ingredients during primary/secondary, I may add time on, but for a first brew, 1/2/2 is pretty safe.

  21. I concur. I predict it will be fine. Let it be. No worries. Also, keep in mind, sometimes the ‘oops’ ends up being really good stuff.
    Relax, and happy brewing. :)

  22. It’s fine.
    The hop flavor will fade with time. You still have two weeks before bottling and another week or two before it will be ready to drink. (If you can wait that long, I never can)
    Your beer will develop as it ages but it will probably be at its prime in a month or two.

  23. Wow, as a non-homebrewer this post made no sense, although I still enjoyed it. Here’s how it looked to me:
    BEER words words words numbers words numbers words words BEER numbers words words words words numbers more words more numbers words words numbers numbers BEER words words BEER
    etc.
    :)

  24. I forgot to rehydrate the yeast, skipped a hop addition, used bleach to sanitize everything, and basically did the same thing you did to transfer from primary to bottling bucket because I didn’t have an autosiphon. Somehow despite all of my best efforts it turned out to be beer. Not the best tasting I’ve ever made, but pretty good beer. I think the initial screw-ups, followed by panic and relief, are all just part of a really great process.

  25. I asked on twitter and you didn’t ping back. I’m curious what you’ll name your beer? Is it a Wheat-on beer?
    As to the rest of you comedians: how is he going to “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew!” when he doesn’t have one yet?!
    Good luck Wil.

  26. We haven't named it, yet. We're leaning toward "Goin' to California Pale Ale", since we were listening to Zeppelin IV when we made it.

  27. Brewing is a geek hobby, just like gaming. I do both and it is kind of frightning how much “Last week a brewed a Pre-Prohibition Pilsner with Citra hops, it had a OG of 1.055 and a FG of 1.010. I call Mango Smuggler.” Sounds just like: “I have a 15th level half-giant paladin who fights with a mitheral +3 longsword. He has a strength of 29 and a dex of 8. His name is Azzeron.”
    Let your geek flag fly. As you get more into the hobby you will consume the brewing books, you will subscribe to Brew Your Own magazine, you will lose hours of work productivity listening to brewing podcasts, your wife will get sick of listening to you blather on about malt efficiency and hop alpha acids, you will order the “10th level beer nerd” bumper sticker from Northern Brewer (except it is always out of stock DAMN IT!)
    There is no turning back now.

  28. My favorite part about home brewing as a hobby. You do it right, you get really awesome beer. You screw up, you get mediocre beer. Either way, you end up with beer.
    :D
    I have a batch of what I’m calling “Backyard Weizen” conditioning in bottles right now. I’m hoping it will be ready to drink by this weekend. My last sample still tasted a bit “green”.

  29. I doubt you really screwed it up.
    Contamination is the biggest fear in homebrewing, and as long as you’re not letting your dog lap the wort, you’re probably okay.
    The water lock is probably the biggest of the mistakes there, but 24 hours shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Slight dip in the overall quality.
    General rule of thumb is that if the SG doesn’t move for three days fermentation is finished. That, or you can wait longer and just measure once if you’re worried about contamination.
    Unless I’m dry hopping I don’t bother with a secondary these days. Just bottle straight out of the primary.

  30. Count me in the “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Homebrew!” crowd. Your beer will be fine — nothing you’ve done will likely hurt your beer. Enjoy a cold one and try to patiently wait out secondary…

  31. Wil, it may have already been mentioned but pick up a copy of Charlie Papazian’s “Joy of Homebrewing” they should have it at you local homebrew shop. Great resource, has some basic recipes, and most important drives home the RAHAHB idea. It’s a great hobby and not only lets you experience the science of beer making but improves your beer palate too! Have fun!

  32. If you’re having trouble with your yeast, I’d recommend looking into the Wyeast smack packs. Short form is they are a big plastic envelope full of liquid yeast food with a smaller pack inside that full of liquid yeast. You break the inner packet by squishing the envelope, then shake it a bit, then let it sit for somewhere around 4 – 6 hours. There’s videos on youtube about it. It builds up a big culture of yeast in there that you just pour into your primary which also gives you a quicker kick-off on the ferment since it’s already active when you pitch it. That will help avoid the possibility of wild yeast contamination. For an example, you can check out info on my local (very good) brewing store http://www.northernbrewer.com. They’re pretty much known all over the country as a matter of fact. They’ve also got a lot of other super useful information on there and sell some great brewing kits. The other huge benefit of using the smack packs is that the packs give you the option of trying out all those really interesting yeasts that make your beer come out so different. I LOVE the belgian ales personally, but my tastes run more to the big malty beers instead of hop head.
    Also, some advice on How To Avoid Things Going Wrong. I’m not sure of your brewing budget, storage space, etc. but if you’ve got the room for it and you get into brewing, an outdoor propane burner is a wonderful thing. Your brewing store probably sells better quality ones, or in a pinch you could use one from a turkey deep frying kit. The idea is that doing it outside on a nice day is a wonderful way to spend the time, plus when you get a boilover (and you definitely, someday, will get one) the mess of burned sugars and hops just goes on the grass instead of all over your stove and kitchen. Believe me, cleaning up any boilover, much less a big one, is not fun. Brewing outside also keeps the smell of boiling wort out of the house if you have anybody in your house that doesn’t like the smell hanging around the kitchen for a couple days.
    Another thing that can really help you avoid messes is to get a big plastic tub of some kind. I’ve found heavy duty ones at places like Home Depot that are usually used for mixing up concrete and are perfect for this kind of thing. You put your fermenter inside the tub so when you get a blowout (and you eventually will) from your airlock, the mess ends up in the tub instead of all over your hardwood floor, carpet, etc. Another technique to avoid blowoffs is to get a long piece of very wide tubing that fits in the neck of your primary fermenter (northern brewer sells them if your local store doesn’t have them). Because the hose is so wide, one end plugs into the fermenter without a rubber stopper and the other end goes in a bucket of water. Instant giant water lock with a neck that’s big enough that you’re not likely to have a plug up. Switch to a regular water lock once the initial ferment settles down after the initial about 3 days of super active fermentation since the hose may not be as airtight as a stoppered water lock. Plenty tight enough for initial fermentation but maybe not enough for long term fermentation depending on relative sizes of the mouth of your fermenter and the hose.
    Until you have a few brewings under your belt I’d recommend sticking with extract brewing w/ specialty grains. Those are the kits with the barley juice already in a bottle, a package of hops, about a pound or so of crushed specialty grains for flavor, and a muslin bag to use during the boil like a teabag for the specialty grains. You can make beer that is spectacularly good with this without having to immediately make the jump to 100% all grain brewing. If your local brewing shop doesn’t carry them northern brewer can do mail order, but I’m betting your brew shop does carry them, or somewhere close does. (Btw, stay away from those things that are everything in a can, including the hops. Yuck.)
    And, if you get into brewing long term, look into kegging your beer. You might even want to get an old frig just to keep a couple kegs in, or build yourself a full on system with the kegs and CO2 in the frig and the taps on the outside. Anyhow, washing bottles and capping is a huge pain in the tail. It’s nice to have the bottles for sharing, but it’s a whole lot more convenient to keg in soda kegs. You can keep your house beer in the kegs and save the bottling for the stuff you want to gift out. If you’ve got kegs, you can also invest in a couple of growlers to carry off beer to a party, picnik, etc.
    I’d agree with people above who don’t worry too much about SG when they’re brewing. Personally, depending on what I’m making, it’s usually a week in the primary, rack to secondary for a month or so, then bottle/keg it. If I’m doing a big beer like a Scottish Heavy or something, it goes about 2 weeks in primary, probably a month and a half in secondary, and then a few more months in a third ferment to get it off the dead yeast.
    Another handy trick, to keep your beer nice and dark while it ferments, is to use a couple heavy t-shirts over the fermenter to keep out the light. A good friend of mine took a couple T-Shirts I had (with appropriate nerdy slogans on them), cut off and sewed up the arm holes, tightened the neck a little and put in a draw string and it was perfect for keeping the light off it. Or, you can take the cardboard box your glass carboy comes in, cut off the bottom, put a hole just big enough for the neck of the fermenter in the other end, and use that. Instant beer cozy. You still want to stick it somewhere dark and cool, but the shirt is a big help if it has to sit somewhere with lights.
    Be sure to hit up youtube for brewing videos, and look around your area for homebrewing clubs. If you’ve got a local brew shop, you’ve almost for sure got beer nerds that you can hang with too. Have fun!

  33. after brewing for over 10 years I found a pattern that works for me.
    Primary firmentation in a carboy with a 3 inch food grade tube into a quart mason jar submerged in a bleach solution.
    The beer will foam up and then settle back down. this is called High Krausen sp? and usually takes a week. this is when I rack the beer over to another carboy and let it finish. Usually 3-4 weeks. In the little vapor cap I also use a mild bleach solution. this is to kill any bugs try to make their way into your beer and give it a fever.
    Most of all don’t worry.

  34. Don’t worry about it. It will still be beer. I personally go the super-low-involvement method and make mead. Mix, leave it alone forever, rack it after you’ve forgotten about it, moved it cross-country, then remembered it again…
    BTW, there’s a lovely brew shop in the west valley called The Beer, Wine, And Cheesemaking shop. Great little place right off Ventura in Woodland Hills, not far from the Topanga Canyon exit. If you’re headed towards Ventura County for any reason, it’s a great pace to hit up!

  35. Like everyone else said, you didn’t really screw up. Worst that’s going to happen is that you don’t get a compete fermentation, and some people *like* that. My husband and I prefer a maltier beer over a hoppy one, and I pretty much only check my SGs at pitch and when I’m about to keg/bottle. Maybe your beer is a little sweeter. If that works for you, then hey, it wasn’t a screwup! When my husband and I got married, I made beer and he made custom labels. On the day of the wedding, we took our… 99 bottles of beer! =) The guests loved it.

  36. As I am sure people have said, don’t worry about it. Most people don’t even worry about oxygenating on their first batch and just jostle it around for a few minutes before pitching yeast.
    The funny thing about yeast is that it WANTS to make you beer, so don’t fuck with it too much and you should be fine.
    I haven’t skimmed the comments yet, but I’m sure that most of them say the same thing. Leave it alone, you’ll be fine. Will you get what you set out to get? Probably not exactly, but that can take years.
    It WILL be beer and it should be decent if you didn’t infect it, which it doesn’t sound like.
    Congrats on your beer baby.
    PS you never responded to my invite you wiener.

  37. If you’ve got bubbles in your airlock, you should be okay. Once the yeast comes to life it’ll do the work for you. It probably would have been better to wait another week to rack, but it should be alright. Don’t worry about the yeastcake, there’s always some residue left behind. It might not be as heavily fermented a beer as you’d been anticipating but it’ll still be beer. Taste it before you carbonate, though, because you might want to adjust the carbonation to compliment the flavor.

  38. Hehheh… Yeah, I’m a huge fan of the “leave it the hell alone and let nature do what it does” method. This post reminded me to go check my mead, which I had not done for at least 6 months. Ah! Such beautiful stuff I have now! I need to stop fermentation to prevent bottle bombs, clarify, and bottle, but it is SO tasty! It would definitely benefit from some French Oak, but I’m astonished at the flavor. I didn’t even pitch yeast itself – I went way old school and threw in organic, pesticide-free raisins from a favorite vendor at a farmers market while I lived in SoCal. whatever yeasty beasties were on those grapes are what went in to the must. So far, success! I’ll have to try that with cider.
    I know what I’m drinking at the birth of my first child in 6 months… :D (although, pregnancy sucks when you can’t taste the home brew lovelies.)

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