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. The beautiful thing about ales is how forgiving they are.
    Yes, you screwed up.
    But probably not bad enough that your beer will be awful. Just let it finish! It won’t be the exact product the directions tell you about, but it’ll still be delicious and refreshing.
    In all likelihood, you’ll probably end up with a lovely, light session-style (low alcohol, perfect for drinking all afternoon long) ale for the end of the summer– which, NGL, sounds AWESOME.
    Write what you did down, and don’t do it next time. Easy!

  2. I’m sure everyone else has said this: You didn’t screw up. There is enough suspended yeast in the liquid you racked to continue fermentation. The shape of the air lock will block most microbial contamination, even without liquid added especially since there is a positive outward pressure flow. Seven days is usually plenty of time for primary fermentation.
    Here is my procedure: I ferment in a 7 gallon bucket and basically leave the beer in there for 14 days, plus or minus (stouts for 21 days). I rack it into another bucket that has a spigot on the bottom and let it set for a few days to clarify, then bottle it from the spigot (I actually keg mine). The spigot is 1″ above the bottom so the settled gunk stays in the bucket. I only take a beginning gravity and an ending gravity to use to approximate alcohol percentage.
    As far as yeast, many people just sprinkle the dry yeast on top and have no problems. My person preference for yeast is Wyeast American Ale liquid yeast, but I use different Wyeast types depending on the type of beer I’m making.
    Don’t worry – you made beer!

  3. The mistakes and miscues are part of the fun in homebrewing. Some of my best brews (and memories) were the result of brewing with some friends of mine while we were all just starting out. It reminds me of my golf game: when I first started playing it was all about going out and having fun with friends, the more I did it the more worried I got about doing well and getting better. At some point it wasn’t any fun. I figured out that I needed to stop worrying about playing great everytime and just have a great time playing.

  4. Echo the same sentiments: Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Plenty of yeast made the transition, the gravity will probably drop a couple points, and the hop bitterness will fade. You’ll be happy.
    I also second the use of liquid yeast in general and Wyeast in particular. It’s a little more expensive, but really easy and gives you dynamite fermentation starts.
    Don’t go too crazy with equipment purchases or all-grain yet. Doing that too fast is a sure way to burn out. Just get a few batches under your belt and have a great time.
    Looking forward to hearing how it comes out!

  5. Huge yeast cake is Good News Bears (As opposed to those Bad News Bears who can’t seem to make a great movie). The usual time for fermentation is somewhere in the ball park of 2-3 weeks.
    Bubbling in a bubbler airlock can sometimes not happen, and that’s fine. You may have a large amount of room in your carboy and the gasses are just not escaping in a timely fashion. I personally use the air locks with the cap on it so when I know my airlock is doing the Cha-Cha that my beer is fermenting. But riddle me this, did you get a bunch of residue in your airlock or foam from your beer?
    I agree with the sentiments above. Racking to the secondary will remove a large amount of the fermenting yeast and finding your timing as a homebrewer when racking and still having some working yeast is something you learn with experience. But don’t worry. Even if there’s just a little bit of yeast left it’ll do it’s thing just fine.
    A simple recipe you may want to try in the future might be the Scottish Ale (70 Schilling) recipes. Short list of ingredients, results that are very easy to spot and watch, and a reward of not only good beer but a general idea of what should happen during fermentation.

  6. Here is another cool trick to try if you like trapist ales.
    You can find recipes out there but you cannot buy the yeasts used by the monks.
    Step one buy a couple bottles of Chimey ale.
    Step two get a little powdered malt extract. Enough to make couple of quarts and a small jug that you can fit a stopper and vapor lock into.
    Step three carefully decant the Chimey so that the yeasts that have settled at the bottom do not get disturbed.
    Drink the beer.
    Now make a simple wirt out of the dried extract and a couple of quarts of water. Allow to cool and then pitch the yeasts at the bottom of the decanted bottles.
    The yeasts should reproduce like crazy this is called pitching up yeasts.
    Now make a wirt according to any recipe you can find for trapist style ales. Though the one I found was a bit heavy on the coriander so next time I made it I cut that in half.
    pitch your trapist yeast and ferment per usual. On my try the primary fermentation went nuts

  7. On the missing-airlock-liquid front: I’ve done a number of beers now where I wanted to simulate an open fermentation like some of the old-school commercial breweries use, so I just sprayed a bit of sanitizer on some aluminum foil and loosely covered the top. One thing about the contaminants is that the bacteria and wild yeast can’t climb up on their own, so unless there’s something like a fly buzzing around it, even without any liquid in the airlock, nothing is really going to get in. I use the foil technique on all my yeast starters and haven’t run into any troubles yet with a couple dozen batches.
    Also, the dry yeast has plenty of oomph with a low original gravity beer like that that the rehydration shouldn’t make much of a difference. The first batch I made was a Belgian dubbel, so it was pretty high gravity and needed liquid yeast. I broke every yeast management “rule” in the book by not doing a starter, seriously underpitching my yeast, completely failing to aerate my wort (as in, at all. I was afraid of screwing something up, so I babied the fermenter and didn’t even shake any air into it), and getting a little overexcited and racking the beer way too early. It certainly didn’t turn out as well as my later batches have, but to me it didn’t matter a bit. I still made my own beer, and that was just awesome. I’m sure you’ll get that same experience in a few weeks when you pop open your first!
    One question about your batch: Did you take that original gravity reading after mixing in water in a partial boil? Your original gravity is on the low side for an American pale ale, but it’s tricky taking a gravity reading with a partial boil because it’s hard to get everything really well mixed before you pull your sample. You can calculate the original gravity based on the amount of malt extract you use and the volume of the batch, and that value is pretty much solid as an original gravity. It might be that it’s just a lower gravity pale on purpose, but if you measured something lower than the recipe estimates, I’d probably go with the recipe value instead.

  8. How about Benderbrau if it’s an ale, Botweiser if it’s a lager. :)
    This whole thread reminds me of the “The Route of All Evil” episode of Fururama.

  9. None of your mistakes sound like deal breakers – basically, anything short of contamination will still be drinkable, but it might not taste like the best beer in the world. Almost no matter what you do it’ll still be better than bud light.
    I went through a couple of batches to really get the hang of it and start producing *good* beer. Just chalk up the first one to a learning experience, learn your lessons and apply it to the next batch.

  10. 1.022 might mean your brew is a little too starchy. If you don’t have any off-flavors, I’d leave it alone. BUT there is also a product called Amalyse Enzyme. This will break down the starches into sugars and will allow your yeast to ferment it completely. I had a batch stuck at 1.034 and the Enzyme got it down to 1.015 or so. Again, 1.022 isn’t terrible. Not ideal, but not a game-changer, either. If it tastes okay at the end, I wouldn’t do anything to it. The fewer additives you have to put in the better. Also, even after you bottle the process doesn’t stop. If you’re not filtering you’ll still have yeast in the beer and it will carbonate and change the flavor over time. The “mouth full of hops” flavor will probably mellow out and it will become more complex the longer it sits in the bottle. A two-week-old bottle will taste a lot different than a six-month-old bottle. Unfiltered beer actually keeps longer than filtered. I’ve had beer that had been bottled an entire year that turned out delicious.
    My advice would be if it doesn’t taste that great after you crack one open after bottle conditioning, give it more time. Bottle conditioning fixes a lot more mistakes than you’d think.

  11. Beer making is the most awesome hobby, just so you know. After two years of bottling everything, my dad, boyfriend, and I, just started kegging. So. Exciting.
    None of the things you mentioned are going to kill you beer or kill you if you drink you beer. Relax, and if something is wrong with this one, you can probably still drink it, and you will have learned something for the next time.

  12. Just a word of warning… make sure your homebrew is stored in a cool location and that it is done fermenting when you bottle. Hubby and I used to homebrew mead and we found that bottles can EXPLODE if they aren’t done fermenting and they get warm.
    It was messy.

  13. A few years ago I ventured into the realm of homebrewing alone.
    Speaking from experience, there are two key things which are important above all else at this point.
    #1: Brewing is more *art* than it is simply science. Don’t obsess over the numbers and data (at least not yet.) This is very similar to attempting to cook a brand new meal following a recipe. If your times are off a couple of minutes either way when cooking, it’s a difference which rarely makes-or-breaks the meal.
    #2: The likely-hood of ending up with… er, well.. of ending up with any result which resembles what you were intending is medial. If it is *drinkable*, you have done very well. It took me several different brewing attempts before I finally produced something which was casually drinkable. Just as with cooking, there are subtleties in the process which take time to really get a hang of… and it also takes trial and error.
    The worst part of home brewing, for me, was the wait. It was weeks–or months–between the initial creation of the batch before finding out the results. It was during this time–between the mixing the batch and the patiently watching it ferment–which I would rethink my actions and decisions, question if they were correct, worry about mistakes, etc.
    It isn’t an issues of patience–I knew better than to think I could hurry the process–but it would still gnaw at me… the unknowing.
    So the best advice I can give you: Don’t over think it. Don’t start second-guessing choices and actions…. at least not until it’s finished. I made that mistake, and found I reached conclusions on things without even knowing the outcome.
    And don’t expect too much from these first few batches. 😉

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