Third Batch Fermenting – first foray into hops and grains

This one is going to be interesting, I’ve got my fingers crossed and hoping for the best. That’s because when I tasted the wort, it was a bit, well, scary. I totally realise this may not mean anything but the wort from my previous two batches actually tasted good but this time I tossed out my OG samples after a little taste. But the first two batches were pre-hopped kits so it might not be a good comparison. This time the wort was very bitter and had a very concentrated hops taste. So I’m hoping this is normal and that the fermentation process will turn it into a nice tasty American Pale Ale. Otherwise I’ll probably be more inclined to stick with the pre-hopped kits, they are a lot less work and I have already got great results – my first batch is a very nice drop and it hasn’t even fully aged yet.

Brewing up an extract batch – more work than the no boil kits

Well I had my recipe sorted and plan of attack devised and followed it fairly closely. All went reasonably smoothly but all that steeping, boiling, chilling and straining takes significantly more time than the quick and easy kit brews. So I will be eager to find out if it’s worth the extra trouble. With experience it’s probably doable in about 2 hours but you can double that for first time around. Figuring out little things slowed me down. Like, for example, how to tie my grain bag. I had picked up a meter of muslin which was formed in a tube. I cut a piece off to use for my grain but found it extremely difficult to tie the end because it was wider than it was long. Then I spent ages looking for a piece of string to tie it with before giving up and just using the entire remaining length as it was long enough for me to tie a knot in the ends. But those type of delays are just first time issues and my next batch should go faster.

Murphy’s Law Strikes Again!

Smashed my airlock!

No matter how much you prepare and plan something or other will go wrong. This time my main mishap was breaking my airlock. It had been a very tight squeeze sticking it through the grommet and I forced a little too much and SMASH! Fortunately I had been concerned about the flimsiness of the plastic airlock and the risk caused by that very tight fit so I had picked up a spare one. The fit on the second one is not nearly as tight so it shouldn’t be a problem again.

Sanitation Concerns

Because the extract brewing process has a lot more steps than the kit process there seems to be more chances for the batch to get contaminated. Here are a few things during the process that had me slightly concerned:

  1. A lot of exposure of wort to air – risk of contamination? It took quite a long time to get the wort from the brew pot into the fermentor because I used a sieve to strain out the hops gunk. There was quite a lot of gunk building up in the sieve and blocking it, so I had to pour a little, then work it with my spoon and pour some more. So it probably took me 10-15 mins to transfer the wort into the fermentor. It had me wondering wondering if a lot of exposure to the air during this time makes for a contamination risk.

    Hops sludge slowed transfer of wort to fermentor

  2. Risk of contamination from stirring spoon? There was a lot of froth on top of the wort in the fermentor after I had given it a good shake to mix and aerate. I used my long handled stirring spoon for stirring the wort a few separate times (e.g for stirring in the yeast). Each time I used it, when I pulled it out, the handle was covered in froth. I just placed it sitting on top of the brew pot (which I guessed should be fairly sanitary). But I was a bit concerned that all that froth on the handle would make it easy to pick up contaminants from the air. Maybe next time, having a tall container of pre-boiled water to stick it into in between usage would be a good idea.
  3. Risk of contamination from hands? Your hands end up touching the sanitised surfaces and even the wort itself – it’s hard to avoid. Of course I did wash my hands and even had them in water with some bleach. But you are always touching other unsanitised surfaces throughout the process. So I had another concern about the risk of contamination from my hands. Next time maybe I could have some type of sanitary wipes for wiping my hands prior to touching anything sensitive.
  4. Fermentor spigot contamination risk? I took an OG sample from the fermentor spigot (I had taken one from top with sanitised jug but SG measured lower than expected so I took another sample from bottom to compare). Could this contaminate the spigot and result in contamination when bottling? I thought of this when bottling my previous 2 batches and did give the spigot nozzle a bit of a clean with some bleach solution. But it’s not possible to thoroughly clean it while still attached to a fermentor of beer. When it comes to bottling I think I will use a spray bottle to spray some sanitiser up the nozzle of the tap. Also, spraying with some cleaning solution immediately after taking the sample is probably a good idea.
  5. Not enough air dry time for some sanitised items. With Sodium Metabisulfite you are supposed to air dry for 1 hour. But there were a few things that I had to sanitise on the go, e.g. stirring spoon, and they only got a few minutes dry time. I know something like Star San or iodophor is the ideal solution here and plan to get some for future use.
  6. Is there a contamination risk from paper towels? I used paper towels to sit sanitised things on while air drying. I also dried off excess sanitiser with paper towels when needing something in a hurry (e.g. stirring spoon). Probably no big deal, but just something I wondered about.

Original Gravity Lower Than Expected

The SG of my sample taken from the top of the fermenter measured 1.040 – a significant way off the 1.050 that the calculators predicted. I thought maybe it’s just not mixed enough so I took another sample from the spigot at bottom of the fermentor. The second one measured 1.043 – still a good ways off. So I am a wee bit baffled why it was so far off especially given the amount of malt that I put in it. I guess that it’s still a possibility that it could be a mixing issue.

Slower Start To Fermentation

The airlock is bubbling away nicely now at 20C and there is a nice aroma from the fridge but it got off to a slower start than my previous 2 batches. Both of those batches were bubbling when I checked them first thing next morning (within 7 hours) but for this batch it was about 15 hours before the airlock started bubbling. That was despite having re-hydrated the yeast. But different yeast strains probably take different amounts of time to kick into action and I’d assume that the cooler temperature of this fermentation compared to my previous batches played a role in the delay.

Lessons Learned

  1. Don’t chill the full amount of additional water
    I had chilled 15L of water in the fermentor prior to brewing. After I cooled my wort in ice water for about half an hour it had gone from boiling hot to just warm. I don’t know the temp of the water but I’m guessing it was somewhere between 1C and 5C (I wish my temp strip went lower than 10C!) Instead of being concerned about not getting DOWN to pitching temperature, I was actually concerned about not getting UP to pitching temp! So I drew off about 2 litres of chilled water so that I could top up with boiling water if my temp was too low. And I did end up needing 2 litres of boiling water to bring it up to 20C.
  2. Use a tall vessel of no rinse sanitiser stirring spoon
    To ease my worries about the foam on the handle picking up some nasties, I will have a tall container of no rinse sanitiser to place my spoon in between stirs. Obviously not necessary during boil so actually having a second stirring spoon for the boil would be a good idea so that it does not need to be cleaned and sanitised between use in hot and cold sides of the process.
  3. Sanitary wipes for hands
    As I was worried about all the times my hands came into contact with sanitary equipment and even the wort itself (e.g. finger over airlock home while shaking fermentor), next time I will have some sanitary wipes on hand to reduce this contamination risk. Latex gloves might even be wise, but maybe that’s going to far and I don’t like how they make my hands sweat.
  4. Clean spigot after taking SG sample
    Maybe just a twist of a paper towel up the nozzle and a spray of sanitiser would do the trick.
  5. Don’t forget to crush the steeping grains
    I just realised a few days later that I forgot to crush the medium crystal before steeping. As a result I probably only got a fraction of the extraction that I should have. I had left this step out of my written instructions and did not think of it at the time.


    • Andy on 4 February 2011 at 7:02 am
    • Reply

    Crickey, that’s a lot of work! The plastic airlocks seem pretty strong to me though, were you using some good-old Irish strength when you broke it?

    For me would be:

    Lessons Learned:
    1. Stick with the kits and spend more time drinking beer.

      • on 4 February 2011 at 11:50 am
      • Reply

      Because of the dodgy arm I didn’t get around to bottling that extract batch until yesterday. It tasted best batch so far, worth the extra work, I reckon. I think once I’ve done a few and I know what I’m doing it will go easier smoother. My 2nd batch is ok but I preferred the 1st one (just a few bottles left but I’ll save some). I put on a Coopers stout for the next one – it’s going crazy at the moment all the head space is filled with foam, I’m half expecting it to start coming out the airlock.

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