By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There are many things that can go awry during the brewing process. Anything that happens before your wort hits the fermenter is fixable, for the most part. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to be done to salvage your precious beer if you encounter issues during fermentation. There are, however, a few steps you can try along with tips to avoid future tragedy.
The most important step that should be taken before any kind of fermentation begins is cleaning. Everything that touches your wort post-boil, during fermentation and post-fermentation should be sanitized. Use a cleaning solution that won’t leave a residue but will adequately remove all debris from equipment. A variety of chemicals are available at your local homebrew shop. What works best for you might not be what someone else prefers. The same goes for sanitizer. Ask your homebrew shop attendant for advice. That being said, this isn’t the Dark Ages and there are much better reasonably-priced options on the market besides bleach. The cleaning agent and sanitizing solution should always be two separate chemicals. While most cleaning agents can also act as a sanitizer, it’s best to be overly cautions.
The next thing to address is the fermentation equipment. Whether you are using plastic buckets, glass carboys or stainless steel containers, be sure that all the parts and pieces fit well to create tight seals. The stopper the airlocks go in need to be the right size and make sure that there’s only one way for gas to leave the fermenter. This will allow you to see active fermentation and it reduces the chance that something will find its way into the batch. Remember, the airlock is the line of defense against the outside world.
Sometimes liquid in the airlock can get sucked into the fermenter. And if there is anything undesirable in that liquid — a dead bug, for instance — you might infect your batch with bacteria. To avoid this, use sanitizer or 100-proof alcohol on the airlock just in case anything does reach that device.
Now that the post-boil equipment is cleaned, sanitized and properly installed, the next step to ensuring proper fermentation is the yeast itself. Proper pitch rates and ensuring there is plenty of oxygen are just a few factors to consider. When building a recipe, be sure you have a high starting gravity and account for that with a little more yeast than normal. That way your fermentation won’t stall, which could result in a product that is under-attenuated and too sweet.
Yeast doesn’t like to be abused, and the easiest way to hurt your yeast is with large temperature swings. If you are using a liquid yeast, you want it to be as close in temperature as the wort you’re pitching it into. A large temperature gap can rupture the cell walls of the yeast. Don’t let the yeast get too warm, though. If fermentation is too hot, you could end up with an entirely different set of problems.
Yeast also have two stages of fermentation. The first is aerobic where they actually consume oxygen to multiply. The second is anaerobic when the yeast begin to consume sugar and create all of those wonderful byproducts. The best time to introduce oxygen to the wort is before the yeast is pitched and after the wort is cold. Introducing oxygen after the pitch might create off-flavors.
As homebrewers, we can only guide the yeast to help us create award-winning beer. Give those little guys a fighting chance to reduce chances things will go wrong.
Fizzy Yellow Protocol [AG]
Fizzy Yellow Protocol [Extract]
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: