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]
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Much like everything else in the homebrew world, there is a seemingly endless array of cleaning and sanitizing solutions to choose from. Given that it’s that time of year where “spring cleaning” is the popular topic, we thought it would be a good time to compare and contrast some of those options. There are a number of opinions of which product is best. However, it is true that some are better than others — it all depends on what fits your needs.
Cleaners are the chemicals we use to break up debris and give our kettles that shine. They can do everything from descaling that beer stone buildup on your boil vessel to breaking up the dried yeast in your carboy.
The most common would be an oxygen-cleaning agent, like unscented OxiClean or Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW), which is like unscented OxiClean with trisodium phosphate added. For the most part, these white powdery cleaners work best with hot water. Naturally, every chemical company has its own fancy name for these products, but the formula is the same. It really only comes down to price point.
Avoid chemicals that have odorous oils — like OxiClean with lavender. Also steer clear of all soap products. They tend to have added scents that can leave residue on your equipment, causing every batch of beer to have the same flavor and aroma.
Sanitizers come into play during the second phase of the cleaning process. These chemicals make sure nothing contaminates our award-winning brews. There are several different solutions available, but the most-common and longest-used sanitizer is bleach. Yup! Bleach works great to kill absolutely everything with the added bonus of affordability. There is a downside, though. Once you’ve applied the bleach, the equipment needs time to completely dry or you need to rinse everything. Either way, you risk contamination.
The next most common sanitizer is an iodine-based product such as Five Star Chemicals’ IO Star, a low-foaming iodophor sanitizer. These types of solutions are also relatively inexpensive. However, if not diluted properly — they can give the beer an iodine taste. The sanitizers also don’t have much of a shelf life once mixed and can cause issues for people with a shellfish allergy.
The final category of chemicals are acid based. This would include Star San, made from food-grade phosphoric acid, and PuriSan, which uses peracetic acid. The biggest difference between the two is that Star San is infamous for foaming (unlike PuriSan).
Whatever sanitizer you decide upon, be sure to dilute with water. The iodine based sanitizers won't last to the end of the day. Either of the acid-based sanitizers can be stored for future use in spray bottles or fermenters if you make a batch that’s larger than what you’ll need for one brewing session. You can tell the solution has gone bad when it turns a milky-white color. You can do the same with bleach, but it is impossible to get that flavor out of your beer if you aren't careful.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an “all-in-one” cleaner/sanitizer. Yes, technically once you have cleaned something it is pretty well sanitized. But unless you use a sanitizing agent, there is no way to be positive that you killed everything.
The next time you brew and you’re waiting to add hops to the boil, use that downtime to sanitize instead of just pouring yourself another pint from the keezer. Keep this guideline in mind: sanitize anything that will touch your beer after the boil, including plastic buckets, glass carboys, bottles and kegs. Keep a spray bottle full of sanitizer handy when bottling, kegging or transferring as well. If you stay on top of cleaning and sanitizing, that’s a sure fire way to keep the award-winning beers flowing instead of pouring them down the drain.
Weizen Not Hefe [AG]
Weizen Not Hefe [Extract]
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The process of fermentation can be quite violent. And dealing with the off-gassing during this product can be a difficult task. Choosing the proper fermentation vessel can make a huge difference. Additionally, there are times when a standard airlock won’t always cut it. First, we’ll explore the containers available for fermentation and describe how and why you’d use a blow-off tube.
Your local homebrew shop should offer a wide variety of containers to choose from. Deciding which to go with is, for the most part, a matter of personal preference. The most common is a 6.5 gallon plastic bucket with a hole in the lid for a stopper and airlock. This type of vessel is a good option because it offers extra headroom and surface area for the yeast cake to expand. However, there’s one con to consider: plastic scratches easily. These unintended grooves can harbor bacteria, so taking good care of your bucket is important.
Another common vessel is the carboy. They come in a variety of sizes and can be plastic or glass. The plastic carboys can be difficult to clean, but they’re lighter and won’t shatter. Glass carboys are heavy and very fragile. Unlike plastic buckets, the carboys don’t have a lot of extra headspace. The airlock can clog, which causes pressure to build — eventually causing an explosion of beer, and sometimes glass.
To avoid this mess, you can turn to the blow-off tube instead of just an airlock for primary fermentation. There are two ways to rig a blow-off tube. First, jam a piece of tubing into the stopper that’s 3/8 inches in diameter. It should be long enough to go from the top of the fermenter into a bucket of sanitizer on the floor. The end of the tube needs to be fully submerged so that bugs and oxygen don’t get into the beer. A second method is to insert a piece of 1-inch tubing into the hole of the fermenter. That diameter can be more expensive, but it’s easier to clean and there’s no risk of it clogging.
With whatever method you decide in the end, you will reduce the risk of having a large explosion of yeast and beer to clean up later. Choosing the proper fermentation vessel and how you manage the fermentation can be as important as choosing your ingredients when brewing.
Belgasaurous Rex [AG]
Belgasaurous Rex [Extract]
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Now that spring is upon us and the days are getting longer, it’s time to give your homebrewing gear some fresh air. Even if you make beer year-round, it’s still a good idea to examine your equipment in the sunlight where a fresh perspective may help you see trouble spots. Or it may just affirm how awesome you are at keeping your brewing kit well maintained.
Besides the regular cleaning that takes place before and after the brewing process, several pieces of equipment need a more thorough scrub at least twice a year. The most obvious on that list is the boil kettle. Even though you may rinse it with hot water, it could build up beer stone, which is a calcium deposit that looks like a white film over time. Beer stone won’t harm your brew, but it can create an uneven heating surface and prevent the wort from having a consistent boil. The only way to get rid of the beer stone is with a powdered brewery cleaner that has trisodium phosphate, which dissolves the organic matter and prevents the beer stone from sticking to the kettle. One tablespoon of cleaner per 3-5 gallons of hot water — not boiling — should do the trick.
Once you have a clean, shiny boil kettle, you can use that to heat more water and cleaner for your next project. All-grain brewers who use a cooler for a mash tun probably have faced a pretty gnarly “ring-around-the-bathtub” effect in that vessel. To remove the grime, let the affected area soak in hot water and cleaner. Scrubbing should also help loosen the grit. For kettle-made mash tuns, apply the same technique you would use to clean the boil kettle. However, be sure to also soak the false bottom or kettle screen. This will open up any clogged holes and your mash will run more smoothly.
Neither the boil kettle nor the mash tun need this level of cleaning regularly. It’s a good habit to adopt after every 20 or so brews. Occasional deep cleaning will help keep your equipment looking shiny and prevent problems created by neglect.
Left in the Corner
Ever forgotten about some of your brewing bits and pieces for several months only to revisit them and discover they’re growing mold or smell of mildew? Most small parts can be soaked in cleaner and allowed to air dry. For larger equipment, let’s say a glass carboy that never got fully cleaned after being used months ago, you’re going to need some bigger guns. Since carboy glass is not tempered and will shatter if rapidly heated or cooled, do not fill the vessel with very hot water. But some of the chemicals in cleaners are activated at higher temperatures, so cold water isn’t enough. Slowly heat the carboy by adding warm tap water to the container and swirl it with your hand. Top off the carboy with a bit of hot water and cleaner. Let it soak for several hours. Slowly and carefully drain the liquid until you have about a half-gallon left in the bottom. Use that water for any caked-on grime that you can attack with a carboy brush. Once the carboy is free of debris, give it a good rinse and hold it up to the light to see whether you missed anything. After you’ve determined you did a fine job cleaning, let the carboy air dry.
Even if you don’t homebrew, you may have a keg tapping system at your house. Proper maintenance and care of this system will help prevent problems that might come up while you’re trying to enjoy a tasty beverage in the comfort of your own place.
The most obvious areas to clean: the outside and inside of your kegerator. The outside can be wiped down with any appliance cleaner to stop dust and dirt from building up. Keep the inside as cool and dry as possible to avoid mold growth. If you do get some mold spots, a bleach spray is the best way to combat that. Be sure to empty the kegerator, spray down all the surfaces and then wipe it dry. Unplugging the appliance first and allowing it to warm up can also help with cleaning.
Of course, you can see when the kegerator needs to be cleaned, but it’s not as easy to spot draft lines that are getting dirty. Every time a beer is swapped out once you’ve finished a keg, a little bit of liquid is left behind in the lines. Over time, that small amount will grow and affect every future brew you put on tap. For proper maintenance, run a cleaning solution or homebrew sanitizer through your system between each keg. If you’re a homebrewer and kegging your concoctions, simply fill one of the kegs with a cleaning solution and put it on tap. If you don’t have kegs or the ability to fill one with cleaning solution, there are pumps available on the market. Most mount to the front of your system after you’ve removed the faucet and then backflush your lines. Hook up the pump with cleaning solution and then manually pump the liquid through the lines and into a waste bucket.
After a proper spring cleaning, you will notice a difference in the quality of the beer.
Mein Schatz [AG]
Mein Schatz [Extract]
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The tasty brews we enjoy are, for the most part, created using the same four ingredients: hops, malt, water and yeast. These ingredients all have their own unique flavors and aromas that are most of the time simple to identify. They do, however, lend off flavors and aromas if the beer or wort are not handled properly. The most common undesirable traits are diacetyl, dimethyl sulfide (DMS), oxidation, sourness and skunkiness. These flavors and aromas can be prevented by knowing where in the process they occur and how to avoid allowing them to form. All of the off flavors listed, with the exception of DMS, occur in the final stage of our beer making process.
Identifying Off Flavors and Fixes
Diacetyl is one of the compounds formed by yeast during fermentation. It has a buttered popcorn or butterscotch flavor and aroma. Most often it’s found in beers that have been rushed or lagers that have not been given a chance to rest. If the yeast is given enough time at the right temperature the diacetyl will be reabsorbed. With lagers, a diacetyl rest is used to clean up the flavor of the beer. Once fermentation is close to complete, you want to bring a lager up to ale temperature (65-72 F) to allow the yeast to finish working. This rest occurs naturally with ales as long as they are allowed to finish fermentation without being rushed. A good rule for most ales is to allow them to ferment at least 10 days.
Dimethyl sulfide is a compound that is naturally occurring in the malt that we use to make our homebrews. It can be characterized by the aroma or flavor of creamed corn or cooked vegetables. One of the reasons we boil is to evaporate this compound. When boiling you want the wort to be completely uncovered so that the compounds don’t condensate on a lid and end up right back in the wort. Chilling the wort as fast as possible is also a very important step because the compound is formed between 120-200 F.
Oxidation occurs when the finished beer is exposed to a large amount of air. It will lend to a cardboard or flat flavor and can smell almost like sherry. In older beers, this is sometimes a desirable flavor. In younger brews, however, it means that either the beer was transferred with too much exposure to the air or that it sat too long in the fermenter. Once fermentation is complete, the beer needs to be transferred to an air-tight, sealable container, like a bottle or keg, that carbon dioxide can be added to in order to purge the air. During the transfer, you want to fill the container from the bottom up by using a siphon.
Sometimes a sour beer can be a desirable thing, but when it’s unintended it can be a terrible experience. Sour flavors and aromas can mean that during the brewing process something that touched the wort or beer was not properly sanitized. After the boil is complete, everything that touches our brew needs to be thoroughly sanitized. This will ensure that no wild yeast or bacteria get into our brews, potentially ruining them.
We all have had a skunky beer. Though it has become a common flavor for some brands, it is never a good thing. The skunky flavor is created when ultraviolet light hits the beer or wort once the boil is over. The light breaks down compounds in the hops that then become a skunky flavor rather than the wonderful piney-citrus notes we all love in a good IPA. Make sure that any clear fermentors are covered and hidden from sunlight and use bottles that are not green or clear. These measures will help prevent your homebrews from becoming skunky.
All off flavors are avoidable. As long as we pay attention to the causes, we can ensure that none of our brews end up being dumped down the drain.
Harrumph Session Ale [AG]
Harrumph Session Ale [Extract]
OBG Blog Archives
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