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Q&A: Homebrewing


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#1 eGCI Team

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Posted 03 April 2006 - 02:25 PM

Post your questions and comments on the homebrewing course here.

#2 cdh

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Posted 03 April 2006 - 05:46 PM

Fire away if anything needs to be made clearer...
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#3 JAZ

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 07:45 AM

Thanks, Chris. I have a question about the shelf life of the ingredients. If I'm ordering ingredients online, can I stock up and get supplies for a couple of batches at once? It seems to me that the malt extract is not something that will get stale or degrade, but what about the hops? How long will they keep? Is one form (pellets, for example) better for storage than another?

#4 FoodMan

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 08:10 AM

Great class Chris! I've been meaning to start homebrewing for a couple of years but never had...thought I needed much more stuff than that. Hopefully this class will push me to action.

I am sure I will have more questions but for now, how do you feel about flip top reusable bottles (the cobalt blue ones that Alton Brown used on his show)? They are more money than the regular ones, but it seems worth it since you do not need to buy a capper or caps and they can be reused.

Also, this seems like a stupid quetion, but aren't one liter PET seltzer bottles too big?

Thanks again for taking the time to share this with us.

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Houston, TX

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#5 Anna N

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 08:57 AM

Can you provide an approximate time commitment for each stage of the process?
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#6 Okbrewer

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 09:15 AM

Hi Chris! Looks good so far! Good info for the beginner, I like the way you keep your focus on the beginner as it is easy to forget what it was like when we were in their shoes! Look forward to the future segments!


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#7 mtigges

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 09:33 AM

I don't have a question but I do have a comment.

It can only be considered a VERY ROUGH rule of thumb for estimating abv by using the hundreths of the OG. You'r estimate of finishing max 1.014 would actually yield a beer of about 7%, not a lot of difference. But it is VERY unlikely this beer will finish that high. Most dry yeast are much better attenuators than that. It is a much better rule of thumb to just refer to the hydrometer, presuming 1.010 as the FG. Failing that, (1.068-1.010)*1.3 = 7.5%.

I've never heard of your rule of thumb before, and I believe there is a good reason for that. It should be pointed out that your rule becomes increasingly more accurate as the OG goes up. (Because the ability of the yeast to attenuate is hampered.) For normal strength beers ~ 5% it's grossly inaccurate.

Moreover your advice to not necessarily bother with a hydrometer can potentially be dangerous. I hope you mention this prior to the bottling class.

Sorry for being critical, but I really thought these points should be mentioned.

Mark.

#8 FoodMan

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 09:34 AM

Chris, you mention one packet of yeast. I know it is Ale yeast, but like you said there are several kinds like "Safale S-04 Ale Yeast - 11.5 grams ", "Nottingham Ale Yeast - 11grams", "Cooper's Australian Ale Yeast - 7 grams", "Doric Canadian Ale Yeast - 11 grams"....

What kind is prefered and how much do we need?

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#9 TongoRad

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 10:09 AM

Great first installment, Chris. And a very interesting ( in a good way) first recipe- if I were doing it I would definitely opt for the coriander seeds. I look forward to hearing from people brewing along. Come on in folks, the water's fine!
aka Michael

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#10 jsolomon

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 10:11 AM

Can you provide an approximate time commitment for each stage of the process?

View Post

From my experience, and I have not yet learned AB's lesson of "organization shall set you free", for an extract beer you can plan on
Initial Sanitization and wort set-up ~3 hours
Pitching the yeast ~10 minutes (standard deviation ~30 minutes)
Fermentation 7-10 days
Bottling set-up ~1.5 hours
Bottling ~1 hour
Bottling clean-up ~1 hour
Secondary fermentation ~2 weeks
General aging to drinkability ~2 more weeks.

Keep in mind, these are very rough guesstimates from my hazy college daze.
I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

#11 cdh

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 10:18 AM

I am sure I will have more questions but for now, how do you feel about flip top reusable bottles (the cobalt blue ones that Alton Brown used on his show)? They are more money than the regular ones, but it seems worth it since you do not need to buy a capper or caps and they can be reused.

Also, this seems like a stupid quetion, but aren't one liter PET seltzer bottles too big?

Thanks again for taking the time to share this with us.

View Post


About the flip-top bottles: they're great. I have a bunch and use them all the time. They're also expensive and tough to find sometimes. If you're sure that you're into brewing, then they're a worthwhile investment... but I prefer to buy them filled with beer, as they seem like such a bad deal at $1.50 each empty, when you can get then for $2.00 each filled with nice German beer.

The PET seltzer bottles are recommended in this elementary course for both convenience and safety. All things glass can shatter and hurt you. I won't recommend using the glass carboys that are traditional brewing equipment because I have heard of far too many people who ended up in the hospital when a large beer-filled glass container didn't like a bump, or a temperature change and blew up sending razor-edged schrapnel all over the place.

The liter PET bottles are by no means too big. One liter is easily consumed in a time frame during which it will hold onto its carbonation. The safest, cheapest and easist route is to go with the liter PET bottles.

Edited by cdh, 04 April 2006 - 11:01 AM.

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#12 cdh

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 10:20 AM

Thanks, Chris. I have a question about the shelf life of the ingredients. If I'm ordering ingredients online, can I stock up and get supplies for a couple of batches at once? It seems to me that the malt extract is not something that will get stale or degrade, but what about the hops? How long will they keep? Is one form (pellets, for example) better for storage than another?

View Post


Dry malt extract will be fine for months to years if kept sealed in a cool, low humidity environment.

Hops in all forms keep best when frozen.

Dry yeast keeps best in the fridge, as does liquid yeast. Dry yeast keeps longer in the fridge.

Edited by cdh, 04 April 2006 - 10:21 AM.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

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#13 cdh

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 10:31 AM

I don't have a question but I do have a comment. 

It can only be considered a VERY ROUGH rule of thumb for estimating abv by using the hundreths of the OG.  You'r estimate of finishing max 1.014 would actually yield a beer of about 7%, not a lot of difference.  But it is VERY unlikely this beer will finish that high.  Most dry yeast are much better attenuators than that.  It is a much better rule of thumb to just refer to the hydrometer, presuming 1.010 as the FG.  Failing that, (1.068-1.010)*1.3 = 7.5%. 


Is it within one percent or not? It all depends on what you call close. If you're going to do the math here, you're welcome to explain it to beginning brewers as well. I find that throwing formulae all over the place scares off most beginners.

Moreover your advice to not necessarily bother with a hydrometer can potentially be dangerous.  I hope you mention this prior to the bottling class.

Sorry for being critical, but I really thought these points should be mentioned.

View Post


I recommend bottling in plastic bottles too, so the danger of exploding glass should be out of the picture here. If you're going to bottle in glass, the best practice is to take hydrometer readings on consecutive days, and only bottle once the readings stay the same over 2 or 3 days. I've already admitted that I don't do that, but I also tend to let my beers ferment for 2 full weeks (which is also what I recommend here), which gets past most stuck fermentation issues that might cause dangerous glass grenades.

Edited by cdh, 05 April 2006 - 08:44 PM.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

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#14 cdh

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 10:55 AM

Chris, you mention one packet of yeast. I know it is Ale yeast, but like you said there are several kinds like "Safale S-04 Ale Yeast - 11.5 grams ", "Nottingham Ale Yeast - 11grams", "Cooper's Australian Ale Yeast - 7 grams", "Doric Canadian Ale Yeast - 11 grams"....

What kind is prefered and how much do we need?

View Post


Yeast can make a huge impact on the flavor of your beer, so your choice of yeast will eventually be up to your personal taste. One packet of any dry yeast on the market will be enough eat all the sugar in a 2 gallon batch.

I've not tried every dry yeast on the market, so I can't speak to all of their qualities individually. I've recently made tasty beers with Danstar Nottingham, which let the hop and malt characteristics come through quite well in a British bitter style beer. Danstar's Windsor adds a bit of estery fruitiness in the same beer. Safale S-33 was pleasant in a light brown ale.

If you've never brewed before, you should experiment your way through the selections that are available to you and decide on what you like. Many American brewers strive to eliminate yeast's influence on the flavor of the beer, fermenting at low temperatures and choosing the most neutral strains of yeast available. The favorite dry yeast for that goal is Safale's US-56. Belgian beers are prominently flavored by yeast that impart lots of flavor, and a dry version of that is the Safbrew T-58. Some love it, some hate it, you'll have to try it eventually.


So, pick something, make note of what it is, and decide whether you liked it or not so you know when you go shopping for yeast the next time.
Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

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#15 Mayhaw Man

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 11:19 AM

If I only contribute one thing to a better homebrew, this is it:

USE LIVE YEAST CULTURES!

There are several people out there who sell these, but only one company who does it consistently to the standards that I would approve of 100%. Wyeast does a great service for anyone looking to better their homebrewing efforts. Their methods are top notch, their prices are reasonable, and your beer will be a ton better for it. It's worth the trouble and you will be really glad that you did.

Think about it-if you are going to spend all of the time sanitizing and cleaning that you should, why would you use a dry yeast that is probably 1/2 dead cells and might, probably, contains some kind of low level off components that will cause off flavoring and possibly straight up contamination. You will also get less lag time. This is the most dangerous time in the whole brewing process as all kinds of bad things can happen between wort cool and the the kick off of fermentation. Really bad things. Trust me. I've done it and been there. It's a bummer, and it's just as disappointing when you are making 5 gallons or 5000.

Edited to say that the Wyeast sight has a bunch of information concerning brewing yeasts that is useful to everyone, whether you are following my advice or not.
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#16 jsolomon

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 11:28 AM

Ditto on the Wyeast. When I worked for a microbrewery, my boss swore by them. Their products are very high quality, and their people are very knowledgeable and earnest.

Although, in a liquid culture, you probably have 1/2 of the cell mass as dead cells, also... sorry to steal your thunder, Brooks...
I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

#17 Mayhaw Man

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 11:36 AM

Ditto on the Wyeast.  When I worked for a microbrewery, my boss swore by them.  Their products are very high quality, and their people are very knowledgeable and earnest.

Although, in a liquid culture, you probably have 1/2 of the cell mass as dead cells, also... sorry to steal your thunder, Brooks...

View Post


You are right. My point, though, is that yeast that is already in primary fermentation is growing at an incredible rate-i.e. yeast shipped and restarted in live wort under clean conditions.

Even if you get a decent quality dry yeast, you still have to make a starter if you want to come close to these conditions and 1) it's a pain 2) you are taking a HUGE chance of infecting the stuff with all of that handling.

I might, though, make an argument about the percentage of live yeasts in one of those little foil wonderbags that Logsdon ships out. I'll email him and find out. Actually, even better, I'll see if I can get him to tell us himself. He's a nice guy. He might bite. Who knows?
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#18 cdh

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 11:40 AM

I agree that Wyeast is great. Their products are all top notch. They have a great variety to choose from.

I don't agree that all dry yeasts are inferior to the liquid yeast alternatives, however. The new Fermentis and Danstar products that I've tried have done quite well in comparison to the Wyeast that I've been using in terms of speed.

But for a beginner, the liquid yeast are more perishable, the smack pack dynamics are likely to be confusing or at least a source of uncertainty, and the process of making a starter is too involved.

Given that we're only brewing in beginner-sized two-gallon batches, nobody should need to handle their yeast in any way other than ripping the package open and sprinkling it over the wort. I've tried both rehydrating and just pitching the dry yeast dry, and there is not a difference in performance worth noting in a little batch. I've successfully pitched a 10g S-33 into a 5 gallon batch and it took off in less than 8 hours. That is fine performance in my book.

So, for advanced brewers the Wyeast is a great product and totally worth looking into. For a beginner, the dry alternatives are more than just good enough... they're now quite good.

Edited by cdh, 04 April 2006 - 11:49 AM.

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#19 mtigges

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 03:49 PM

I don't have a question but I do have a comment. 

It can only be considered a VERY ROUGH rule of thumb for estimating abv by using the hundreths of the OG.  You'r estimate of finishing max 1.014 would actually yield a beer of about 7%, not a lot of difference.  But it is VERY unlikely this beer will finish that high.  Most dry yeast are much better attenuators than that.  It is a much better rule of thumb to just refer to the hydrometer, presuming 1.010 as the FG.  Failing that, (1.068-1.010)*1.3 = 7.5%. 


Is it within one percent or not? It all depends on what you call close. If you're going to do the math here, you're welcome to explain it to beginning brewers as well. I find that throwing formulae all over the place scares off most beginners.


Sure, I'll agree that a little bit of arithmetic does seem to faze even otherwise intelligent people sometimes. But, if the abv is off by 1% that is an error of 20% in a normal strength beer. In the 1.068 OG beer that you have suggested the error falls to the neighbourhood of 14%. Surely no one would call that close?

#20 cdh

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 06:12 PM

As I said above, if you're going to insist on precise calculations, you're welcome to explain the math. And, while you're at it, do please delve into the differences in calculating %booze by weight and by volume.

My position stands that looking at the last two digits in an original gravity reading will give a rank newcomer a ballpark figure about where the beer will come in. Nobody should be surprised that a beer that starts at 1.060 comes in at 6.3% and is not a fine session beer. That is what my rule is designed for. If the difference between a 5.8% and a 6.2% beer is very important to you, then there is math you can do that will tell you what you've got.
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#21 Rombot

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 09:55 PM

hi

Before I start the course looks great and something that I have been interested in doing for a while. Just a few questions

1 Can I use a large aluminum pot for the boil?
2 For the hops does it make a difference if I get pellets plugs or flowers?
3 My Brew shop www.esbeer.com.au doesnt have the same yeast, I presume I just ask for a equivalent.

Thanks for your time and effort

Rom

#22 cdh

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 05:30 AM

1 Can I use a large aluminum pot for the boil?
2 For the hops does it make a difference if I get pellets plugs or flowers?
3 My Brew shop www.esbeer.com.au doesnt have the same yeast, I presume I just ask for a equivalent.

View Post


1. For the boil, yes. As a fermentation vessel? I'd recommend against it. Aluminum is somewhat reactive, especially to acids that may be produced by yeast.

2. Doesn't matter. If you use whole hops, they do absorb more liquid than pellets do, so you'll want to add excess water to the beginning of the boil to compensate not just for evaporation, but also for hops rehydration too.

3. Your shop carries the Fermentis products, so I'd recommend the S-04 or the US-56.
Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

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#23 IrishCream

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 07:27 PM

Sorry to be obtuse but what is PET seltzer? What kind of bottle are you referring to? I have plenty of good solid dark brown micro-brew bottles that I could buy a sealer for but the thought of flying shrapnel turns me off a bit.

Also, for any East SF Bay readers, there is a great home-brew/wine-making shop in Concord.

Thanks for an interesting course!
Lobster.

#24 cdh

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 08:38 PM

PET is the type of plastic that carbonated beverage bottles universally used in the U.S. and Western Europe are made from.

In every part of the world I'm familiar with, mass market seltzer comes in plastic bottles and nothing else. I figured that would be clear. Even in Manhattan, I don't think there are still glass seltzer bottles readily available.

As to the schrapnel thing... yep, it is a possibility with glass bottles. Glass is some temperamental and finicky stuff. It shatters when its temperature moves more than it likes... some knocks can weaken it and make it surprisingly vulnerable, while others do nothing... If there's too much sugar in your beer when you bottle it, the yeast can make so much carbon dioxide in there that the glass can't take it and it blows up.

PET bottles have the fantastically modern improvement of twist-on resealable caps. Even if your beer gets too fizzy and one goes boom, you can twist the cap and release the excess in the rest... then clean up the container in which the bottle popped.

PET is good for short term beer storage, but it has gas permeability issues... sodas don't last much more than a year in a bottle and maintain full carbonation. So, if you're trying to brew something that will age for years like a wine, or a mead or some very strong or unusual beers, then PET isn't the way to go. Gas permeability goes two ways... fizz goes out, and oxygen gets in. Neither is optimal. But if you're starting out, making a small batch, and not planning on keeping it around for years, PET is the way to go. Just watch out for bottles that have had soda in, as some of the flavoring compounds can latch onto the plastic and keep on giving. You don't want that... so the recommendation is PET seltzer bottles. Plain seltzer only.

Edited by cdh, 05 April 2006 - 09:22 PM.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

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#25 IrishCream

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 10:36 PM

Thanks for the explanation. I guess I wasn't even sure what you meant by seltzer. I am now assuming you mean the thing called "soda water/club soda" bottled by Canada Dry and Schwepp's, etc. ? Does it include the ubiquitous flavored fizzy waters or will they also make the beer taste off?

Edited by IrishCream, 05 April 2006 - 10:38 PM.

Lobster.

#26 cdh

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Posted 06 April 2006 - 05:43 AM

Wow... I must apologize to everybody for writing in my Northeast USA dialect and assuming that you'd understand it. Please keep up with the terminology questions, since I think I was being clear. Obviously I wasn't.

Yes, seltzer means unflavored fizzy water. Whether you call it Club Soda or Soda Water, both pass for seltzer. Buy the generic stuff... your beer won't be made any more happy by the brand name bottle. Don't use bottles from anything flavored if you don't want to risk your beer picking up some of that flavor.
Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

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Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

#27 FoodMan

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Posted 06 April 2006 - 12:37 PM

A 4-foot length of flexible ½" (or so) tubing. Transferring beer from vessel to vessel should be done by siphon, and you need a tube to get a siphon going.

A racking cane and a bottle filler. These are rigid plastic tubes that attach to the flexible tubing. The racking cane has a device on the bottom end so that your siphon will not draw up sediment from the bottom of the vessel. The bottle filler has a pressure activated valve at the end, so that you can fill bottles without overflowing. Buy these and your tubing at the same time from the same place to insure that everything fits together.


Chris, before I rush off to my local homebrew shop can you please clarify why you mean by "siphon"? Is the siphon part of the racking cane? or do we need to buy it seperatly?

BTW, I was really tempted to go the "live yeast" way after reading the comments above since I make my own sourdough bread pretty much every week from my own starter and have been doing so for a few years now. This is a whole new process for me though and I would like to keep up as much as possible with your class, so a packaged dry yeast it is. After a few successful batches with that...who knows... :smile:

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#28 slkinsey

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Posted 06 April 2006 - 12:52 PM

In re to using live cultures of liquid yeast, one way to really kick off the fermentation is to brew a small "pitching batch" a few days before so you can grow up some extra yeast (Chris may be planning on explaining this later). This is easy to do, since you don't really care about the taste: smack the pack & when it is inflated, boil some malt powder (maybe with a few pellets of hops) with maybe a quart of water, decant it into a sanitized glass bottle and chill, pitch the yeast and put on an airlock. In a day or two, the yeast will have fermented the liquid into "beer." What's more important is that the population of yeast cells you have on hand will have radically increased. While you're boiling your wort, etc. just put the bottle in the refrigerator so most of the yeast goes temporarily dormant and sinks to the bottom of the bottle. Decant off most of the liquid, and when it is time to pitch the yeast for your actual batch of beer just swirl the bottle to stir up the yeast and pour it into your fermenter.
Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

#29 cdh

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Posted 06 April 2006 - 01:17 PM

Chris, before I rush off to my local homebrew shop can you please clarify why you mean by "siphon"? Is the siphon part of the racking cane? or do we need to buy it seperatly?

View Post



By siphon, I simply mean using the property of water in a tube to pull the water behind it along with it once some of it has fallen below the top level of the source. Here's a quick sketch that should get the idea across.
Posted Image

Click here for more on the siphon principle.

Edited by cdh, 06 April 2006 - 01:28 PM.

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#30 cdh

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Posted 06 April 2006 - 01:35 PM

BTW, I was really tempted to go the "live yeast" way after reading the comments above since I make my own sourdough bread pretty much every week from my own starter and have been doing so for a few years now. This is a whole new process for me though and I would like to keep up as much as possible with your class, so a packaged dry yeast it is. After a few successful batches with that...who knows... :smile:

View Post


This brings to mind an issue that you must consider. Sourdough cultures are wild yeasts, the exact kind we want to be very sure to keep FAR away from our beer. If you've got live wild yeast cultures in your kitchen, your chance of getting infected by them is higher because there are more of them around. They may well be wafting around on the air currents.

It would be better if you didn't expose your unfermented beer to the air in your kitchen. Put the lid on it just after the boil ends, and get it out of there. Don't bottle in your kitchen either, unless you're absolutely meticulous about sanitizing everything.

Same goes for folks who make vinegar. Acetobacter can get everywhere if you're not careful... no fun making a good beer only to feed it to the vinegar mother.

Edited by cdh, 06 April 2006 - 08:07 PM.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

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