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Q&A: Homebrewing

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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?


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
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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.


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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


Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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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!

Bob R in OKC


Bob R in OKC

Home Brewer, Beer & Food Lover!

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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.

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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?


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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

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.

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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.

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 (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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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?

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 (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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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.

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 (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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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?

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"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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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.


Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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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.

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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...

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?


Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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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 (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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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?

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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.


Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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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

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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.

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"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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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.

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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 (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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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 (log)

Lobster.

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