“Letters to a Young Brewer” – Calm Down

There’s been a rash of fermentation questions popping up on reddit/r/homebrewing lately and I thought I’d add to my earlier post about getting your fermentation set up for success.  I neglected to mention a vital process in achieving a successful fermentation and bottling – calm the %$#@! down.

“OMG – it’s been 15 hours and NO ACTIVITY in the fermenter!” – After questioning, there’s the start of the krausen forming, but the airlock’s not moving.  This is not “no activity”.   Everyone who’s been brewing for a while has had that wild batch that took off like a rocket and fermented all the way through in 3 days.  The standard is 5 to 7 for ales, so just keep an eye on it.  If you don’t see the krausen form inside 48 hours, you may consider re-pitching some fresh yeast. Until then, “relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew”.

“I waited until it looked like it was done fermenting and moved it to a secondary.  I took a reading and it’s down from 1.060 to 1.030, but not fermenting anymore!” – yeah, you took the beer away from the yeast leaving only the yeast in suspension to try to heavy-lift that bad boy all the way down to 1.012.  Not going to happen.  First, ask yourself why you are racking to a secondary?  If you’re brewing an ale, you can leave it in the primary for over 20+ days without a real danger of autolysis, even in a plastic bucket, though there is a very slight chance of oxidation due to the simi-permeable nature of the plastic.  Pulling the beer off the yeast after 7 days is not a hard and fast rule, it’s a rule of thumb.  Take your gravity readings and decide if the fermentation is complete, then make your move to bottle/keg, or if you must, a secondary.  Note: there are times when a secondary is necessary. If you’re fermenting a big barely wine or the like, you may very well want to age it at fermentation temp for over a month.   That’s a good cause for moving it to a secondary.

In brewing, as with most things in life, you shouldn’t make decisions without looking at the data.  Always take your readings before you make a decision to rack or bottle.  Keep an eye on your fermentation, but don’t freak out unless there’s cause (as indicated by the data).  If you’re in a big hurry, go buy beer at the store.  You can’t rush fermentation.  It’s done when it’s done.  If you bottle too early, you can get gushers from the excess suspended yeast going to town on your bottling sugar.  Or you can get a beer that was “half done” which won’t taste right and you’ll get discouraged.  Patience will be rewarded.  Now go brew!

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