Temperature Controlled Fermentation

Temperature Controlled Fermentation

Temperature controlled fermentation is the most popular and effective way of improving your homebrewed beer. The simple process of maintaining a constant temperature during fermentation will ensure the beer you’re brewing tastes so much better. Temperature control is so important that it can mean the difference between average beer and amazing beer. It will also ensure you can achieve the particular style of beer that you’re intending to brew.

Mother Nature Vs Beer

When you live in a place like I do, where quite often you’re subjected to 4 seasons in one day, you may have a fight on your hands. For those of us that live in Australia, you know straight away that I’m talking about Melbourne.

Brewing in the cooler months isn’t too bad. The worst thing that can happen is your yeast can go to sleep, work slower or give you a crisper flavour than your intending. Brewing in the summer can be more difficult, you can produce off flavours and potentially kill your yeast from heat stress.

Location, Location, Location….

As a beginner, you need to find a place in your house that has the most consistent temperature. For example, in the closet of a room somewhere in the middle of your house that will avoid sudden changes in temperature.

When I first started brewing I used the garage. Yes I know, not consistent at all, why would I put a fermenter in the only part of the house that’s not insulated? That’s simple, I didn’t have the knowledge at the time and the online resources we have today were not available.

It’s not as bad as it sounds because it was not in the middle of summer or anything like that. I did have some limited knowledge about brewing, so I used an immersion heater and wrapped the fermenter with a couple of beach towels. There is something about immersing a heater inside the fermenter that doesn’t quite sit well with me anymore. I’m not sure about how hot that heater is getting to maintain the temperature for 23 litres of beer.

Can immersion heaters kill off the yeast or produce unwanted flavours? Do you currently use one? I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments further down.

Get a Fridge

One of the pieces of advice any brewer would give a beginner is….. Get a fridge. As you think to yourself “I thought you had to keep the beer warm to ferment it?”

A fridge with a temperature controller and a heat source inside is the most popular method of temperature control during fermentation for most homebrewers. This is what we call a fermentation chamber.

Fridges for fermentation chambers are super easy to come across. Keep an eye out on buy swap and sell pages, garage sales or hit up friends and family for the fridge they may have sitting around not in use. You can easily pick one up for around $40 or sometimes even free.

Temperature Controller

The next bit of kit you will need after scoring a fridge is a temperature controller. There are heaps of these on the market but they all function the same. Temperature controllers have a sensor probe and 3 power sockets which are power inlet, heating outlet and cooling outlet.

What you do is tape the probe to the side of the fermenter inside the fridge. Set the desired temperature on the unit that you need to ferment at and the controller will then turn on the heat source or fridge as required to maintain that set temperature.

Other features usually included on temperature controllers are temperature differential, temperature profiles and compressor delay to avoid any damage to the fridge.

The STC-1000 is a popular temperature controller but it needs to be wired up. It’s recommended if you get an STC-1000 that it’s wired up by an electrician or at best someone that knows what they are doing. The last thing you want is to electrocute yourself, blow up the unit or burn your house down.

STC-1000 Temperature Controller

Then there are plug and play controllers such as the Keg Land MKII or the Inkbird ITC-308, that are good to go straight from the box. All you need to do with these controllers is program your desired settings.

Heat Source

A heat mat generally is the preferred type of heat source for a homemade fermentation chamber. Place the heat mat somewhere in the fridge not making contact with the fermenter. This will be enough to maintain your required temperature provided you’re not living in a really cold environment.

Heat Mat in the fermentation chamber.

Final Thoughts

Once you have acquired the fridge, temp controller and heat source you’re just about good to go. But you’re most likely going to need to build some sort of shelf around the housing at the bottom of the fridge where the compressor is. Here you can use your creative side as I did with some bits and pieces I had laying around in the garage, which you can see in the pic below. If you have a full-size fridge without the freezer you should have the room to place the fermenter on the bottom shelf, make sure it’s well supported to hold a full fermenter of beer.

Makeshift shelf in the bottom of the fridge.

Are you lucky enough to have the perfect environment for fermenting? Do you live in an extreme environment? If so tell us about it in the comments below.

We would also love to see your set-ups, so why not post a pic to our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram!

Specific Gravity in Homebrewing.

Specific Gravity in Homebrewing.

Specific Gravity in homebrewing is a part of the brewing process that makes us feel like mad scientists. I’m a firm believer that as a homebrewer, beer makes you smarter. You can talk to your mates about specific gravity and sound really clever with how you apply science to brewing.

As usual, I’m going to keep this simple and aimed at the beginners, so let’s get into it.

What is Specific Gravity?

Specific Gravity or (SG) which it’s commonly abbreviated to, is the measure of density in a liquid compared to water. In the homebrew world, you will often hear people saying that SG is the amount of sugar in beer, but in fact, this is not exactly correct. For example, sea water which obviously has salt in it would give you an SG of 1.025, as compared to fresh water which is 1.000.

When it comes to measuring the specific gravity of the wort, sugars in water are generally what you’re measuring. However in some cases with beer, the things that can give you a slightly false SG reading are materials suspended in your beer or wort, These such things can be proteins, hop oils or un-fermentable starches.

Why do I need to measure Specific Gravity in Homebrewing?

Typically a homebrewer requires to measure the specific gravity of their wort just before pitching the yeast. This is known as the Original Gravity and will be referred to as OG.

After fermentation has finished, another specific gravity reading is taken. This reading is known as the Final Gravity (FG).

How to calculate Alcohol By Volume? (ABV)

Once you have both the Original Gravity (OG) and Final Gravity (FG) you can use the formula below to calculate ABV, or simply click here to use the Brewers Friend ABV Calculator.

ABV= (OG – FG) x 131.25

E.g.

5.25% = (1.048 – 1.010) x 131.25

If bottle priming, add 0.5%

You will need to know the ABV for when sharing your homebrew with friends because quite often you will get asked: “What percentage is this?”

Confirming Fermentation has Finished

The other main reason for taking gravity readings is to ensure your beer has finished fermenting and is ready to bottle or keg. To ascertain that beer is ready to bottle or keg you will need gravity readings over 2 or 3 consecutive days that are exactly the same. If these readings are exactly the same then it’s safe to say your beer has finished fermenting and this is your Final Gravity (FG). This, of course, is only the case if your beer has been sitting at the recommended temperatures that your yeast requires to ferment.

How to measure Specific Gravity?

The 2 common instruments to measure SG are using a Hydrometer and a testing flask or a Refractometer. But today I’ll just give you the steps using the Hydrometer.

Steps

1. Remove the airlock or loosen the fermenter lid so none of the water from the airlock gets sucked back into the fermenter. This is where the 2 or 3 piece airlocks come in handy because all you need to do it pull the top section off.

2. Fill the testing flask with wort or beer to about 3/4 full. You will learn after a few goes what volume you’re testing flask needs to float the hydrometer.

Filling Testing Flask to Take a Gravity Reading

3. Put the airlock back on or tighten the fermenter lid back on as soon as you have taken your sample.

4. Gently lower the hydrometer into the flask of wort and let it float. Don’t just drop it in because you will smash it.

5. Give the hydrometer a spin to clear off any attached bubbles and improve the accuracy of the reading.

6. Get down at eye level with the top of the wort and read the hydrometer from the top of the meniscus. Make sure you write this reading down in the following format 1.XXX.

The correct way to read a Hydrometer

Tip: Your hydrometer should have written on the side what temperature it’s been calibrated to. Try to take your reading close to this temperature if you can. There is a good temperature adjustment calculator on Brewers Friend if your wort is not close to the required temperature.

7. Remove the hydrometer, wash it and store it away.

Warning: Do not wash glass hydrometers in really hot water, because you can break them or cause the indicator inside to dislodge.

8. This step is vitally important! Taste a sample of the sample. I think it’s a good practice to taste your samples along the way just to understand what’s going on.

I have heard a lot of people say to take a gravity reading from the bottom of the meniscus. If this is you can you care to explain why in the comments, as we would love to put this debate to bed?

Brewing your first beer, kit & kilo style

Brewing your first beer, kit & kilo style

Brewing your first beer, kit & kilo style is the first method most home brewers in Australia usually begin with. It’s the result of receiving a home brew kit for Christmas or your Birthday.  Kit & Kilo is the process of mixing a can of hopped malt extract, a kilo of brewing sugar, adding water and then adding (pitching) yeast.

This post will be brief, but more detailed than the label on most brew cans. The reason why I want to be brief is not to overwhelm you because frankly, the process is not really that difficult. Once you get your first brew out of the way I’ll teach you some methods that will greatly improve your beer. These include adding extra hops at different times during the brew to add extra bitterness, flavour and aroma or using a different yeasts rather than the packet that comes with your kit. The options are endless but I’ll leave it there for now and you can read about this in future posts.

Let’s get ready to brew your first beer kit & kilo style.

I assume that you have already got a beginners home brew kit, if not check out my post  “Introduction to Homebrewing” here I give a list of the basic equipment you will need to start brewing.

For educational purposes let’s say your first brew is going to be a Australian Coopers Pale Ale. If you have already purchased a different brew can or fermentables the method is still the same. Before you start brewing please familiarise yourself with my post “Cleaning and Sanitising in Homebrewing” as sanitary practices in brewing is ESSENTIAL!

Ingredients
1.7kg Australian Coopers Pale Ale Can (Brew Can)
1kg Brew Enhancer 2 (Fermentable Sugars)
1 Packet of brewers yeast. (Comes with the can)
Water

Tip: Clean and Sanitise about 4 soft drink bottles and fill with water then refrigerate overnight. This will assist in getting your cooling your wort to the correct temperature before pitching yeast. Better yet purchase a 10 litre water container from the supermarket and chill that.

Cool water on hand to cool wort

Water Storage

Step 1
Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitised. A full clean may not be required for brand new equipment on the first brew, but sanitising most definitely is!

Tip: Get yourself a brand new clean bucket or flexitub from Bunnings. You will purely use this for holding your stirring spoon, can opener, scissors and airlock while brewing. I put some no rinse sanitiser in there during the brew to keep my gear sanitised because placing your stirring spoon on the bench is simply not good enough.

Bunnings Flexitub to store sanitised homebrew equipment

Bunnings Flexitub

Step 2
Remove the label from your brew can. Take the plastic lid off and put the packet of yeast somewhere safe until it’s time to pitch.

Tip: When you purchase a brew can it’s a good idea to take the yeast out and store it somewhere cool such as your fridge to ensure the yeast stays as healthy as possible.

Step 3
Fill your sink with hot water and place the brew can submerged for at least 10 minutes to soften up the mixture inside for ease of pouring it out when it’s time.

Step 4
Place 2 litres of boiling water into the fermenter.

Step 5
Pour the 1 kilo of brew enhancer 2 (or the fermentable you have) into the fermenter, then using a sanitised mixing spoon stir until it fully dissolved.

Tip: If you are using Light Dry Malt it may clump up, so a lot of stirring is required. If there are some clumps you can’t get to dissolve the yeast will still manage to eat it all up. Another option is to put the 2 litres of water in a pot, get it boiling and stir in the Light Dry Malt until its dissolved.

Step 6
With your sanitised can opener, open up your brew can and pour it into the fermenter then stir well. You mostly likely need to use a tea towel or oven mitt to hold the can because it may be hot.

Tip: if you want to get every drop of extract out of the brew can put a little bit of boiling water in there from the jug and give it a bit of a swirl or a stir with your mixing spoon. If you didn’t need the tea towel before you will now.

Step 7
Top up your fermenter with tap water to the 20 litre mark. Once you get to the 20 litre mark check the temperature with a sanitised thermometer or the one stuck on the side of your fermenter. At this point you will need to add boiled or refrigerated water up to the 23 litre mark to achieve a temperature range of 21°C – 27°C. This is the recommendation for the yeast used in the Australian Pale Ale brew can. For example if you had a Lager the required temperature is more in the range on 13°C – 21°C. I don’t know what yeast you are using in this brew I suggest you check the instructions on the packet. Also if you do have a Lager brew can I suggest trying an ale if this is your first brew.

Note: Yeast and Fermentation temperatures will be detailed in posts of their own in due course.

Tip: Before you pitch your yeast into the wort, aerate it as much as possible by vigorously stirring, shaking the fermenter or making a good splash when adding your water. The reason for this is because it gives the yeast a healthy head start to reproduce cells and start eating up all the sugars to produce alcohol. This is the only time oxygen is your friend in brewing.

Step 8
Now that you have your wort at the required volume and temperature, take a gravity reading with your hydrometer. Note down the reading for calculating the alcohol by volume (ABV) at the end of the ferment. This reading will be called your original gravity (OG).

Step 9
Once you have taken your original gravity reading simply cut open the packet of yeast with sanitised scissors and sprinkle it over the top of your wort.  You can re-hydrate the yeast before pitching but that’s also a topic for another future post.

Step 10
Place the lid on the fermenter along with the airlock filled with water and place the fermenter in a place where it’s mostly dark and the temperature is constantly between 18°C and 24°C for minimum of 10 days. Again this temperature range depends on the yeast you are using.

Tip: To help keep the temperature steady and away from light, wrap the fermenter in a towel or blanket. Again another thing I will be posting in the future is a temperature controlled fermentation fridge.

Tip: For an extra level of protection put a small amount of no rinse sanitiser in your airlock water.

Step 11
After a minimum of 10 days take a specific gravity reading with your hydrometer and note it down. Repeat this same step the next day. If the readings are exactly the same for 2 consecutive days and under 1.016 then it’s safe to say you can bottle your brew.

Note: This gravity reading is known as your final gravity (FG) and will be used with your original gravity (OG) the calculate the ABV. I will guide you through bottling in the next post along with a basic guide to hydrometer readings and calculating the ABV.

How did your first brew go? Did my instructions and tips help at all? Hit me up in the comments below.

Cleaning and Sanitising in homebrewing

Cleaning and Sanitising in homebrewing

Cleaning and Sanitising for homebrewers is the essential process of removing any bacteria, wild yeasts and microorganisms that may be living in your equipment. While it may not be the most exciting part of brewing it is definitely the most important. We all suck it up and do a really good job of it, otherwise, there is the risk of getting an infected batch of beer. Touch wood, I have never had an infection but I have seen an infected batch get dumped down the drain and that’s a sight which could make a grown man cry.

Everything that comes in contact with your wort needs to be sanitised, but before that, you must clean. (For those beginners wort is what we call beer before it’s fermented.) Below are the methods and products I use for cleaning and sanitation. Sure there are others out there but these work for most.

Cleaning

Products that can be used to clean your homebrew equipment

All your equipment needs to be cleaned free of any dust or residue prior to sanitising! This includes your fermenter, airlock, stirring spoon, can opener, scissors and thermometer for brew day. Then there are bottles, bottling wand, kegs and racking cane on bottling/kegging day. There are various products available from your local homebrew store or online but I use Sodium Percarbonate. It’s not recommended to use dish washing detergent especially if it’s scented because that can carry through to your beer if all the residue is not removed, but if you have nothing else at the time you can use it with care as explained below.

OK let’s say you can’t get your hands on Sodium Percarbonate yet, you could use dishwashing detergent and elbow grease, but what you may have in your laundry could surprise you. Napisan Oxiaction for example actually is Sodium Percarbonate and there is no problem using this to clean your gear but be aware it’s generally not 100% Sodium Percarbonate. All this means is you will need to use a bit more depending on the concentration.

Another option which I would use as a last resort is an unscented bleach. I don’t really feel comfortable using bleach as it can be quite hard on your equipment and leave a chlorine smell but it’s up to you. I have only ever used it once when I recovered all my homebrew gear from storage and I wanted to make sure it was all super clean. In saying that, it’s the go-to cleaner for a lot of homebrewers because its cheap.

So now I have touched on some of the cleaning products available I will briefly describe how to clean with them. Before I start, please read and follow the safety precautions or instructions on the label of the product you are using.

Sodium Percarbonate

Place 2 tablespoons of Sodium Percarbonate in your fermenter along with all your equipment that will be coming in contact with wort, then fill it all the way to the brim with hot water. I usually do this in the bath because if you ask my wife I like to make a mess and get water everywhere. Once you have filled your fermenter place the lid back on and let it sit for a couple of hours or preferably overnight. Once the Sodium Percarbonate has done its job, open up the tap at the bottom and let the fermenter start draining. I like to do this to flush out any nasties that may be hiding in the tap. At this point, I get a soft cloth or sponge and wipe down all the surfaces and equipment inside the fermenter to make sure all foreign matter is removed. After you have finished cleaning and the fermenter has drained, proceed to thoroughly rinse out all the cleaning solution with water. You are now ready to sanitise. This is where I get my Sodium Percarbonate.

Napisan or Equivalent Clothing Stain Remover.

Follow the same steps as per cleaning with Sodium Percarbonate above but use twice the amount as Napisan Oxiaction Gold only contains 330g Sodium Percarbonate per kilogram. Different brands tend to contain different amounts, but I’m sure you can use the correct judgement on this. Just remember if you have any questions or not sure about something, ask us in the comments below.

Dishwashing Detergent

I don’t really need to go on about this one too much because it’s not recommended, but if you need to use it just give your fermenter a good squirt of detergent which is preferably unscented and proceed to follow the same steps as you would using Sodium Percarbonate. Rather than soaking overnight, I would just soak for a couple of hours and then use elbow grease with a soft cloth or sponge to clean everything. Just make sure you rinse everything afterwards extremely well.

Bleach

Place a half cup of unscented bleach in your fermenter along with all your equipment that will be coming in contact with wort, then fill it all the way to the brim with warm water. Once you have filled your fermenter place the lid back on and let it sit for a couple of hours. Once you have let the bleach soak in, open up the tap at the bottom and let the fermenter start draining. Once the fermenter is just about drained put on some rubber gloves and with a soft cloth or sponge wipe down all the surfaces and equipment inside the fermenter to make sure all foreign matter is removed. After you have finished cleaning and the fermenter has drained, thoroughly rinse out all the bleach with hot water. You will need to rinse everything multiple times to ensure there is no strong chlorine smell. You are now ready to sanitise.

Sanitising

Products that can be used to sanitise your homebrew equipment.

Now that you have got the hard part out of the way and your equipment has been cleaned and rinsed thoroughly its ready to be sanitised.

As I touched on above, sanitising is the process of killing any bacteria, wild yeasts and microorganisms that may be living in your equipment. Sanitising is not guaranteed to kill 100% of everything inside your equipment, so if you were to try to achieve a 100% kill rate sterilisation is required, however for homebrew this is not required. Hospitals for example use sterilisation methods.

As there was with the cleaning products there are multiple options and methods on the market, including Sodium Percarbonate, Hydrogen Peroxide and an acid mix containing Phosphoric and Sulphonic acid (otherwise known as Star San). Hands down Star San or the equivalent generic brands are the number one choice of sanitiser for homebrewers.

Whatever product you are using be sure to follow any safety precautions or instructions on the label. I’m only going to explain the use of Star San or Equivalent because that’s how highly regarded it is in the homebrew world.

Star San or Equivalent

This acid sanitiser is made up of 50% Phosphoric acid, 15% Dodecylbenzene Sulphonic acid and the remaining 35% is an inert ingredient. The reason why this type of sanitiser is so popular is that a little bit goes a long way, the contact time to sanitise is extremely quick and there is no need to rinse. As the saying goes NEVER FEAR THE FOAM! This is the Sanitiser I use.

To sanitise your equipment simply follow these steps:

  • Add 6ml of Star San or equivalent to your fermenter along with 4 litres of water or 1.5ml for every litre of water.
  • Place your mixing spoon and airlock in the fermenter then attach the lid.
  • Give it a quick shake ensuring all surfaces get contact with the sanitiser.
  • Give it another quick shake after 5 minutes.
  • Once you are ready to do your brew or the sanitiser has had a minimum of 10 minutes contact time, drain it into a clean bucket along with the airlock and mixing spoon then place the lid back on until its ready to add your wort. Remember there is no need to rinse the sanitiser.
  • Place any other equipment such as the scissors, can opener, and thermometer into the bucket while you do your brew.

I usually keep some diluted sanitiser in a spray bottle that I use from time to time. EG; to spray inside the tap after taking a gravity reading.

Have you held a Viking burial for a brew gone wrong from infection or you’re still not sure about something? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below or via the forum!

Introduction to Home Brewing

Introduction to Home Brewing

Introduction to Home Brewing.

So you want to start brewing beer but you’re asking yourself, where do I start?  How much will it cost?  How long does it take? These are some pretty common questions that I will cover below. When I first started brewing I had to fly by the seat of my pants through the first few beer making attempts but with time and knowledge, I’m nearly ready to get a nice white lab coat to complement all the scientific research that goes into making a perfect beer. There are a few different methods when it comes to home brewing, which are kit and kilo, extract brewing or all grain brewing but today I will just be talking about kit and kilo style brewing.

Where do I start?

First of all, you need to get some equipment, I suggest that you go to your local homebrew store if you have one in your area. Pick up a beginners kit which would typically include the following as a minimum to start brewing:

    • Bottling Wand.
  • Some kits may also include a kilo of brewing sugar, beer kit can, carbonation drops, crown seals and PET or glass bottles.

Basic Homebrew Starter Kit

If you don’t have a local homebrew shop you could simply order a Coopers DIY Beer Brew Kit from Dan Murphys or stroll into your local Big W for the same thing. This kit includes everything to brew and bottle your first batch of delicious beer. The only items not included in this kit are cleaning and sanitising solutions which you will need to source. If you’re near Melbourne, KegLand or KegKing are also good options. My next post with cover the importance of cleaning and sanitising, as this is the most important process when it comes to brewing beer. 

How much will it cost?

The initial outlay is around $120 which I assure you it will pay itself off in no time. For example, a coopers pale ale kit and kilo brew as it’s often referred to, will cost you around $23 and yield around 21 litres of bottled beer. At the time of writing this, a slab of Coopers original pale ale would cost $55 for 9 litres. I don’t really need to break this down any further because you can already see the difference brewing your own beer will make just from that. Plus brewing your own beer is so much more rewarding than buying someone else’s.

As you progress!

Once you decide to step up your brewing operation the options are endless. There is other equipment and more ingredients that can be used to immensely improve your beer. I started to progress after just doing 2 batches. Let’s face it, once you start playing around with adding more hops and speciality grains you’re completely addicted to raising the bar on the next brew.

The extra optional equipment you will require is the following:

    • 19-litre boil pot

19-litre pot, Hop Bag and Strainer.

The next step to kit and kilo brewing; is boiling or steeping hops to add extra flavour or bitterness and addition of speciality grains for flavour profile. The first advanced step people try is dry hopping to add aroma. Dry hopping is adding hops to your beer when fermentation has finished to take your beer to the next level. This is when the fun starts because once you start developing your own recipes and flavour profiles, you’re hooked. Brewing will be extremely rewarding and you will ask yourself, why didn’t I start this sooner.

How long does it take?

One thing I hear from my friends is that they are way too impatient to wait for beer to brew. They don’t have the time so they just buy beer from the shop when they need it.

The reality is that the initial process to put on a brew can be done in under 2 hours. The fermentation period is 2 weeks and once you have bottled your beer it takes another 2 weeks to condition and carbonate.

If you constantly have a batch of beer fermenting just like I do, then you should be able to build up a stockpile. Having an arsenal of different beers means that they will have a chance to age and get even better over time. You will never have the problem of running out of beer which is every mans dream. If you do this, never admit to your friends that you have an unlimited supply of beer or they will forever be on your doorstep empty handed begging for some of your liquid gold.

If you’re new to brewing or yet to begin and you have any questions or comments about what I have discussed so far I would love to hear from you in the comments or the forum. If you would like us to put a beginners kit together for you to suit your needs feel free to Contact Us.

If you have been brewing for a while, what would be your best bit of advice to a beginner?

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