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Daryl Olson
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If you're having trouble with your yeast, I'd recommend looking into the Wyeast smack packs. Short form is they are a big plastic envelope full of liquid yeast food with a smaller pack inside that full of liquid yeast. You break the inner packet by squishing the envelope, then shake it a bit, then let it sit for somewhere around 4 - 6 hours. There's videos on youtube about it. It builds up a big culture of yeast in there that you just pour into your primary which also gives you a quicker kick-off on the ferment since it's already active when you pitch it. That will help avoid the possibility of wild yeast contamination. For an example, you can check out info on my local (very good) brewing store www.northernbrewer.com. They're pretty much known all over the country as a matter of fact. They've also got a lot of other super useful information on there and sell some great brewing kits. The other huge benefit of using the smack packs is that the packs give you the option of trying out all those really interesting yeasts that make your beer come out so different. I LOVE the belgian ales personally, but my tastes run more to the big malty beers instead of hop head. Also, some advice on How To Avoid Things Going Wrong. I'm not sure of your brewing budget, storage space, etc. but if you've got the room for it and you get into brewing, an outdoor propane burner is a wonderful thing. Your brewing store probably sells better quality ones, or in a pinch you could use one from a turkey deep frying kit. The idea is that doing it outside on a nice day is a wonderful way to spend the time, plus when you get a boilover (and you definitely, someday, will get one) the mess of burned sugars and hops just goes on the grass instead of all over your stove and kitchen. Believe me, cleaning up any boilover, much less a big one, is not fun. Brewing outside also keeps the smell of boiling wort out of the house if you have anybody in your house that doesn't like the smell hanging around the kitchen for a couple days. Another thing that can really help you avoid messes is to get a big plastic tub of some kind. I've found heavy duty ones at places like Home Depot that are usually used for mixing up concrete and are perfect for this kind of thing. You put your fermenter inside the tub so when you get a blowout (and you eventually will) from your airlock, the mess ends up in the tub instead of all over your hardwood floor, carpet, etc. Another technique to avoid blowoffs is to get a long piece of very wide tubing that fits in the neck of your primary fermenter (northern brewer sells them if your local store doesn't have them). Because the hose is so wide, one end plugs into the fermenter without a rubber stopper and the other end goes in a bucket of water. Instant giant water lock with a neck that's big enough that you're not likely to have a plug up. Switch to a regular water lock once the initial ferment settles down after the initial about 3 days of super active fermentation since the hose may not be as airtight as a stoppered water lock. Plenty tight enough for initial fermentation but maybe not enough for long term fermentation depending on relative sizes of the mouth of your fermenter and the hose. Until you have a few brewings under your belt I'd recommend sticking with extract brewing w/ specialty grains. Those are the kits with the barley juice already in a bottle, a package of hops, about a pound or so of crushed specialty grains for flavor, and a muslin bag to use during the boil like a teabag for the specialty grains. You can make beer that is spectacularly good with this without having to immediately make the jump to 100% all grain brewing. If your local brewing shop doesn't carry them northern brewer can do mail order, but I'm betting your brew shop does carry them, or somewhere close does. (Btw, stay away from those things that are everything in a can, including the hops. Yuck.) And, if you get into brewing long term, look into kegging your beer. You might even want to get an old frig just to keep a couple kegs in, or build yourself a full on system with the kegs and CO2 in the frig and the taps on the outside. Anyhow, washing bottles and capping is a huge pain in the tail. It's nice to have the bottles for sharing, but it's a whole lot more convenient to keg in soda kegs. You can keep your house beer in the kegs and save the bottling for the stuff you want to gift out. If you've got kegs, you can also invest in a couple of growlers to carry off beer to a party, picnik, etc. I'd agree with people above who don't worry too much about SG when they're brewing. Personally, depending on what I'm making, it's usually a week in the primary, rack to secondary for a month or so, then bottle/keg it. If I'm doing a big beer like a Scottish Heavy or something, it goes about 2 weeks in primary, probably a month and a half in secondary, and then a few more months in a third ferment to get it off the dead yeast. Another handy trick, to keep your beer nice and dark while it ferments, is to use a couple heavy t-shirts over the fermenter to keep out the light. A good friend of mine took a couple T-Shirts I had (with appropriate nerdy slogans on them), cut off and sewed up the arm holes, tightened the neck a little and put in a draw string and it was perfect for keeping the light off it. Or, you can take the cardboard box your glass carboy comes in, cut off the bottom, put a hole just big enough for the neck of the fermenter in the other end, and use that. Instant beer cozy. You still want to stick it somewhere dark and cool, but the shirt is a big help if it has to sit somewhere with lights. Be sure to hit up youtube for brewing videos, and look around your area for homebrewing clubs. If you've got a local brew shop, you've almost for sure got beer nerds that you can hang with too. Have fun!
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Jul 20, 2011