Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Don't Panic

Let me start out by saying that I am a novice brewer.  I participated once or twice while i was in college, and then took about a 17 year hiatus between brews.

I seriously started to consider it sometime last year, and had talked with several friends about it.  My wonderful wife having overheard some of these conversations (and i'm sure i hinted a bit) found a living social deal for a starter kit from Keystone Homebrewing for $32 instead of the standard $65.  The coupon was placed amongst my holiday presents.

My first batch was a partial boil extract of an APA, complete with steeping grains, and it came out quite nice.  It had a good balance of hopiness and flavor, and everything went pretty much by the book:

  • 2 weeks in fermenter
  • Original and final gravity were spot on
  • 2 weeks in the bottle

So why the "Don't Panic?"  Because my second batch is not going nearly as smoothly.  I decided for my second batch to do a wheat beer.  I chose a kit from my local homebrew supply store Weak Knee Home Brew.

Brew day was going relatively well, until the final step of the day:  the airlock.  Well, i managed to use a little too much force when putting the airlock in grommet.  Into the wort went the grommet.  Luckily, i have my racking bucket, so i transfer the wort there, and retrieve and re-sanitize the grommet.  No big deal.

The next day resulted in an airlock blowout.  Ok, not a big deal, remove the airlock, clean and sanitize the airlock and the outside of the fermenter and i'm back in business.

6 days later, i'm still happily bubbling away.  The only problem is the recipe says it should be 4-6 days in the primary.  So i wait a few more days.  All of a sudden it's 16 days in the primary until there is no more bubbling in the airlock.  Not to mention, the gravity is too high for what i'm expecting.  The recipe expects 1.08 - 1.016, and my wort is at 1.020.  But every other sign tells me to go to the secondary, so i load up my 5 gallon carboy, complete with plug and airlock.

A few hours later, another blowout in the airlock. Time to clean and sanitize, and replace the airlock again.  By this time, i've decided to build a blowoff tube.  A trip to Home Depot yields a 10 foot  3/4 (exterior) x 1/2 (interior) inch tube.  I remove the cap and the bobber from the airlock, and hook the tube up to the interior stem of the airlock, and put the other end of the tube in a growler filled with sanitized water.

3 days later, i decide it's time to check the gravity again, and presto, it's down to 1.012, well within a normal range.   (NOTE:  A sanitized turkey baster makes a nice tool to draw from a carboy) I also decide to give it another week and a half in the secondary to clarify and condition.  I also took a quick taste, and it tastes fine (minus carbonation of course).

The moral of the story is "Don't Panic".  Mistakes are going to be made while making your own beer, and unexpected behavior will happen.  Just keep at it, and do your best to save the batch.  The worst that can happen is that it doesn't taste great, but homebrewed beer really can't hurt you (due to the alcohol content).  And it doesn't hurt to have friends who are willing to tolerate your questions and give you guidance (Keith M., Joe G, Jeff B and Lex H)

I'll post an update in a few weeks when it's ready for consumption.