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Archive for January, 2008

It’s not over yet…

Beer still going

Great news. The beer is still fermenting. I popped the top off and gently dropped the hydrometer in. The reading was 1016, unmistakeably less that the previous reading. There were also some bubbles (though not that many) on the surface. I chose to give it another very gentle stir, being very careful not to splash at all. I think this will be the last stir as I really don’t want to risk introducing oxygen to the beer now.

I also measured the temperature of the beer, as it was pointed out to me that the temperature of the beer can often be a lot lower than the room temperature, and of course brewing guides refer to beer temperature. The beer was at 16.5 degrees, about a degree lower than the room temperature. I suspect this really is on the limit of what I can expect to produce beer consistently well, so depending on the success of the wine and the next beer (which hopefully won’t suffer the same boiler problems) I might have to seriously consider some form of heating for the brewery.

This temperature also means, according to my research, that I can actually lower the hydrometer reading by a point, meaning it is actually at about 1015, very close to 1014 – the highest target gravity for bottling according to the instructions.

Overall I am very relieved to see proof that the beer is still alive and kicking, even if it is a little sluggish. I will take another reading on Saturday, but will probably not be able to bottle until at least the following weekend anyway, so it will likely get another 10 days to finish fermenting.

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Time for my next bubble count on the Beaverdale Merlot:

Day Time per bubble (secs) bubbles per minute
0 infinite 0
3 2 28
5 9 7

Observations:

  • the bubbles were coming through noticeably slower now, though still very regularly.
  • the bubbles were all the big kind now, which slowly moves the water round before go ing through in one rush. This means the slowing of the fermentation compared to day 3 isn’t quite as large as the figures suggest.
  • it is clear there is still constant CO2 coming from the wine.

Despite having nothing to really compare this behaviour to, I’m very happy to see evidence of activity from the wine. I’m sure its fermenting, and have no intention of opening the top to take a measure with the hydrometer until the bubbling has slowed much more.

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Having given the beer four days since giving it a good stir to try to kick it back in to life, I decided it was time to take another measurement. Rather than taking the lid off I decided I would draw a sample through the tap. I wanted to do this for a number of reasons: I wanted to avoid taking the top off and exposing it to yet more oxygen, I wanted to be able to taste a sample, I wanted to be able to get a more accurate hydrometer reading, and I wanted to test out the tap before the bottling stage as I suspected being so low it would catch too much of the sediment.

Tube Test

Having put the bucket on a thick book to raise the tap off the ground to allow me to attach the tubing, I was fairly easily able to fill the tube the hydrometer came in with beer. As it happened I originally filled it to a level where, with the hydrometer in, the beer came up exactly to the top of the tube. This made taking a hydrometer reading very difficult with the beer making a bell shape at the top. The tube was also very tight, and so the hydrometer didn’t move smoothly up and down. However, taking a number of readings I would estimate the gravity at between 1017 and 1018 – in other words it might have gone down a fraction from the previous readings of 1018, but I’m far from certain that it has. I carefully poured out some of the beer (into my mouth of course but I’ll come onto the tasting in a minute) and tried to take another reading with the hydrometer, but the tube was definitely too narrow lower down, so I couldn’t. I took some reassurance from noticing that before drawing any beer, the lid of the bucket was noticeably pushed up in the centre, presumably the result of the beer producing co2 and the pressure building up. This dropped a little after I drew off some beer – perhaps there is still hope that it is fermenting ok.

So onto the tasting… I was very pleasantly surprised. Having fairly recently drunk a bottle of this exact beer (thanks Phil – see my blogroll for his blog) I could clearly recognise the taste as the same, just currently with a milder and shallower flavour and perhaps a fraction sweeter.

As for for using the tap, my suspicions were correct. With it being so low down the bucket, it picked up far to much sediment. I will use tubing fed into the top of the bucket to bottle the beer rather than the tap.

Overall I’m not very happy with the progress of this beer. Having nothing to compare it against, its hard for me to know whether things are still ok or not. After all, it is to be expected that the beer will be late finishing, given the 17-18 degree average temperature normally, not to mention the several days of 16 degree temperatures while the boiler was broken, which caused it to stop fermenting entirely. The pushed up lid today, and the hiss and bubbles when I opened the lid a few days ago give me hope. I will leave the beer alone for another couple of days before taking the lid off to inspect things and take a more accurate hydrometer reading.

If I’m keeping everything crossed for the wine, I’d better tie myself in knots for the beer…

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Wine bubbling away

I have decided to make regular measurements of the number of bubbles coming through the airlock on the wine. Regardless of whether my first attempt at brewing wine ferments perfectly, or stops short, having something to compare future fermentation against should be really useful.

Day Time per bubble (secs) bubbles per minute
0 infinite 0
3 2 28

Observations:

  • There were no bubbles immediately after mixing all the ingredients and attaching the airlock.
  • I was away for the next couple of days, but after 3 days it is bubbling away. 🙂 The bubbles are sometimes small ones you can see pass through the airlock, and other times you can see the pressure building and pushing the water round the airlock before it all bubbles through in one big bubble. (I counted all these as one bubble)

It looks like so far so good for the wine. I’m keeping everything crossed though.

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I was very kindly given a wine starter kit for my birthday. However, what with getting the beer going, setting up The Brewery, and then all the boiler problems, I haven’t had chance to get the kit out and have a good look at it, never mind actually get some wine going. Finally today, I found myself with enough time, and the house to myself, so I got all the wine gear out to inspect it.

This kit included:

  • a 5 litre PET plastic demijohn
  • a gromit
  • an air lock
  • a 1.2 metre syphoning tube
  • a syphon tap
  • a small container of steriliser
  • 6 tapered corks

The birthday present also included a 6 bottle Beaverdale Merlot kit.

Beaverdale Merlot wine kit

The wine kit contained:

  • a large bag of grape juice
  • oak chippings
  • yeast
  • stabiliser
  • kieselsol
  • chitosan

I started by measuring 4.5 litres of water into the demijohn and marking this level. I them moved onto the all important sanitising, soaking the demijohn and top, gromit, airlock, as well as my measuring jug, hydrometer and thermometer. I also boiled the kettle to give a supply of clean, warm water. Ten minutes later I rinsed everything thoroughly with cold tap water. I opened the grape juice bag and poured it into the demijohn, before filling the bag with warm water and pouring that into the demijohn too. (All the warm water I used came by filling the measuring jug half with the cold tap and half from the boiled kettle.) I continued to fill the demijohn with warm water until it was just above the 4.5 litre fill level. I then placed the top on, covered the hole with my finger and shook the wine vigorously. The instructions stated that if the wine was fulled mixed it would have a gravity of 175-180. On inspection, the gravity was around 155. I was concerned given I had shaken the wine considerably already, but I shook it for a further minute, and a second reading showed the gravity at around 178.

Before I could add any further ingredients the temperature of the wine had to be between 20 and 25 degrees C. Using the thermometer, I found it was around 22 degrees C, so I continued with the instructions. I added the optional but recommended oak chippings. As someone who likes a Merlot with a deep oaky flavour, this was a no brainer. I was surprised to find the sachet marked oak chippings basically contained course saw dusk. I’m not sure what I expected, but sprinkling this into my wine seemed strange. After stirring in the oak chippings using the thermometer, I added the final ingredient – the yeast. I placed the top back on the demijohn, covered the hole again with my finger and gave it a good shake. I then filled the airlock with water so that the lower ‘ball’ on each side was filled with water, and inserted it tightly into the hole in the demijohn top.

Fermenting Wine

Thats it. Job done. I wrapped a warm tea towel around the demijohn to try to keep the heat in for as long as possible and placed it in the corner of The Brewery. The instructions recommend a room temperature of 20 degrees C and not less. As discussed previously The Brewery temperature is more like 18 degrees C, but having already researched this topic, it seems this should be ok – only time will tell.

The wine should take around 3 weeks to ferment (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it took longer in the cooler conditions). The aim will be for a gravity of 990 to 994, and less than one bubble per minute going through the airlock. I am looking forward to the feedback I should get from having the airlock – hopefully being able to watch bubbles pass through it fairly regularly, so I will know for certain the yeast is doing its job. This feels like a big advantage over the beer, which is why I am considering fitting an airlock on the beer fermenting bucket too.

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Coming Unstuck

“The Brewery” temperature is now back up to about 18 degrees C and the beer had a stir yesterday. It was time to take the lid off the beer again, and see if it was still dead as a dodo, or if it had been resurrected, like the boiler.

Coming Unstuck

Good news I think. Comparing the picture from today (above) and the picture in yesterdays post, there are a lot more bubbles on the surface of the beer today. This I believe shows that the previously stuck fermentation has started to become active again. I took another hydrometer reading, and not unexpectedly it gave a reading of around 1018 still. However, I gave the beer another stir and I’m fairly hopeful that the beer will now continue to ferment.

The instructions suggest it should get down to at least 1014 and then stabilise, though I think I’d feel more confident that the yeast had properly woken up and finished fermenting if it gets to 1012 or less.

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I have decided to put labels on my bottles, at least to start with. I know this will mean some extra work, but if the beer is sufficiently good, I hope to give a good proportion of it away to friends, and family (either because they have helped to fund my new hobby, or to prove to them that home brewed beer can be very tasty).

I am already well aware of the hard work involved in removing labels, so after a little research on the web, I have decided to conduct a small experiment to judge the various techniques for sticking the labels. I will judge them on presentation and ease of removal.

Labels Test

As you can see I have put labels on to 6 bottles, each attached in a different way. From left to right in the picture, these labels are:

  • sticker attached to a wet bottle
  • sticker attached to dry bottle (the control sticker)
  • sticker which has been stuck to a jumper several times to remove some of the stickyness
  • sticker with addition of glue from a glue stick
  • plain paper attached using glue stick
  • plain paper attached with milk (tip from Jim’s Homebrew forum – see my blogroll)

I will leave these for around a week before judging their appearance. I will then soak them in warm slightly soapy water and judge how easily the various labels come off.
Initial Observations:

  • wet bottle sticker -looks crinkled already
  • control sticker – looks great, easiest to apply
  • jumper sticker – corners peeling off from where I peeled it off my jumper several times
  • sticker and glue – looks great
  • paper with glue stick – looks superb – best so far as paper is slightly thicker than stickers
  • paper with milk – slight crinkle and messy to do – both could be avoided with careful application

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A second glance

With the boiler fixed (at least for now) it was time to see what damage had been done to my beer by the cold temperatures in the house. I took the lid off (with a slight hiss) and took a gravity measure with the sterilised hydrometer – it was 1018. This doesn’t seem much below the 1022 from 8 days ago (which was measured 5 days after the beer was started.) I gave the beer a stir with the stirrer (which I had also sterilised) for 10 or 15 seconds to get the yeast mixed back in, trying to stir firmly but without splashing and introducing oxygen. I took the following picture and then quickly replaced the lid.

Second Glance

I intend to measure the gravity again tomorrow and if it has not decreased, I will give the beer a longer stir to hopefully encourage the yeast to get back to work over the weekend.
Observations:

  • it is very difficult to sterilise a stirrer which is slightly larger than the size of a sink, and a hydrometer whose whole purpose is to partially stick out of the water
  • the beer had a few clumps what appeared to be dry brown powder floating on the top
  • the beer still had the very mild but pleasant smell of a light ale
  • the scum on the surface that was noticeable on the last inspection after 5 days has gone

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Oh so cold.

Cold Temperature

I recently made my first visit to my closest home brewing shop, Harvey’s in Fareham, which is just 11 miles from my house. (Check out their somewhat limited website 4u2brew on my blogroll.) I somehow managed to spend around 40 quid, but I’ll save talking about most of the things I bought for when I actually get chance to use them.

One item I had wanted for a while and finally managed to get on my visit was a thermometer. I was amazed that I couldn’t get hold of a simple glass one like I used to use at school from anywhere else. Anyway, I wanted it to measure the temperature of “The Brewery” which I suspected is too cold most of the time for ideal brewing conditions. (I will also use it in the future to check the temperature of the beer mixture before adding the yeast.) I found that the room temperature seems to stay at about 18 degrees C but increased a little when the heating is on in the house. I recalled reading that anything below 20 degrees is not good for brewing, but after asking a few experienced brewers on jimsbeerkit forum (check my blogroll) it seems it should be fine.

However, the recent failure of my boiler has sent temperatures down to 16 degrees C, which is definitely too cold, but there really isn’t much I can do about it. The boiler man came today and is due back tomorrow with the required parts. I’ve got my fingers crossed that all will be well after he has returned. It’s bad enough being freezing cold, and not being able to get a shower, but if it ruins my first home brew beer too – it doesn’t bare thinking about.

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The Brewery

Brewery1

As you can see, I’ve been very busy. I have turned the cupboard under the stairs into something that is slightly more deserving of the name “The Brewery”. I have fitted 3 big shelves (all held up with 3 brackets and very big screws) carpet tiles, a light, and a suitable poster. I cannot believe it took me all afternoon on Saturday and Sunday, but Im really pleased with the result.

Brewery2

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