Recently one of the things I have been focusing on with my beer making is fermentation practices. For a while now I have been using a temperature controlled fermentation chamber and yeast starters to make sure that I had sufficient quantities of yeast and an ideal environment for the yeast to ferment in. That being said, I have been pretty relaxed when it comes to oxygen levels and have been working on making progress in that area.
Just some basic information on oxygen and home beer brewing. At certain points in the beer brewing / beer fermentation process, oxygen can be either your best friend or your worst enemy and it is important to know when to add and when to avoid it. Thankfully it is pretty easy to keep track of! The only time that you want to introduce oxygen to your beer is post boil and once the wort has cooled down and you are preparing to pitch your yeast. The reason for this is that yeast requires oxygen for healthy propagation. “Yeast use oxygen for cell membrane synthesis. Without oxygen, cell growth will be extremely limited. Yeast can only produce sterols and certain unsaturated fatty acids necessary for cell growth in the presence of oxygen. Inadequate oxygenation will lead to inadequate yeast growth. Inadequate yeast growth can cause poor attenuation, inconsistent or long fermentations, production of undesirable flavor and aroma compounds, and produces yeast that are not fit for harvesting and re-pitching.” – Wyeast Labs. During the boil process, much of the oxygen is stripped away from the wort, so it is good practice to reintroduce oxygen back into the wort. There are several ways to accomplish this but the key is to do it in a sanitary way. Many brewers will rapidly stir the wort or swish it around in the fermenter and others will pump pure oxygen into the fermenter with a diffuser stone. In my setup I keep the yeast oxygenation / aeration process pretty simple and meet in the middle. I use an aquarium pump with a stainless steel diffuser for about 15 minutes once I have transferred my wort to the fermenter. It has an inline HEPA filter to make sure I am not blowing a bunch of dust or wild yeast into my wort. I also pitch the yeast at the same time. You can pickup at yeast aeration kit from MoreBeer.com for about $35.
Once you have aerated your wort and begun the fermentation process you will want to do everything you can to avoid introducing oxygen into your beer. Thankfully, the yeast will help you with this process. As the yeast consumes the oxygen to replicate itself and converts the sugar in your beer, it is creating two main byproducts which are alcohol and CO2. The creation of the CO2 will help purge any residual oxygen from the fermenter. The next step is doing your best to avoid introducing oxygen to your beer when it comes time to transfer your beer to the keg. The most common way to do so is to purge your keg with CO2 from a CO2 tank and then push your beer from the fermenter with CO2 from a CO2 tank. In my setup the only thing that I do differently is that I use the CO2 being expelled from my fermenter during active fermentation to purge my keg. You can view the setup in the photo at the top of this article to get a visual, but basically I am diverting the CO2 to the keg as opposed to pushing it the a flask filled with sanitizer. I user mini stainless steel ball lock valves that I picked up here from Amazon. For the final step, I push CO2 into my fermenter to build about 3 PSI of pressure and move the fermented beer from the fermenter to the keg as shown in the following image.
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I figured that I would give a simple break down on all grain home brewing for those of you who have been doing extract brewing for a while and are considering making the change but want some basic information on what you are in for before you do.
So what is the difference between extract brewing and all grain brewing? With extract brewing, the home brewer bypasses the mashing process and instead uses either concentrated dried malt extract (DME) or liquid malt extract (LME) to brew his or her beer. This greatly lowers the complexity of the home brewing process since the brewer does not need to worry about water pH levels, mash conversion temperatures, water profile composition, sparging, lautering or things like tannin extraction problems. Also, the extract home brewing takes far less time and equipment than all grain home brewing. With all grain brewing, you do not utilize any forms of malt extracts and instead convert all of the sugars yourself from grain starches and adjuncts. With all grain home brewing it is important to check your gravity readings throughout the brewing process to make sure that you are not extracting too much or two little sugar. You are also in charge of the type of sugars that are created during the mashing process. If your mash temperature is a few degrees to high your beer may come out very sweet, if it is a few degrees to low you may end up with a very dry beer. Mastering all grain brewing is all about understanding the process, tailoring the process to the style of beer you are brewing and being as exact as possible.
So what equipment will you need to do all grain home brewing that you do not need for extract brewing? Unless you are going to go the brew in a bag route, you are probably going to want 3 kettles and or combinations of 3 kettles \ coolers. One will be your Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) which will allow you to quickly modify the temperature of your mash during the different steps of the starch conversion process. The second is your Mash Tun which is where you will place your grains and convert the starches to sugars. A mash tun typically uses a false bottom which allows the wort to pass through it during the lautering and mash out process but restricts the grain husks from being transferred to the boil kettle. If you will be conducting a fly sparging process, which many home brewers do in order to boost your efficiency of extracting the sugars from your grains, you will also need to purchase a sparge arm. Lastly you will need a boil kettle that has a sufficient volume for the quantity of wort that you will be boiling. Aside from that, the equipment is very similar to what you would use during the extract home brewing process.
If you are looking for a ready-made all grain home brewing stand, brewing sculpture or home brewery; there are several options available here that range from cooler based setups to stainless steel home brewing racks!