10 common questions about homebrewing

Homebrewing — By on May 13, 2008 at 6:45 am

I get tons of searches on Fermentarium looking for answers to different brewing questions.  I’ve collected some of the more common questions here with answers.

wort

Homebrewing is easy as making soup.

How do you add alcohol to beer?

I usually tell people “it is a white powder I special order from Malaysia”.  I guess there is a grain of truth to this.  I add yeast to the wort, which in dry form looks like a coarse powder.  To make a beverage alcoholic, you need to ferment it.  The fermentation process occurs when yeast convert available sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide.  When the fermentation is complete, the liquid contains alcohol.

How do I read a hydrometer?

I find it interesting this is the number one search which brings people to Fermentarium.  Reading a hydrometer is very simple.  Place you hydrometer into your jar with the solution you wish to measure.  Read the value at the bottom of the meniscus.  You can find more information on reading the hydrometer with this article .

hydrometer

A hydrometer will estimate the amount of sugar in your wort before and after fermentation. Using the difference you can calculate an estimation of how much alcohol is in your beer.

How do I make hard cider?

I use this recipe when I make my hard cider.  The recipe really is just apple juice, some sugar, and yeast.  The important step I use when making cider is to add apple concentrate after the apple juice is fermented and stabilized.  This gives the cider a sweeter apple flavor.  The cider is very popular in the summer.

Does beer contain sulfites?

Small amounts of sulfite are produced in the fermentation of alcoholic beverages.  Most breweries have limits on the amount of sulfite that can be present in the beer.  The sulfite could be added as a preservative in some rare cases, or simply be a byproduct of the fermentation.  The Food and Drug Administration in the United States requires any beverage which has more than 10 parts per million (ppm) to include a warning on the label.  I have not seen many beers with a “Contains Sulfites” warning on the label, so most beers should be below 10 ppm.  German beers will not have sulfites added, but the beers may still contain some sulfites from fermentation.

How do I brew spirits?

You can’t really “brew” spirits like vodka or gin. To make spirits, you first need to ferment a strong alcoholic beverage.  Then the alcohol is distilled from the beverage.  The alcohol is distilled by raising the temperature of the alcoholic beverage to the point where the alcohol boils, but water does not.  The ethanol steam is collected, possibly distilled again, charcoal filtered, and then the result is your spirit.  It is quite a bit of work and requires specialized equipment.  It is illegal to produce spirits in many countries, including the United States, but the equipment is readily available.  The distillation equipment is meant for ethanol production (gas), but it also works for spirits.  Personally I think it is more work than it is worth.

Can you homebrew/make ice wine?

Yes, kinda.  If you have access to the grapes, you can make any wine.  To make a true ice wine , you need to harvest the grapes after they have over-ripened and frozen on the vine.  There are only three places in the world where it gets cold enough for this to happen on a consistent basis: Ontario, Germany, and New Zealand.  However, you can make a very good approximation using a wine kit.

These grapes are pressed frozen to get a more concentrated must

These grapes are pressed frozen to get a more concentrated must

You could also freeze your grapes, and press the frozen grapes.  To do this, you need a press which can provide a lot of pressure.  Your goal is to get a must with a brix over 30.  It’s a lot of work, and you will never get the same flavors you would get from ripe grapes frozen on the vine.  I’d recommend the icewine-style wine kit.

How do you make lambic?

It’s a long article to describe how to make this delicious beer.  Too much to describe here, but luckily I’ve already covered it.  The basic process is to add a lambic blend to your beer.  The lambic blend includes Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces, and the bacterial strains Lactobacillus and Pediococcus.

homebrew lambic

It looks scary fermenting, but lambics are worth the scare.

How do I clean my kegs?

Cleaning kegs is very easy.  I use soap and water.  Rinse the kegs very thoroughly.  For the harder to remove deposits, I use PBW.  Once the keg is clean, I sanitize the keg with a one-step solution.

Can homebrew beer be poisonous?

No.  There are no known pathogens which can live in alcohol.  This does not mean your beer cannot taste foul.  You might have a nasty tasting beer that induces vomit, but it is not poisonous.  One caveat: you can get alcohol poisoning if you drink too much, just like regular beer.

Why does my beer have no alcohol?

If your beer is as sweet as the day you pitched your yeast, your beer does not have alcohol because it did not ferment.  There are many causes for this, but the most common reason is your yeast was dead.  It might have been dead before you pitched, or you might have killed the yeast when you pitched.  Here are some points to consider before you pitch your yeast.

Do you have a question?

If you have questions you would like answered in a future article, please use the contact us page .  I’ll collect the questions and answer them in future posts!

I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer!

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  • Dan Chalifour

    I have a question on secondary fermentation. I am making an Irish Red and have gone to a secondary and am dry hopping. My question is, the dry hopping appears to have increased fermentation ( by watching the bubbles in the air lock). Is this possible and how long should I wait before bottling? I usually secondary ferment for 14 days but do not want to bottle id fermentation is still going on.

  • http://www.fermentarium.com deege

    Well… it can be due to a few things. It might be your beer hadn't finished fermenting. It could also be the beer is just releasing CO2 that is still in suspension. The best way to tell if your beer is still fermenting is to use a hydrometer.

    I would wait another week before bottling either way. You don't want to create bottle bombs. You can wait to bottle your beer for a long time, so an extra week will not hurt you. Good luck!

  • Matt Volz

    Hey,Deege. Love your site. Its very informative and interesting. I have a question on using corny kegs for fermenters. How does one convert or adapt the kegs to primary and secondary fermenters and how do you hook up the hoses and such to transfer from primary to secondary. This sounds like a really good way to keep contaminates out of the beer. What are your thoughts on this? Any info would be awesome. Thanks!

  • http://www.fermentarium.com deege

    I haven't used a corny keg as a fermenter. My initial thought is it's the wrong shape, but that's just speculation. I don't have any data on how shape applies at homebrew scales. Another thought is the keg will pull from the bottom first. So you'd have to pour until the beer runs clear, and then transfer to the second keg. As for the transfer, that's easy. Just create a tap with two liquid disconnects. Connect the two kegs on the liquid posts, and then push the beer from one to the other by connecting gas to keg #1. I do that for cleaning kegs and topping off kegs.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EMV5MPGVUMQW6KDA5DKUPMZQEQ JHOWA

    hydrometer or refractometer to read over a period of a couple days …remember just because the airlock isnt bubbling dont mean its not fermenting….