Monday, September 22, 2008

Fear Of Fermentation

The best homebrewing advice I've ever seen is "don't panic". Unfortunately, I am prone to panic with pretty much every effort.

My latest batch was concocted with a Munton's Brown Scottish Ale kit, a packet of Windsor Ale Yeast and, here's where the panic set in, 2 lbs. of corn sugar. I couldn't find my hydrometer but obviously everything had to be running pretty high, gravity- wise, which was my intent. After 48 hours, I saw no action in the airlock at all so I immediately assumed that fermentation was stuck. So I immediately ran down to Mecca Coffee, which is Brookside's designated destination for the homebrewer and grabbed some more yeast. Rehydrated the yeast for about 45 minutes, with little sugar to bring it to life, and opened the fermenter. The wort had a thin layer of foam on top already and I tossed the new yeast solution in.

The result was the most awesome demonstration of yeasty power I have ever seen. The entire wort appeared to literally boil. I slammed the lid back on and watched the airlock which was now bubbling continuously.

Clearly, the wort was fermenting already, just very, very slowly. I presume that the amount of fermentables was too great for the single packet of yeast that I had originally pitched and that the yeast while still alive had either been put to sleep or was just too attenuated for a really good ferment....I suspect the latter. In other words I could have just left well enough alone and the whole thing would probably have eventually done it's magic, though I feel a lot better for having just re-pitched.

Homebrewers are like any other hobbyist in that they are prone to revel in/intimidate with a lot of weird gnostic lore (often hard won, I admit). For every time a homebrewer freaks, it probably pays to remember that there are prisoners brewing up things with no sanitation, no equipment, and no recognizable ingredients. Man has been brewing stuff for thousands of years before they even understood what yeast and bacteria were. Making a great beer may be difficult, but making a pretty fair, drinkable one ain't rocket science.

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