Lessons in Homebrewing: Temperature

When it comes to homebrewing, you learn something new with every batch. And that’s just what happened to me the last few days. This past Saturday I brewed the Bourbon Barrel Porter extract kit from NorthernBrewer.com and everything seemed to go just fine with the brew. I used dry yeast but re-hydrated it before pitching (and had done so according to the directions on the yeast packet). I cleaned up Saturday night thinking everything was hunky-dory and called it a night. When I awoke Sunday morning, I expected to find a great big bucket of blow-off suds (since the beer in the carboy was very close to the top) but much to my surprise, there didn’t appear to be any yeast activity whatsoever.

Now, every beer I had brewed previously (both the successful and unsuccessful ones) had shown explosive yeast activity within a matter of hours of being pitched, so I was a little worried. I posted to the Norther Brewer forum about my situation and asked for help. The response I got was not what I expected. The first helpful comment was,

It’s not unheard of to have a 12 hour, even 24 hour lag. Never pitch over 70 degrees and preferably cool your wort down in the mid to low 60s before pitching most ale strains. Fermentation temp, including pitching temp, is as important as sanitation.

And secondly,

“Lag time” – whatever that means – is not all that important. Just because they don’t make bubbles at first doesn’t mean the yeast aren’t hard at work consuming oxygen, growing, and multiplying. Yeast eat things in a certain order and they won’t eat sugar (and make alcohol and C02) until the oxygen is depleted.

After reading the comments I did exactly what I was supposed to. I relaxed and drank a homebrew. And, low & behold, I came home from work this evening to see a nice little pile of foam forming on top of the beer and the airlock bubbling away. I never realized that “fermentation temperature is as important as sanitation” but like I said, you learn something new with every batch brewed. Now only eight more weeks of patient waiting before I get to see if the yeasts really have behaved themselves (but that’s part of the fun).

What’s your most recent homebrew learning experience?

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  1. I hear ya….I brewed a dark mild right after Xmas and its STILL bubbling out of the airlock 2+weeks later!  My brews usually stop bubbling after 1 week.  I think it has to do with the low temp in our house…the beer is holding around 62 degrees but Wyeast states that it will work well at temps above 65.

    The think the most recent homebrewing lesson for me is 1)patience: hombrew takes at least 3 weeks at a MINIMUM before bottling.  Don’t bother it until then!  The beginner books say you can go with a much shorter ferment time, but letting your beer sit allows it to mellow and mature and also allows the yeast to clean up all of those funky by-products of fermentation.  2)Skip the Secondary….its OK to let your beer sit in primary for an extended period of time (like 1-2 months if you want).  Again, the beginner books warned of yeast autolysis with a beer sitting on the yeast cake and I think this phenomenon  is largely a myth.  I’d be tempted to move a high-gravity beer to secondary for an extended maturation/condition or for lagering however.

    Great blog and keep on brewing!

  2. I just brewed last weekend on Saturday afternoon and had made a yeast starter for a White Labs WLP006 english ale yeast 3 days earlier on Wednesday.  I let my wort cool down to just 70 degrees and then pitched in my yeast starter.   I then sealed it in a 7 gallon food tub and shook the hell out of it for several minutes to oxygenate it.  I put the airlock on it around 3pm.  By 10pm still no bubbling, but in the morning the airlock was busy bubbling like crazy.  It was going nuts for a solid 36 hours and then the activity started to slow.  By Wednesday, the bubbling activity had stopped all together.  This morning, Thursday, no bubbling.  So I think I got all the fermentation done in a few short days.  I heard from others on Twitter that it is common for that to happen when a yeast starter is used.

  3. I’ve never used a starter myself, but I would assume that’s probably true since a lot of the “lag time” before the yeast goes crazy would be used up doing what the starter accomplishes ahead of time (and would thus cut the time in half), if that makes sense…

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