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Quick Hits: Homebrewing Questions Answered 04

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In the last Quick Hits, we answered homebrewing questions about yeast, dunk sparging, and oxygenation issues. We're going to continue the yeast topic a little bit, but also talk about backsweetening wine, and different types of acid.

Quick and Dirty Yeast Harvesting

Yeast for Baltic Porters

How Do You Backsweeten Mead or Wine?

Tips on Moving A Full Carboy

What is Malic Acid?


Quick and Dirty Yeast Harvesting

Just get your hands on some hard to get find yeast? Trying to save it so you don't have to drop seven or eight bucks every brew day? Well if you brew quickly enough you can actually re-use yeast effectively without too much extra equipment. However that option is available if you really like yeast wrangling. Down to the brass tax though, If you make beer once a month or more, you can actually store the yeast slurry under the beer in a mason jar in your fridge. Just scoop up the top of the sediment layer after bottling or kegging, and store that in your fridge. The more air-tight the better (think a beer bottle or mason jar. This will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks without much worry (make a starter for maximum success). You'll want to use fresh yeast every 3-4 generations or once you start to notice some strange flavors, lack of yeast's character, or over-attenuation.

Yeast Selection for Baltic Porters

Baltic Porters are a spectacular beer. One of my favorite big beers available. But what yeast is best for Baltic Porters? There's actually a fair amount of debate as some homebrewers skip the lager yeast all together and use a neutral ale strain at lower temperatures. In fact, both will will make a great example of the style and your choice should be decided by your ability to do these two things. If you can't, you should think ale yeast instead.

  1. Make a large starter of 2-4 liters.
  2. Ferment at lager temperatures.

If you can do that, and have experience with lagers already, San Francisco Lager is a very popular choice. But Fermenting with a couple packs of US-05 or Nottingham are not greatly frowned upon, especially if you keep the temp down.

How to Backsweeten Mead and Wine

A popular method to achieving sweeter meads and wines is backsweetening. It's a lot easier than estimating yeast attenuation because that changes based on the strain, and conditions of the wine. With backsweetening you can ferment it to dryness, and add sugar later after halting fermentation. There are two ways to handle this. Method 1: Stabilize the mead using potassium sorbate  and metabisulfite. One keeps the yeast present from converting sugar into more alcohol, and the other keeps yeast from reproducing. It's essential to use both in the process or else the yeast has a way around it. If it can't ferment, it will reproduce yeast that can. If it can't reproduce, it will just continue to ferment as time goes on. Knock out both options and the yeast can't ferment anymore. Method 2: Step feeding, or adding honey in increments until the yeast gives out, is another useful method for backsweetening your mead (less so with wine). It should be noted that this is different than throwing a very high starting gravity at a mead or wine and having it finish sweet. There is a risk in that process where the stress creates fermentation problems, and your wine finished even sweeter than you had intended. Instead, ferment a normal strength must to completion. Then add a bit of honey or sugar solution, half a pound per gallon works, and let that ferment dry again. Repeat until the yeast gives out, leaving you a sweet wine that can't be fermented anymore as the yeast has given up. This method obviously leads to a higher ABV, so be aware of that when choosing a process.

Moving a Full Carboy: Tips and Tricks

A carboy full of beer weighs close to 50 pounds. As such, it's important to be careful to avoid injury, or lost beer when moving it from one place to another. Here are a few ground rules regarding carboys.

  1. Don't lift full carboys by the neck, even with a carboy handle attached. They help grip and move empty carboys, but a when it's full, too much pressure is put on the top of the carboy, and the neck may break off or shatter. Instead use a carboy harnesses to lift a full carboy.
  2. Think ahead! See if there is a place where it won't need to be moved once full. If not putting an empty carboy in a milk crate before filling it lets you lift it from the bottom with greater ease.
  3. Get Crafty. If you're handy with DIY projects, see if you can build something on lockable casters so that you ran roll your carboy from point A to point B.

What is Malic Acid

Malic Acid is one of many acids found in the brewing world. All acids reduce the pH (increase acidity), that is their definition when it comes down to it. However, not all acids are made the same, and some are more desirable in your beer, wine, or mead than others. Malic acid is found naturally in some fruits (grapes and apples are common culprits), and it provides a harsh acidity to your homebrew. If it's at an undesirable level, you can think about doing a malo-lactic fermentation. A Malo-lactic, or ML, fermentation is when you pitch a special bacteria (no surprise here, called "malo-lactic bacteria"), that converts malic acid into a softer lactic acid. This can even out your wine or mead. However, if there is no malic acid present in the first place, no change will occur, and your batch has a different issue that needs to be fixed. If you want to see your questions asked in the next Quick Hits, leave it in the comments section below. For a full list of Quick Hits answers, go to the table of contents and scroll down to the Quick Hits section.