What Happened! There Is No Alcohol In My Wine!

Hydrometer Giving ReadingOk I need a wine making for dummies book! I am attempting to make a strawberry wine using fresh berries. I followed my recipe as directed. I just racked it for the first time. I checked my alcohol content and it is zero!! And it is bitter, as if I did not even put sugar. It is a 2 gallon batch. What can I do to fix this???

Name: Kathaleen W.
State: LA
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Hello Kathaleen,

Everything you stated above indicates that your strawberry wine is doing fine. The zero reading you got — with what I am assuming was a wine hydrometerdoes not mean your wine has zero alcohol. It means that there is no more alcohol that can be made from the sugar you added. Let me explain.

A fermentation is all about turning sugar into alcohol. The wine yeast consumes the sugar and metabolizes it into alcohol, along with CO2 gas. As the wine ferments, the sugar level goes down and the alcohol level goes up. If a fermentation is completely successful, the sugars will be completely gone.

Your hydrometer is not reading how much alcohol is in your wine. It is reading how much more alcohol can be made with the sugars that are currently in the wine. That is why the scale you are reading is called “potential” alcohol. It is telling you that the fermentation has the potential to make 0% more alcohol with the sugar that is currently in the wine — which is none.

You already stated that your wine taste bitter, “as if I did not put in sugar“. This makes perfect sense and matches up to the fact that you have a potential alcohol reading of zero — zero potential, zero sugar.

To know how much alcohol is in the wine, now, you have to have a potential alcohol reading from the beginning of fermentation — on that was taken at the same time you mixed all the ingredients together and added the wine yeast. As an example, if you had a beginning potential alcohol reading of 12% and you now have a potential alcohol reading of 0%, that tells us that your wine has a alcohol level of 12%. It’s the beginning reading minus the current reading.

Obviously, you are not happy with your wine, and I understand, completely. I doubt if I would like it either, based on what your described. You do not want your wine bitter and bone-dry. You’ll be happy to know that both of these characteristics are completely normal, and expected, at this point in the wine making process.

The main reason your wine is bitter is because it has not yet had time to clear and age. The wine will change remarkably between now and the time you bottle your wine. And the best part is you don’t have to do a thing except wait and be patient. What you are tasting now is mostly wine yeast, and proteins from the strawberries such as tannin. All of these things will make the wine taste bitter. Once they have had time to drop out you will notice an unbelievable improvement.

If you do not want your wine to be dry but sweet, that’s okay, but now’s not the time to be concerned with this either. You will want to back-sweeten the wine just before bottling it. Just sweeten it with a sugar syrup to taste and then add a wine stabilizer at the same time to keep it from fermenting the new sugars while in the wine bottle. That would be a bad thing.Shop Winemaking For Dummies

As a final note, there is such a book called Home Winemaking For Dummies as you have mentioned in your message. It’s a terrific book and would urge any home winemaker to add it to their book collection.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

A Quick Guide To American Hop Varieties

American Hops With American FlagAmerican hop varieties display a wide range of flavor and aroma characteristics, from citrus and floral to piney and resinous.

Hops are generally categorized as bittering, finishing, or dual-purpose hops. Higher alpha-acid hops usually lend themselves to bittering, whereas the lower alpha-acid hops are preferred for flavor and aroma. Dual-purpose hops work well in both situations.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the most popular American hop varieties:

  • Amarillo: Amarillo is one of the relatively new American hop varieties that has become very popular among craft brewers for its fruity hop character. Similar to Cascade, it features strong fruity notes when used as an aroma hop, often described as “tropical”.
  • Cascade: Perhaps the most popular American hop of all, Cascade is well known for its use as a finishing hop in Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale and countless other American ales. It has a distinctly spicy, citrus character that gives very fragrant grapefruit notes when used in later additions.
  • Centennial: Generally considered a dual-purpose hop (meaning it works well both early and late in the boil), Centennial has a citrus and floral character that makes it work well when combined with Cascade and similar hop varieties.
  • Chinook: Chinook is a dual-purpose hop with distinct piney and spicy hop notes. Maybe you could try an all-Chinook IPA?
  • Cluster: According to Ray Daniels, Cluster “is believed to be the oldest of all the American hop varieties still grown today.” It’s a dual-purpose hop with alpha-acids in the mid-range. If you want to brew a pre-Prohibition style American lager, Cluster may be a good choice.
  • Columbus: High alpha-acid content makes Columbus an excellent bittering hop, but it also works well for later additions and dry hopping. Oskar Blues’ award-winning Deviant Dale’s IPA is dry-hopped with Columbus.
  • Fuggle (US): US Fuggles are a low alpha-acid hop derived from the English variety of the same name. When used as a finishing hop, it gives beer a pleasant woody hop aroma.
  • Liberty: Liberty is derived from the Hallertau strain of the German noble hops. It’s a lower alpha-acid hop that works well as a finishing hop in American-style pilsners and lagers.
  • Magnum: US Magnum is a clean, high alpha-acid bittering hop comparable to the German Magnum.
  • Mt. Hood: Mt. Hood as another aroma hop comparable to the German noble hops, named for the region in Oregon where it’s grown.
  • Willamette: Willamette (“Will-AM-ette”) is a low alpha-acid aroma hop bred from the UK Fuggles. It works well in a wide variety of American ales and lagers.

For more great resources on other hop varieties, check out Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers.

What are your favorite American hop varieties? Are there any you’d like to see us carry?
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David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He is a graduate of the Siebel Institute of Technology’s “Start Your Own Brewery” program and the Oskar Blues Brew School in Brevard, NC.

Controlling Your Wine’s Acidity With An Acid Testing Kit

Holding Glass Of WineOne of a wine’s primary flavor elements is acidity. Wines that are high in acid will taste sharp or sour, while wines low in acid will taste lifeless or flabby. Without a doubt, having the proper amount of acid is crucial to the flavor of your wine.

In many fruit wine recipes, the amount of acid or acid blend that should be added to the wine must is listed right along with the other wine making ingredients. By adding the acid blend called for, you are bringing the acid level of the wine up to a normal flavor range.

The reason you are able to get your wine into a proper range using these wine recipes with no issue is primarily because they are made up of a significant amount of water. This makes the amount of acid blend needed very predictable since a only a fraction of the total acidity is coming from the fruit itself.

But there are situations where acidity is not so predicable and acid readings need to be taken to know how much acid blend, if any, needs to be added. Such is usually the case when making wine from actual wine grapes, where the wine is made up of 100% grape juice with no water. If the acidity of the grapes are unusually high or low in a particular year, the flavor of the resulting wine will be negatively affected. In this scenario, taking an acid reading with an acid testing kit can be just as critical as taking a sugar level reading with a wine hydrometer.

Acid readings are normally taken right before fermentation, or right after the grapes have been ran through the grape crusher. Adjustments may be made at this time based on the reading given.

Shop Grape ConcentrateTaking readings with an acid testing kit is very straight-forward. Essentially, what you are doing is preforming a titration. A drop or two of activator is added to a measured sample of the wine. Then measured amounts of a reagent are added to the wine until you detect a permanent color change in the wine sample. By knowing how much reagent it took to change the wine’s color, you can accurately calculate the wine’s acid level. You can read more about this in the blog post Use an Acid Test Kit.

If the acidity is too low you add acid blend; if the acidity is too high you can dilute with water. We also have wine making products such as acid reducing crystals that are designed to reduce the acidity of the wine. The acid reducing crystals come with directions that will tell you how much to add to reduce the acidity by a specific amount.
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Recipe of the Week: Hennepin Clone by Brewery Ommegang

Hennepin BeerAmong the best Belgian-style brewers in America, Brewery Ommegang stands out as one of the first breweries of the modern craft beer movement to specialize in brewing Belgian beer. Founded in 1997 in Cooperstown, NY, it produces such amazing beers as Rare Vos and Three Philosophers, as well as a series of beers inspired by the hit HBO show Game of Thrones.

Named for the first European to “discover” Niagara Falls, Hennepin is a farmhouse saison, bright gold, dry, and spicy, with an alcohol content of 7.7% ABV. It uses Belgian candi sugar to increase the alcohol content while maintaining a dry finish, and exotic spices like ginger and orange peel to create a complexity that might cause one to compare it to a dry, floral, white wine.

If this sounds like something you’d like to brew, read on for a recipe! This Hennepin clone recipe comes from the October 2002 issue of Brew Your Own Magazine.

 

Hennepin Clone Beer Recipe
(5-gallon batch, extract)

OG: 1.070
FG: 1.008
ABV: 8.0%
IBUs: 24

Ingredients
6.6 lbs. Muntons light malt extract syrup (use two 3.3 lb. cans)
0.5 lb. light malt extract powder
2 lbs. light candi sugar (use two 16 oz. packages)
1.25 oz. Styrian Gold hops at :60
1 tsp. Irish moss at :15
1 oz. dried ginger root at :15
1 oz. bitter orange peel at :15Shop Beer Flavorings
0.5 oz Saaz hops at :2
Wyeast 1762: Belgian Abbey ale yeast or Mangrove Jack’s Belgian ale yeast
0.75 cups priming sugar

 

Directions

Dissolve the malt extract and candi sugar in three gallons of hot (not boiling) water. Bring to a boil, then add the Styrian Gold hops and Irish moss. Boil for 45 minutes, then add the ginger root and orange peel. Boil for 15 more minutes, adding the Saaz hops during the last two minutes of the boil.

Cool wort to 80˚F or below and transfer to a clean, sanitized fermenter. Add enough clean, filtered water to make 5.5 gallons. Stir well to mix and aerate, then pitch yeast when wort is about 70-75˚F. Ferment at 68-70˚F until complete. Optionally, transfer to a secondary fermenter after about 5-7 days.

On bottling day, dissolve priming sugar in two cups hot water, allow to cool to room temperature, and pour into a clean, sanitized bottling bucket. Transfer wort to bottling bucket, leaving behind any yeast sediment in the fermenter. Fill bottles and cap, then condition for 2-3 weeks. Serve in a stemmed goblet or chalice glass.

 

All-grain directions:

Substitute the malt extracts with 7 lbs. pilsner malt and 2 lbs. pale malt. When mashing, perform a step mash: 30 minutes at 122˚F and 60 minutes at 152˚F. Sparge and lauter, mixing candi sugar into the wort in the boil kettle. Reduce the first hop addition to one ounce, then proceed with recipe above.

 

What makes this Hennepin clone recipe so special is that it is a little off the beaten path. It a unique beer that is produced in a unique style. This makes it a fun brew to make. Oh, and did I mention it tastes outstanding!

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David Ackley is a beer writer, homebrewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.

Is A Wine Refractometer A Good Alcohol Tester For Wine?

Refractometer With Grape Being SqueezedI have been told that a wine refractometer works real nice as an alcohol tester for my wine must and also at the end is this true?

Gary
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Hello Gary,

Thanks for the great question. Testing the alcohol level of a wine is a subject that always seems to have some confusion among home winemakers.

A refractometer can not be used as an alcohol tester for wine. It will not test the alcohol level. A refractometer will only test the sugar level of a wine must or finished wine. This is no different than what a wine hydrometer can actually do. They both measure the sugar in a wine, not the alcohol.

By comparing two sugar level readings, one taken before the fermentation and another after, you can determine how much alcohol was made. This is because wine yeast consume sugar and turn some of it into alcohol. If you know how much sugar was consumed by the wine yeast, you can then determine how much alcohol was made.

This principal is exactly the same for a refractometer as it is for a hydrometer. Neither are alcohol testers, but they will allow you to calculate the alcohol level of a wine must or finished wine by comparing a current sugar reading (brix) with a beginning reading.

What makes the refractometer extremely useful — and more handy than a hydrometer in some cases — is that you can take accurate sugar readings with very small liquid samples — just a couple of drops is all that is needed. This makes it ideal for checking the ripeness of the grapes while out in the vineyard. You only need to squeeze the juice from a single grape to see how sweet the grapes are becoming. This is very valuable when trying to determine when to pick your grapesShop Refractometers.

Alternately, the hydrometer needs enough sample for it to float. This could take as much as 4 or 5 ounces of wine or must. A hydrometer jar is also needed to hold the sample. So as you can see more time and effort is involved to take a reading with a hydrometer. This pretty much rules out taking a sugar reading on the fly as you might with a refractometer.

Gary, to answer your question more directly, a refractometer is a great tool for any winemaker to have. It is very handy, and it provides a quick way to get a sugar reading almost anytime, anywhere. But a wine refractometer is not an alcohol tester. It will not directly give you the alcohol level of your wine. This can only be done by comparing a beginning reading (before fermentation) with a current reading.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

How To Make Your Own Root Beer (Two Recipes)

Mug Of Homemade Root BeerIf you grew up in the US, chances are you have fond memories of A&W and Barq’s – there’s just nothing like the woody, spicy taste of root beer.

Think of the name “root” beer – traditionally it is actually made with a variety of roots, herbs, and spices that contribute flavor and color to the concoction. Among the common ones are wintergreen, vanilla, ginger, licorice, anise, birch, burdock, and sarsaparilla, to name a few.

When making your own root beer, trial and error will help you figure out what methods and ingredients you like best.

 

How to Make Homemade Root Beer

This version of root beer is a soda. Due to the fact that the root beer is bottle conditioned, there’s a small amount (less than 0.5% ABV) of alcohol present in the beer, but not enough to get much of a buzz.

The flavoring in this root beer recipe comes from Zatarain’s Root Beer Extract and makes the brewing process very simple. The most important thing is to halt the fermentation when the carbonation is correct by refrigerating the root beer. Otherwise, bottles could explode.

Feel free to scale this root beer recipe for a larger or smaller batch.

 

Zatarain’s Root Beer Recipe
(5-gallon batch)

Ingredients
1, four-ounce bottle Root Beer Extract
5 gallons of warm, filtered water
3-4 lbs. sugar
5 grams dried beer yeast dissolved in warm water

Directions
Fill a bottling bucket with five gallons of warm (not hot), filtered water. Dissolve sugar in water, then add root beer extract and hydrated beer yeast. Mix well, then bottle in about 53 cleaned and sanitized 12-oz. beer bottles. Cap securely and age bottles at room temperature for 24 hours. Open a bottle and check for appropriate carbonation. If more time is needed, check again every 8-12 hours until desired carbonation is achieved. When desired carbonation is reached, store bottles in a refrigerator to prevent further fermentation.

 

How to Make Alcoholic Root BeerShop Root Beer Extract

For those who want to make a “grown-up” or more traditional version of root beer, the technique gets a little more interesting. Instead of a root beer extract, this recipe uses a mix of herbs and spices to achieve the right blend of flavors. Many of them can be found at natural or health food stores in the bulk section. And instead of large amounts of sugar remaining in the root beer, we’ll use malt extract and brew like we would a normal beer. Just keep in mind that because we’re allowing the beer to ferment, hard root beer won’t taste as sweet as what you buy from the store. However, lactose sugar, caramel malt, and Carapils malt help keep the residual sweetness on the higher end.

 

“Hard” Root Beer Recipe
(5-gallon batch, partial mash)

Specs
OG: 1.068
FG: 1.023
ABV: 5.9%
SRM: 28

Ingredients
6.6 lbs. dark LME
1 lb. dark DME
1 lb. caramel 90 malt
1 lb. Carapils malt
1 lb. lactose sugar
4 oz. dried sarsaparilla root
2 oz. dried burdock root
2 oz. dried spikenard root
1 oz. dried wintergreen leaves
1 oz. vanilla extract
0.5 oz. dried licorice root
1 oz. hops (any variety)
1 pack ale yeast

 

Directions
Steep crushed grains in one gallon of water at 155˚F for one hour. Strain out from wort, then mix in malt extract and enough water to make 2.5 to 5 gallons of wort, depending on the size of your brew kettle. Add herbs, spices, and hops and boil for 30 minutes. Strain out herbs and spices and mix in lactose sugar. If needed, top off with enough clean, filtered water to make five gallons. Cool and transfer to a clean, sanitized fermenter and ferment until complete. Bottle or keg as you would otherwise.

That’s how you make your own root beer. As you can see either of these recipes are not all that difficult, and the first recipe would be great to do with the kids.

Interested in trying other homemade root beer and soda recipes? Check out the book Homemade Root Beer Soda and Pop.
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David Ackley is a beer writer, homebrewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.

Keeping Fruit Wines In Fruity Balance

Balancing Wine Making Fruit

Thank you for your wine making newsletter each month. It is very informative and helpful to me in my winemaking.  I have a question, “How do I keep the  fruit flavor in my wine? I end up with about 13 percent alcohol content but am losing the fruit flavor. Could you help?

Ed H.
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Hello Ed,

Thank you for all the kind words. We try very hard to bring useful, relevant information to the home winemaker.

What your question really involves is the basic balance of the wine. There are three primary elements in a wine’s basic balance profile: fruit flavor, alcohol and sweetness.

Obviously, the amount a fruit that you use in a wine recipe will affect the wine’s fruitiness. The more fruit in the wine recipe, the fruitier the wine will be, but there are limits to how far you can take this.

Using too much fruit in an attempt to increase the wine’s fruitiness can create a wine that is sharp or tart tasting. This is caused by excess fruit acid – the acid that is in the fruit. It can also create a wine that takes an incredible amount of time to completely age. So, there is only so much fruitiness to be had in a given wine recipe.

One way of maximizing the amount of fruit you use without making it too acidic is to using an acid testing kit. This will allow you to monitor how much acid is in the wine. The direction that come with it will tell you what range to shoot for.

While adding more fruit increases the fruitiness of the wine, alcohol decreases it. This happens simply because the alcohol is numbing the tongue making it less sensitive to fruit flavors. This is why you will typically find among wine recipes in various wine making books and on the web, that the higher the alcohol level, the more fruit the wine recipe will call for.

Shop Acid Test KitTo keep a handle on your wine’s acidity level, you will want to use a wine hydrometer. The scale on the hydrometer will tell you how much alcohol can be made with the beginning sugars that are in the wine must.

Sweetness also plays a role in balance. During a fermentation all the sugars are turned into alcohol, even the sugars that come from the fruit itself. Removing the sugars will lower the fruity impression of the wine, dramatically.

The good news is the sweetness of the wine can easily be corrected at bottling time. By adding a little sugar syrup solution you can bring back the fruitiness. Just a very slight amount of sweetness can bring out a lot of fruitiness in the wine. You don’t necessarily need to make the wine sweet. You just need to take the dry edge off the wine.

Add the sugar to taste and then also add potassium sorbate. This is a wine stabilizer that will keep the wine from fermenting the newly added sugars. This is what I recommend doing with your current batch.

As for future batches, you will want to lower you target alcohol level a little… maybe 11% instead of 13%. This will make a noticeable difference in the fruitiness of your wine. It will seem more lively and less watery.

By working with these three basic elements of a wine: fruit flavor, alcohol, and sweetness, you can control how much fruity character your wine will, or will not, have. It is up to you to create a wine the way you like it, with the amount of fruitiness you prefer. It’s all part of learning how to make your own wine.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

5 Tips For Getting More Beer from Every Batch

Pellet Hops In Muslin BagWhen homebrewers make a five-gallon beer recipe, they expect to end up with a full five gallons of beer. To avoid the frustration of ending up with less beer than you bargained for, check out these five ways you can be sure to end up with your proper allotment of homebrew — to minimize the loss and maximize the beer:

  1. Pour all the trub from the kettle into the fermenter. Many homebrew books call for creating a whirlpool in the brew kettle during the chill-down phase, making it easier to leave behind the hops and protein material in the kettle. The thing is, depending on your beer recipe and your equipment, you could easily leave a half-gallon or more of wort in the kettle. To maximize the amount of beer you end up with, try pouring everything into the fermenter, where the hops and the protein will eventually settle out. (I highly recommend reading the Great Trub ExBEERiment to see how this might affect your finished beer.) If you still want to keep the trub out of your kettle, try pouring the wort into the kettle through a strainer to minimize your beer losses.
  1. Top up to 5.25 or 5.5 gallons in the fermenter. Many extract beer recipes call for adding enough water to make five gallons of wort prior to fermentation. But it’s important to remember that the trub in the fermenter can take up as much as half a gallon of wort or more. To account for these losses, add enough clean, chlorine-free water to the fermenter to make a total of between 5.25 and 5.5 gallons of wort. Remember, you are not trying to have more than 5 gallons of liquid, you are trying to make up for the volume the trub is displacing.
  1. Boil your hops in a straining bag. This can be particularly effective for your hoppier homebrews like IPAs. Instead of pitching the hops directly into the boiling wort, try putting them into a muslin bag This way they can be easily removed from the wort post-boil. This works well for dry-hopping, too.
  1. Cold crash. shop_brew_kettlesDropping the temperature of your fermented beer prior to bottling will help yeast, hops, and other material settle into a compact layer at the bottom of the fermenter, maximizing the amount of beer you get from every batch. When fermentation is completely, drop the temperature to 30-40˚F for a few days or longer. This cold maturation phase also helps improve beer flavor. Bottle condition at room temperature as usual.
  1. Use a refractometer. Every time you use a hydrometer to test your beer’s gravity, you lose about a half-pint. With a refractometer, all you need is a couple drops. Please note that a refractometer works best before fermentation. After fermentation begins, you will need a calculator to compensate for the alcohol present in the beer.

What are some ways you maximize your homebrew yields? Do you have any quick tips on how to lose less of your homebrew beer?

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David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder and editor of the Local Beer Blog.

Is There Something To Add To Stop A Fermentation?

Mad Scientist With Something To Add To Stop A Wine FermentationHello,

At times my plum wine will appear to have stopped fermentation, and then after bottling it will start up again causing a big mess. Is there something I can add to the wine that will ensure that fermentation has stopped?

Albert W.
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Dear Albert,

It sounds like you are experiencing a stuck fermentation. There are several wine making books that cover this topic in fair detail. One that I might suggest is First Steps In Winemaking.

A stuck fermentation is when the yeast stop consuming the sugars before the sugars are all gone. There are several reasons why this could be happening: lack of nutrient, lack of oxygen, too cool of temperature… For more information about these reasons you can read the following article, Top 10 Reasons For Fermentation Failure.

A stuck fermentation can start up again if the conditions change. In your case, just the simple exposure to air that inadvertently happens during the bottling process could be enough to start the wine fermenting again.

Unfortunately, there are no wine making products that guarantee a complete stop of a fermentation or a re-fermentation. What has to happen, is the fermentation needs to fully complete before bottling. The big question is, “How do you know when the wine’s done fermenting”?

Shop HydrometersOne simple way is to take a reading with a wine hydrometer. The hydrometer is a simple glass instrument that can instantly tell you how much sugar, if any, is in your wine or must. Using the hydrometer is simple. You take a reading by observing how high or low the hydrometer floats in the wine. By taking a reading before bottling and confirming no sugars are present, you can bottle your wine knowing that it will not ferment later on in the wine bottles.

As a side note, once you have verified that the fermentation has completed and the wine has had plenty of time for the yeast to settle out, you can add sugar for sweetening, but you must also add potassium sorbate at the same time. Potassium sorbate can keep a fermentation in check, but only if all of the yeast as been settled and removed from the wine first, and the wine looks visibly clear.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

How Patience Makes for Better Homebrew

Man watching home brewing timeline and fermentation times It was a rookie mistake.

I was excited for my latest batch of homebrew – a saison – and paid more attention to the timeline and fermentation times than the beer itself. After two weeks in primary and two more in secondary, I figured it was ready to carbonate, so into bottles it went.

Then I opened a bottle a week later and noticed a lot of foam. I waited another week, and half the beer was gone by the time I poured it into my glass. It was a gusher, forcing ounce upon ounce of white foam up the neck of the bottle and into my sink.

That’s when it really hit home: patience is a virtue for everyone, but for homebrewers, it’s a necessity.

In most cases – especially this one – it’s a matter of paying attention to the beer instead of any preset home brewing timelines. Forget about fermentation times; focus on the beer. Yes, you can have expectations for the length of a brew day, but sometimes it’s important to take a step back and take stock of how time – or lack thereof – can impact your beer.

 

Time is more than the calendar

In the case of my saison, it was important for me to set aside my own expectations. The lesson? Ignore human timeframes when it comes to home brewing.

Even if you’re making a batch for a special event or occasion, build in extra time for unforeseen problems, or just to allow the beer to do its own thing. The best way to confirm that a beer is finished is to take your hydrometer and check its final gravity. Taste the sample to add another layer to your test.

To be extra thorough, give it another day or two after it has reached final gravity just to be safe.

 

Slow working yeast

Another aspect to consider is the yeast doing the work inside your carboy. While some yeasts offer fast attenuation like Safale S-04 or Lallemand’s Nottingham, several need more time to offer the depth of flavors you seek from your brew.

If you’re making a porter or bitter, Wyeast 1028 (London Ale) is a great option. It’s even flexible enough to build up a beer to as much as 11 percent ABV, but requires plenty of time to get there. Other slow-moving options include Wyeast 1728 (Scottish Ale) and Wyeast 1099 (Whitbread Ale). All these strains can enhance the layer of flavors in your beer, but let them take their time in doing so. The fermentation times will typically be longer.

 

Wait on your bottles

While I suffered the impact of bottle bombs with my saison, one hidden truth I’ve found with many of my batches is that the best tasting beer usually comes when I’ve almost run out.

Even when I’m lucky to have a fully carbonated homebrew after one week in the bottle, I’ve started a habit of setting aside at least a six-pack to drink later than I normally would. Drinking an IPA as fresh as possible is a good idea, but a porter or honey-basil ale probably won’t get hurt by resting for a few more weeks. Remember to consider the temperature of your storage area and ingredients you’ve used in the beer, including yeast, when setting aside bottles to age longer than the rest of your batch.

There are many lessons to learn when it comes to home brewing, but one of the most important I’ve taken away is to not get hung up on having a beer ready in an absolute set timeframe. Don’t focus on whether or not your home brewing timeline is what was expected. Don’t worry if your fermentation times are longer than they should be. The beer will be ready when it’s ready.

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Bryan Roth is a beer nerd and homebrewer living in Durham, North Carolina. You can read his thoughts on beer and the beer industry on his award-winning blog, This Is Why I’m Drunk, and send him suggestions on how to get his wife to drink craft beer via Twitter at @bryandroth.