Update: Fermenting Oisin’s Red Ale

Quick update to follow the Oisin homebrew post.

Like last time, there’s a decent amount of room from the top of the pail (although I’m more optimistic about getting closer to the target yield). So, again, I didn’t get to observe any fun action with the blow-off hose or airlock. I hear it’s exciting, but I wouldn’t know (as of yet)! I’d thought I’d secured the lid pretty tight, but I guess it wasn’t, so gas probably escaped that way too. Either way, I’m not worried about that.

Determining Fermentation Time…

As mentioned in the last post, the recipe provided the vague range of 10 – 21 days for primary fermentation. 

I was trying to determine how I should determine how long to leave it. In other words, how do I know much time I should actually give it. I know that 2 weeks seems to be the default, but given the range on the recipe and so forth, I felt I needed more education for determining a more tailored answer.

I found the How to Brew book to be not-super-helpful, regarding this specific inquiry. I looked in the following various chapters and sections for some clues:

  • “Fermentation Week(s)” in Brewing Your First Batch of Beer (estimates 2 weeks for the example recipe in the chaper)
  • Yeast and Fermentation (some good info, but made a lot of assumptions… like, that I had bubbling happening…)
  • “Conducting Your Fermentation – Quick Review” in Brewing with a Full-Volume Boil (estimates 2 weeks)
  • “When to Bottle” in Priming, Bottling, and Kegging (“two to three weeks”….)
  • “Notes on Recipes” and “Amber Ale” in Some of My Favourite Beer Styles and Recipes (nothing specific)
  • Appendix A: Using Hydrometers and Refractometers (side note: it assumes all hydrometers are calibrated to 59F, but mine says 68F *eye roll*)
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

(Seriously, trying to use this book as a “quick reference” to find a specific answer on some things is like looking for a needle in a haystack…)
The book has some good information, but I was still having trouble with my specific issue.

Of course, my next resource was r/Homebrewing on Reddit. I was grateful to find a post about a very similar situation, and I found it really helpful.

Maturity checklist

Based on all the the info I gathered, I decided I would take the approach of checking the gravity a few times… and checking the appearance and flavour.
Maturity Checklist:

  • Gravity is stable (take a gravity reading, then another a few days later, to see if it hasn’t changed)
  • Beer is free from off-flavors (which would be resolved by more time)
  • Beer is less cloudy (cleared up)
  • No longer needs training wheels or diapers

I course, this means that I have to also taste unfinished beer, which might sound fun to you, but is actually gross to me, lol.

J: Why is that gross?
K: It’s not finished… it’s not even carbonated yet!
J: Oh, so it’s just the carbonation that’s holding you back! Otherwise, you’d stick your face in there!

So, today I took a look and got a gravity reading.

Gravity: the reading (after spinning the hydrometer a few times) looked like 1.010, which is the recipe’s target FG. (I think the beer temp is around 72 F most of the time, so I hope that’s close enough to the hydrometer standard).

As we’ve learned here today, fermentation may be complete, but the beer still needs time for maturation…

Taste: I really didn’t want to, but I tasted it. It was weird… like, bitter and unbalanced. Definitely unfinished work. J declined to try the sample.

Appearance: As you can see, there’s a lot of bubbling, wet-looking yeast floating on the top. I think the yeast bros are still busily working away, like sweaty construction workers. I’ll leave them to it.
Also, as seen in the test tube, it’s rather cloudy.

After all of that… I’ll probaby end up giving it the standard 2 weeks before the bottling. I’m glad I learned the how and why here though.

TL;DR – The two-week standard is standard for a reason.