Frequently Asked Questions
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Getting Started: Questions About Beer Brewing
Home beer brewing is a fun and rewarding hobby. Anyone who wants to brew great beer at home can be successful. The procedures are so easy that over 90% of our new brewers are happy with their first batch! As your experience increases, you'll learn how to make your beer even better.
Getting started is inexpensive. Starter equipment kits are available for around $50. This equipment is a one-time purchase. Then you just decide what kind of beer you want to make. Annapolis Home Brew has recipes and ingredients for any kind of beer you can imagine.
Below are the answers to some questions that new home brewers often ask. If you have questions which aren't answered here, feel free to contact us.
Can I really brew beer that's as good as the stuff I buy?
Yes you can! In fact, home brewers have some advantages over big commercial breweries and even micro breweries. Home brewers can use higher quality ingredients than commercial breweries, and a home brewer isn't under pressure to skimp on quality in favor of advertising or in-store promotions.
How long does it take to make my own beer?
Usually your beer will be ready to drink in 2 or 3 weeks, depending on the beer style you're making. You'll find that beer tastes even better after the bottles age for a few more weeks. Home brewed beer stays fresh for 6 months or more (again, depending on the style). Stronger beers have a shelf life of years! All of this, without artificial preservatives or vitamin-destroying pasteurization.
I've heard stories about exploding bottles, what about that?
"Exploding" bottles were common problems during prohibition-era brewing. It was usually caused by the use of inappropriate ingredients, such as bread yeast, and poor understanding of brewing techniques. After all, prohibition era brewers had few helpful resources. Today, a simple measurement before bottling ensures that you will have perfect carbonation every time, with no exploding bottles.
How much does it cost?
While you're enjoying the art of brewing, you'll be saving money making your own top quality beer! To get started, you'll need to buy a Starter Kit, which will include all of the equipment you need to brew and bottle. The equipment is re-usable, so this is a one-time expense. Starter Kits for brewing and bottling equipment can be bought for as little as $50. There are other starter kits which cost a bit more, and come with more goodies.
Make sure that your Starter Kit makes a 5-gallon batch. This is the standard size for a batch of home brewed beer. Kits which make a non-standard-sized batch can make it hard to find ingredients.
Once you've got the starter kit, you just need to get ingredients to make each batch. Ingredients to make each 5 gallon batch (more than two cases of beer) can be had for as little as $20.00, but good quality recipes usually cost around $25.00 to $35.00. Once you know what kind of beer you prefer to brew, you can save more money by purchasing your ingredients in bulk.
How much work is involved?
This is up to you. You can go for quick-&-easy, or you can spend more time with your brew. The quickest method of brewing (using no-boil beer kits) takes less than 20 minutes from set-up to clean-up. The most popular method of brewing (boiling your own recipe) takes from 90 minutes to 2 hours including set-up to clean-up.
After about a week, you're ready to bottle. Bottling takes about 45 minutes. Your beer will be ready to drink a week or two after you bottle it. Many home brewers prefer to use kegging systems, which allows them to skip the bottling procedures and serve their beer on draft.
As your brewing skills increase, you may wish to try some of the more complex brewing processes. Procedures such as "mashing" can add time to your brewing schedule, but some home brewers enjoy being more involved with their beer.
What is the alcohol content of home brewed beer?
Different styles of beer have different alcohol levels, so you can choose a style that fits your tastes. You can add ingredients to a recipe which will boost its alcohol content, and you can also omit certain ingredients to lower the alcohol content.
Of course, there are practical limits to everything. You can't make a beer with double the alcohol without changing the flavor!
Isn't it dangerous or illegal to make alcohol at home?
Brewing beer is not a dangerous process. The alcohol in beer comes from the natural fermentation process, which is perfectly safe and legal. Brewing beer and wine is so safe that it's impossible to poison yourself. Beer is one of the very few foods for which there are no known pathogens--in other words, no dangerous diseases can survive in beer. The alcohol contained in beer, and the essences of hops are powerful natural preservatives.
I tried someone's home brew, and I wasn't impressed.
Don't be discouraged. There are as many different types of beer as there are different foods. If you didn't like your friend's beer... find out what it is, and don't make that kind for yourself!
Many home brewers have been disappointed by low quality home brewing systems that are sold by other companies. A hardware store or department store isn't the place to get your home brewing supplies! These stores just sell gimmicky beer makers around Christmas time and Father's day.
You may also want to read our article on 5 easy ways to avoid off-flavors. Off-flavors are tastes that don't belong in your beer. Off-flavors are not very hard to avoid, but some home brewers don't have anyone to help them make simple improvements. At Annapolis Home Brew, it's our goal to help you make great beer!
Where is the best place to get my supplies?
When any hobby becomes very popular very quickly, someone will try to cash in by selling an inferior product with good packaging and advertising. If you want to brew good beer, don't buy your home brew equipment or supplies from a supermarket, discount club, or department store. Those places will have some gimmicky "Beer Making Kits" during the holiday season and father's day, but come back in a month for more supplies, they are all gone... no supplies, no knowledge base, and no support.
If you want to be successful as a home brewer, buy your equipment and supplies from a home brew supply shop. They are specialized enough to have what you need all year long, and they'll be able to answer questions. Brewing is more of an art than a science, and you need the support of people who are passionate about their art.
Getting Started: Questions About Wine Making
Wine making is such a simple simple and fun process that anyone can do it! You don't have to live in one of the great wine regions of France or California, you can buy their grapes as juice or concentrate, then ferment and bottle it yourself. You save money compared to store-bought wine, and you get to have fun and impress your friends while you're at it!
It's also inexpensive to get started. We offer starter equipment kits using the best quality equipment available Our starter equipment kits have all of the equipment for fermenting, clarifying, bottling, and corking your wine. Once you have the equipment, just decide what kind of wine you want to make.
Below are the answers to some questions that new wine makers often ask. If you have questions that are not answered here, feel free to contact us.
How good is the wine?
That depends on the quality of the ingredients that you use. The quality of wine is a direct result of the quality of the grapes used. As long as you are using good grapes... or juice from good grapes... you can make good wine.
It can be hard to make a comparison between store-bought wine and home-made wine, because they both vary so much. We sell a number of different winemaking kits. These kits are made from high quality winemaking grapes grown in the world's great wine regions: California, France, Italy, Australia, etc.
A question we often get is, "Why should I use winemaking kits? Why not go out and buy my own grapes?"
Why should I make wine from a kit?
When you think of winemaking, you think of grapes. It's natural. But there's more to wine than just grapes. Most home wine makers want to make good wine, they don't want to concern themselves with de-stemming and crushing grapes, testing acid levels and pH, measuring sugar levels, punching down the pulp every 12 hours, maintaining a grape press, or any of the other more mundane, time consuming chores that require lots of expensive equipment. That's where winemaking kits come into the picture. The kit maker has already crushed and pressed the grapes, then tested and balanced the juice for sugar content, acidity, and so forth. All you need to do is ferment and bottle your wine. That's the beauty of winemaking kits!
At Annapolis Home Brew we offer a number of different lines of winemaking kits. All of them are made by Brew King. Read the next few paragraphs to find out why we have selected Brew King as our only supplier of winemaking kits.
Without winemaking kits, you'd need grapes. The biggest problem in buying grapes as a home winemaker is trying to get good grapes. Remember that table grapes sold in the supermarket are a different species. If by some stroke of luck you happen to find decent vinafera grapes (wine grapes) for sale, do you have the skills to tell good grapes from mediocre or bad ones? Whoever is selling them will tell you what you want to hear, but you probably don't really have any way to verify anything about them.
The truth is, when you buy wine grapes, you're getting those that the "big guys" passed up for some reason. Home wine makers just don't have the buying power to compete with wineries, who are purchasing enough grapes to make thousands of gallons. Those big operators get "first pick" of the choice grapes, we home winemakers get the leftovers!
But Brew King has serious buying power. They buy thousands of tons of wine grapes from all over the world. They have the buying power to demand the best grapes, and the expertise to choose them. Brew King has state-of-the-art processing, testing, and packaging equipment. And Brew King is a company with a reputation to protect. We know that they respond to the cares and concerns of their customers in a way that should be an example to others.
Like everyone else, Brew King has competitors, and the competition makes their own claims of quality. We at Annapolis Home Brew have years of experience dealing with different suppliers, and we think that Brew King has more to offer. We stand behind their products. Try them once, and you will too. With Brew King winemaking kits, making good wine at home is almost foolproof, and you save a lot of money compared to buying wine at the store.
Are all wines made from grapes?
No, but the vast majority of them are. If you go into a liquor store and look at all of the wines they sell, they will all be made from grapes. The only exceptions will be clearly labeled, i.e. "Raspberry Wine" or whatever non-grape fruit was used.
Wine names, such as "Merlot", "Chardonnay", "Cabernet", "Pinot Noir", "Zinfandel", etc., are given to wine according to the type of grapes used. Other wine names, such as "Burgundy" or "Bordeaux" are given to wines made in certain regions, often with a blend of different grapes.
Where do I get my grapes?
Most home wine makers actually use grape juice instead of whole grapes. This is for two reasons: First, it saves you the task of pressing the grapes yourself, and Second, pressed juice is easier to ship and store than are whole grapes.
Fresh grapes are available only one time each year, during the fall. If you live near a source of fresh wine grapes, you may want to give them a try. However, if you want to make wine year-round with less trouble, use winemaking kits.
A winemaking kit is a package of grape juice or concentrate, with a few packets of yeast, clarifiers, etc. included. All standard wine kits make 6 gallons of wine, which is enough to fill 30 bottles (standard 750ml bottles). Wine kits are available in many different styles, they're made from various grapes grown around the world.
The biggest advantage of wine kits is consistent quality. The wine kit makers buy hundreds of tons of grapes every year... they have the knowledge and market buying power to purchase higher quality grapes than a single home wine maker can usually obtain.
How long does my wine need to age before drinking?
This depends on the type of wine you're making. You can drink your wine as soon as you bottle it, but giving it time to age will improve the quality. You'll have 30 bottles of each batch, we encourage wine makers to open a bottle from time to time, and see how the wine is progressing.
White grape wines are usually at their peak sooner than red grape wines. Generally, the darker the wine, the more it will benefit from aging. Non-grape country wines usually need at least 6 months because they are quite rough when young.
Can I use grapes from the supermarket?
Not if you want wine that tastes like what you buy. Supermarkets sell "table grapes" such as Concord or Thompson's Seedless. These grapes are good for eating, but they are not well-suited for making wine.
Also, the economics of buying grapes as an individual don't work out well. For instance, a wine kit which makes 6 gallons of wine costs anywhere from $40.00 to $100.00. You might think that you could save money buying grapes instead, but it takes 8-12 pounds of grapes per gallon to make wine!
What about this recipe I found for making wine?
Most "wine recipes" date from the era of prohibition, when people were making alcohol-by-any-means-necessary, not trying to produce a quality beverage. If you haven't tried any wine made with the recipe, you're taking a chance.
If your recipe is for a grape wine, and it calls for any water or sugar to be added, then it's not going to make "real" wine like you'd buy at the store. The "real" wines from California, France, Italy, etc. are made from nothing but the juice of wine grapes.
Water and sugar are only added when making "country wines." These are usually made from non-grape fruits, such as raspberries or cherries, or from non-winemaking grapes such as concord. Other country wines are made from sugar-water flavored with herbs, such as dandelion wine. Country wines can be interesting, and some people do enjoy them, but they've never had a major position in the commercial wine marketplace. Most people prefer wines made with wine grapes. If you make country wines you should expect results very different from store bought wine.
How do I make a good country wine?
Country wines are usually made from non-grape fruits. Annapolis Home Brew has a selection of fruits which include recipes for making country wine. Usually, you'll be adding the fruit to water and sugar, then adding small amounts of additives such as wine acid blend, tannin, and pectic enzyme.
In general we have found that the secrets to good country wines are: First, allow plenty of time for bottle aging because country wines taste very rough at first, but after 6 to 12 months they become quite good. Second, non-grape fruits are notoriously low in the acids which give wine a good flavor, so make sure your recipe calls for additional wine acid to correct this problem. Good country wine recipes usually do... if not, look for a different recipe! Some old prohibition-era recipes call for lemon juice to add acids (the low-tech method). This works better than nothing, but it's not as consistent as a powdered wine acid blend.
Beer & Wine - Fermentation FAQ: What To Expect
Fermentation is the waiting-stage. For the first few batches, some people are pulling their hair out, checking the fermentor every five minutes, going crazy!
Don't worry! Your beer will be fine! Even if something does go wrong during your first batch, it probably won't affect the beer very much.
We get calls from over-protective first-time brewers, like "My cat sneezed on my airlock, is my beer ruined?", or "My neighbors played
heavy-metal music all night, is my beer ruined?", or "I had a bad dream about yeast... is my beer ruined?"
What can we say other than, "Probably not." You've got to relax, because all you can do is wait and see how the beer comes out.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does fermentation take?
Only time will tell. Don't believe any recipe that gives some specific time, because slight differences between the way you brew and the way someone else brews will change things. What can make a difference?
- Temperature--warmer fermentations tend to proceed faster, but your yeast may produce a better taste at a cooler, slower fermentation.
- Experience, notes, and reliable advice are your best guidelines.
- Dissolved gasses--the more oxygen you can dissolve in your wort just before adding yeast, the better and faster you'll ferment.
- Water chemistry--issues such as pH, hardness, mineral content and ion balance can change fermentation characteristics.
- Yeast metabolism--some yeasts are faster than others, and proper preparation of any yeast makes a difference.
- Amount of yeast pitched--the more the better. Despite what you might think, it's almost impossible to add too much yeast.
- Original Gravity-- the more fermentable sugars in the beer, the more work the yeast has to do.
What temperature if best for my fermentation?
That depends on the yeast. Most ale yeasts ferment somewhere between 55 and 72º. Lager yeasts prefer lower temperatures, between 45 and 60º.
How do I know when my fermentation is complete?
Your first sign is your airlock. When fermentation is complete, no more carbon dioxide is produced, so you won't see any more bubbles coming through your airlock. This is not foolproof, though.
Some fermentors, especially primary fermenting buckets, will leak. This is normal and won't hurt the beer. If you open the fermentor and there's still foaming and fizzing, it's not done yet. After some time, usually between 5 days and 2 weeks, fermentation is complete. When fermentation activity stops, no more CO2 is produced. However, there's still a lot of CO2 in the beer. If you shake, squeeze, or bump the fermentor, it will let off some gas for a moment or two. This doesn't mean it's magically started fermenting again - it's just CO2 being released by the disturbance. With a glass fermentor, it's really easy to see what's going on and you will know when fermentation is complete. With a bucket, you may have to open it and check that there's no more activity.
Did my fermentation stop prematurely?
Probably not, but to be certain, use your hydrometer.
Here are some terms you should to be familiar with:
- Specific Gravity (S.G.) is measured by floating your hydrometer in a sample of liquid. The hydrometer must float free. Read the point where the surface of the sample lines up with the scale printed on the hydrometer.
- Original Gravity (O.G.) is the Specific Gravity before fermentation.
- Final or Finishing Gravity (F.G.) is the Specific Gravity after fermentation.
- Apparent Attenuation is the percentage difference between the two.
- The Specific Gravity will almost always be "1.0??". You'll need two readings--the S.G. before fermentation and the S.G. after fermentation.
The apparent attenuation is the difference between the two readings, disregarding the 1 before the decimal place. Complete fermentation is usually indicated by an apparent attenuation of 70-75%. For instance, an O.G. of 1.040 and a F.G. of 1.010 shows 75% attenuation.
Should I use a 5-gallon glass carboy with a blow-off tube?
Probably not. It can be done, but blow-off isn't very popular anymore, and for a good reason. Here's the whole story:
- A blow-off tube is used when you have a fermentor that's all the way full, with no extra headspace for yeast and foam to rise up and sit on the surface of the beer. The yeast and foam get blown out of the fermentor through the blow-off tube.
- A lot of homebrew shops used to recommend fermenting in 5-gallon carboys with blow-off tubes, mainly because they were getting 5-gallon carboys really cheap, and wanted to sell them instead of the larger 6½-gallon carboys you should be using.
- But most home brewers are using ale yeasts, and when you use a blow-off tube, you're blowing out your best yeast! This caused nice, fast fermentations to slow down and lag along to a weak ending, which causes overly-heavy beers with high Finishing Gravity and lots of off-flavors.
- You should be using a fermentor with enough headspace to allow the yeast to stay in with the beer where it belongs! A 6½ gallon plastic bucket or glass carboy is ideal for this. 5 gallon carboys should be used only for secondary fermentation, where there is little or no foam.
- We use a blow-off tube on our 6½ gallon fermentors when making fruit beers, because they ferment so powerfully that they can reach the top and start to make a mess without it.
What's this crud in my fermentor?
Mostly yeast. During fermentation, a lot of yeasty foam is produced atop your beer. It will leave a crusty ring in the fermentor, this is normal. Some beers and some yeasts produce more foam than others.
The foam will drop within a few days and the fermentation will slow considerably. Don't worry if a small amount of foam reaches your airlock. This won't damage the beer, but you should remove, clean, and replace the airlock.
Don't be too worried about contamination while the airlock is off. At this point, so much CO2 gas is being discharged from the fermentor that there's little chance of something getting in.
Beer & Wine - About Using Live Yeast Cultures
Using a good live yeast culture is the secret to making good beer. As the brewer, you make the wort, but yeast makes the beer. Live yeast cultures are pure, which means they contain no contamination or other organisms. Live yeast cultures are also available in many more varieties than dry yeast, since not many yeasts can be dried successfully.
If you replace dried yeast with a live yeast culture, you'll improve the quality of the beer. Good yeast makes beer with better flavor and aroma.
Dried yeasts are changed by the drying process. The drying process leaves physical scars on the yeast cells as evidence. Because yeast reproduces by budding, every cell in later generations will show these changes, too. All dried yeasts have a characteristic flavor, so all f the beers made with them tend to have the same flavor. Live yeast cultures have much more variety.
It's easy to pick a live yeast culture to match your beer style. Your choice of which yeast to use will effect the beer in a number of different ways, most importantly in attenuation, flocculation, and flavor.
Attenuation is the amount of sugar consumed by the yeast during fermenting.
If your wort has an original gravity of 1.040 (realize that 1.000 is water, and the remaining portion, .040, is dissolved sugars). During fermentation the yeast will consume a certain percentage of the sugars in the wort. This causes the specific gravity to drop.
Let's assume that an example yeast is supposed to have an apparent attenuation of 75%. That means you should observe a 75% reduction in dissolved sugars during fermentation.
Therefore, after fermentation, the specific gravity should have dropped to about 1.010 (the original sugar content of .040 has been reduced by 75%).
Using less attenuative yeasts produces beer with higher finishing gravity. Higher finishing gravity is due to more residual sugars in the beer, this gives a beer more malt sweetness and fuller body. Lower finishing gravities, from more highly attenuative yeasts, will produce a beer with lighter body and little or no malty sweetness.
Flocculation is the tendency of yeast to clump together, and therefore to fall to the bottom of the fermentor. Highly flocculant yeasts settle to the bottom of the fermentor quickly, which clarifies the beer. Yeasts with low flocculation tend to stay suspended longer, such as in hefeweizen. Gelatin will clear non-flocculant yeast.
Flavor, to a greater extent than attenuation and flocculation, will depend on your fermentation temperature. As a rule, a cooler fermentation will proceed slower but yield a cleaner flavor. As the temperature rises, fermentation is faster and produces more by-products. Some are described as fruity, spicy, minerally, tart, smooth, soft, etc.. If you want the flavors of malt and hops to dominate the beer, choose a clean yeast and ferment at the cooler end of the yeast's temperature range. Many beer styles, however, rely on the yeast to contribute flavors to the beer, especially wheat beers. The warmer you ferment these styles, the more of the yeast's distinctive flavor characteristics will be evident in the finished beer.
Temperature is especially important for lager yeast, since they ferment below normal room temperatures. The best way to produce lagers is to have a refrigerator with a temperature controller which will let you maintain any temperature effortlessly. Used refrigerators are very cheap, and can usually hold 2 fermentors. If you don't have temperature control, put the fermentor in the coolest part of your house.
Some people ferment lagers at room temperature with good results. The secret to good room temperature lagers is the selection of proper yeast strain. There are two main genetic families of lager yeast... the Carlsberg and the Tuborg strains.
Carlsberg lager yeast strains are indigenous to Germany, and many other continental European regions. They produce good lagers when fermented at low temperatures, in the 48-58 degree range. Only after fermentation is the beer "lagered," which means that it is put into extremely cold (near freezing) storage to smooth and mature for a few weeks or months.
Tuborg lager yeast strains are much better at making lagers at higher temperatures, up into the mid 70's. WYeast #2007 and #2278 are good examples of these yeasts. At the higher temperatures, your beer may be somewhat harsh when you bottle it, but some time in the refrigerator will smooth it out considerably.
BEER - The Importance of Rapid Cooling After The Boil
Unless you're making beer with a no-boil beer kit, boiling will be part of your brewing procedure. After you're finished boiling, the hot wort (wort is the name of beer before it's fermented) must cool down before it is safe to add yeast. Yeast can't be added while the wort is hotter than 90 or 100 degrees, but even that is still too hot for comfort. Ideally you should cool the wort to a temperature in the 70's.
The extreme "low tech" method of cooling wort is to let it sit until it cools off on its own. This takes a long time, you're dealing with 2 to 5 gallons of very hot liquid. It's not good to let hot wort sit for such a long time. Here are some of the reasons why:
Although yeast can't live in wort until it's cooled to near room temperature, there are bacteria that can survive in wort as hot as 140 degrees. These bacteria can get a head start on the yeast during a long cool-down. This can cause contamination which may ruin the flavor of your beer. The sooner you can pitch yeast (pitch yeast means adding yeast to the wort) after the boil, the less is the risk of contamination.
A long, slow cool-down will give you beer off-flavors. Off-flavors are tastes and aromas that don't belong!
The most common off-flavor in home brewed beer is DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide). DMS is created naturally any time wort is hot. During the boil it escapes in vapor form. This is why it's important to always boil vigorously and with the lid off!
After you stop boiling, DMS is still being produced, but it can't escape as vapor. If your wort sits hot for a long time, it builds up DMS. DMS is often described as a "butterscotch" or "buttery" flavor, but we could describe it as "homebrew" flavor. If you hand someone a glass of beer without telling them what it is, they taste it and say, "you made this yourself, didn't you?" then you probably have a DMS problem. This is a pity, because it's an easy off-flavor to avoid.
If you cool your wort rapidly, there will be little time for DMS to build up. Below a few parts per million, it is not detectable by human taste buds.
Rapid cooling also has the benefit of causing more of the naturally occurring haze-proteins in the wort to settle in the kettle, so finished beer will be clearer. These proteins, along with hop particles that settle after the boil, are called trub. After cooling, the clear wort is poured off of the trub into the fermentor. It is OK if some of the trub makes it into the fermentor, it will settle to the bottom anyway.
Fast cooling also preserves delicate hop aroma. Aroma hops are added to the end of the boil because high temperature rapidly destroys hop aroma as it transforms it into bitterness.
As you have learned, there are many advantages to rapid cooling of wort. Here are three different ways to do it:
The Ice-Water Bath
The low-tech option is to use an ice water bath. An ice water bath only works well if you are boiling partial volume of 2 or 3 gallons. A larger volume of wort is difficult to chill in this manner.
After boiling, cover the pot and place it in a sink or tub that is filled with ice and water. Put in more ice and cool water as it melts. This should cool your wort in about a half hour. Don't use just ice with no water, there won't be as much contact area, which will greatly slow the process.
Placing your pot outside in the cold or snow is very ineffective. Snow doesn't have enough mass to pull away much heat. BE VERY CAREFUL anytime you're moving a pot of hot wort, and make sure that you have enough ice. A 16 lb. bag of ice will usually work.
Immersion Wort Chillers
Most wort chillers, called immersion chillers consist of a coil of copper tubing. The coil is placed in the boiling wort for the last 15 minutes of the boil. The high temperature of the boil ensures that the chiller is sterile.
After the boil is over, cold water from your garden hose or faucet is run through the copper tube. The cold water absorbs heat from the wort and carries it away. The cooling water does not mix with the wort.
When the wort is cool, it's poured or siphoned into the fermentor. Immersion chillers work very well, and are recommended for beginners. Immersion chillers are cheaper and much easier to keep sterile since they are placed in the boil.
Counterflow Wort Chillers
Another type of wort chiller, called counterflow chillers, cool the beer as it's drained from the kettle into the fermentor. Counterflow chillers are theoretically more efficient, but in reality they're a lot of extra work for no additional benefit. You only want one if you have a distinct love of gadgets.
Counterflow chillers are only truly practical if your brewpot has a built in drain, otherwise you'll need a stainless steel racking cane to withstand the heat of the kettle.
Counterflow chillers are the fastest chillers, but they are not as easy to clean and sterilize as immersion chillers. A counterflow chiller works by running the hot wort through a length of copper tube. The copper tube is surrounded by a larger tube that carries cold water. The wort cools as it flows through the chiller.
It is important to keep a counterflow chiller clean and sterile because the inside of the copper tube can harbor bacteria which can contaminate wort as it runs through it.
Don't get caught up in the wort-chiller hype. Lots of companies market "mega efficient wort chillers," but on the small scale, when you're chilling 5 or 10 gallons, they make little or no difference. Remember that there are absolutely no rules governing the claims you can make about how great your chillers work. Your best bet is a reliable immersion chiller or one of the simpler counterflow chillers, one that doesn't use any exotic parts or fittings.
BEER & WINE - "Secondary Fermentation"
The term "secondary fermentation" is a little misleading. The beer does most or all of the actual fermenting in the primary fermentor. Primary fermentors are made of either plastic or glass. Many recipes can be made using only a primary fermentor - this is called single-stage fermentation.
Other beers are better with 2-stage fermentation, and you can use 2-stage fermentation all the time if you prefer. After fermenting for a while in the primary fermentor, the beer is transferred into a secondary fermentor.
Important Note: Primary fermentors can be either plastic or glass. However, for secondary fermentation you really should have a 5-gallon glass carboy. That's because It is very important that there's no extra air space in your secondary fermentor! And glass is best because it doesn't allow oxygen to pass through it, like some plastic does. So for secondary fermentors, always use the appropriate size glass carboy, never a bucket or a too-large carboy.
Why use a secondary fermentor?
First, because the beer will be clearer when you bottle it, so there will be less sediment in the bottles. This is because the beer has a chance to settle again in secondary. There will always be a little bit of sediment in the bottles when using the natural carbonation methods popular with home brewers.
Second, because fermentation will be faster and more complete when using two fermentors.
Fermentation starts out quite vigorously, and then gradually tapers to a stop for a few days. After the peak of fermentation, inactive "spent" yeast settles to the bottom of the fermentor. This inactive yeast actually inhibits the yeast that is still active and trying to finish the fermentation.
When you "rack" your beer (transfer to a secondary fermentor) you leave the inactive yeast behind, and the physical motion of the beer drives some of the dissolved CO2 out of solution. This re-invigorates the fermentation, so that it finishes faster, and the beer will have fewer off-flavors. This is more important with very strong beers, and with many lagers.
Third, because you can leave your beer in secondary much longer than you can in primary.
If you leave your beer in primary for more than 2 weeks, all of the settled yeast starts to "autolyze", which means the stronger yeast cells start cannibalizing the weaker ones. This gives you harsh yeast "bite" in the finished beer. But when you rack to secondary, most of the yeast gets left behind, so it is safe to let the beer settle and age after fermentation is complete.
This is useful for stronger beers that need aging to mellow their flavor, and for making lagers, in fact, the word "lager" means "to lay down" (i.e.: to age).
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