Thursday, August 7, 2014

Don't Panic.

The "is it infected" posts will never cease. Sometimes they're entertaining, sometimes they're not. Either way, it's not that big of a deal.

That got me thinking a bit, and the first thought that came into my head was "don't panic." Why? Because that seems to be the response about the three things. While infections can ruin a brew (and unplanned ones generally do) it isn't the end of the world. It's potentially the end of a batch, and you should use it as a learning experience. Find where you went wrong in your process and fix it.

Moving along...

Thing #1: Infections. Here are some pictures of infected brews.

Does yours look like that? No? Ok. Does it smell bad? And I don't mean rhino fart smell for some yeast strains. Google your yeast strain and see if what you're smelling is normal. If it smells "off" then you're gonna need to wait a bit and see if anything else happens, as this may still actually be nothing significant.

If it turns out your brew is infected, you have two options. The first is to dump it, and the second is to wait it out.

If you wait it out, be aware that it will likely take months to stabilize and be safe to bottle. We're talking 3-6 months. So if you don't want to tie up your bucket or carboy for that long, option #1 is really the only viable one at that point.

If you do want to tie up your vessel for that long, be aware that you're more likely to have a bug that isn't going to make a particularly tasty brew. Unless your recipe is supposed to be funky/sour, the odds of having something that tastes good... well, they aren't good. It is certainly possible, but you'll need to wait a long time to find out. Is it worth it? I honestly don't think so, but that's up to you.

If you bottle it before the bug is done, bottle bombs are a huge risk. You'll want to ensure gravity is stable over several weeks at least before you bottle to be on the safe side for something like this. Can't rush it.

Thing #2: Did I ruin my brew?! 

The answer to this is almost always "wait and see," because it's hard to know for sure on a lot of things.

Here are some common concerns and answers:

If you splashed hose water into your brew while chilling it, no one online can tell you if it's ruined. You have to wait and see.

Did you add too much top-up water to an extract brew? Relax. You're fine, it'll just be a weaker beer. Only time can tell if it really ruined it, but odds are in your favor on this one.

Did you forget priming sugar? To buy some carb-drops and recap after you drop those in. This is the easiest way to go about fixing that problem. You could gently pour into the bottling bucket and prime with sugar that way, but the risk of oxidizing your beer is way too high for my liking.

Did you pitch hot? Well, it depends how hot. If it's under 100F you're still makin beer. But you may end up with fusels and a lot of fruity esters that aren't necessarily supposed to be in the style you're brewing. If it's over, you probably killed the yeast, but it really depends how much over. Give it a couple days and pop the lid on the bucket (or look at the carboy) and if you see no activity (krausen, foam) your options are dump, or (the better option) pitch some more yeast. Whether or not it's ruined at this point is again a matter of waiting and seeing.

Now if you went and mashed at 170F, yeah your brew probably isn't going to be great. Good news is you've learned something. Whether that be proper mash temperatures, calibrating your thermometers, or whatever it is you learned, you learned something to improve your process and make better beer next time.

Thing #3: It isn't carbonated!

Patience young padawan.

Did you add priming sugar? Yes? How much? If you used a priming sugar calculator you probably added enough. If not, use it now and hopefully you noted how much you primed with before so you can reference that.

What temperature are you carbonating it at? Room temp ~70F ambient for 2-3 weeks is the general rule of thumb. Some may be carbonated faster, some may take longer.

How did you mix your priming sugar? If you dissolved it in water and either racked on top of it and/or gave it a stir to make sure it was well mixed into the beer, you're probably fine. If you didn't, you may have uneven carbonation. What this means is some of your bottles may be extremely carbonated and others barely carbonated.

If you didn't forget priming sugar and you're carbonating at 70F ambient, wait it out a bit longer. It can take longer than 3 weeks too, really just depends. High gravity brews can take longer than that.