Tips for new brewers

Even the most experienced homebrewers were newbies once. They had question like: Do you keep the red cap on the airlock during fermentation or do you take it off? (Leave it on.) Or, Can you reuse bottle caps? (No.)

We asked Phil Mathis of Homebrew Adventures and Michael Dawson of Northern Brewer to tell us some of the ones they've received.

"I could probably sit here and write a book on this. After 8 years I've just about heard them all but once in a while I get surprised," he noted. To read more from Phil or ask him a question visit Ask Phil!

Northern Brewer offers a message board where homebrewers can interact and Michael also offers advice there.

Q: Do I put the curved end of the racking tube in the carboy when I siphon?
A: No, use the straight end with the tip attached.

Q: Do I pour the beer into the bucket when I'm ready to bottle?
A: No!! This will lead to oxidation of the beer. Use the racking tube and flexible tubing a GENTLY siphon into your bottling bucket.

Q: When using two cans of malt for my recipe, do I use one pack of yeast or both packs?
A: You can use one pack and put the other in the refrigerator for a back up or you can use both packs. You will get complete fermentation regardless of whether you use just one pack or both.

Q: If I use two packs of yeast, will this be too much?
A: No. The yeast will multiply to a certain extent regardless of whether you use one pack or two.

Q: Do I follow the directions on the can malts?
A: For the love of beer NO!!!! This will produce a cidery, winey flavor that is not enjoyable. You can either use two cans or use DME instead of sugar. This will produce a much more acceptable outcome. Sugar is good for priming only if you are using candi sugar in a Belgian beer.

Q: My beer has bubbled up through the airlock; should I dump it?
A: No. Remove the airlock, thoroughly clean and sanitize. If the carboy is still foaming over, install a blow-off tube that fits snugly into the mouth of the carboy, with the other end submerged into a sanitizer solution.

Q: Can I crush the specialty grains in a coffee grinder or blender?
A: In small quantities (less than 20 percent of the fermentables) in recipes using malt extract, grains add color, sweetness and perhaps some body. They don't add many fermentables and thus "mill size" is not critical. It is however important not to grind grain so fine that husk material exits the muslin bag and transfers harsh flavors to the wort during the boil. We suggest milling the grain with a roller mill, or cracking at home with a rolling pin.

Q: I've pitched an active yeast package and my wort is not doing anything.
A: The first phase of fermentation is yeast reproduction. This is the "lag" period when nothing appears to be happening. Once sufficient yeast has been produced, they begin to eat the sugars and fermentation is evident by slight white dots and foam that soon builds into a large, foamy head, or krausen. The lag phase can last from a few hours to several days. Ideally, activity should start within 24 hours, but may take longer if a small population of yeast was pitched.

Q: Is it necessary to do a secondary fermentation?
A: No. But using a secondary allows you to rack beer off of the dead yeast and other precipitated solids. The resulting beer is clearer, cleaner tasting, has less sediment in the bottles, and is less prone to haze and off-flavors.

If you have a favorite newbie question that once stumped you and you think everybody should know the answer to, write editor@realbeer.com. If we get enough responses we'll publish them in Spotlight: Homebrewing in October.

From FAQ