Quick Hits: Homebrewing Questions Answered 02

In the first Quick Hits, we answered homebrewing questions about packaging, special B malt, and mead issues. We're still getting a steady flow of questions that only need a short answer. This week's homebrewing questions are;

How To Use A Hop Spider.

When Should I Use A Secondary?

Tuning Your Propane Burner.

How Do You Dry Hop In A Keg?

What's The Best Way To Store Grain?

Why Is There No Head On My Beer?

How To Use A Hop Spider

Hop spiders are simple devices that reduce the amount of hop particulates in the beer's trub. They have 3 arms connected to a ring with a long hop sock running down into the kettle. Some versions use stainless baskets with ultra-fine holes. Some also hook to the side of the kettle instead of being suspended over the middle. They work best with whole leaf hops, as they are larger pieces of hop than the pellets, but hop spiders should still be very effective even when using hop pellets.

When Should I Use A Secondary

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Ten to fifteen years ago, it was a common practice to use a secondary on every batch, regardless of the style or recipe. That methodology however, has changed drastically in the other direction. Every time you transfer your beer, you expose it to oxygen, which is bad. But when should you consider a secondary?

The only time you should consider one is when you are doing an actual second fermentation (ie, fermenting with an ale strain, then souring after primary). Alternatively, meadmakers usually employ a secondary for bulk aging off the sediment for several months. Some people also do a secondary when adding fruit to their beer (but again, some of the sugars in the fruit will ferment, causing a second fermentation).

Autolysis (yeast death) is not really a factor at the homebrewing scale, as the amount of yeast cake doesn't generate enough heat to kill the yeast. If you plan on doing one, make sure the fermentation is finished, and the yeast has had time to clean up the fermentation (3-4 weeks) before moving to a secondary. Adding a small amount of sugar to regenerate some CO2 in the new vessel will help reduce the risk of oxygenation, but again you likely don't need to do a secondary at all.

Tuning Your Propane Burner

The amount of oxygen your propane burner receives can directly affect the efficiency and cleanliness of your kettle. You are looking for a blue or invisible flame when using your burner. These are the hottest, and cleanest flames, which means less soot on the bottom of your kettle, and faster heating times with less wasted propane.

To adjust your burner, set the oxygen dial (where the hose connects to the burner) so everything is in the middle. Light your burner. From there slowly adjust the know to the left or right to get as close as you can to the ideal flame. Be careful that the flame doesn't go out. If it does, turn off the propane supply and try again.

What's The Best Way To Dry Hop In A Keg

types of kegs - corny kegs Ball Lock and Pin Lock style kegs are both types of "Corny" or "Cornelius" kegs.

Dry hopping is a big deal when it comes to hop forward beers like pale ales and IPAs. Having the dry hop occur in the keg give you one of the freshet dry hopping experiences, so it's a good way to go about it if you can.

But just throwing hops in there loosely is asking for a date with chunky pours throughout the life of the keg. The hops still need to be contained somehow. Nylon hop bags are a great way to dry hop in the keg. You can throw a few sanitized glass marbles into the bag to keep it from moving much or getting sucked into the dip tube (which will cause a clog obviously). The other option is to use some un-flavored dental floss to tie around the keg handle and tie to the bag so it can't get low enough to get sucked in. With the floss method, you can also retrieve the bag early (before the keg is kicked) if need-be.

How Should I Store My Grain

use wheat for cloudy IPAs

Whole un-crushed grain is pretty resilient and storing it is as easy as storing it in a sealed dry container. As long as it's dry and air tight it can last for a year. If it's crushed and in similar conditions, you want to use the grain as soon as possible, but it should hold up for 2-3 months. You can also taste some of the grain to see if it's going stale. It's a very similar flavor to stale crackers or chips. Very stale grain will be flavorless and be a bit "cardboard-like".

Part of the air-tight thing is to keep bugs out, which can infest an open supply of grain pretty quickly.

Why Is There No Head On My Beer vienna-equinox

There's a whole science to the head on your beer, but a lot of it has to do with proteins, oils, and the amount of carbonation you have, with the former two playing a bigger role. For example, Champagne is highly carbonated but has no head retention.

A lower carbed beer will have a quickly fading head, that without proteins, can't build up and present itself throughout the duration of your consumption. Oils and soaps are a big factor in the head on your beer. They negate head retention. Dish soap residue and certain high-oil adjuncts (chocolate bars) are places to look if you used head positive ingredients but still aren't producing a good head on your pours.

Using malts like carafoam, dextrine malt, flaked barley, wheat malts, all increase the head on your beer, but can lead to chill haze or reduced clarity in general. So it's a balancing act. You can also influence the head through your mash. A higher temperature (155-158), single infusion mash will cause less proteins to be broken down, and in turn create more head. However this may lead to more unfermentable sugars than a lower infusion temperature. Doing low temperature rests like an acid or protein rest will also have negative effects on head retention.

For a full list of Quick Hits answers, go to the table of contents and scroll down to the Quick Hits section.

by David Doucette
David is a full blown fermentation enthusiast who has dedicated much of his free time to learning and sharing the art of homebrewing. He's spent several years documenting and writing homebrewing information on his blog Hive Mind Mead. He's written over 60 articles between Homebrew Talk and Homebrew Supply.
written by David Doucette

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