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Should you use plastic instead of glass to ferment beer?

using plastic for brewing
I saw on the 'net there had been some debate on NOT using plastic fermenters because of the risk of beer infection.

I thought this was a subject worth investigation further.

All I ever use is plastic fermenters and having only ever had once incident of infection which occurred to two different fermenters used in the same batch, I could be confident that I've never had an infection caused by using a plastic fermenter.

So what's the argument from the naysayers?

The reasoning is that given plastic is more easily scratched than glass those scratches can harbor bacteria  So, the risk of infection is greater.

This seems a reasonable argument right?

And the simple solution would be to not scratch the plastic as you are cleaning and sanitizing right?

Given my experience and the fact there are millions of plastic fermenters safely and happily in use around all corners of the globe, then there is nothing much to worry about.

That's provided of course that you follow a proper cleaning process before you add your beer wort for primary fermentation. 


Any decent beer brewer will tell you that the number one key to beer making success is by adopting methodical cleaning and sanitisation practices every time you make beer.

We've covered this need before, but our favorite trick is to use sodium percarbonate and not being shy about using boiling water to kill bugs. Home brewers around the world often swear by the ability of PBW to get their brewing gear brew ready.

So, to be clear I don't see the threat of infection as a reason to not use a plastic fermenter. Sure, if they get too old or scratched the you might totally want to replace one but on a cost basis when compared to glass carboys, they are a lot cheaper, indeed a check on Amazon shows that a carboy is generally roughly twice the price.

Indeed, if you are new to home brewing, the use of a plastic drum is a great way to start where you don't have to worry about damaging the glass!

Oxygen and beer aging


Aging beer is perhaps a reason that you may wish to use something other than a plastic fermenter. The reasoning here is that it's a bit easier for oxygen to enter the beer via plastic than it is beer.

If you weren't aware, other then when first mixing the wort, beer is best brewed with minimal exposure to O2 - and it's the same when bottling your beer as well.

That said the difference in permeability between glass and plastic arguably negligible when you consider most oxygen exchange is occurring through the bung and airlock.

ALSO, if you are trying to mimic the effect of a barrel aged beer using oak, then some brewers do consider that some oxygen will help!

What you could do is do your primary fermentation in plastic and then if you intend to age a stout or whatever for a long time, you can transfer it to a secondary glass carboy.

Also bare in mind that by making such a transfer you do create an opportunity for oxygen to enter the beer.

What ever way you go, you totally need to keep your vessel free from a large amount of oxygen entering as it can assist with the growth of mould or other nasties and we really don't want that do we?

As you can see, it's a vicious cycle of contradictory information!

When to add more sugar to your beer and when to use less



Sugar!

It's a silent killer say the health specialists.

It's the devil's food!

Diabetus!

And yet we need sugar to make beer.

The real question is how much do we need to use?

That answer to that question is kind of like when Gandalf says to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Rings: "A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.”

Which kind of says to me you should use as much sugar as you need or as little as you need depending on what you need to make great beer.

Sounds like some ropey logic right? 

Hear me out.

Have you ever had a beer gusher

It's when you open your beer and whoosh! the beer zings out in a foaming stream and your beer drinking experience is ruined. 

It looks a bit like this:



So in that sense, you don't want to add too much sugar to your beer if you are bottle conditioning with sugar.

But if you are wanting to increase the alcohol content (ABV) of your beer, then you will need to add more sugar at the primary fermentation stage.

And thus it's about knowing when to add sugar to the beer and when not to.

Let's talking about increasing the ABV of your beer


When when your beer wort is undergoing fermentation what happens is that the beer yeast eats the sugar and that produces alcohol.

More sugar for the yeast to eat should mean more alcohol production right?

Too easy.

Yes, adding extra sugar to your beer will, in in the main, increase your ABV.

A big caution is that the more sugar you put in, the more pressure that you place on the yeast. The more alcohol that is produced, the slower the rate at which fermentation occurs. A keen player will consider adding more yeast nutrients to the wort which may give the original yeast a new lease of life and extend fermentation.

Remember though, the more sugar you add, the more sweet your beer will taste and the greater chance your beer will have that classic 'bad homebrew' taste.

Instead of sugar being used in the primary fermentation stage, many (most?) brewers will use dry malt extract (DME) as their sugar source. If you are wondering where to get some DME, your local brewing shop will have some - it's usually the main ingredient found in beer enhancers!

As a rough guide, an extra pound or 1/2 kg of DME will add an extra half percent to your beer. Doubling that will give you an extra whole percent.

Roughly.

There are some alternative sources of sugar that you might be interested in using too.

Maple syrup, honey and brown sugar can all be used as well but remember, like jelly beans, they will influence the taste of your beer.


So that was adding sugar to beer but what about using less?


Perhaps you are looking to drop some weight and might want to have a lower calorie beer to help with that. 

Is adding less sugar to your beer the solution?

No.

The best solution is to cut back on your drinking and get out in the sun and do some fun shit with friends and family.

But if you're looking to get a well conditioned beer that won't explode when you open it, cutting back on the sugar when it's time to bottle your beer is a fine idea.

There are two main schools of thought when bottling beer. One is that you can 'batch prime' the entire batch of beer in one hit or you can add sugar individually to each bottle.

I've been a fan of the latter as doing it feels like I'm really being involved in the process of making beer.

However after many gushers over the past year or so, I've come to the conclusion that for myself, batch priming beer is the way to go.

It also means that I'm adding less sugar to my beer as I am using a single measured amount of sugar to carbonate my beer rather than by adding random teaspoons measures of sugar.

What is a 'session' beer?

What is a session beer?


What is the definition of session beer? 


I saw this question asked in a beer oriented Facebook group and I thought it seems such an obvious question that it didn't need an answer but then I realized not everyone drinks like a fish! 

A session beer is oft considered to be a beer which has an alcohol content of around 5 percent ABV or less.

The concept of this is that in a 'session' of beer drinking, you won't get hammered by drinking 5 beers at 5 percent as you may just do if you have 5 beers at eight percent.

So basically before the rise of craft beer, most beers were session beers - as history beers have been from 4 - 5 % ABV.

And there in lies the rub - the word session for beer has been totally abused by many craft brewers and their promotion campaigns and now it feels like every damn beer is pitched to beer drinkers as being a session beer. 

Even beer reviewers have started to throw it into their articles as if it adds a sense of romanticism to beer.

It doesn't and it devalues the meaning of the concept.

So a session beer is historically a beer of traditional strength. The more modern craft beer meaning of a session beer is any beer !

We wonder if the boys from U2 ever made homebrew? Check out their song You're The Best Thing About Me. It's a cracker of a tune. 

The best and cheapest beer wort chillers guide

how to cool a beer wort with a chiller
When making beer, the key part of the whole exercise is getting fermentation occurring as quickly as possible once the wort has been prepared.

The trouble is, the wort is usually bloody hot and if you add yeast to the wort, it will die a miserable death.

Like the T-100 in Terminator 2.

So what can you do?

It’s simple.

You may wish to consider investing in a wort chiller.

Let's cut through to the deal:

Our featured wort chiller - Copperhead Immersion Wort Chiller


copper head immersion wort chiller

The two stand out features of this chiller are that it comes with 25 foot copper coil for efficient cooling and its vinyl tubing comes with the standard garden hose connection that we mentioned above.

It also features:
  • All copper coil construction is easy to clean and will conduct heat better than other metals.
  • Ensure secure tubing with proprietary barbed fittings. Eradicate shooting streams of water that make a mess in your brew cave.
  • Drop-angle connections provide insurance against contamination.
  • Dimensions: 9 inches wide, 16 inches tall to the bend, 3/8 ID tubing
Check out the pricing on Amazon.

Here's a guide on why you might want to use a chiller


The use of one can improve the quality of your beer in several ways.

The first is to protect the beer against infections.

While the wort it is still hot bacteria and wild yeasts are inhibited from toying with your beer which is a good thing but it is very susceptible to oxidation damage as it slowly cools.

An efficient cool down can prevent this damage from occurring.

It also prevents the production of dimethyl sulphide. This compound can produce off flavourings in the beer so obviously, you’d want to remove the risk of this being produced as much as you can.

Ideally, the conscientious brewer should aim to get the wort to below 80°F ( 27°C) before oxidation or contamination has a chance to occur. The use of a wort chiller will get you there in no time.

The ‘cold break’ and ‘chill haze’


You may have heard of ‘chill haze’. This is a really common cause of beer cloudiness where the wort has been boiled and the cooling process has not generated enough ‘cold break’.

The cold break is the proteins from the beer that are precipated to the bottom of the beer by the cold temperature.

Using a copper wort chiller allows for an effective way to get more cold break forming and thus reduces the chance of chill haze in your finished beer.

The less crap in your beer, the better it will taste.

A tale of two chillers


There are actually two basic types of wort chillers: immersion and counter-flow.

Immersion chillers are the simplest and work by running cold water through the coil which immersed in the wort. The heat of the wort is transferred via the copper into the water which is quickly is carried away 

Counterflow chillers work in an opposite manner.

The hot wort is drained from the pot via the copper tubing while cold water flows around the outside of the chiller.

What does the garden hose have to do with chilling beer?


You should look to buy a wort chiller that has your standard garden hose connection. 

This allows for brewing outside on a nice summer's day or connecting to a laundry sink faucet as your chilling water source. 

That can give you some room to breathe outside rather than managing all kinds of cooling shenanigans in the kitchen!

Go for quality

You get what you pay for so look for wort chillers that cool efficiently, don’t leak and will last many brews so don't cheap out.

Just as you should always get the bigger brewing kettle, go for the quality but affordable wort chiller. 

In the long run, it will be wort(h) it.