Brew With Us: What's going on in your fermenting vessel? Yeast cells are turning fermentable sugars into beer. Learn about the next steps for brewing an American pale ale at home.

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Brew Day is over. Your wort is in the fermenting bucket. What do you do now?

Well, not much. Yet.

Brewing timeline

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In this phase, the yeast are doing all the work of turning your wort into beer. The yeast consume sugars in the wort, creating alcohol and CO2 in the process. The bubbling in the airlock is caused by escaping CO2.

You’ll see the most activity during initial stages of fermentation, when the yeast are hungry and multiplying rapidly. This activity slows down after a week, as the yeast begin to run out of food and later settle to the bottom of the fermenting bucket.

Over the next couple weeks, you’ll want to leave your fermentation bucket alone — really, the yeast are just fine on their own. It might be tempting to peek under the lid to see the yeast in action, but just let it be. You don’t want to risk introducing oxygen or harmful bacteria.

A “krausen” forms on top of the beer during initial stages of fermentation. The foamy krausen consists of yeast and wort proteins and is a light creamy color, with bits of green-brown gunk that is wort proteins, hop resins and dead yeast. (Nikolaj Lasbo / The Seattle Times)
A “krausen” forms on top of the beer during initial stages of fermentation. The foamy krausen consists of yeast and wort proteins and is a light creamy color, with bits of green-brown gunk that is wort proteins, hop resins and dead yeast. (Nikolaj Lasbo / The Seattle Times)

After about a week in the fermenting bucket, the initial stages of fermentation are complete. The airlock should be bubbling in intervals greater than 30 seconds. After two weeks, it is time to transfer your beer into a secondary fermentation vessel (our 5-gallon carboy).

For those who brewed with us on May 30, you’ll be ready to complete this step as early as this weekend. We recommend doing this step between June 6 and June 20, which will give your wort at least a week in the carboy before bottling on June 27. (In a pinch, you can do this step right before bottling.)

Moving the wort from the fermenting bucket to carboy

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Water + malt + hops + yeast. Learn what goes into beer and the processes in brewing.

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In technical terms, this is called “racking from the primary to the secondary fermentation vessel.”

Steps:

  1. Sanitize your 5-gallon glass carboy or other 5-gallon fermenting vessel, racking cane and siphon hose, using a new mixture of cleaning solution, not the one used on brew day. Soak equipment in sanitizing solution for at least 10 minutes to thoroughly disinfect.
  2. Siphon your beer from the fermenting bucket into the 5-gallon fermenting vessel using the same technique you used on Brew Day (link). Leave at least 1 inch of space at the top of the 5-gallon vessel. Discard any extra wort and the layer of “trub” (used yeast and other sediment) at the bottom of the bucket.
  3. Plug the 5-gallon vessel with rubber stopper. Refill airlock with water and fit snugly in the rubber stopper to create an airtight seal.
  4. Move carboy to somewhere it can sit undisturbed for one week. It should be stored at 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

During the following week, the final stages of fermentation will take place in the carboy. The airlock should be bubbling in intervals greater than 45-60 seconds. Once it is bubbling at intervals of 60 seconds or longer, it’s time to bottle! (Stay tuned for instructions and another video on bottling.)

There is debate in the homebrewing community about the value of “secondary fermentation.” Some say that it creates a cleaner and clearer beer — the thought is that by moving the beer from one vessel, leaving behind the layer of yeast and other sediment that forms at the bottom of the primary fermentation vessel (the “trub”), you reduce the beer’s exposure to the flavors from the yeast and the cloudiness the yeast might contribute.

However, many brewers have ditched this process altogether, believing it to have little to no impact on the final beer. (Check out this blog post from Brulosphy comparing primary-only versus secondary-fermented beer.)

For this recipe, we have decided to include secondary fermentation —  we’ll need to free up the 6-gallon fermenting bucket for a later step in the bottling process (the 6-gallon bucket that comes with your brewing kit should have a spigot on it, which is used for filling bottles with your beer).

We will do this step in one to two weeks’ time. Stay tuned, and let your beer do its thing in the meantime!

 

Next part of the recipe: Bottling your beer