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Q: What equipment do I sterilize before I start brewing?
A: In general, you want to sterilize everything that will come into contact with your liquid or ingredients. You can refrain from sterilizing anything that will be boiled, including ingredients, the brew pot, and the stirring spoon (for example). All the tubes and hoses, the inside of the fermenter, funnels, etc. that will touch your liquid after it has started to cool down should be sterilized with a brew-safe product.

Q: How do I sterilize?
A: There are a variety of commercial brew-safe products including B-Brite, B*L*C, Iosan, Five Star, One-Step, and a host of others. Household bleach or iodine can also be used. The important thing (for all except certain "no-rinse" products) is to thoroughly rinse the equipment after sterilizing to avoid killing off your yeast. Also remember that cleaning and sterilizing are two separate steps. Cleaning removes dirt. Sterilizing purges bacteria from a cleaned surface.

Q: Can I sterilize in my dishwasher?
A: Yes. If you have a dishwasher that has a "Sani-Rinse" Cycle, and the water temperature gets above 168 degrees Fahrenheit, a soapless wash and rinse will work. Otherwise, substitute one of the commercial sanitizers above or chlorine bleach in the soap dispenser, and run a normal cycle. Check the equipment / bottles when they come out of the dishwasher to ensure that all the residue form the sanitizer is rinsed away.

Q: Do I need to preboil water I use in brewing?
A: Not necessarily. Typically, well water, bottled water, or filtered water do not need to be preboiled. If you have municipal water, check the chlorine content and preboil if it seems high.

Q: I don't want to spend a lot of money on a wort chiller. How can I cool down my wort?
A: I'm assuming that you are not brewing whole-grain, since a wort chiller is practically required for that. If you are brewing kit beers or partial grain recipes, put three or four gallons of bottled water in the refrigerator the day before you brew. Cut back to about 1-1/2 gallons of water in your boil, and use the chilled water to bring down the temperature of the wort.

Q: I pitched my yeast right at 80 degrees, but after three days nothing is happening. What did I do wrong?
A: Probably nothing. There is always the chance that the yeast was old or that there was some residual sanitizer in the brew. Try mixing up a yeast slurry using one packet of yeast, 1 or 2 teaspoons of yeast nutrient, a cup of corn sugar, and a pint of preboiled water. Put it in a mason jar and cover the top with cellophane. Give it about 36-48 hours to really get active and build up a good bed of yeast, then pitch it all into your wort. You should see activity in about 6 to 8 hours.

Q: My brew was fermenting like gangbusters for about three days, then stopped cold. What happened?
A: Take a specific gravity reading. If the SG is at or near the Final Gravity that the recipe called for, it could just be done. If the reading seems high, you may have a stuck ferment. Give the fermenter a good shake, and follow the steps above for making a yeast slurry.

Q: My beer has a cidery taste to it. What happened?
A: One of three things. (1) Did you use table sugar instead of corn sugar in the recipe? Cane sugar will impart a cidery flavor to the beer. (2) A wild yeast may have gotten into the beer and become established before your beer yeast had a chance to get started. ...or (3) If you use a plastic fermenter, smell the inside. If the inside has a slightly cidery odor to it, discard it and get a new one. Plastic is porous and tends to retain elements of previous brews.

Q: Can I use plastic bottles to bottle with?
A: Sure. Follow good sanitization procedures, and cut back on your priming agent by one-third.

Q: What do I use to carbonate my beer?
A: I will assume you are talking about bottled beer. There are three basic priming agents: corn sugar, honey, or malt extract. The recipe should tell you how much to use. If not, the rule of thumb for a 5-gallon batch is 2/3 cup honey, 1 cup corn sugar, or 1-1/3 cup dry malt extract. With kegged beer, you can also overpressurize with carbon dioxide.

Q: I boiled my extract, and let it sit covered overnight to cool. In the morning it had gelatinized. Can I save the beer?
A: Yes. What happened is that too much water boiled off for the amount of extract used. Simply add another gallon of water and reheat. You don't have to boil it again, but get it hot enough to re-liquefy the extract. Get it into the fermenter with the chilled water, and continue normally.

Q: I let my berries soak overnight in a bucket of water like the recipe said, but in the morning there was a layer of foam on the fluid. Is my wine ruined?
A: Not really. What probably happened is that a wild yeast on the skin of the berries probably started working when introduced to the warm water. Wild yeasts are very unpredictable, and will generally ruin a beer, but in a wine they sometimes produce very favorable results.

The way to avoid this in the future is to sprinkle crushed campden tablets over the whole fruit before poring the warm water over it - about half-a-tablet per gallon of wine. Let sit covered for 24 hours to kill off the wild yeasts. The campden will eventually evaporate off, leaving your wine ready for addition of the cultured yeast.

Q: Can I use table sugar instead of corn sugar in my wine?
A: Yes. While table sugar will give beer a cidery taste, it works well in wines and to augment meads.

Q: I added potassium sorbate to my wine, but it is still bubbling. What's wrong?
A: Nothing, really. While stabilizers such as sorbate, sulphites, and campden will prevent yeast from starting up (refermentation), they will not stop an activer ferment. Your best bet is to let the yeast run its course, siphon the wine off the sediment into a clean and sterilized secondary, and treat with the sorbate in the new container. After treating, let sit for a couple of days to see if any refermentation is taking place. If not, sweeten to taste and bottle. If it starts working again, repeat the procedure.

Q: I've got some sediment in my bottles that looks like dirt. Is it okay to drink?
A: Yes. While we take many precautions against refermentation, it still occasionally happens. The resulting sediment can take on a variety of "identities" from looking like dust or small crystals (wine stones) to having a caked mud or "tree bark" appearance. Let the bottle sit upright until the sediment settles out, then carefully pull the cork and siphon it into a new container. This is called decanting, and was a common practice before the discovery of sulphites.

Q: Should I leave the skins on my grapes in the primary?
A: Depends. Do you want a white or red wine. Seriously, a great deal of the color and the tannnic flavor of darker wines is derived from leaving the skins in the primary fermenter. If you do this, don't leave them for more than about 2 to 3 weeks. Red grapes will yield white wines if the skins are removed immediately. If you elect not to leave the skins in the primary, add a touch (1/4 tsp) of tannin powder to the must before primary - for that "bite".

Q: What is refermentation and why wouldn’t I want that?
A: Refermentation refers to wine or mead starting to ferment again after additional sugar or honey is added. Typically it occurs when the brewer is sweetening the batch just prior to bottling. In and of itself, refermentation is not a bad thing. If more sugar/honey is added while it’s still in a fermenter, it will simply ferment out again at a slightly higher alcohol content. This can occur over and over again until the yeast’s alcohol tolerance is reached and it dies. However, if refermentation occurs in the bottle it can cause problems. The least problem is an ugly sediment forming in the bottle. More aggressive refermentation can result in carbonation, popped corks, or even a shattered bottle.

Q: How do I prevent refermentation?
A: There are two acceptable ways. The first is to keep adding sugar or honey while the beverage is still in the fermenter. The beverage will continue to ferment until it runs out of sugars or until the alcohol tolerance of the yeast is exceeded. If you add sugar and don’t see any fizzing within a couple of minutes, odds are the yeast is dead, and you can sweeten to taste. The second way is to treat the beverage with a stabilizing agent prior to sweetening. The most common are potassium sorbate (a preservative) and sulfites (found in sodium bisulfite or potassium metabisulfite used in commercial wines.) Siphon the beverage into a clean and sterile secondary, add the stabilizer, and wait a few hours. After sweetening, wait 24 hours before bottling to ensure that some of the yeasties did not escape the evil clutches of the stabilizer.




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