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Ask the Experts: Chris White & Jamil Zainasheff

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Steven from Washington asks:
How beneficial is it to use filtered or bottled water rather then tap water when home brewing beer?


Chris and Jamil answer:
Bottled water is rarely cost effective and it would only be beneficial if your tap water is somehow horrible. Even then, it is often better to just mix that tap water with some reverse osmosis or de-ionized water. If you do use bottled water, you still need to make sure to boil it to kill off any unwanted organisms. Unless your tap water is unusable, I would use filtered tap water. Keep in mind yeast need a broad spectrum of minerals for proper health and fermentation and tap water will generally have some of them. Using just distilled or reverse osmosis water without restoring those important mineral salts can result in poor yeast health and poor fermentation.

Kyle from Idaho asks:
My question is for Jamil. On the Jamil Show you talk about never using secondary fermentation because it's a waste of time and is just one more step that can infect and affect your beer. What is unclear to me is if I want to dry hop a beer do I do it in primary? I am fermenting in glass carboys and lack the ability to drop yeast out. Would I just wait until the majority of yeast has flocculated out and then dry hop? And will the yeast cake have any effect on the dry hopping process?

Thanks and cheers

Chris and Jamil answer:
We prefer not to transfer to another vessel unless there is a good reason to do so. Dry hopping is a good reason to transfer homebrew from one vessel to another if you cannot drop the yeast. One reason is that if you are harvesting yeast for re-pitching, you don’t want it full of hop material. And a second reason is that dry hopping with a large amount of yeast present may actually result in a slightly different flavor than dry hopping a beer that has dropped bright and had the yeast removed.

Leonard from Missouri asks:
There seems to be a discrepancy between the claims of liquid yeast producers. The claim they make is that their products are at adequate cell counts for pitching a 5gal batch, and that can differ from what we as homebrewers determine is the correct amount when we use a popular pitching rate calculator like Mr. Malty. For example if you have a very modest beer like a 1.040 OG ale, and you are using a very fresh pack of yeast at 97% viability, it says to use 1.5 packs of yeast. Even a small beer of 1.030 requires 1.1 vials/packs. Not trying to pit one expert against another here, but it would be interesting to discuss the topic. I make a lot of starters and it certainly requires more planning than if I were to have a truly pitchable amount of yeast. Also, is there something preventing White Labs from putting more yeast cells in their tubes?


Chris and Jamil answer:
There are a couple of factors to take into account. One is that the yeast packages on the market strike a good balance between cell count and affordability. There is enough yeast in there to do a very good job of fermenting a typical beer and the price is still in a range that the market will accept. Even commercial breweries often purchase less than the 1 million cells per ml per plato, due to cost. They either propagate it up or brew with it as is and blend the beer into the next batch.

The reason some brewers may want to pitch at a higher rate is to achieve a different flavor profile from fermentation. In that case, they either make a starter, repitch yeast from a previous batch, or purchase more packages of yeast.

Greg in Virginia asks:
I use a stir plate for starters and get great results stepping up slurry amounts. Most all of the information available recommends good oxygen levels for starters as well as wort to build sterol reserves for cell walls. The question is whether I need to concentrate as heavily on wort oxygenation as the starter. How much benefit would there be in displacing the air in the starter vessel (Erlenmeyer flask) with pure O2, seal it with aluminum foil, and give it a vigorous stir cycle? After a short period of time, I would remove the foil and cover with a small beaker to allow my usual air transfer.

Additionally, I’ve reduced my starter OG to 1.025 - 1.028. I seem to get at least as much slurry as I did with gravities around 1.040. How low can the SOG go and still get good results in healthy, ready to go yeast?

Chris and Jamil answer:
If you are using a stir plate, then you most likely have adequate oxygen for healthy yeast growth. Additional oxygen may result in more yeast, but it may not as there may be some other factor that is limiting growth. Either way, there should be no harm from what you propose as long as the oxygen concentration does not become high enough to be toxic to the yeast.

I wouldn’t fret too much, as lower gravity starters can be better for yeast health. What you are finding in your higher gravity starter is that the yeast are using some of the sugars for growth and then just ferment the rest. This is why very large starters or low inoculation rates don’t grow much more yeast than properly sized starters. It isn’t a linear equation. In this case some factor other than sugar concentration is limiting growth.

Jeremy from Pennsylvania asks:
My question is as follows: I understand that one should control temperatures during active fermentation to not disturb the yeast through either rising or falling temperatures, or through a fluctuation of both. What I'm still a little confused about is how long should one control fermentation temperatures for. Do I control fermentation temperatures for active, conditioning, secondary phases, or all of the above?

I have only one temperature controller and one electronic heat blanket to keep temperatures warm enough in these colder winter temperatures (I also now have a fridge for the summer months). Please note that I live in South Philly and do all my fermenting in the basement where temperatures can go down to around 60ºF (or up to 75ºF in the summer). Most of my ale recipes, and the suggested yeast optimal temperature ranges, are within the 65ºF-70ºF degree range. Therefore, I've been shooting for a target fermentation at around 68ºF. If I'm doing successive batches, how long should I plan on using temperature control on any one actively fermenting carboy before I remove the controller and place it on the next batch? In addition, will any carboys that received active temp control be subject to any yeast "harm" during the conditioning phase once the controller has been removed?

In one calendar week over holiday break, I brewed three of Northern Brewers' extract kit batches and I did my first mead. I'm curious if perhaps I was a little too ambitious and I'm wondering if next time I should actively control fermentation temps all the way through one batch before moving onto the next.

Thanks for your help and insight!

Chris and Jamil answer:
Ideally you want to control your beer/fermentation temperature at all times. Every phase of fermentation and even beer storage is important. Allowing the temperature to freely rise or fall can sometimes work fine and at other times may cause issues with your beer. In general, rising temperatures during fermentation are better than falling temperatures, so if you can achieve that without the controller, then it would be less of an issue.


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