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Does length of boil affect head retention with extracts?

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Throughout the years I've had something that really irks me, which is inconsistent head retention.  Some batches would have what I would call a "prize winning head" and others just little to no head upon pour.  I've brewed two Cream Ale extract kits in the last two months.

First kit - The first I used a cheap hotplate which I rewired to bypass the thermostat so it stays on as long as it's plugged in.  This thing takes an hour to bring 1.5 gallons of water to a boil.  I steeped specialty grains for about 30 minutes until the temp hit 168.  When boiling commenced, I added the hops and boiled for 30 minutes then added the 6# LME.  After 45 minutes when the boil finally returned, I boiled for 15 minutes then added to fermenter which already contained most of my top off water.  This beer had immaculate head, great lacing, tasted awesome.  (This kit fermented at an ambient of 76)

Second kit - This time I tried out my new turkey fryer.  2 gallons of water in kettle this time (I don't have a chiller yet).  Steeped grains for 30 minutes at 150, raised heat and removed them at 168.  Brought to boil.  Added 6# LME.  Returned to boil, added hops, boiled for an hour, added to fermenter per my norm.  The head on this was pretty much non-existent.  (This batch fermented at an ambient of 60)

Both batches primed with 4oz corn sugar.  Has anyone else had any experiences like this?  My thoughts comparing the two is that boiling the extract longer is what may have caused the lack of head retention.  Opinions most welcomed!

What steeping grains were included with the kit? Some kits throw in several ounces of carapils which aids in head retention. However, you are really gonna need to have better control of your ferment temps if you hope to achieve any consistency.

First of all, no beer should ever be fermented at an ambient of 76 - hopefully that was a typo. Oddly enough, contrary to your post, fermentation temps have one of the biggest impacts on head retention. If you are fermenting much warmer than 68-70 degrees for most ale (fermentation temps, not ambient) then you head retention will be terrible - and so will the head aches that come with beers fermented that warm. Warm fermentation causes fusel oils which not only kill beer head but kill your head too.  ;) If you fermented at an ambient of 76 - your fermentation temps were through the roof!!

The strange thing is that you say your head retention was great on that beer, and non existent - which is a little confusing. However, the other component of good head retention is how much yeast you pitch and, or how healthy your fermentation is. You must pitch enough yeast, that means making a starter or pitching slurry with liquid yeast.

Regardless, reading your post t appears you have sloppy fermentation practices. You need to get a handle on that. Fermentation makes the beer - and pitching temps (never pitch over 70, preferably much cooler), fermentation temps (never ferment much warmer than 68-70 - which means your ambient must be in the low to mid 60s) and always be sure to pitch enough yeast. You get those areas ironed out and you will see all kinds of improvements in your beer.

As far as the length of the boil, (if I recall correctly) a longer boil can break down the proteins that form head retention so I would say that is not an issue either.

Dhacker is correct with respect to having consistency and being able to make the comparison you are trying to make. There are a lot of factors that affect head retention.

This being said, what you are seeing matches my expectations. Boiling coagulates proteins and the longer you boil the less head retention you will have. But I expect that effect to be less than the effect hat hops and fermentation, for exampe, have on head retention.

Note he says the longer boil had better head retention - which is backwards (so is the fact that the higher fermentation temps had better head retention - I'm about to give up!  :P) lol.

+1 to you needing more consistent process. Start off with the fermentation.


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