Author Topic: Thin head  (Read 1390 times)

Offline gmac

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Thin head
« on: December 17, 2010, 12:01:09 PM »
I've started to get back into homebrewing and I've done two batches so far, one cream ale that is still aging in the cold room and a steam beer that is ok.  But, one thing I've noticed with the steam beer, and remember from homebrewing  before was that the head of the beer was unusually thin and disappeared very quickly.  Any tips on getting a more rich and foamy head on the beer?  The ingredients were: 6 lbs of Golden DME, 1 lb of malted rye, 1 oz of Northern Brewer, 1 oz of Saaz hops with 1/2 added at 15 min from the end of the boil and the other half 5 mins from the end.  Yeast was Wyeast California Lager.  I'm embarassed to say I broke my hygrometer so I have no idea what the OG/FG were.  Priming was done with 2/3 cup of regular sugar dissolved and boiled in water and the beer was bottled in used 2L pop bottles because I am lazy and hate cleaning small bottles but am too cheap to buy a keg system yet (it may come soon though).
Is it just because of the fact that it is extract? 

I'm about to do another batch with another 6 lbs of Golden DME, 1 lb of Caramel malt (40), 2 oz of Northern Brewer (I like bitter beer) and either Fuggles or Goldings aroma hops (I've got both) and Wyeast London ESB liquid yeast.  I wanted to ask before I start to make sure that there  wasn't something obvious that I'm overlooking.

Thanks.

Online euge

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2010, 12:41:43 PM »
How the head performs is based on various factors. First you should look at how clean your glasses are- ie soap residue. I'm not a big fan of no-spot rinses either. If you must- then use vinegar in the washer.

A healthy pitch of yeast and fermentation appears to be a key component in head formation. Some advocate the addition of wheat malt to the recipe to improve head formation. YMMV.

And my experience is how many volumes a beer is carbonated and how it is poured also comes into play.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

Offline tumarkin

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2010, 01:10:56 PM »
As Euge points out, there are foam-negative things that can adversely affect your head - dirty glass, high alcohol, lack of carbonation, etc. But you're probably more interested in what you can do to create a better head. There are a number of factors starting with adequate carbonation, but assuming your beer is well carbonated, there are a number of brewing processes & ingrediants that can help. Your mash schedule, including wheat, crystal, caramel or cara malts, can be beneficial. Moderate to high hopping helps. There are a lot of factors to look at.

The brewwiki has a good summation -

http://www.brewwiki.com/index.php/Head_Retention
Mark Tumarkin
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Offline Joe Sr.

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2010, 03:34:56 PM »
I typically use a 1/2 lb or so of carapils to help with body and head retention.  Since I've been doing it so long, I no longer have a control batch to test against where I did not use it.  But, I have no problems with getting a nice rocky head on my beers, which are all brewed with grains and extract.

I keg nowadays, but used to bottle A LOT and rarely had a problem back then except for the occasional high-alcohol beer having a thin head.
It's all in the reflexes. - Jack Burton

Offline dmtaylor

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2010, 04:02:40 PM »
+1 to all of the above.  One thing I did not see mentioned:  What was your fermentation temperature?  Anything greater than about 68 F can cause fusels that have a tendency to kill head.  So keep fermentation temperatures down to improve head as well.
Dave

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2010, 04:18:49 PM »
Protein and hops (alpha acids) are important, which you seem to have in decent levels with both recipes.  The rye malt has moderate protein levels and the carawheat has high protein levels. Your hop additions seem acceptable as well.  Otherwise I agree with the previous posts, clean glassware is extremely important.

Offline hokerer

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2010, 04:22:51 PM »
+1 to all of the above.  One thing I did not see mentioned:  What was your fermentation temperature?  Anything greater than about 68 F can cause fusels that have a tendency to kill head.  So keep fermentation temperatures down to improve head as well.

Good point.  Since he's just getting back in, that might kinda sorta qualify him as a "beginner" and it seems the biggest thing beginners miss  on is fermentation temperature control.
Joe

Offline gmac

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2010, 06:24:30 PM »
+1 to all of the above.  One thing I did not see mentioned:  What was your fermentation temperature?  Anything greater than about 68 F can cause fusels that have a tendency to kill head.  So keep fermentation temperatures down to improve head as well.

Good point.  Since he's just getting back in, that might kinda sorta qualify him as a "beginner" and it seems the biggest thing beginners miss  on is fermentation temperature control.

Thanks for the thoughts and advice everyone.  I particularly liked the "might kinda sorta" phrase.  Very polite.  I'll come right out and say I am an absolute beginner, no doubt about it.  Last time I brewed beer was 20 years ago when I was in college and then, quantity and strength were far more important than quality.  I'd have chugged this stuff and never thought twice about head retention. 
I know glassware can be a factor, I don't think that is all of it here although it may be part.  I'll try the next batch with crystal malt and see if that helps.
Thanks again.l

Offline gmac

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2010, 06:30:22 PM »
Oh, and I never addressed the temperature question.  The temperature is unknown.  It's in my basement and I'm sure it is <70 but I don't know the actual temp.  Clearly I have to get a thermometer so that I can get a better handle on the parameters.  It's in a fairly cool area of the basement but I will check to be sure. 

This leads me to another question.  Assuming I need to drop the temp a couple degrees, any easy suggestions?  I'm not afraid to invest in the process but I want to be sure it's the only option before buying anything.  My cold room is too cold, maybe 2 degrees C right now.  Good spot to lager but not to brew ales. 
Thanks again.


Offline dmtaylor

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #9 on: December 18, 2010, 06:49:47 PM »
You can do a search on the term "swamp cooler" to drop fermentation temperature.  Easier yet, you can do what I do -- wet t-shirt.  Basically you can take advantage of evaporative cooling by setting your fermenter in a tub with a couple of inches of water at the bottom, soak a t-shirt wet and then drape it over your fermenter letting the ends soak in the water which will keep the t-shirt wetter for longer.  This will lower your fermentation temperature by about 3 to 5 degrees F.  If you blow a fan on that same t-shirt, you can lower the temperature by 5 degrees F or more.  Works great, I do it all the time.
Dave

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Offline majorvices

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2010, 05:27:45 AM »
+1 to all of the above.  One thing I did not see mentioned:  What was your fermentation temperature?  Anything greater than about 68 F can cause fusels that have a tendency to kill head.  So keep fermentation temperatures down to improve head as well.

+1 - no amount of cara-pils or wheat can save the head on a beer fermented too warm, not to mention the other nasty flavors that come along with fermentation temps that are out of the range, or un healthy picthes of yeast. Use the pitching calc at www.mrmalty.com to get an idea how much yeast you need to pitch. A good fermentation is the key to great beer, including great head!
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Offline stlaleman

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #11 on: December 19, 2010, 05:42:07 AM »
+1 to all of the above.  One thing I did not see mentioned:  What was your fermentation temperature?  Anything greater than about 68 F can cause fusels that have a tendency to kill head.  So keep fermentation temperatures down to improve head as well.

+1 - no amount of cara-pils or wheat can save the head on a beer fermented too warm, not to mention the other nasty flavors that come along with fermentation temps that are out of the range, or un healthy picthes of yeast. Use the pitching calc at www.mrmalty.com to get an idea how much yeast you need to pitch. A good fermentation is the key to great beer, including great head!

How do you explain the Belgium beers, some fermented in the 80's, all with the famous rocky head and Belgium lace?

Offline majorvices

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #12 on: December 19, 2010, 06:17:27 AM »
+1 to all of the above.  One thing I did not see mentioned:  What was your fermentation temperature?  Anything greater than about 68 F can cause fusels that have a tendency to kill head.  So keep fermentation temperatures down to improve head as well.

+1 - no amount of cara-pils or wheat can save the head on a beer fermented too warm, not to mention the other nasty flavors that come along with fermentation temps that are out of the range, or un healthy picthes of yeast. Use the pitching calc at www.mrmalty.com to get an idea how much yeast you need to pitch. A good fermentation is the key to great beer, including great head!

How do you explain the Belgium beers, some fermented in the 80's, all with the famous rocky head and Belgium lace?

Exception to the rule - its the yeast. BUT - that said, even most of these that allow the temp to creep up are picthed in the 60s. And most of these Belgian brewers have very healthy and active pitches of yeast. I personally have found that my Belgians react better to cooler fermentation termps than some of the famous high temp brewers. (And keep in mind that many of them don't let the temp exceed 68-72 degrees.)

You'll have a hard time pitching any strain at 80 and having any long lasting head retention.

Edit: FTR, I'll add I have had a few Belgian beers that did not display much head retention at all.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2010, 06:25:39 AM by majorvices »
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Offline bluesman

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #13 on: December 19, 2010, 08:54:38 AM »
To summarize what many have already said.

My suggestion for is that there is one likely culprit for most headless homebrew — bad fermentations.

I think that most headless homebrews result from beers with too many “head killers” in them. Specifically, I’m thinking of some of the foam killing molecules — such as higher alcohols (or “fusel oils”) — that result from fermentation temperatures that are too high or worts that are underpitched. In most cases, I believe there are enough foam positive elements in the beer, but these are negated by fermentation byproducts that kill foam. (Note that Belgian yeasts and German wheat yeasts both reputedly produce lower levels of fusel oils than normal brewers yeast strains, especially at higher fermentation temperatures.)

In addition, when yeast are stressed during fermentation, they secrete proteases in larger amounts than unstressed yeast do. Stress may result from underpitching, underaeration or high-gravity fermentation. The resulting protease activity may decrease the amount of beer foam in the resulting beer.

Other things to consider:
hopping rate (use hops with high alpha acids)
adding wheat malt, carapils or crystal malt
inadequate protein rest
dirty/oily/soapy glasses
low mash temp
not using a one hour boil
lowering alcohol by lowering OG

Here a good article from BYO

http://www.byo.com/stories/article/indices/35-head-retention/697-getting-good-beer-foam-techniques
Ron Price

Offline Joe Sr.

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Re: Thin head
« Reply #14 on: December 19, 2010, 10:29:53 AM »
Exception to the rule - its the yeast.

I think it would be interesting to see a controlled experiment with the same recipe, same yeast (perhaps something like chico), fermented at different temps.

Not saying you're wrong, but similar to the decoction/no decoction and infusion/step mash discussions, this one would be interesting to document the differences.
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