A Tale of Two Fermentations

When we teach Brew School, our very first slide is a picture of Charlie Papazian and his world famous mantra of “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew“. Every class, Charlie reminds me about this simple thought. Why is it that sometimes the most common sense things are so hard to follow?

A few weekends ago I made two kit batches of beer; the Brewer’s Best Black IPA (BRY-97 yeast) and the Russian Imperial Stout (S-04 yeast). I have to admit that having made a bunch of all-grain batches, I always love coming back to the simplicity of extract. Especially with a kit, having everything pre-measured for me is so nice. I cooled them down to 70 degrees, pitched the yeast and threw them into my keezer to ferment away in temperature controlled luxury. Brew day was flawless. I went to check on them a few ours later and was surprised to see the russian imperial stout was already bubbling. It didn’t take long to get the party started in that bucket. That was good, I was glad to see one of them taking off already, now I’d just have to wait for bucket number two.

Fast forward 12 hours… I go to check on them again and the airlock is raging on the RIS. His freezer-mate however is still completely silent.

Another 24 hours, and now the foam on the RIS is starting to come up through the airlock and there’s a few ounces of standing beer on top of the lid. It’s time for a blow-off tube! I hooked that up and was shocked to hear how violently the water in the jug at the end of the tube was bubbling. Meanwhile, the Black IPA still sat there with no activity at all.

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After 48 hours with no bubbling, I started to get suspicious that the fermentation was going to happen at all. I had so many questions; what if the yeast was bad? What if the lid had a leak? What if I just messed up? I could also hear the voice of a little Charlie Papazian sitting on my shoulder telling me to not worry, relax and have a homebrew. But no, suspicious me won that battle and I opened up the bucket and found nothing… no krausen, no CO2 smell, nothing. Just disappointment.

Next day, and the RIS is already starting to slow down. It’s been three days now, since I brewed these beers. One has the finish line in sight and one hasn’t even left the starting line. “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew…” Oh man, shut up Papazian voice! Don’t you see what’s going on here? I have an alpha beer and a slacker sharing the same space! I had to make a decision on pitching a new yeast. What to do?!?!

I opened the fermenter back up, and there on top of the wort was a nice, thin layer of krausen. Alright, I’ll close it back up and let it continue. 12 hours later and I can see the airlock bubble. [blip]… [10 seconds]… [blip]… [10 seconds]… [blip]. It’s going to take it’s own sweet time and that’s just how it’s going to be. And the other bucket is still like RAWR!

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So the next time I run Brew School, I’ll get up there again, and on slide one I’ll teach everyone Charlie’s mantra. But what I won’t forget is that it’s a phrase that’s easier said than done. When I do most DIY projects, I rely on myself to get it done, on my own schedule. Sometimes I forget that when I brew beer, I’m at the mercy of the schedules of 100 billion yeast cells. Are they fast and efficient, or laid back and chill? You’ll never know until you cut that package open and watch their work.

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One Response to A Tale of Two Fermentations

  1. Scott Michaels says:

    So true. Nicely written. There’s a reason CP is the Yoda of homebrewing.

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