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Old 10-05-08, 07:40 PM   #1
Corcis
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Homebrewers - Second batch woes(?)

I brewed up my first batch back in May pretty successfully. Learned a few lessons then that made this round go a lot more smoothly. I kept it from boiling over, only scorched a little bit to the bottom of the pan (a thin off-white layer, as opposed to the black layer last time), and had a good time of it in general. A different friend, one whose dad was a homebrewer, came over to help this time. We had a few of the first batch while we waited for the boil to finish. All in all, it was a lot less stressful, owing to a bit of experience.

But, one thing went weirdly: I burst the nutrient packet in the yeast packet, heard a bit of bubbling. After a while it stopped, so I ran it under some warm water. But, nothing happened. It didn't balloon like the last one did. (Both were Wyeast's sealed packets.) Eventually time came to pitch it, a couple hours later. I pitched it and, well, there hasn't been much happening. The airlock's not bubbling, a day later. Temp's right around 72F-74F according to the LCD thermometer. Ideal, no?
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Old 10-05-08, 09:07 PM   #2
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Patience, grasshopper. Smack packs aren't all identical. Some puff up quickly, others take up to a week. How long did you give it to rise? If you dunked it in really hot water for more than a minute, there's a chance you cooked the yeast. Barring that, they're in your fermenter doing their job. Your issue now is sanitation. If you kept the wort sanitized, your yeast will have the time to build up and not be subjected to any unwanted critters (bacteria). But if you have ANY sanitation issues, you might get some off-flavors in the final product.

What would I do? If you have a packet of good dry beer yeast, I would toss that in to help things along. In the future, it's a good idea to make a starter. Boil a quart of water with 10-12 ounces of malt extract and a pellet or three of hops, cool and pour into a sanitized growler. Smack yeast pack and toss the whole thing into growler right away. You should see activity by morning. Brew away.

Hope your batch turns out OK. I'll bet you'll see activity soon. Back in my early days, I wouldn't see activity for up to 3 days. Most of the time the beer turned out just fine. It sure does suck to have to pour out that occasional sour batch.
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Old 10-05-08, 09:12 PM   #3
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What he said.
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Old 10-06-08, 03:33 AM   #4
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Patience is a virtue. I might be able to pick up another smack pack from a friend later today, but the brew shop will be open Tuesday. Might just wait for that. I probably just need more experience to get used to things not happening as quickly as I think they would. I'll keep the starter in mind, too.

My sanitation was the same as last time - possibly even better because we were able to cool the wort more quickly. I wanted to build a wort chiller, but the hardware store hasn't had significant amounts of any size thin-wall copper tubing in lately. Instead I got two gallons of water pre-sanitized, did the boil with 3.5gal and used the pre-sanitized water to drop the temp a LOT faster. The first time I brewed, I waited til after I ice-bathed the wort to add the water. Not the worst, but much slower.
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Old 10-06-08, 06:18 AM   #5
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I'm not familiar with the smack-pack system, only with liquid culture or plain dry yeasts. If it's a liquid, make sure to warm it before you pitch it. I found that keeping it in my pocket for 30 minutes brought it up to temperature for pitching. With dry starters, I'd usually take a couple of cups off my boil and set them aside in a clean bowl to cool. When it was cooled to pitch temp, I'd stir in the yeast packet and a teaspoon of sugar and let it sit until there was a foam layer on top. Essentially the same way that you'd proof yeast for baking.
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Old 10-06-08, 10:07 AM   #6
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Smack packs are vacuum sealed packages with liquid cultures and a nutrient packet. Wyeast sells them as the "Activator" packs. There's a video showing how it works.
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Old 10-06-08, 10:20 AM   #7
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Quote:
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Smack packs are vacuum sealed packages with liquid cultures and a nutrient packet. Wyeast sells them as the "Activator" packs. There's a video showing how it works.
I should have been more specific: I know what they are, I just haven't used them. All my brewing has been with dry top-pitching, liquid culture, or quick-proof rehydrated dry yeast. Having run laboratory fermenters for 5 years, I never saw the need to buy any of the 'gimmicky' things like those. What exactly is in the nutrient pack which breaks open when you smack it? Seriously, a dry packet slurried into some sugared, cooled wort works just as well and only takes 5 minutes to know if you've got a strong living culture.

What sort of variety do they offer with these smack packs? I was always a fan of Wyeast liquid cultures because of the massive variety of strains they had. I can't find it on their site anymore... do they still produce their Ultra High Gravity strain? (25% abv tolerance)
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Old 10-06-08, 10:51 AM   #8
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25% ABV? Seriously?
Will it handle grape must as well? or is it a beer only thing?
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Old 10-06-08, 12:18 PM   #9
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Smack packs have a good percentage of dormant yeast cells. When you smack it, you are releasing an ounce or two of sterile wort with a bit of nutrient in it. The yeast now has food and is able to build up the active cell count. Of course, in the process, co2 is released and the bag puffs up. It's a pretty cool concept.

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Seriously, a dry packet slurried into some sugared, cooled wort works just as well and only takes 5 minutes to know if you've got a strong living culture.
Gotta disagree there. Dry yeast is very convenient and makes good beer and has a very long shelf life, particularly if stored in the fridge. But it doesn't have the range of flavors that liquid does. A good example is lagers: until recently, liquid yeast was the only way to go. Now there are dry lager yeasts that do a pretty good job. But if you want a very close strain to the original Budvar yeast, liquid is still the only way to go. Kolsh, Irish and Scottish beer styles are also really only possible to replicate with liquid yeast.

While speaking about convenience, I have to chime in on pitching methods also. There have been many studies done and the overwhelming conclusion is that rehydration in a "normal" beer (less that 8% ABV) isn't necessary. Just pitch the dry yeast right on top of the well-aerated wort, let sit for 5 minutes and swirl it in. The risk of contamination while rehydrating just isn't worth the possible benefits. Dry yeast has such a massive amount of yeast cells, losing 10-20% due to lack of rehydrating just doesn't have an impact (again for normal beer) in the grand scheme.
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Old 10-06-08, 01:50 PM   #10
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Gotta disagree there. Dry yeast is very convenient and makes good beer and has a very long shelf life, particularly if stored in the fridge. But it doesn't have the range of flavors that liquid does.
I wasn't saying anything about the variety available in dry packets, just addressing the efficacy of a simply rehydration proofing to determine viability. That's why I specifically asked about the variety available in these pre-packed smack doodads. I was always a bigger fan of tubed liquid cultures due to the variety.

I suppose the concern I have with the smack pack is shelf life and viability. You have a dormant liquid culture with this nutrient pack to 'revive' everything when activated. Lyophilized cultures are truly dormant, but what's the death plot over time look like for the smack pack? Meaning, over it's shelf life, how much of the culture is going to continue to die before use? That could be a reason for an low activity or inactive pack; high percentage of cell death before nutrient release, at which point the viable culture density is too low to be immediately effective when pitched.
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Old 10-06-08, 04:39 PM   #11
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I always use Whits Labs, probably over 50 batches over the years and I've never had a problem. I've never tried the smack packs.
I'm not sure what style yeast, but getting up in the mid 70's is a little warm. I like to keep fermentation temps in the mid to upper 60's for most my beers.
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Old 10-06-08, 05:09 PM   #12
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lol, I have like 15 packets of Red Star dry yeast in my fridge right now.
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Old 10-06-08, 11:37 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Corcis View Post
(Both were Wyeast's sealed packets.)
Oh sure. Blame me now. I see how it is.

Homebrewing is kinda like voodoo magic. Sometimes you gotta tweak things to get it right, even when you think you've done everything exactly the same.

Most everyone else has covered the subtle variations in smack packs. All I can really say is keep on tryin'.
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Old 10-07-08, 05:48 AM   #14
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25% ABV? Seriously?
Will it handle grape must as well? or is it a beer only thing?
My bad, it wasn't Wyeast who made it. It's White Labs WLP099 Super High Gravity Ale Yeast.
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Old 10-07-08, 11:38 AM   #15
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Patience wins results. It's fermenting, no extra yeast added. Everything I read said aim for 70-72degF when fermenting ales, which the fermenter has been holding at.
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Old 10-07-08, 11:44 AM   #16
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Awesome! I hope it turns out well for you.

I've got to get a batch of wee heavy going soon for a friend of mine. I quit drinking, but I promised him a batch of brew in payment for setting up our Media Center PC properly on our network. Should have seen the look on this dude's face when I asked him if 40 pints would cover it.
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Old 10-07-08, 04:52 PM   #17
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Awesome! I hope it turns out well for you.

I've got to get a batch of wee heavy going soon for a friend of mine. I quit drinking, but I promised him a batch of brew in payment for setting up our Media Center PC properly on our network. Should have seen the look on this dude's face when I asked him if 40 pints would cover it.
Figure ~$40 for ingredients and consumables plus your time - probably about the same as the cost of a tech support call out. Not a bad trade at all. Certainly a lot better than a six-pack.

You don't happen to know a guy named Craig who rides an Orbea, do you? I noticed you are in Redmond, he lives there, too. It'd just be a funny coincidence.
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