We were fortunate enough to inherit a little helper when working on our Mudslide Chocolate Milk Stout this weekend. She was very determined to be a part of the process, so we gave her the very important job of holding the siphoning tube that ran from the fermentation bucket to the carboy. We want to encourage curiosity and a desire to make things, but at first we were a little stumped on how to help her engage.
My dad and I started this batch of beer in mid-April when my parents were last up to visit. It finished fermenting weeks ago, but I left it to age in the fermentation bucket until my dad was back in town this weekend. A little extra aging wouldn’t hurt the beer, but it was time to siphon it off into a glass carboy for aging. We popped the top off the bucket to see what we had made.
Frankly, it looked a little sludge like. It was drinkable, but not yet great. Fermentation is the process whereby yeast, a microscopic fungus, eats the sugar in beer/wine/etc. and converts that sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. An airlock at the top of the bucket lets the carbon dioxide out without letting anything back in.
See how frequently those CO2 bubbles come through? It forced all the water out of the airlock the first night, and I had to refill. Clearly a fast acting yeast.
You start with just a small packet of yeast, but the colony of yeast is rapidly reproducing and growing. It will keep growing until it runs out of sugar to eat or until the alcohol it is creating as a waste product creates too toxic an environment for the yeast to live in. These short lived microorganisms die off by the millions, leaving behind particles in the beer.
While our beer had aged, most of the particulate matter had settled on the floor of bucket as a thick sludge. Aging beer is mostly a process of letting the particles in the beer settle over time and siphoning the good stuff off the top into another container. We give the beer a couple more weeks to settle, then do it again. Don’t forget to dump that nutrient rich sludge into your compost!
Over time, you get a clearer product. I’m optimistic that this one will taste a lot better once we’ve cleared out the debris and added the chocolate. I also prefer my beer refrigerated, which this was not.
Beer making is a great household project. My dad comes up to visit every few months. Instead of going out to eat or something, we brew together. It’s a fun way to bond. Plus, a 5 gallon batch gives us maybe 50 bottles to enjoy. So far we’ve made a pumpkin beer, a cherry wheat, and two batches of mead. This is our first attempt at a stout.
Any other home-brewers out there? What have you made? Any recommendations?