A high percentage of winemaking and beer making failures can be traced to lapse in cleaning and sterilisation.
Cleaning means removing visible dirt and residue from your equipment, sterilising means treating your equipment with a chemical that will eliminate or prevent the growth of spoilage organisms.
Everything that comes into contact with your wine or beer must be clean and properly sterilised. This means your fermenting vessel, but also syphon’s, airlocks, bungs, thermometers and hydrometers.
Remember that one single lapse could result in a failure for your beer or wine.
The brew is the step that requires the most direct attention from you for an extended period of time. This is due to the importance of having to follow a strict timeline and closely monitor the brewing process as it proceeds. This step actually consists of a few sub-processes, including mashing, lautering and boiling, all of which are equally important.
To prevent infection the goal is to get the wort down to around room temperature in less than 20 minutes. Preparing the wort for fermentation we quickly reduce the temperature of the wort, adding water, taking a gravity reading, then adding the yeast (also known as “pitching”). You can depending on the size of the batch use ice baths or wort chillers.
Has fermentation has stopped?
There are two ways of checking if your fermentation has stopped.
You can use a hydrometer and take a reading over 3 consecutive days. If the reading remains the same, then fermentation has stopped.
If you don’t have a hydrometer, you need to check that no more bubbles are rising through your brew. Best to keep checking over a few days and really stare at the top of the beer for a few minutes as the bubbles can be very small and easily missed.
How much sugar should I use when bottling beer?
Use ¼ teaspoon of sugar per 500ml bottle, or 2 Carbonation Drops. Or if bottling 40 pints of ale, lager or cider, add 2 ounces of sugar to the brew and thoroughly stir to dissolve, then bottle in the normal way. This will mean that all of your bottles have exactly the same amount of sugar and therefore will be the same ABV%.
MONITOR YOUR FERMENTATION TEMPERATURE
Read the instructions of the yeast, packet and your recipe. It will give you a fermentation range you should aim for. Brewing outside of these ranges will either involve a stuck fermentation or off flavours in your beer. The beer will thank you for it and you will be impressed with the results.
Sometimes fermentation stops prematurely. This is referred to as a ‘stuck’ ferment. There are different reasons why this might occur.
The suggested method of re-starting a wine is by breaking down the wine ‘must’.
*Sterilise a Demi-John
*Fill the Demi-John up to no more than half way with wine from the bulk
*Add a small amount of yeast nutrient
*Add good re-start yeast
*Put the Demi-John in a warm place
*When fermentation is well underway top up gradually to the gallon with wine from the bulk
*Continue this way until all of the wine is fermenting
Remember that a combination of grape juice/sugar/water will produce fermentation, provided that the yeast used is viable. If fermentation is not evident or has started and ceased prematurely this is not the fault of the wine kit. The cause could be down either to the ‘winemaking skills’ of the maker or the environment in which the wine is being made.
When fermentation is not apparent do not assume that the wine is not fermenting. Taking SG readings over a period of perhaps 24 hours will either confirm your suspicions or show that fermentation is underway.
Why does my wine taste like vinegar?
If it tastes of vinegar it sounds very much like you have got an infection in the wine. The normal cause is at the end of fermentation something might have got into the brew (like a fly) which will have caused this. This will happen when the wine is hanging around waiting to be degassed, fined, and bottled. If we think about it we have a container that is too big for the amount of wine we are making (we need this at the start due to extra space for the fermentation).
Whilst the wine is fermenting it’s giving off CO2 so no danger of getting an infection at this stage. But once the fermentation has finished any headspace on the container is a potential trap for flies and the like that can cause infections.
We recommend that if you are making a wine with a slower fermentation (normally a more expensive type) that we start in a bucket but when the fermentation has slowed down (typically the gravity is down to 1010) we transfer to a 23 litre carboy (this has very little headspace and therefore little chance of picking up an infection).
We can degas and fine in this but if we leave it for storing the wine, we should always top up with clean water to about 50ml (2”) under the bung. This way we are avoiding any headspace for the wine to get infected. If we are doing a quick wine (less than 10days processing) then this is not so important as the wine won’t be hanging around (unless you don’t do the very processes when you need to).
The yeast is also important as we find that it can take up to 3 days before it starts. We need to make sure the temperature of the liquid when this is added is correct and in line with the wine kit instructions (or making a fruit wine in line with the instructions on the packet of yeast). If the temperature is too hot we can kill the yeast either the whole sachet or just parts (so when we need it to grow during fermentation there will only be a % of the packet that is live and will do this on a limited basis). If it is too cold, then it won’t start to work for quite a time.
The viability of the yeast is important as if it's old then the chances are its not going to work whatever the temperature. It's also very important to make sure we have the right nutrition (to feed the yeast with the right minerals and vitamins). Most quick wine kits will have this mixed with the sachet of yeast.
Cleanliness also has a big part to play. Sterilisation at the start and when we come to do any processes on the wine is paramount.
Is the wine in bottles? If so, is it every bottle? Do they all have the same taste as its quite common some bottles (especially if they are used) don’t get cleaned as well as others (or have a hard crust on the bottom making it difficult to clean) so you might well find it’s not the whole batch.
So hopefully there is a pointer that might have caused your problem. In all my years I have to say it is a very rare occurrence that it’s the kit that is faulty nearly always a yeast problem or air infection.
How many apples do we need?
As a general rule you will need in the region of 9 kg (20 lbs) of apples to produce 4.5 litres (1 gallon) of juice.
Before you start it’s a good idea to try and secure a good mix of different apples.
For the ripest apples (which will have the best flavour and the largest amount of juice) wait until they fall from the trees, then they should be spread out on either a plastic sheet or better still a sack cloth and then cover them either with again a sack cloth or perhaps a chunk of carpet. In this pile they will continue to ripen smelling great until you are ready to do your pressing. If you are going to leave it any length of time then I would suggest that you turn the apples regularly and removing any brown or rotten ones (or at least storing them separately).