Friday, April 24, 2009

The Miracle of Defoamer

Bought an American Amber Ale kit to maintain the supply of foamy beer on tap in the house and mixed it up without a hitch. Seven batches of beer and the process comes easily now, doing the tiny kitchen dance with one partner or several.
The learning experience, and there's always one, came the following morning in this particular batch. We are using a corny keg as primary fermentation, and filled it to within about 4" from the top, propped the legs of the seal and closed her up. Using the liquid quick-disconnect fitting and a length of hose leading into a 1/4 full bottle of cheap vodka, constructed a larger than normal pressure lock.
The yeast started in on the wort almost immediately and the next morning the vodka bottle was half full of light brown liquid and yeasty foam. Called my local beer supply and our buddy, Kel, told me we shouldn't fill a 5 gal fermentation vessel. "You need to leave about 8" for the yeast break," he said. "So to do 5 gallons, you really need a 6.5 gallon container." He said we would lose a lot of beer and possibly all our hardworking yeast bodies to the current setup, and recommended a chemical product called Kettle Defoamer. We picked up a bottle of the stuff, which resembled Elmer's Glue in color and texture, for $6 and set about to Save the Beer.
The yeast had produced so much gas that the fermentation lock was bubbling nonstop, the only outlet to our well-sealed keg. This made it impossible to open the top of the keg, and if I had paid more attention to high school chemistry I could probably calculate the pressure holding the lid in place, but suffice to say our 180# roommate could not make the sucker budge. We added pressure to the quick-disconnect fitting to allow more gas to escape, along with a pile of foam which condensed to about a pint of liquid. Soon we had released enough pressure to open the top and deposit 10 drops of the defoamer, but the foam was unstoppable and rose up out of the keg, taking the goopy substance with it. Threw a few more drops in for good measure and closed up the top before more foam could escape. The foam subsided almost immediately and the pressure lock water has remained clear since.  

Whole Hops: The Saga Continues

The Belgian American IPA at 5 weeks has settled quite a bit. The pressure lock still pushes up a bubble every minute or so, but fermentation has slowed to the marathon pace. The fresh hops have fallen to the floor of the carboy in autumn foliage snow-globe fashion, and we're hoping to extract the beer without much trouble from that group.

A few brainstormed ideas on keeping the hop leaves and buds out of the keg, after siphoning out most of the beer:
Create a screen or cheesecloth filter around the end of the racking tube to keep hops out of siphon hose.
Decant carboy contents into 5 gal steel pot and create a French press like device to press the hops to the bottom and pour the liquid into the keg.
Pour the last sludgy bit out of the carboy and through a fine pasta strainer and into the keg.

We may end up using all three of these ideas, in series, before getting all the beer into the keg for tapping. Looks like we're pushing fermentation to about 7 weeks, maybe 8, but housemates have been eyeing the batch hungrily and making comments like, "wow, that looks like it's about ready..."every couple of days, so we'll see.