Thursday, September 17, 2009

What It Feels Like When...

My yeast isn't working! I look into the open fermenter and see a flat plane of dark liquid reflecting my disappointed image back up to me. What have I done wrong? My thoughts oscillate between this brewing mystery, and my concern of the increasing possibility of infection.

It's been 24 hours since I pitched the yeast and I've got nothing to show for it. Nada. I review my steps leading up to pitching the yeast and I find nothing wrong. The wort was cool and aerated, I used Whitelabs liquid yeast that had an expiration date that told me it was fresh. My mind scans for possible reasons that this batch lacks even the remotest signs of activity. Not even a single cluster of loosely assembled bubbles, gathering to tell me all is not lost. I notice that I'm breathing heavily into my fermenter and so step back quickly pulling the cover back over it to prevent any possible microbial laden vectors from dropping in out of the kitchen air like bomb laden drones bent on destruction. Without active fermentation I fear the next phase is contamination of the worst dimension.

What am I missing here? My process was impeccable and sanitation undeniably cautious but was it enough to keep my beer safe from infection during this lag period? Part of my concern lies in the fact that I pitched two tubes of yeast to guarantee a quick start-up to the fermentation process and yet here it is 24 hours later and not a bit of anything occurring.

"I have no choice." I think out loud. I must act quickly." At which point I jump in my car and speed off to my local homebrew store to purchase two more vials of yeast, concluding that I must have gotten some dead yeast. The frantic look in my eyes alerts the store clerk to my desperation, but I don't explain, I know as much as he does about this obsession I call a hobby and so I, don't solicit any solutions. Besides, I don't have time to stand around yakking, not at this threat level. I dash back home and immediately pitch the additional yeast after warming the tubes by tucking them under my arm pits for awhile.
"Should I have been more patient?"
"Yes." I answer my own question. But I don't listen to the voice of experience, I react to that worried part of my mind that says, "all is lost if you don't do something quick!"

Two hours later...
The beginnings of a nice krausen is forming over the top of the beer and I smile with relief. Of course the freshly pitched yeast has nothing to do with this miraculous growth spurt. I just needed to give my first attempt that little more time that it needed, but I couldn't wait. I knew better but I had to be sure. I had make the extra effort, if not for the actual effect, then to ease my mind of the due diligence that being a homebrewer demands of me. I have to believe that disaster was diverted because of my devoted behavior, whether true or not. Now, I can rest easy tonight knowing all things are right with my latest batch of hefeweizen.

Rest? I wish, seven hours later and it's 3am. I can't sleep. I've gone to the garage to check the fermentation temperature.
Am I alone here? Leave a comment.


Scott Schluter said...

I went through this recently with a braggot pitched with Nottingham. Ended up tossing it on a fresh yeast cake of S-05 since it didn't take off within 78 hours.
Then had the same problem with a Pale Ale. Turns out nottingham had an issue with their date stampers, punctured the packets. My Pale ale eventually took off like gangbusters 67 hours after pitching. Unsettling. We'll see, the proof will be in the bottle.

mark said...

I've never had a spoiled beer because of a long lag time but I'm still concerned enough to pitch a large starter or a couple packets of dry yeast to get the fermentation up and running quickly. I get a sense of relief when I see the krausen forming.

Anonymous said...

Had something like this happen to an American Wheat I brewed about 2 months back. I pitched a vial of White Labs liquid (so I was pretty sure that was viable) on a Sunday afternoon, but when I returned home from work Monday evening it was still placid. Panic!! It was too late to run to the homebrew shop so I roused the heck out of the carboy and crossed my fingers hoping the extra oxygen would kick start the yeast. Tuesday morning I woke up to find plenty of Krausen forming. What a relief :)

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