Process Comparison: Fermenting in a PET Carboy vs Corny Keg

Homebrewers go through many steps to eliminate post fermentation oxidation of their beer. One of the ways that’s commonly expounded is to flush kegs/bottles with CO2 prior to racking. While I don’t regularly do this due to sheer laziness, I have recently been looking for ways minimize oxidation post-fermentation in an easy practical manner. One such method that had been intriguing me for some time now was fermenting in corny kegs. I had heard about corny keg fermentation on older brew strong episodes in which JZ and Palmer poo-pooed this practice due to the shape of the keg not being ideal for the yeast. I didn’t really think about it much more. I first noticed corny keg fermentation in use in a brulosophy article on pressurized fermentation by Greg Foster. While I had no real interest in pressurizing my fermentations, fermenting in a corny keg would mean one could simply ferment, hook up to CO2, and rack into a purged corny keg for serving. Ultimately this would mean the beer would never have to touch oxygen after the first CO2 expelled from fermentation blanketed the beer. Also, this would mean no lifting carboys onto a raised surface for a gravity transfer, no risking glass shards (for those who use glass regularly), etc. There are of course draw backs to fermenting in a corny, the smaller volume means that 5 gallon batches may need to be sized down slightly. However, with liberal use of fermcap-S, maybe not that drastically. Before diving headlong into fermenting in a corny keg I needed to do a side-by-side batch and have them served blindly to me in order to confirm whether or not I was ready to ditch the carboys.

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Berliner Weisse #1: No Sparge, Almost No Boil, No Couple’s Shower! (WLP677 Lactobacillus delbrueckii & WLP036 Düsseldorf Alt)

I have always been, and probably always will be, a fan of high gravity beers. After learning to brew, I only wanted to brew the next great dark lord or sucaba. A lot of homebrewers probably go through the same progression as me: learn to brew beer, decide they will brew the biggest most badass beer ever, compromise that their beer was just ok. After a few home brews on a work night while cooking dinner on an empty stomach, I realized I should embrace the delicacy and art of brewing low ABV session beers. I figured that I didn’t need something on tap which is meant for once a week consumption at most. Being able to drink a full pint of something and not start slurring is always a plus!

I’m not really sure how this brew day came about, my wife and I were supposed to be going to a “couple’s shower,” the shower turned into a women only shower as we arrived. Lucky for me the location of the shower was very close to my LHBS, and I was more than happy to waste two hours browsing their selection while enjoying a glass of Bligh’s Barleywine (side note: this year’s Bligh’s is fantastic). Letting me walk around a homebrew store for two hours was probably always going to end with me making beer. Knowing that I wanted to make a beer, a whole brew day was probably out of the question (wife family things), and building my keezer meant I wasn’t setup for another experiment just yet; I settled on a no-boil Berliner Weisse, a style I had no experience making. By chance, the night before, I had read the chapter on historical beers in Stan Hieronymus’s wonderful book Brewing with Wheat: The ‘Wit’ and “Weizen’ of World Wheat Beer Styles  and decided a no-boil, no sparge, Berliner of five gallons could probably be accomplished in about 2.5 hours start to finish. What better session beer than something smaller than most starters? I pulled out my phone and designed a quick recipe for a Berliner that would start at around 1.036, have <5 IBUs, and be fermented first by lactobacillus and then alongside a neutral German yeast. After doing a few searches online regarding no boil I got scared and decided to do a very short boil instead.

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Extract Experiment 1: Does Late Addition of Extract Make a Difference?

When I first began brewing, I brewed steeped grain/extract beers that never quite tasted like I thought beer should taste. Many online forums attribute this to the “extract twang.” While I don’t necessarily prescribe to this school of thought, given the fact that Ray Daniels book gives many examples of award winning extract beer, I quickly made the switch to all grain. I can unequivocally state that my beer has improved immensely since those early brews. However, was this due to the all-grain switch, or, could this have been because I started pitching an “appropriate” amount of yeast, oxygenating the wort, better temperature control, etc?

A simple search of late extract addition yields various claims of “no extract twang” to “better hop utilization” and everything in between. While i’m somewhat skeptical of these claims, I think a comparison experiment will help to provide more solid information in this debate.

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Yeast Experiment: The Yeast Bay Midwestern Ale Yeast vs WLP002 English Ale Yeast

Having been to both England and the Midwest of America one can’t help but notice many striking similarities between the two. Outside of London, most of England feels fairly blue collar. They love their footbal teams, and enjoy a great pint after work. I also tend to think that beer culture in both countries is actually much more similar than we as Americans like to admit. In England, beer drinkers are passionate about telling you which beers are worth drinking, and what is garbage. You could almost call them beer snobs. Of course, anyone who’s browsed beeradvocate or any of the homebrew forums will note that Americans are quite adept in that skill as well. Americans and Britians are both ale drinkers, and, seem to prefer the pale ale above most beer. Given our country’s heritage, when I imagine early home brewing in the US, I think that it was probably something of a rudimentary understanding of British brewing practices in the 70s and 80s due mainly to availability. I also believe that many of the original house styles and strains from craft breweries during that time would have descended from British styles (with the exception of alt, wheat, and lagers) for reasons of availability of source ingredients, as well as push back to macro breweries, most of which emulate German brewing practices.

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Spotted Cow (Wannabe) Clone

As I’m sure most people are sick of hearing, growing up in Wisconsin I LOVE New Glarus. To me Dan Carey is the best, most innovative, brewer in the country. Moving to Colorado was one of the best decisions of my life, however, it left me without consistent access to my favorite beer (prior to discovering Prost!). Once I learned to homebrew it was a forgone conclusion that I would spend every waking minute trying to replicate this beer.

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Yeast Experiment: The Yeast Bay Midwestern Ale vs Vermont Ale

Recently The Yeast Bay, a small artisanal yeast company out of San Fran (also headed up by a fellow Badger!), started marketing a strain called Midwestern Ale yeast. Being a lover of all things New Glarus, and, having undergone multiple iterations of trying to clone Spotted Cow, I was extremely excited at the possibility that this could be Dan’s famous kolsch strain. After a few back and forth emails with head yeast expert Nick, in which he gave me no information on the source as expected, I came to the conclusion that this was probably not the New Glarus strain I’ve tried to grow up many times. However, being from the Midwest I was still very intrigued at this new strain and quickly purchased a vail to try.

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Small Batch Brewing

I’ve never really been one to go into things half assed. When I started brewing I probably did three or four steeped grain/extract batches before building a mash tun to brew all-grain. The one step in the progression that I skipped over was partial mash/BIAB. Recently I was lamenting my inability to brew as often as I would like. Sitting in my office at work a thought came to me: When I was brewing extract batches, the start to finish time was probably two hours max (excluding cleanup this was prior to discovering fermcap-s). With all grain brewing I can maybe knock out a brew day in four hours, and that isn’t including clean up time.

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