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I started my first batch of beer, a "Nut Brown Ale", 2 weeks ago. Its initial gravity was 1.040. As per the instructions, I siphoned the beer into the secondary fermenter (a glass carboy) after two days. The airlock had already quit bubbling in the initial fermenter. Its gravity was 1.020 at that point. Today, 10 days after the move to the secondary fermenter, I tested the gravity and it was only at 1.018. The directions on the kit said it should be around 1.008-1.012 after 7 days.

It built and maintained positive pressure on the airlock the entire time since I moved it to 2nd fermenter, but I never actually saw bubbles. My room temperature is around 65F at night to 80F in the days. The beer tastes like "beer", but is kind of weak.

What did I do wrong? Should I add more yeast?

Update: I did the swirling method a few days ago. The airlock has started to show activity and a layer of bubbles has formed at the top.

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What the frag? 2 days? That's crazy. Throw those instructions away. If you make that beer again, ferment for 3-4 weeks in the primary bucket or carboy and don't move the beer to a secondary fermentor. Just bottle it after the 3-4 weeks. –  Graham Aug 11 '11 at 12:22
    
Try to keep the temperature in your room more constant in the future. Large swings like that can stress out the yeast, causing stalled fermentations and off-flavors. Maintaining a constant temperature can make a huge difference in making great beer. About 68'F is ideal. –  pjreddie Aug 11 '11 at 14:58
    
@prjreddie I will see what I can do about the temperature fluctuations, perhaps leaving it in a closed up closet. The trouble is I live in a high desert. It is 90-100F outside in the day and drops to upper 60s at night and my house doesn't have a thermostat, unless you count the swamp cooler and windows. –  Wulfhart Aug 11 '11 at 23:34
    
i am in the same boat right now. had great bubbles for the first 2 days. air lock was bubbling almost every second during day 3. had an inch top layer going. then the top layer cleared almost over night. temp has been between 68-70 the whole time. now i have no bubbles at all and there is about 3 inches of sludge at the bottom on the carboy. help me salvage this beer batch. its a interesting pumpkin recipe that i picked up online. cheers, –  user6152 Dec 17 '13 at 1:09
    
One thing to consider: what ABV are you used to drinking? Because even if you had reached your target final gravity, this beer would have been about 4%, which you might have thought was weak. 1.040 to 1.020 is 2.63% which is a lot less than 4% though. If you like stronger beer, where stronger means higher ABV, you need to start with a higher gravity kit or add some more malt extract. That said you can make some very flavorful low ABV beers, though they are generally lighter than higher ABV beers. –  paul Dec 17 '13 at 6:45

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Despite your instructions moving the beer while it was at 1.020 was probably the problem. The yeast had stalled out for some reason. Perhaps under pitching or non healthy yeast to start with. Or the temp could have dropped too much and the yeast started to go dormant.

Its always easier to fix stalled ferments when you are still on the primary yeast cake. Now you have significantly less yeast to work with.

You could pitch more yeast. But doing so right from a standard package will be tough. There is alcohol present and the yeast will have a hard time getting started.

I would be sure to get the beer to 70F. THEN try and rouse what yeast you have settled on the bottom. If the ferment doesn't start then I'd pitch more yeast. But you really would need to pitch some active yeast. So get a half gallon growler or something that size, sanitize it and put in a pint and half of simple wort made from DME. Add your yeast to that, swirl it for a day or two and then add that to the stalled fermentor.

Making beer is not always a word by word process. You need to evaluate the beer before doing the next step. That means paying attention to the gravity before you rack to secondary.

Good luck.

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What should the gravity be when racking to the secondary? If I end up needing more yeast, I will definitely take your advice with the growler. –  Wulfhart Aug 11 '11 at 23:21
    
When people use secondary fermentors, the gravity is usually at its expected terminal point or very close to it. There usually is no more fermentation in a traditional secondary fermentor. Using one is just a place to wait for more yeast and particles to settle out. It was once though to be useful in getting clearer beer. I typically ferment everything in primary for 3 weeks before I do anything else to it. –  brewchez Aug 12 '11 at 16:06

Gently rouse the yeast by stirring with a sanitized spoon. Try to avoid aeration. See if you can raise the temperature to the mid 70s, then wait for another couple of weeks.

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Thank you, I will give this a shot. –  Wulfhart Aug 11 '11 at 6:05
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If its in a carboy you'll have to have a long narrow spoon to get in there. And using a spoon will introduce more air than you want. To rouse the yeast in a carboy its better to pick it up and gently swirl it. It takes some time to get all the fluid moving but the yeast will start to mix. –  brewchez Aug 11 '11 at 11:55
    
@brewchez Thanks for the idea. I was still working on how the heck I would get something to fit in there that could stir. –  Wulfhart Aug 11 '11 at 23:16
    
Yeah... you can't get something into the carboy opening really, so forget it. –  brewchez Aug 12 '11 at 16:06

It's also not impossible that the beer is done, depending on the recipe and your techniques. Can you give us some info on those? Moving to secondary after 2 days is certainly not a good idea (AAMOF, you seldom need to use a secondary at all), it would be good to rule out other causes.

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The proper gravity for racking to secondary, or the end of primary fermentation, depends on the style. The BJCP style guidelines for Brown Ale, for instance, call for a FG between 1.008 - 1.013.

So at 1.020 you're not far off. You could bottle this and it would be perfectly drinkable, if a bit sweeter than the classic style. The OG is also specified at between 1.045 - 1.055 for Brown Ales, which is a bit higher than yours. This means the ABV% will be a bit lower than normal as well.

As Graham noted, you don't necessarily need a secondary fermentation period, especially if you're not dry hopping or spicing. You can just leave the beer in primary well past the end of fermentation, up to four weeks, and let the yeast settle out there instead of in secondary. Then rack straight to your bottling bucket.

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