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About ten days ago I transferred my homebrew (I'm new at this so for now I'm buying the kits) from the primary to the secondary. when I transferred it the gravity was reading 1.025 and it was bubbling vigorously and all was well with the world. I've been checking the SG every few days and it hasn't changed much (it is around 1.036 now), even though all other signs of fermentation are present- there are still some bubbles forming (much more slowly now than at first),it is lightly carbonated, I had a small taste and it is starting to taste right. This is the second batch where something similar has occurred. The first one I figured I didn't sterilize properly and killed my yeast somehow so I just chucked the batch out. This time I was very careful. What are the chances that its just my hydrometer that's out of whack, and if it is, is there any other way to check shy of just buying a new one? Thanks, E

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I'm not certain that you are reading your hydrometer correctly. Specific gravity in fermenting beer should not increase. –  baka May 22 '12 at 12:45

2 Answers 2

My experience with basic kit beers is that you really don't need a hydrometer. Of course it is a valuable tool, but kits can be predictable most of the time. For a regular strength ale, just follow a basic fermentation schedule: 7 days primary, 2 weeks secondary, 2 weeks in the bottles (priming).

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bit of a harsh downvote - although I don't recommend it, you CAN get by without a hydrometer if you have to with a kit, and only a few years ago many brewers used to rack to secondary as par for the course without spoiling the beer. –  mdma May 22 '12 at 14:18
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Homebrewing without a hydrometer is like driving a car without a speedometer: you can probably get by without one, until you run into one of those unfortunate situations where you wish you had one. ;-) (It's the difference between the gut feel "I think this is so" vs the more scientific "I know this is so".) –  CaffeCaldo May 22 '12 at 14:47
    
It is more-or-less true that with extract kits you don't strictly NEED a hydrometer--as long as you follow directions you will hit the target OG within a point or two and the FG will be whatever it will be. Not upvoting because of the recommendation for 7 day primary and secondary...secondaries are not necessary and racking after a week is too soon. –  bk0 May 23 '12 at 0:59
    
Okay! Good criticism! As I mentioned that has been my experience in the past, but you all make good points and I completely about primary fermentation and the use of a hydrometer. I brewed many, many kits before taking brewing seriously and I certainly found the above fermentation schedule to be adequate for those kits, however I agree that having and properly using a hydrometer is very essential to good quality brewing. –  David PGB May 23 '12 at 2:35

There are some misunderstandings here:

  • racking regular strength beers isn't usually necessary. If you do choose to rack, wait until the vigorous fermentation has subsided. Otherwise, you're not really achieving anything. One of the main points of racking is to separate the beer from the yeast, which you can't do effectively if it's still actively fermenting.
  • regarding your first batch, you have to work pretty hard to kill yeast at room temperature. Usually it's too high a temperature (50C/120F) that kills yeast, not contamination with other microbes. Other causes of yeast problems are kits that are more than a year old.
  • The gravity of a brew will decrease, usually to around 75% of the original gravity. Not sure how you are getting your hydrometer to increase. To test, use some tap water. It will read about 1.000. (Tap water isn't pure, so may be off by a little.)

I recommend you read a book on brewing before starting your next batch or doing anything with your current batch. John Palmer's "How To Brew" is pretty much the standard text for new brewers.

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Also, note that specific gravity should be corrected for temperature; most hydrometers are calibrated for 59°F. –  jsled May 22 '12 at 13:12
    
Upvoted. I would add that a) if the gravity reading is unchanging over a period of time (eg, 7 days) that fermentation has essentially stopped, and b) common sense suggests that unfermented wort will be denser / thicker / have a higher gravity than plain tap water, ergo the hydrometer should bob high the day the yeast is pitched, and sink low when fermentation is done. If the gravity is genuinely increasing over time, then something else is going on (eg, evaporation, which shouldn't happen unless you're doing open fermentation). –  CaffeCaldo May 22 '12 at 14:41
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I know everybody says "if gravity is stable over several days, it's done" but that strongly suggests to newbies that they should be checking gravity every day, which is a bad idea IMO. –  bk0 May 22 '12 at 17:41

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