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My last beer went through a normal 10-day fermentation process and afterwards there was no activity. I assumed that most of the sugars had been consumed. But after I bottled my beer and let it carbonate in the bottle for 6 weeks - the taste was still too sweet. Did I use too much base malt or perhaps the yeast gave up too soon?

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If the beer carbonated in the bottle, then the yeast is still alive and kicking. –  Tobias Patton Dec 28 '11 at 20:59
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7 Answers

It depends on a number of factors, beginning with the malts you choose. Sounds like this was an all-grain brew, no?

  • What is your recipe? Some malts give more unfermentables.
  • What temperature(s) did you mash at. Temperatures favoring alpha amylase (154-162°F) produce more unfermentable sugars.
  • What yeast?
  • What was the fermentation temperature?
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I'm guessing this was actually an extract brew, so it's likely the wort was mostly fermentable. In the future you can use a hydrometer to measure how much sugars are left in your beer... then you can compare that number to an expected final gravity to make sure it really is time to bottle. If you've got an underattenuated beer sitting in the bottle, you might prepare for a few bottle bombs should the fermentation kick back up. It's amazing the loud explosion they make when they go.

I wouldn't recommend bottling based solely on time and activity (or lack thereof). You never know if you've gotten a stuck fermentation.

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To prevent bottle bombs you can refrigerate your bottles, this will stop all yeast activity, it won't do much for the sweetness problem but it will keep you safe from exploding bottles. –  Mattress Jan 13 '10 at 22:04
    
It might not completely stop yeast activity, just slow it down quite a bit. That's not taking into account the activity of wild yeasts and bacteria, which might not be quite as civilized as our brewing yeast strains. –  comat0se Jan 13 '10 at 23:12
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Until you post a recipe and hydrometer readings all I can do is guess that you didn't add enough hops to offset the malt sweetness.

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The end of fermentation is not marked by the lack of activity in an airlock. Its determined by the arrival at terminal graivty.

The rule of thumb is to check the gravity a few days consecutively until it doesn't change anymore.

It could be too sweet because it wasn't actually done.

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Definitely post your recipe, including the yeast strain you used. In addition to everything suggested in the previous answers, note that different yeast strains have different levels of efficiency (known as attenuation). Some ale yeasts will convert as much as 85% of the available sugar, some as low 60%. Lower-attenuation yeast will give you a sweeter beer.

As was mentioned, the only way to know for sure is to take gravity readings. If your current gravity is within the range you'd calculate based on the starting gravity and the attenuation of your yeast strain and it hasn't moved for a few days, it's done. If you're currently showing that, say, only 40% of the fermentables have been consumed, you don't want to bottle it yet.

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I bet you added more dextrose or malt then the recipe called for and your beer stopped fermenting because it reached its max ABV for the yeast you used. certain yeasts die at a max AVB and to continue fermenting you must usedifferent yeast such a champagne yeast to obtain higher AVB...made that mistake myself early on and ended up with sweet malty beer that would not carbinate sufficiantly.

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As others have said, posting the recipe and hydrometer readings (starting gravity and terminal gravity) would be very useful for a diagnosis.

I'm also going to make the assumption, since you didn't stipulate otherwise, that your beer carbonated in the bottle, which indicates that the yeast is still active.

I can think of a few reasons why the beer tastes too sweet.

  1. You're used to drinking mass produced beer, which finishes very dry. What was the final gravity? Knowing this wold help.

  2. The recipe included a lot of un-fermentable sugars which contribute sweetness to the final product. Usually this comes from a high (>15%) proportion of crystal malts, or a high (>155 F) mashing temperature. Knowing the recipe would help determine if this was the problem.

  3. The yeast you used was low attenuation, high flocculation yeast. These strains (like WYeast British Ale) tend to drop out of the beer before all the sugars are consumed, yielding a sweeter final product. Do you know what yeast you used and what it was rated at for attenuation?

  4. You bottled too soon. The yeast was still actively fermenting the residual sugars and given more time would have dried the beer out. What was the gravity when you bottled? What was the expected terminal gravity?

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