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Brand new to brewing, 2.5 days ago I brewed my first extract kit (Brewer's Best Amber Ale) and racked it into my fermenter. By tomorrow morning I'll be at the 3 day (72 hours) milestone, which is what I've heard is the end of the "everything is OK" range; and still no bubbling activity in the airlock. And I don't expect there to be when I wake up tomorrow...I've checked and rechecked the seal w/ the plastic fermenter, and it appears to be solid.

If I wake up tomorrow and still don't see any bubbling, I would like to open up the lid and take a peek to see what's happening on the inside of the fermenter, but would like to know a few things before I go and expose my wort/beer/whatever-the-heck-it-is-at-this-point to the air:

  • If the wort is bad, how can I tell? Are there obvious signs of bacterial contamination or wild yeast?
  • If the wort is still good/salvageable, what can I do to kickstart/resurrect it? I'm out of yeast and the yeast I used was from the kit.

Some things to help put this into context:

  • All equipment was sanitized via Easy Clean
  • Wort was ~70°F when I pitched the yeast
  • I let the yeast sit on the surface, untouched, for ~20 mins to rehydrate them
  • Then I stirred them into the wort vigorously, so as to distribute them and to help aerate the wort (did I kill them?)
  • The fermenter has been sitting in my dark, dry, cool (~65°F) basement ever since I racked this past weekend

Anyways, I'm just wondering what I can look for when I open up the lid, what signs might tip me off to where I went awry, and what I might be able to do so that my first batch of homebrew (ever) isn't a total failure. After spending ~$150 on all the equipment and ingredients, my wife would appreciate that last part :-).


Update: At the 72 hour mark here's what the wort looks like:

enter image description here

Here's the most messed up part: I went to take the SG. I sanitized the hydrometer and gently set it in the top of the wort (I don't currently have a test jar) and... and the darn thing sunk all the way to the bottom!!! Kerplunk! Gone!

What the heck does that mean?!? OG was 1.045 3 days ago...

Also, how do I safely (i.e. sanitarily) get my hydrometer out of the wort? It's completely submerged...

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Everything looks by the book.

You may not see bubbling in an airlock even if c02 is being released. Usually won't get bubbles if just using distilled water or alcohol, not enough surface tension. You will see bubbles as they happen, just won't have surface bubbles. Bell style airlocks are what I prefer as it will lift up with pressure. Also a bad seal on the fermentor will make an airlock inactive.

Did you kill the yeast from vigorously mixing? No, it would be difficult to destroy yeast mechanically even in a pestle&motar.

Before you give up on your yeast and consider repitching. Raise the temp to 72° to wake up the yeast, once started then drop to 65°

In the future you can proof your yeasty making a mini yeast starter to hydrated and get yeast active before pitching. This mostly eliminates questions if the yeast is usable.

  • Thanks @Evil (+1) - Can you please take a look at my update w/ picture? How long do I have to repitch the yeast and salvage the brew? I'm in a rural location and it may take me a couple of days to get my hands on some new yeast. Also, any thoughts about my interesting hydrometer reading? I think this batch is shot. – smeeb Aug 3 '16 at 13:09
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    @smeeb nope looks good. That looks like it already went through high krausen the scum on the edge looks like the krausen that didn't fall back in, check your gravity and see. I'm not sure about your hydrometer, it may be cracked and lost its vacuum. But would mean that the gravity is reduced, you need a good reading though. Using sanitary tongs fish it out and inspect it. – Evil Zymurgist Aug 3 '16 at 13:47
  • Thanks @Evil Zymurgist, but did you read my full update??? Please scroll to the bottom of the picture! Hydrometer sank to the bottom of the pail! What do?!?! – smeeb Aug 3 '16 at 13:49
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    @smeeb saw that and updated comment. If you can't fish it out with sanitary tongs. Rack the beer to a secondary bucket. – Evil Zymurgist Aug 3 '16 at 13:54
  • Hey hey @Evil! I opened up the lid again and it looks like my hydrometer did (slowly, very slowly) manage to float back up to the surface. With temp correction the SG is now 1.018. A few followup questions if you don't mind: (1) Is my new SG a good thing, or does it indicate some process happened too quickly (again OG was 1.045 3 days ago)? And (2) When you say "Usually won't get bubbles if just using distilled water or alcohol, not enough surface tension...", can you elaborate a bit? Are you talking about the solution used inside the airlock, or to make the wort? Thanks again! – smeeb Aug 3 '16 at 14:12
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Plastic buckets, if that's what you have, are often not completely air tight. Not all bucket style fermenters even have an airlock, they just vent any positive pressure in the inside on through an imperfect seal around the lid. I'd open it and sneak a peek on day 3. If there's a krausen (nasty looking foamy layer on top), you're ok. Seal it back up and leave it for another 10 days, then bottle.

If there's no sign of a krausen after three days, then you likely had a bad yeast in your kit. Get a fresh packet of suitable dry yeast, Safale US-05 is a safe go-to for a neutral ale yeast, and pitch that as per it's instruction.

I am assuming you do not have a hydrometer? If you do, then you should have measured gravity before pitching the yeast, and again now to be certain if the yeast is doing anything or not. That said there should be visible signs of fermentation on day 3.

I can not imagine you got an unfermentable wort from an extract kit. It's loaded with sugars even if it has gone bad, and no way there's enough other bugs or low enough PH to stop the yeast without it being very obvious.

  • Thanks Mumble (+1) can you please see my updates as well as my followup question underneath Evil Zymurgist's answer? I have the same questions for you! – smeeb Aug 3 '16 at 13:09
  • And to address some of the other things you mentioned: yes I am using a plastic bucket for fermentation, but no I don't think that's a krausen on top (see pic above). I do/did have a hydrometer that I confirm was working perfectly 3 days ago, and measured my OG at 1.045. – smeeb Aug 3 '16 at 13:19

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