Woohoo, one of my favourite topics. As for links, I have a blog on brewing (not much useful there...yet; if you care, its in my sig). To add to the useful links list:
Something spoilered, just in case recommending other boards isn't kosher here...Free homebrewing book
(old version, new version in book stores)Home brewing wikiBrewing magazine
, with lots of free on-line materialHow beer saved the world (youtube)
SurgicalSteel wrote:I'm learning from Papazian's Joy of Homebrewing
A word of warning - Papazian's books are a little dated, and 'normal' brewing procedures have changed quite a bit since then. Many (most?) of us don't secondary, for example, unless a long ageing period or lagering is required. Many (most) now do 2-3 weeks in the primary, then keg/bottle.
SurgicalSteel wrote:he says to take a hydrometer reading right after filling the fermentation vessel, but then does nothing with it until a few weeks later when he's checking levels every other day or so to see when they stop changing. So my question is, do I really have to take a reading right after I fill the fermentation vessel if all I'm looking for is changes, not specific values? I ask because my hydrometer isn't arriving until Tuesday, but I'd like to start the process this weekend, instead of waiting until next weekend.
Some don't even use them - the hydrometer is good for figuring out if a ferment is done, and what % alcohol you have. Its not necessary - simply waiting for the krausen (foam) to subside in the primary is usually sufficient for telling when its time to bottle/keg/transfer. Also, keep in mind that every time you try to draw off a sample for measuring gravity you a) decrease the total amount of beer you get, by ~1/2 pint per test (you should never return the test volume to the fermented - infection risk), and b) you increase the risk of infection just by opening the lid/inserting a thief.
If you want to take frequent readings, I'd recommend getting a refractometer and a package of sterile, individually-packaged sample pipettes. Both are available on ebay for cheap, and you only need a drop of two of beer to take your readings. Just use a sterile pipette to grab a sample, then toss the pipette.
If you use either a hydrometer or refractometer, what you are looking for is a stabilization of the S.G. at a level typical of a finished beer. The final gravity of a beer can vary greatly by style/yeast, but for your average ale/lager it'll be below 1.015. Malty beers can be much higher - brown ales can be as high as 1.020, I had a barley wine finish at 1.028. Stabilization at a higher-than-expected gravity can indicate a beer that is either maltier than expected, or in which fermentation is incomplete. The former case is usually due to an error in the mash, the later can be rectified by pitching new yeast. If you're brewing from kits or extract, its unlikely you'd experience the former problem, so pitching some new yeast is typically the answer.
SurgicalSteel wrote:So ... I think I screwed up. The book said to detach the blow-off hose and attach the fermentation-lock after a couple days when the foaming subsided. So I did. But, there are no bubbles in the fermentation-lock as the book says there should be. Is this a bad sign? Has my yeast died? Also, there's a brown crust all around the top of the fermentation vessel (a glass carboy). I have the sinking feeling I screwed up and will have to start over.
So I realize I'm waaay to late answering this, but DON'T THROW IT OUT!!! The main phase of fermentation, especially for lighter beers, can be complete in as little as 48 hours. The layer of crap on the surface is a mix of yeast and proteins, and is totally normal. Keep the airlock on it until that layer is largely gone and bottle.