Beer Fermentation Temperature & Process

The fermentation process is such a complicated biochemical process it would put Bill Nye The Science Guy to sleep. At least that’s what it’s cooked up to be from anything I’ve read, but it really is simple and I’m about to prove it.

The fermentation process involves three simple phases. The success of these phases depends on three factors, yeast, wort and temperature.

The initial stage is where the yeast starts to reproduce. The wort must have enough nutrients, and enough oxygen for the yeast to do so. The temperature must be ideal as well. If you pitch the yeast when the wort is too cold, then the yeast may go dormant and you won’t get any action. If the temperature is too high, then the yeast will go into a nympho like reproduction stage and will ferment too fast. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it creates off flavors which you probably don’t want.

This is the reason why you need to aerate your wort prior to pitching your yeast, and why you need to plan on how you will cool your wort so you can pitch your yeast at the ideal temperature.

What you may not know or even care to pay attention to is what type of yeast to use…

The amount of yeast or the type will depend on the type of beer you are brewing. You must have an idea of what the Original gravity will be in order to decide which and how much yeast to use.

See, during the first stage, the yeast uses the oxygen to reproduce. Once the oxygen is depleted, the yeast turns to sugars to reproduce by turning the sugars into alcohol. That’s when the actual fermentation begins. If you notice, the Original Gravity is higher than the Final Gravity. The reason for that is because as the yeast eats up the sugars it reduces the Gravity. This process is called attenuation. Every yeast packet has it’s expected attenuation levels. This is what you’ll use to plan for what and how much yeast to use.

You know fermentation is going on when Krausen starts to form and Gravity starts to drop.

That’s pretty much it. Simple enough?

Now there is one last stage that almost no one talks about, but it’s important to learn about. Once the fermentation is done the yeast will clean up and go through a conditioning phase. The Krausen and the alcohol produced during fermentation is very bitter. During the conditioning phase, the yeast turns the bitter flavors to a more taste bud friendly ones. This is why many brewers rack their beers and hold them on a secondary fermentation carboy.

So now you know why you need to aerate the wort, and why the temperature needs to be ideal. You also know why the airlock is not the absolute indication of fermentation, but rather the drop in Gravity that tells you when fermentation is done. Sometimes you’ll see airlock activity cease on day 6-8, but the beer will continue to ferment for a few more days.

You also know that in order to use the right amount of yeast, you must have an idea of what the Original Gravity will be and what you are looking to achieve as a Final Gravity reading.

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6 Comments

  • Sereno

    Reply Reply March 5, 2010

    Share your passion about microbrews and understand your comments about the commercial brews – yak! Wish you the best and success in your continuing learning and production…thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  • JorgeBrewmaster

    Reply Reply March 5, 2010

    Sereno,

    Definitely… beer is a passion for me.

    Thanks for commenting,
    Jorge

  • scott

    Reply Reply July 14, 2010

    just wanted to let you know that I find these articals very informatable but also very easy to take in.I’ve only brewed once and it came out very strong and cidery and a bit sour. I looking forward to brew again when the weather gets a bit cooler and will use the knowledge that I’ve all ready learned from your writings. Thanks so much. Scott.

    • Jorge

      Reply Reply July 14, 2010

      Scott,

      Thanks for the feedback.
      Sour flavors in beer are mostly a sanitation problem. You may just need to be meticulous next time… (I once had a fruit fly land on my beer and cause this… even though I sanitized thoroughly)
      However, based on the way you describe it, it may be that you added too much cane or corn sugar to your recipe and because of it too much acetaldehyde was produced during fermentation. That would give you the cidery and the ‘strong’ feel to beer.

      Hope that helps,
      Jorge

  • Ethos

    Reply Reply July 15, 2010

    Jorge, I too find your articles informative and useful. I’m a relative beginner to brewing (about 6 batches now)and am always scouring the net for all the inside info I can get. Yours is always concise and easy to understand. Lots of thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • Jorge

      Reply Reply July 15, 2010

      Ethos,

      Thank you for the feedback, I’m hoping to pass down as much as I can… It’ll only make better beer available for more people!

      Jorge

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