kit is from their "intermediate" line in terms of difficulty. The only real difference with this kit as opposed to an "easy" kit is that you steep your grains differently (a partial mash process). For this kit you employ a "steep-to-convert" process which is a simplified version of mashing.
After the "steep-to-convert" procedure it is pretty much business as usual (with one exception as noted below) and the directions are similar to the previous 3 kits we have completed. With this recipe we used 5 gallons of bottled spring water. For the past recipes I have used distilled water but read that the minerals in other types of water lend to the overall taste so we are switching things up.
Things got a little dicey when we went to pitch the yeast. We used a liquid variety from White Labs over the dry yeast packet that comes inside the kit. It was real close the expiration date so I was slightly concerned it about it still being fresh and active. When I opened it it fizzed and spewed like a soft drink that had been shaken. At this point, I didn't have much of an alternative except to pour it in and hope for the best. Well, a quick Google search and my fears were alleviated. This is apparently quite common and most brewers reported no problems. Within 8 hours of pitching the yeast my airlock was bubbling furiously.
Secondary fermentation was started 7 days after primary. The airlock was still bubbling about every 4 minutes so my goal of moving it to secondary before fermentation completed was achieved.
Another difference with this kit is the addition of "dry hopping". Dry hopping is the process of adding hops to the beer after the boil and usually to secondary fermentation for the purpose of increasing aroma in the finished beer. The directions called for a two week secondary fermentation process but something odd happened. About one week into it the hops had mostly fallen to the bottom of the carboy and fermentation seemed to have ceased. On about the ninth day it appeared fermentation had started again! I didn't know if perhaps the beer was contaminated or what was happening. I was reminded by my brewing partner (and lovely girlfriend) that the AC in her house was off for a period of time and the temperature crept up to 81 degrees. Could that have re-activated the yeast? Even after many weeks the airlock was still bubbling. A quick Google search indicated the only sure way to tell if fermentation had stopped was to test with a hydrometer. I'm getting concerned about this batch but time will tell.
When it came time to bottle I wasn't sure what to expect. We had left the wort in secondary fermentation for about 6 weeks and still noticed activity. We decided that it was time to move forward and bottle. A hydrometer reading indicated that the beer was, indeed, at its finishing gravity. I question how long it had been there but the lesson learned is that visual activity in the wort (or lack there of) isn't the best indicator of what's truly going on with your beer. Trust your tools, in this case a hydrometer, and use them. My concern now is how the lengthy secondary fermentation will affect taste.
The moment of truth...
Despite some uncertainty, it looks like we're going to have a decent batch of Rye Pale Ale to drink. Already thinking about what's next. Dare were try an all grain recipe...?