Look What I Can Brew: Part Three

Writer Julie Vitto takes a deep dive into the world of homebrewing and ups her beer IQ (and her BAC). This month, she’s reporting on her experience as a first-time homebrewer in her series Look What I Can Brew

In the weeks leading up to bottling day, I continued on my beer quest and talked to Crystal Ball Brewing Company’s head brewer Ryan Johnstonbaugh. He recommends John Palmer’s How to Brew as a starting point for upping your homebrew IQ and getting acquainted with the terminology. The guide breaks down the fermentation process into three phases: adaptation, primary and secondary.

Remember when we felt all cool pitching yeast in last week’s installment? Well, that set everything in motion for the first part of the fermentation process – adaptation.

After the lag, comes the primary phase of the fermentation process. In this phase, you’ll find things starting to grow, such as carbon dioxide and – bear with me – “Krausen.”

Finally, in the secondary phase of fermentation, everything’s settling and conditioning for Homebrew-Julie-Vitto1015-1325however many weeks your recipe requires. Our beer required two weeks, but we let it go for three. Kids, this is where alcohol comes from. In my research, I learned that higher gravity beers take longer to ferment. Some styles may even require a few years in the secondary phase before they’re ready to drink.

Three weeks had passed since we put a lid on our homebrew experiment and set it in a corner to ferment. On the day of the big reveal, we found ourselves staring at a white, spotty layer of dead yeast floating on top of the beer. I thought it was mold, but apparently this is normal. Kind of gross, but we went on and began “racking” – or siphoning the beer from the “trub.”

The batch made enough to bottle about two cases. This would then have to age for two weeks and be refrigerated for another week. Convinced that Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” was written about homebrewing, I went ahead and poured a small glass before carbonation could finish what we started.


Want to find out if a spit take was necessary? Tune in next week for the fourth and final installment.


1.  Or the cooler sounding “lag phase.” In this phase, the yeast goes on a bender, eating up all of those sugars from the grains and malt extracts we threw in there.

2. Pronounced “kroy-zen.” It’s the German word describing the foamy head building on top of the beer – or, the almost beer.

3.  Kind of makes you appreciate what went into making that Russian Imperial you’re about to chug.

4. Yeah, that’s right I said “trub.” It’s pronounced “troob” and is the German word for the nasty crap at the bottom of the fermenter.

5. Often used as a comic technique. The act of suddenly spitting out liquid one is drinking in response to something like being told the beer you’re drinking had a screwdriver fall into the mash.


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Julie Vitto is a freelance writer and photographer for Fly Magazine. She has a B.A. in English from Temple University with a concentration in creative writing and SEPTA rail map reading. When she’s not proofreading financial statements at her day job, she can be found watching documentaries, collecting 60s soul and R&B records, and working her way through the take-out menus of neighborhood restaurants.

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