Homebrew How-To's - Hambleton Bard
Homebrew How-To's - Hambleton Bard

Winemaking, beer and moonshine FAQ

Wine making, beermaking and all you need to know about making moonshine alcohol.

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Fermentation doesn't start, what can I do?

If your wine kit doesn't start do ferment - here are things to check:

  • Check with a hydrometer to see if the reading is the same for several days. If it actually changes (lower day by day) it means that your wine is fermenting and you probably have a leak somewhere so you can't see any bubbles in the airlock.

You don't have to do anything about it now but before you start your next wine kit it might be a good idea to get some new equipment. Check lids and fermenter necks for damages. Check rubber bungs etc.

  • If your hydrometer shows the same reading for several days you have indeed no fermentation.

This could mean that there was never any fermentation, or that fermentation has taken place (a bit, or completely). If the reading is low (1000 or below) your wine kit has fermented ok and the wine is ready. Check for leaks as above, replace equipment for next time. If the reading is high (1070 or above) your fermentation probably never started. That could depend on cool temperatures in the room or if you used very cold water for your wine kit. Cold water may delay fermentation start for 1-2 days so in this case just wait and see. If your wine kit hasn't started after 2-4 days (the longer time for cold environments) you should get hold of a new wine yeast from your retailer and add it as soon as possible. First check so you didn't add the stabiliser by mistake - if you did, there is no return. If the reading is below the start value of the wine kit (normally 1070 or higher, check your instruction if you didn't record it) it means that there has been some fermentation but it stuck for some reason. Read more about stuck fermentations under the FAQ "Fermentation stopped too soon"..

Fermentation stopped too soon, what can I do?

If your fermentation has stuck and your wine (beer, turbo wash or other brew) is too sweet, here are some reasons that could have happened:

  • Wine yeast too old

The yeast cells in your sachets have a limited life, a certain number dies every month and after 1-2 years there are very few viable cells left which means fermentation will not start properly. Check best before date! What can you do about it?

  • Water too hot when wine yeast was added

Heat will kill yeast cells. Try to keep liquid temperature below 30-35 C in the start unless instruction says otherwise. What can you do about it?

  • Yeast sachet was damaged

If air can get into the yeast sachet, yeast death will accelerate. Your wine yeast could be dead long before the best before date. Do you remember if the sachet seemed damaged, yeast leaking in the wine kit box etc? What can you do about it?

  • You added wine yeast before diluting the concentrate (extract)

If you add wine yeast directly to grape concentrate, the osmotic pressure will harm the yeast cells. It is the same effect you can feel when diving deep into water - the pressure will harm your body if you get down deep enough. What can you do about it?

  • Your room is too cold

  • Temperature changes too much in the room

If you have below 18 C in your room, fermentation may often stick a bit premature and it will stick higher if temperature is even lower. It may be a few units on your hydrometer, say final value 1000 instead of 997. Large temperature changes increases this problem. What can you do about it?

  • Too much preservatives in your wine kit

  • Not enough nutrients in your wine kit

These are manufacturing errors and not very common, it hasn't happened in 20 years with our kits but we are listing it here anyway as a kit from some other manufacturer could have the problem in rare cases. In most cases there is not much you can do about it and it is unfortunately very difficult to separate these problems from the "normal" ones above. The only simple indication is if it seems as if many customers buying this wine kit have had similar problems.

What can you do about it?

It is not obvious that you should just add another wine yeast (beer yeast, turbo yeast etc) sachet. If fermentation has been going on for some time, there is alcohol in the brew. Yeast cells can only survive in alcohol if the level is moderate and if they gradually adapted to the alcohol level. So if you just add another yeast sachet it is very likely that the yeast will die the minute you drop the poor unprepared yeast cells into the alcohol.

If your kit contains a sachet of wine yeast mixed with nutrient, you should probably not add another of these sachets. If you do, you also double up on the nutrition which although fairly harmless may add an off-taste to your wine. If you feel you really need to add another yeast (but remember that in most cases this is the wrong medicine for the wrong problem), you should obtain a plain wine yeast without nutrient.

Check with a hydrometer - if the reading is close to the normal start value for your wine kit (if you have no clue, assume specific gravity 1080) it means fermentation has not been going for long. That of course means low alcohol so in this case you can add a new yeast sachet. If the hydrometer reading is 50-60 units below the start value (i.e. 6-8% alcohol) you must use a special restart yeast. Alcotec Restart Superyeast will do the trick here. A normal wine kit starts at 1075-1085 so if your current reading is somewhere between 1015-1065 it is worth a try with this yeast.

If your wine kit fermented most of the way and then stuck a little too soon (hydrometer reading 1000 or just over) you can normally not start it again. Try diluting it with 10% water, that will make it less sweet but unfortunately it will also lower the body and alcohol so don't overdo it. This trick works best with white wines where the body is not as critical as with reds. You can also increase the acidity slightly. This will mask some sweetness. Add 4-5 g of citric acid to a normal wine kit (20-25 litres), repeat if necessary but be careful and taste in between - you can not go back!

I can't get rid of the CO2, what to do?

After fermentation you normally add a stabiliser to your wine and shake vigorously to remove the CO2 left in the wine. Sometimes it can seem as if the CO2 comes back over and over again even if you wait for days. The problem can occur in wine and turbo fermentations, but obviously not in beer making as you never stabilise a beer.

These are the possible causes and solutions:

  • If you haven't used a stabiliser (some wine kits does not include it and some people prefer not to use it) your wine is probably still fermenting slowly. Add the stabiliser to stop it or wait until it stops even if it takes weeks. Use either a stabiliser sachet (you can get these in 23-25 litre versions from your stockist), or Campden Tablets. For Campden Tablets, the dose is normally 2 per 5 litres (or 2 per Imperial Gallon will work as well) if you have normal 450-550mg tablets. Note that some manufacturers say to use only one per gallon to "aid stability". It is true that it will aid stability, but it will not properly stabilise your wine!
  • If your wine is sweet it is more difficult to stabilise. The reason is of course that there still is "food" (sugar) for the yeast cells so they hang in there for as long as they can even though there is both a stabiliser and alcohol present. You can try to increase the stabiliser dose by half a sachet and/or chill the wine.
  • If it doesn't stop after all this - stay calm, the yeast cells will eventually give up - defeated by alcohol, lack of food and possibly a stabiliser present. It may take weeks but it will stop in the end. This is unusual though unless you try to make sweet high alcohol wines.

If you have CO2 problems after you have started the fining procedure, i.e. added one or more fining agents - you will probably need to add new finings. Rack off your wine before you start shaking to remove CO2 and repeat the fining procedure when the CO2 is gone. If you use "Super Finings" (two sachet fining agents not containing gelatine) you should only add the second sachet next time.

My wine won't clear, what can I do?

If your wine doesn't clear there are many possible explanations, here are a few of the most common ones, in order of likelihood.

  • Your fining agent didn't work or you made a mistake when you added the finings.
  • Your wine has still too much CO2 gas left from fermentation.
  • Your wine is very sweet. Sugar is food for the yeast so the yeast cells tend to hang in there.
  • Your wine contains too much pectin which normal fining agents will not remove.

First, if you have not already done so - read up on the fining process so you understand how it works.

Always remove CO2 again before you attempt another round of finings. Before you shake out the CO2, rack off and discard any sediment. When you are sure there is no more CO2 left it's time to try adding another set of finings.

It is always possible to add one more fining agent but don't overdo it. If you used a modern type of "Superfinings", then just add one more Kiselsol sachet (the first, small one). If you don't know for sure what type of finings you have used - add both sachets again according to instructions.

If this doesn't do the trick in a few days you can always try adding a sachet of Pectolase. This is an enzyme that will break down Pectin which sometimes appears in wines made from dried or fresh fruit or from juices that has not been de-pectinized. If that was the problem, you should see an immediate improvement over the next 2-3 days.

If nothing else helps, you have two options. Wait, long enough (but it may take a L-O-N-G time) or use a wine filter. Your homebrew specialist will be able to advise you on that.

If you are using Hambleton Bard's extreme wine making kits you minimise the risk of clearing problems. We use extreme fining agents like the Alcotec 24 TurboKlar which does the job in 24 hours. All our winekits - including the best selling Cantina 5-day wine making kit range - include this type of fining agents.

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