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When is it to late to add water to meet volume

I have a basic question that I can’t find a straightforward answer to.

I use beersmith or recipes that expect a final volume of 5 gallons for the batch. I never get 5 gallons of beer by the end.

Water is lost during the boil (I do 5 gallon boils), to the hops, during fermentation and some is lost in the yeast and trub. When and how should I recoup these water losses to maintain a finishing volume of 5 gallons without risking infection or altering the flavor? I see different ways and each has its problems:

  1. Should I add water up to 5 gallons at the end of the boil at flame out?

  2. Should I add water up to 5 gallons once primary fermentation is complete and I’ve racked to secondary?

  3. Should I add water up to 5 gallons once I’m ready to bottle or keg?

I realize that for 1 and 2 I won’t be able to account for losses to hops and trub. For 3 I’m worried about adding water that late for sanitation and aeration issues.

I had an idea: I was going to try to make a very dilute solution for the bottling step. For example, I have 4 gallons in a 5 gallon batch on bottling day. I do the same amount of sugar, but with 1 gallon of water. That way its sterilized, has low oxygen, and has the sugar for bottle conditioning. Would this be a good strategy?

I would only do 1 or 1A, which would be to top it off with sterile water and mixing while aerating before adding yeast. This is what I did with partial boils when doing extract. In fact I used to put 3-4 1 gallon containers into the freezer and take them out just as they started to freeze to help get my wort to pitching temps. But I was adding about 3 gallons.

You forgot #4 which is what must full boil brewers do…start with 6.5-7 gallons in your kettle at the start of the boil. Depending on your boil off rate, you might need more or less. I dial mine in so that I end up with 5.3 gallons in my fermenting buckets which generally gives me exactly 5 gallons in the keg with a taste left over.

I suppose you can add water any time up to the time it’s bottled but IMO the best time would be during the boil, then in the fermenter or lastly in the bottling bucket. Cheers!!!

Add the boil-off and trub losses to the boil. Top up to 5 gallons in the fermenter (5.25?) You could also account for losses from racking to secondary and losses in the bottling bucket by adding additional water pre-fermentation. Watering down beer just wouldn’t be an option for me but if you HAVE to finish with 5 gallons, you could add it anywhere in the process.

What happens to your OG when you expect 5 gallons and end up with 4? I know what should happen, but you do not mention this.

My OG is finishing gravity are just far too high usually. I had a brown ale that finished with 38 bottles and I was expecting 50. The finishing gravity was 1.020 :frowning:

The best solution is to have a larger boil volume I take it from these suggestions. What is the best way if I don’t have that option? I’m already at my limit with a 5 gallon kettle. Adding up to 5.25 or more at the start of primary?

Correct, that would be best, but adding just before pitching yeast is the second best in my opinion.

In theory, your OG (starting gravity) should be 20-25% higher than you would expect if you are ending up with 4 gallons. If you Final Gravity is too high, you may not be pitching enough yeast. Are they dark beers with lots of unfermentable sugars? I assume extract and not all grain?

[quote=“thedenbrewclub”]I have a basic question that I can’t find a straightforward answer to.

[/quote]

Welcome to homebrewing!

I like your idea of boiling a larger amount of water for the priming sugar.

I would try to have a larger volume in the fermenter. If you are not able to add the water to the boil kettle, boil and cool separately. Then add to the fermenter.

I think the best approach is to focus on your OG, rather than your volume. That is, adjust your volume so that you end up with the OG that you want. Take measurements before and during the boil. If the OG is too low, boil it down a little more. If the OG is too high, add some water at the end of the boil.

Eureka! This makes sense both from a quality standpoint and a logistical one. If I have a yeast starter of a certain size, a given recipe and an expected final gravity, this just makes plain sense. As other people have commented if I can’t add more to the boil I can add it when I’m moving to primary, and this is already when I’m taking OG anyways.

Thanks NB forums. You guys are great.

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