Fermented but not bottled after 2+ years
June 19, 2009 2:07 PM   Subscribe

[HomebrewBeerFilter]: In the vein of the "should I eat it" questions. I'll cut to the chase - I have had beer fermenting in a 5-gal glass carboy for over TWO YEARS.

Unnecessary history: we bought our first house in May of 2007, and have been doing DIY repairs/upgrades and such since closing day (literally). 6 months later, we had our first child. I haven't exactly had tons of free time. But now with a 19-month old (and because it's Father's Day and I can do whatever I want for one day this weekend), I'm working up the resolve to start homebrewing again.

Is it safe to bottle and carbonate this beer (a scottish ale)? Am I going to have a monster alcohol content? Will it even taste good? It's been in a dark room at the same relative temperature since moving day, no growth on top - I think the integrity of the seal has been maintained. But I don't know if I should bother priming and bottling, or just give up and use it as fertilizer.

And if I *DO* opt to use it as fertilizer (seriously), will my yard stink? Grow yeast? Any side-effects? (I recall reading that beer is excellent plant food).

Thanks, MeFites!
posted by pkphy39 to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm no expert brewer, but I would classify that beer as long past skunked
posted by Think_Long at 2:10 PM on June 19, 2009

I would try to siphon some out, and give it a little taste. Old beer won't kill you.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 2:13 PM on June 19, 2009

Generally, normal beer that's been sealed in a bottle will 'skunk' after six to eight months- it tastes weird and when you pour it it won't stop foaming. I wouldn't expect non-carbonated beer to behave any differently.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:14 PM on June 19, 2009

Might as well taste it. Was this the primary or secondary fermentation vessel? If primary then the yeast will probably have autolyzed. If secondary, you may be ok. I'm assuming the airlock is still on it, but has the liquid evaporated out of the lock? Do you have the starting gravity written down anywhere? With that plus the current gravity you can determine the alcohol content. Just take a sample out and taste it. It's probably better than you might imagine. Heck, if it was a strong belgian or an imperial stout it would probably just be getting good right now!
posted by jclovebrew at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Little more detail, please. Did you ferment it in a different vessel then siphon it into the carboy? If not (i.e., if it's still in its primary fermentation vessel), you should get rid of it because the yeast will have autolyzed and the beer will taste very unpleasant. Give it a smell.
posted by cog_nate at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2009

P.S., none of you seem to know what "skunked" means with respect to beer. Beer gets skunked when UV light hits it and reacts with the hops. Normal beer sitting in a bottle for six to eight months won't magically become skunked. Lots of beer improves after 6-8 months in the bottle. Half the time I wish I could wait that long before drinking it all :)
posted by jclovebrew at 2:22 PM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Even a 90/- ale can be a bit overwhelming, and that's from about 4 months aging, I think. I can only imagine that two years of fermentation would knock the pants off anyone attempting to drink it. That being said, it's worth a swig. And if that's no good...

It seems beer's effectiveness as a fertilizer is disputed, but here is a video for an instructional guide about how to use skunked beer to fertilize.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:24 PM on June 19, 2009

It probably won't hurt you, but I would definitely do as Geckwoistmeinauto and jclovebrew suggest. Just siphon some out and taste it. The yeast has probably all died and left a bad flavor, so it probably won't be good.
posted by King Bee at 2:26 PM on June 19, 2009

Lots of beer improves after 6-8 months in the bottle. Half the time I wish I could wait that long before drinking it all :)

Agreed, I have made stouts that tasted incredible after 4 years in the bottle (racked to secondary though). The carbonation and bottling isn't really that much of a factor and I don't see a real problem here.
posted by crapmatic at 2:26 PM on June 19, 2009

Also, just because it's been sitting for that long doesn't mean it was fermenting that long and getting stronger and stronger. In all likelihood, fermentation finished in the first 4-10 days, after the yeast have consumed all the fermentables that they could. Now, if bacteria took over, that's a whole different story and it will smell and taste sour (in which case, just dump it).
posted by jclovebrew at 2:27 PM on June 19, 2009

@jclovebrew - I do have the starting gravity written down in my binder, I'll have to check. Secondary fermentation was intended for the bottles; this was the primary fermentation vessel. (haven't graduated to kegging yet, but that's a next step - obviously I've taken some time off, and am an amateur). Not sure if the liquid has evaporated out of the lock, but by this point I would assume that is the case.

@cog_nate: thanks for the link. It sounds that the yeast will likely have autolyzed but if that's not the case it wouldn't smell unpleasant, correct?

I'll take a whiff, check the gravity, and see what I've got. May even venture a sip. Thanks for the tips so far.
posted by pkphy39 at 2:27 PM on June 19, 2009

Wow, you guys are FAST.

@jclovebrew - thanks for the skunking clarification, saved me the trouble!

@JauntyFedora - thanks, saved the video to my queue to watch at home. (what, you couldn't tell that I'm working right now?)
posted by pkphy39 at 2:32 PM on June 19, 2009

If it tastes OK, then it's OK to drink. I'm guessing that the fermentation lock liquid will have evaporated, and the beer will taste nasty, but you'll be able to figure that out without consuming a harmful amount. I have some Russian Imperial Stout that spent a year in a carboy (granted, after racking a few times) and 13 years in the bottle, and it's yummy--there are still fermentables, but the alcohol content is so high there's no fermentation any more. I agree that yours probably reached its peak alcohol level in the first few weeks, and has spent the last two years biding its time.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:34 PM on June 19, 2009

After that long a period, even if it tastes OK, the yeast will be dead. If you bottle, it won't carbonate. You'd need to get more yeast, mix it with a bit of sugar and some water and let it get going, and then mix it into the beer before you bottle.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:50 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, I successfully revived a strong IPA that had been in the primary fermenter for about 9 months. I had thought the yeast would have carked it, but the secondary fermentation went fine and it carbonated beautifully.
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:53 PM on June 19, 2009

the good news about beer (and heck, booze in general) is that there is nothing that can go wrong that will hurt you such that tasting it is a bad idea. if it smells ok, give it a taste, and if you like the way it tastes, bottle it up and drink it up.
posted by casconed at 4:09 PM on June 19, 2009

I'm sure you know this but it bears mentioning anyway: there's no fermentable sugar left in the beer, so when you bottle you'll have to add two or three ounces of dextrose in order to produce carbonation in the bottles. That's in addition to some new live yeast, which I mentioned above.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:08 PM on June 19, 2009

How many pounds of malt did you put in when you brewed it? How much hops? Both of these factors will govern how well it has lasted. More is better. i would say that 9 or more lbs of malt will produce a brew that would stand up to this neglect. Especially if it is dark or amber. Hops is not so quantifiable, as the varieties differ. More alpha acid is better.

I have had strong beer that I brewed as much as five years previously. It was great, but it was stored in sealed bottles in the dark.

Congratulations on your new baby. You will find, if you continue to brew, that a toddler is drawn to the bubbler at the top of your carboy. You will need to make plans to protect or hide it.

My little tike is grown enough to help me cap and fill my bottles. How he charges "beer tax" when he brings me a beer. Tax = 10%.

Drink your beer, and bottle or discard. It is not bad for you, but might be bad tasting.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 6:30 PM on June 19, 2009

I did have a beer that I let sit in the secondary carboy for a few months—longer than I meant to or should’ve. When I bottled it, it didn’t come out awfully, but it definitely lacked carbonation. If I had added a fresh shot of yeast before bottling, I think it would have helped.
posted by ijoshua at 10:08 PM on June 19, 2009

I'd say try it. From what I understand from reading a bit about brewing in food science, you're not likely to grow any dangerous microbes. The beer might just taste yucky.
posted by peggynature at 1:41 PM on June 20, 2009

So... how was it??
posted by mimi at 2:26 PM on June 22, 2009

When I make cider, it routinely sits in the carboy for at least a year. Sometimes I rack it off the lees halfway through, sometimes I'm lazy and just don't. It doesn't seem to make any difference at all. The starting gravity is about the same as beer (average beer, that is), and nothing bad happens to it. Quite the reverse in fact -- it ages and mellows and becomes yummy and not bad.

Second point: I've never had a beer that sat around in the fermenter or the bottle and got worse. They generally either get better or stay the same.

Third point: Many Scottish ales are cellared for a long time. It's a low-hop style, and the maltiness takes time to fully develop. So it's not even an unusual thing to do for the style.

I would predict that you have the makings of a terrific Scottish Ale on your hands, if it hasn't gotten oxidized in the time you ignored it. I'm a big proponent of the power of laziness in brewing -- one of the hardest things for a brewer to do is to just sit back and not mess with a good thing. Through no fault of your own, you did it! So have a taste and see how it is.

As for bottling and carbonating, you may want to make a new yeast starter to ensure carbonation. On the other hand, I lightly carbonated some of my cider last year, which had been sitting in carboys for a year with no yeast activity, and had been fermented using only whatever natural yeast was present in the juice. All I did was add about half the usual amount of priming sugar, and it fizzed up just fine. Yeast, in the absence of food, goes dormant, and it can live dormant for hundreds of years. I doubt you need to do anything but add the usual priming sugar. Just give it plenty of time in the bottle, because the yeast will take a little longer to wake up and multiply than it would from a freshly fermented batch.
posted by rusty at 8:17 AM on June 23, 2009

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