My brewing attitudes and preferences

When I started homebrewing in 2010, I was hugely motivated by costs. I loved beer, and I was a broke university student. While not much has changed in regards to my situation (still a broke student as I decided to take on a couple graduate degrees), my attitude towards brewing has progressed. 

Time efficiency > cost efficiency

I see now that the largest investment in my beers is not money, but time. Brew days are my favourite, but without many exceptions I have found myself optimizing my brewing process with respect to reducing work rather than to reduce or maintain my brewing costs. A couple examples:

  • No sparge brewing: at the cost of a couple efficiency points and maybe a couple dollars worth of grain per brew, I’m no longer performing a sparge. This marginally shortens and simplifies my brew days.
  • No starters: yeast starters are cool, and have me feeling like a mad scientist when I make them, but they’re also time consuming. Unless you are pressure canning extra wort, you’re probably using dried malt extract to make media, which isn’t all that cheap. What I do now is to follow the yeast manufacturer’s recommendations, and use one package of fresh liquid brewing culture per 5 gallons (rounding up). Use more if you’re brewing an especially strong beer. For my 14.5 gallon batches I’ll use 3 packages typically, which will cost me roughly twice as much as one package + the dried malt extract, and requires much less time investment.
  • Less mess: while the sanitary stainless steel plumbing on my new brewery wasn’t cheap, one advantage of how I’ve set it up is that I do not require any hose changes during my brew days. In my experience, hose changes are when the messes happen. The sanitary fittings are easier to clean too. I’m not so disillusioned to think my brewery’s bling makes better beer, but I know that it improves my cleaning:brewing time ratio.

Healthy fermentation is the key

Paying closer attention to yeast and their fermentation environment is probably the best thing anyone can do for their brewing. A couple aspects to this:

  • Sanitation: How clean? Super clean. Using sanitary fittings where I can makes this a bit easier for me. It’s also another argument to not make starters; I’d wager that the sanitary techniques of yeast labs are better than what any of us are able to achieve at home.
  • Pitching temperatures: Don’t pitch until pitching temperature has been reached. Because of sanitation measures, waiting overnight or longer before pitching yeast should not result in any contamination. It’s worth being patient as to not stress your yeast.
  • Aeration: Proper aeration is necessary for yeast reproduction and healthy fermentation. Aerate at pitching temperature as oxygen is more soluble in wort at cooler temperates, prior to adding any brewing cultures.
  • Fermentation temperature: Different yeasts shine under different conditions. Research these conditions, and then provide them!

When it comes to the hops

Using fresh ingredients is one of the more obvious parts to crafting a quality brew, here’s a couple other comments regarding the use of hops specifically:

  • I prefer a first wort hop to a regular 60 minute boil addition for bittering
  • Complicated hopping schedules are often unnecessary – there’s not much that can’t be done with a bittering addition and an aroma addition. Further, when using simple hop schedules, there are no complications with on-the-fly alterations to boil length in the event evaporation targets are missed. I hold that it is more important to hit target gravity and post boil volume than boil for exactly 60 or 90 minutes.
  • If you are dry hopping, do so generously. A double dry hop is my preferred method. The first dry hop occurs while fermentation is slowing, and the second once fermentation has stopped. Hop compounds undergo biotransformation when in contact with active yeast, differentiating the dry hop character each stage contributes. If you doing a large dry hop (as I would advise), dividing your dry hops into 2 stages effectively doubles the hop contact area, optimizing dry hop character contribution. 2 days per dry hop stage is sufficient to transfer hop magic into your beer.

A couple other things

And a last few things that I think are key for great homebrew:

  • If your water is chlorinated, treat for it
  • Control the pH of your mash
  • Take minimizing oxygen exposure to finished product very seriously
  • Keep the brew day relaxed as possible
  • Learn from each brew day, collect data and notes on everything, and share what you can.

 

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  6 comments for “My brewing attitudes and preferences

  1. October 4, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    We have very similar attitudes to brewing and I agree with pretty much everything you say. My system is designed around minimal time and cleaning as well (onepotbrewing.com) – although our systems are still vastly different which is fascinating. Love your setup.

    Have you experimented with one large dry hop, instead of two? Brulosophy.com found them to be the same (people couldn’t tell the difference). http://brulosophy.com/2015/05/04/single-vs-double-dry-hop-exbeeriment-results/

    “Proper aeration is necessary for yeast reproduction and healthy fermentation”. Is it really? I stopped aerating a while ago . I know theoretically your statement is true but in practice I don’t see the point. I recently made a big belgian tripel without aeration and it was packaged in a weeks time, and it tastes great to me. Seemed to ferment just fine. I do use proper fermentation control – maybe that helps me.

    • Justin
      October 4, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks man. I have done a single dry hop instead of two, I’ve never done a side by side though (nor am I really interested in doing the side by side). The theory on a double dry hop makes sense to me, and my results have been very good, so I’ve continued to practice it. Have you done side by sides yourself?

      The sensitivity of the sort of experiments done at brülosophy is fairly low in that there is just so much going on in a beer that without direction to what type of differences to look for between the beers, there is a good chance that the differences will just be missed, even if they really do exist. These unguided evaluations can be a overwhelming for the participants and result in sensory fatigue as they continuously sample to try to settle on some attributes to compare amongst samples. Often when triangle tests are used in sensory analysis, they are used in the context of more specific questions like group the samples by sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, flakiness, etc! These responses have much greater sensitivity. This isn’t a criticism of brülosophy, as there really isn’t another way of going about this; the differences in changes of brewing process are almost always going to be multifaceted. When you have a significant result with an exbeeriment, keep in mind that this is a difference that stood out without guiding the participants at all, it must be really quite blatant in a way. Especially in this context, it is important that a lack of a significant result is interpreted to mean that “we have insufficient evidence to reject the null hypothesis”, rather than “we accept the null hypothesis”.

      As for the aeration thing – are you using liquid yeast? Supposedly this is less important for dry yeast.

      • October 6, 2016 at 2:25 pm

        I have not done side-by-sides so I pretty much rely on brulosophy for that. I don’t have the equipment for two batches at the same time. I didn’t realize that triangle tests used in sensory analysis were guided. Great point.

        Liquid yeast. Monestary belgian white labs yeast.

        • jason k williams
          March 27, 2017 at 3:46 pm

          My understanding is that Aeration is only necessary if you are expecting yeast replication in the wort. If you pitch adequately to begin with then no aeration is necessary. Yeast will reproduce in an aerobic environment, once all the oxygen is consumed they will focus on alcohol production.

          I think many home brewers Aerate because, it’s common guidance, generally speaking it will do no harm, on the chance you under pitch it will provide an environment for your yeast to reproduce before being put to work.

          Also many brewers start off trying to save money, and spending an extra $7 on a second vial of yeast is hard to swallow.

  2. Jeremiah Fiegl
    March 8, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    Once again, I love the system! Question though, I don’t see your chiller in place, what method are you using? I slipped down a spiral of trying to figure out how to best sanitize my plate chiller during the boil as I normally due but with the most efficient method possible. I ran into an amazing web of tubes and valves by the end. Made me curious how you have approached this and you may simply use an immersion chiller which would be simple compared to a plate chiller.
    #Cheers!

    • March 8, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Hey Jeremiah, I’m just using an immersion chiller right now… that may change in the future though.

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