We’re all incredibly busy these days and many of us are short on time to brew. So this week in part 1 I take a look at ways to shorten your all grain brewing session so you can brew more beer in less time. In part 2 we’ll take a look at ways to speed up your fermentation and aging so you can enjoy your beer more quickly.
Rapid All Grain Brewing
In our busy world, time is the most valuable commodity. Sure it is great to enjoy an all-day brewing session with friends, but there are times when you may not have 5 or 6 hours (or more) to brew a batch of beer.
Our goal here is to brew a complete batch of all grain beer in into the fermenter in three hours or less. Three hours may be a challenge for some but its a realistic goal if you plan ahead and overlap activities as much as possible. Brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) can even save more time as you have less equipment to clean and also a shorter sparge phase.
Preparation and Cleaning
To brew all grain rapidly you need to be prepared. This means having the recipe and ingredients ready and available. Go with a single step infusion mash to cut down on mash time. Crush the grains ahead of time if possible, or crush them while you are heating your mash water if needed.
If brewing with liquid yeast, creating a starter a day or two in advance is always a good idea. Pitching enough yeast will cut down on your fermentation time, and a strong active starter will always ferment more quickly than yeast you removed from the fridge just a few hours ago.
To get started quickly you need to get the mash water started right away. Quickly clean your hot liquor tun, add your mash water and get it on the burner first. While its heating you can clean your mash vessel and measure and crush your grains. Note that you don’t need to sterilize your hot liquor or mash tun since the wort will be boiled later.
As soon as your infusion water hits the target temperature, mash in. I keep the grains in my mash tun and add the water while mixing rapidly – as this is usually quicker than trying to add dry grains to the hot water. As soon as I know I’m in my mash temperature range, I seal the mash tun up.
Mashing a bit higher on the temperature range at around 155-156 F (69 C) will result in faster conversion during the mash than using a lower temperature, which saves time. Also if you brew a beer with a substantial amount of pale malt, which has a high diastatic power and more enzymes, it will help to convert your sugars during the mash more quickly.
Every 10 minutes I mix the grains to avoid hot spots, and also run an iodine test to see if conversion is complete. In an iodine test, you remove a small sample of the mash and add a few drops of iodine. If the iodine turns blue, the conversion is incomplete. However if it runs clear then we know that the conversion is complete and we can move to sparging. For some beers you can complete the mash in as little as 20-30 minutes.
While the mash is finishing you can clean your boil equipment and start to clean and sanitize your fermentation vessel and siphon.
The fastest way to sparge your mash is to use a Brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) method. In BIAB you mash in a grain bag set in the brew pot, and simply remove the grain bag with the grains as soon as your mash is complete. BIAB also brews in a single vessel so you don’t have a separate hot liquor tun or mash tun to clean.
The second fastest method is batch sparging. In batch sparging you add a quantity of water and then rapidly drain the entire mash tun, then add a second batch of water (if needed) and drain it again. You may lose a point or two of gravity by sparging very quickly, but you can easily correct this by using just a bit more grain in the recipe.
A Rapid Boil
Unfortunately you can’t cut the boil time dramatically unless you are brewing a dark roasty beer. I use a 60 minute boil when I’m in a hurry, but if you go below 60 minutes on any light colored beer you run the risk of adding off flavors to the beer. Darker beers don’t eliminate these off flavors, but roasty beer styles can mask many of them and may survive a slightly shorter boil. The best you can do during the boil is usually to get it started very quickly – which means heating the wort as soon as you start sparging and using a big burner.
I personally use a high output propane burner as it can get five gallons up to a boil quickly. It also provides a strong rolling boil, which will help to reduce volatile off flavors in the finished beer.
While the wort is boiling, we can use this time to clean and sanitize the fermenter, siphon/transfer equipment and wort chiller, as well as clean up our mash equipment and hot liquor vessel.
Chilling and Transferring the Wort
You obviously want to chill your wort after the boil as rapidly as possible, both to save time and to minimize chance of infection. Most home brewers use some kind of immersion, plate or counterflow chiller that runs cool water through the chiller to cool the wort. Cooling your wort is primarily a function of the design of your chiller and how cold the cooling water you use is. The larger the difference in temperature between your wort and the water you are using to chill your wort, the faster it will cool.
I use a two stage immersion chiller – the first stage is immersed in a ice bath to chill the water going into the second stage which then chills the wort. This will chill faster than a single stage immersion chiller.
As soon as you can achieve fermentation temperature, you need to transfer the wort to your fermenter. Next be sure to aerate your wort before pitching the yeast. Aeration can be accomplished with a simple aquarium pump or pure oxygen, but adding oxygen to your beer will reduce the lag time and result in a faster more complete fermentation. You can start cleaning any remaining equipment while you aerate.
Finally pitch your yeast starter, and place the fermenter in a cool dark location or fermentation refrigerator if needed. If you have overlapped your cleaning activities properly you should have little left to clean at this point.
Next week in part 2 I’ll cover some methods for rapidly fermenting and finishing your beer. Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing. Also check out the How to Brew Video series I shot with John Palmer if you want to learn more about all grain brewing.
Related Beer Brewing Articles from BeerSmith:
- No Sparge Beer Brewing for All Grain Brewers
- Chilling Your Brew: Building an Immersion Chiller
- Immersion, Plate and Counterflow Chillers for Home Brewed Beer
- Brew in a Bag (BIAB) All Grain Beer Brewing
- Avoiding a Stuck Sparge for All Grain Beer
- How to Batch Sparge: A Guide for Batch Sparging and No Sparge
- All Grain Beer Brewing With An Infusion Mash Setup
- 6 Tips for Crystal Clear Home Brewed Beer
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