Shorten Your Brew Day (Part 1)

Why I Want to Shorten Your Brew Day

Having fun with family one reason to shorten your brew dayIf you’re like me, homebrewing beer is an activity you love. But you’re probably looking for ways to shorten your brew day. With a family, other hobbies, and a job, taking six to eight hours to brew a batch of beer can feel like you’re stealing time you should be using for other things.

Weekends are the two days when I have to squeeze in time with my wife and kids, since I don’t usually have to put in hours at the office on those days. The more time I can free up for fun and family, the easier it is to spend times on the things that are just for me.

Here are a few ways I found to shorten my brew day:

 

1. Shrink Your Batch Size

Lots o' BottlesOne of the common philosophies in homebrewing is that it doesn’t add that much time to brew a larger batch of beer. And this is true, to a point. The day you are brewing may only take 30 minutes to one hour longer to go from making five gallons of beer to making a ten gallons of beer, as long as you have the equipment. However, jumping from five to ten gallons doubles the length of your bottling or kegging day; it potentially gives you twice as many fermenters to clean; and if you’re bottling, that’s twice as many bottles to clean and sanitize.
I only made three five gallon batches when I started brewing and jumped straight to ten gallon batches. At the time, it seemed like a great idea. With two small kids, I got twice as much beer for about the same time investment on my brew days. But I found myself avoiding bottling day, and started brewing less frequently.

Also, a large batch is a much larger investment in ingredients. If you’re making a ten gallon batch, you need twice as much ingredients.

2. Decide on Your Recipe Ahead of Time

One of the things that can are really freeing about homebrewing is that you can adjust your recipe on the fly. I usually run into something unexpected on my brew days, but it doesn’t need to mean you are making things up the day of brewing. Decide on the recipe ahead of time, that way you can make sure all your ingredients are in place.

3. Measure and Prepare Your IngredientsGrind Your Grain to Shorten Your Brew Day

Speaking of ingredients: by planning your recipe ahead of time, you can make sure all your grains are weighed and crushed the day before. If you don’t have bulk grain on-hand, this allows you to visit your homebrew shop before your brew day. This is vital, at least for me. I love talking to Doug(the owner) at my local homebrew shop, so it is pretty much impossible for me to get out of the shop in less than an hour.

When I know what I need ahead of time, I can stop in and have a leisurely chat with Doug while I get my stuff. It makes for a more relaxed morning on brew day, plus I don’t feel guilty if it takes me longer than an hour because Doug and I strike an interesting topic.

But seriously, weigh and crush your grains. You could even weigh out your hop additions the night before.

4. Set Up Your Gear (and Get It Together)

Set up equipment to shorten your beer brewing dayI really appreciate this tip from Andrew from Not on Sundays Brewing:
Getting everything in place the day before, or even having dedicated storage so your gear can always be together would significantly shorten the setup time.

One of the things that takes a lot of time for me is just getting everything set up for brew day. Since I brew in the garage, I have to move the car, get my stands set up, get the burners and mash tun in place. This is lengthened by the fact some of my gear is stored in the basement at the other end of our house. So, each trip forces me to go through the kitchen, dining room, down two flights of stairs, and through the basement rec room to get my gear. Then I have to reverse the journey. And I always have to make more than one trip.

I make sure my fermenters are clean before my brew day starts. That way I don’t have to worry about how to get dried-on krausen off the inside of my fermenter when I should be focused on my brewing process.

I have a few more tips to shorten your brew day I’ll be sharing with you soon.

Brew up and adventure!

Podcast #25 – My First Harvest Ale

Jake behind hop plants
Getting ready to pick hops

Grow Your Own

At some point, most home brewers get excited about hops and the idea of growing your own hops to use in beer. Others, who have a thumb more green than mine, plant their hops and cultivate them carefully. Luckily my mother-in-law is an avid gardener and was interested in growing hops.

If you select the right variety for your area, hops will grow like weeds. With minimal maintenance, you will probably be able to harvest enough hops to play with for several batches.

Challenges

hops on a screenTime

Harvesting hops by hand is labor-intensive. I spent about 3 hours picking by hand and did not even fill a paper grocery bag. By weight, I wound up with about 4 pounds of wet hops. This is probably main argument for purchasing the hops you use in your beer, unless you enjoy having an excuse to be outside working with your hands.

This is even without including the time you can spend babying the plants while they grow.

Unknown Acid Levels

Those of us growing hops for fun do not have the equipment to analyze the alpha acid content of our hops. So, you will be working with unknowns. You can rub, smell and guess to estimate how it will affect your beer, but you won’t really know like you do with commercial hops. This is one of the aspects that can make your beer fun and interesting.

If you look for advice for using fresh hops, you can estimate 5 to 6 times as much hops are needed for similar flavor and aroma levels. But that’s still just a guess.

fresh cones are huge!Volume

I know hops don’t weight much, but I was truly shocked by how much volume was required to make a seemingly small quantity of hops. I should have taken a picture, but I had to pack hops into a 2-quart pitcher just to get 11 ounces. Without packing, I’m pretty sure 11 ounces would have filled up a gallon container.

Wort Loss

Fresh hops will soak up a mess of your beer. Knowing this beforehand, I inserted my large straining bag so I could squeeze the hops at the end. The bag is large enough that I placed my immersion chiller inside the bag with the hops so I could stand the temperature when I squeezed the bag.

Bag o' hopsIf you use wet hops, you will need to have a strategy to minimize the loss, or just accept the loss with as much grace as possible.

Don’t let these problems hold you back. Experiment, try things, over-do it and see what you get. I learned a lot about brewing while making my harvest ale.

My recipe

11 gallons into the fermenter:

  • 12 pounds pale 2-row
  • 6 pounds dark Munich
  • 1 pound special B
  • 6 ounces crystal 10 L

Hops

11 ounces homegrown, fresh cascade hops (60 min)

11 ounces homegrown, fresh cascade hops (15 min)

11 ounces homegrown, fresh cascade hops (0 min)