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Old 10-13-2008, 06:42 PM   #1
Yuri_Rage
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Default Aging beer: Facts, myths, and discussion

"If you see a beer, do it a favor, and drink it. Beer was not meant to age." -- Michael Jackson

Fact: Budweiser goes from grain to bottle in 28 days.

Source: Modern Marvels, History Channel; USA Today

Fact: Many microbreweries and pubs serve beer brewed less than a month ago.

Source: Mount Shasta Brewing; Various personal visits to small breweries

Myth: Homebrewers cannot achieve the same short turnaround as larger scale operations without complex equipment and filters.

Many of the more experienced homebrewers who frequent HBT constantly repeat the "age it longer" mantra. Am I suggesting that they're wrong? Am I telling you not to condition your beer? Not at all. However, I find that I can consistently produce not just a drinkable product, but a very good beer in well under the oft quoted 6 week (1-2-3) timetable. Lately, I've even been able to get great results without resorting to all the crazy gadgetry that you see posted all over the DIY forum and plastered across my gallery. I've been brewing 6 gallon batches of all grain, single infusion mashed, batch sparged beer. I've never filtered my beer, I'm not doing anything complex, and I'm convinced that anyone can replicate the process. From my experience, here are the keys:

Keep the recipe simple. Heaps of spices, large amounts of strong flavored malts, hefty hops schedules, and non-traditional ingredients can force you to condition the beer for an extended period. There's nothing wrong with big, complex recipes, but don't expect a quick turnaround when brewing them.

Use good water. I noticed a HUGE improvement in the quality of my wort when I moved from New Mexico to Texas. In New Mexico, I was constantly futzing with water chemistry, and it was very difficult to get it exactly right since I was starting with very hard water (or very pure water, when I elected to use RO). The tap water here is slightly hard, a little high in carbonates, but generally very good for brewing. I get a REALLY good break, and every beer I've brewed here has become brilliantly clear in a short period of time (except the hefeweizen).

Mash by the numbers. Hit your temps, hit your volumes, and don't try anything crazy. A solid single infusion mash with complete conversion is all you need for most recipes...so long as those recipes are fairly simple (see tip #1).

Use Irish moss or Whirlfloc. The beer will clear faster and better. It's that simple.

Pitch a lot of yeast, and pitch it right. As long as you're brewing a style that doesn't call for esters, fusels, or other yeast-produced flavors, give the yeast a little help. With liquid yeast, make a big starter. Step it up to nearly one gallon (for a five gallon batch), decant the starter beer, and pitch the slurry. Always rehydrate dry yeast in clean water, and pitch a little extra if you have it (I've been using 15g of S-04 or US-05 per six gallon batch). Pitch the yeast into wort that is within 5°F of the intended fermentation temperature. Note that I've mentioned nothing about aeration. That's because I don't worry about it. I just pitch lots of healthy yeast so they won't have to reproduce much. It works...I promise.

Keep the fermentation temperature in check. Mid 60's to low 70's (F) works for nearly every ale. The hotter you ferment, the more you risk an estery flavor profile, and that might mean a longer conditioning period.

Secondary? Maybe. I haven't been using one lately. I've been fermenting in a 6 gallon Better Bottle and kegging straight from it without racking at all. Just be careful not to disturb the yeast cake when kegging.

Cold crash. When the yeast have completed their tasks (including "cleaning up" the twangy taste of "green beer"), bulk chill the beer to below 40°F. Assuming you've done everything correctly to this point, the beer should drop clear very quickly.

Sample. The beer is ready when it tastes good. If it's bready, yeasty, cloudy, chunky, twangy, too bitter, unrefined, etc, it's not ready. If it's clear and tastes good, keg it.

Force carbonate. Chill the beer to less than 40°F (it's already there if you cold crashed), set the CO2 at 30 psi, and start shaking the keg. Every 2-3 minutes, carefully bleed the pressure and pour a sample. It should only take two or three iterations before you have perfectly carbonated beer.

Know when aging is appropriate. Big flavors, big beers, lagers, etc need time. Let them have it. Brew a quick ale in the meantime.

Practice makes perfect. Brew more. Do I have to twist your arm?

But, Yuri, I bottle condition my beer! Well, my friend, you have to wait an extra 2-3 weeks. There's no getting around that. Yeast work slowly when under pressure in an alcoholic environment. Patience is still a virtue.

Proof (you'll have to take me at my word for now): I've got a STOUT on tap that was brewed exactly two weeks ago. It's clear, clean, and tasty. Friends came over yesterday and claimed that it's one of the best stouts they've ever had. My buddy's wife said, "I usually dislike dark beer like this, but yours is fantastic!"

Discuss.


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Old 10-13-2008, 06:47 PM   #2
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Quote:
Keep the recipe simple. Heaps of spices, large amounts of strong flavored malts, hefty hops schedules, and non-traditional ingredients can force you to condition the beer for an extended period. There's nothing wrong with big, complex recipes, but don't expect a quick turnaround when brewing them.
Quote:
But, Yuri, I bottle condition my beer! Well, my friend, you have to wait an extra 2-3 weeks. There's no getting around that. Yeast work slowly when under pressure in an alcoholic environment. Patience is still a virtue.
Preach it brotha, Preach it!!!!



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Old 10-13-2008, 06:54 PM   #3
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I like what you're telling me. I also rack from primary to keg, and lately I've been wrestling with how long to give the beer from pitching to cold crashing. Ever since I started rehydrating my yeast properly I've been getting extremely vigorous, quick fermentations on the order of about 36 hours. I usually wait till 7 days to take a gravity, but 36 hours is when the crazy activity in the fermenter drops off. I just need to refine my green beer taste buds so I can recognize when the yeast are done cleaning up.

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Old 10-13-2008, 06:54 PM   #4
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Excellent post yuri, this will be a good discussion...wish i had a bit more input. I'll back the comment on herbs, spices, smoked malts, highly roasted malts, etc. I've encountered this in many brews...and also might add that there are, by default, some BJCP styles that lend themselves a bit more to the "speed beer" idea. Anyone have any input on this?

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Old 10-13-2008, 07:45 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yuri_Rage View Post
[I]

Note that I've mentioned nothing about aeration. That's because I don't worry about it. I just pitch lots of healthy yeast so they won't have to reproduce much. It works...I promise.
This is an interesting point and makes alot of sense if I had taken a moment to think about it.

No need to add oxygen to the wort if you are pitching enough healthy yeast to adequately ferment the wort without a significant reproduction phase.

Sure, your starters might have some lag times with adequate aeration, but if you have the time I'm guessing they'll catch up.

Good stuff!
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Old 10-13-2008, 07:50 PM   #6
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I'm all ears on this one. Looking forward to a very educational thread!

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Old 10-13-2008, 07:56 PM   #7
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Yuri...You are some kind of Show Off! Congratulations...and thanks for starting this thread. I have had 2 conversations this weekend that have inspired me to give this a go. I had a chance to discuss the 10der and Mild experiment with olllllo, and RichBrewer and I were discussing how terribly under pitched most home brew is.
I'll be following your advice on water and pitching rates....WE're gonna make some beer here!

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Old 10-13-2008, 08:46 PM   #8
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I would agree that pitch rate is a biggie. The brewpubs are typically pitching huge amounts of yeast, certainly multiples of a typical homebrewer's WLP vile rate.

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Old 10-13-2008, 08:52 PM   #9
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First off, I'm surprised it takes 28 days for Bud to go from grain to bottle, even with any lagering that might take place.

Second, I do many of the things you mentioned, Yuri, and have the results you mentioned. I tend to brew fairly simple recipes that result in beers with an OG under 1.060 and without crazy amounts of IBUs. I pay attention to my water, and I carefull follow my carefully-planned recipe. I pitch large quanities of healthy yeast from a starter. I use kettle finings, cold crash, and force carbonate. On occassion, I use gelatin finings, as well.

About the biggest difference is that I do rack to a secondary, but that is mostly to ensure complete attenuation and give me a chance to dry hop when I want to. The secondary really does not add any time to my process. I also aerate my wort, but that adds all of five minutes.

Just about every beer I brew is quite enjoyable after 3-4 weeks. I've also brewed a two-week stout and a couple beers that do not incluse dry hops, and they have been great. Shoot, even my 1.100 barleywine was very drinkable when I racked it after a couple weeks.

One thing thing Yuri only alluded to is proper fermentation. Fermenting at proper temperatures (and, I only mean "proper," not "precise") goes a long way toward acheiving quick drinkability. Even if you pitch a larger starter, letting your temperature get out of whack can make for some rough beer.

Now, that's not to say that my beers and many, many others would not or do not improve with time. Of course, they do, even many of the smaller ones. Commercial breweries often move their beer due to financial concerns. They still move good beer within a month of the boil, but that doesn't mean it their product is at its best.

We also ought to deal with lagers, which really do need some time to get right. Take Bud out of that discussion, as it really is an extreme beer, just to the lighter end.


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Old 10-13-2008, 08:53 PM   #10
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I stopped by a new brewing company that's opening in our town in a couple of weeks, owner was nice enough to give me a tour. He'll be selling kegs to local businesses and growlers to the public and I was surprised when he said he's in the keg in 10 days. I didn't think to ask specifics but I will once he's open.



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