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Old 12-31-2011, 02:36 AM   #1
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Default Alternative Brewing

I would like to discuss alternative brewing methods with others whom have broken out of the homebrewing paradigm regarding the whole brewing process, from start to finish. Maybe, like me, you have even busted a brewing myth or two!

OK, a little background on me; I have 2 years brewing experience, so I am an intermediate brewer. I brew mostly AG now, but started out pure DME. I will never claim to know it all or call myself an expert in this enjoyable, although sometimes frustrating hobby. I got into brewing because I resented the high cost of beer and the sub-par brews being offered by multi-million dollar breweries.

I wanted to brew good beer cheaply, and have fun while I was at it. However, I was put off immediately when I researched homebrewing and all the trouble and time this hobby required. I thought, oh well, I can start small with my 1 gallon jugs and just try doing it my way. I figured I had better at least observe the sanitation rules, but I was NOT going to boil anything for a freakin' hour!

There had to be a better way, I thought. So, right from my very first brew, I have developed my own methods that make brewing more effortless and efficient. I'm sure what I'm going to publish below will be pure beer heresy to most, but I'm hoping to strike a chord with other brewers willing to break out of the traditionlist paradigm. I'm hoping I can share some easy, shortcut brewing methods with others, and hoping that some other brewers will share their non-traditional brewing methods with me. I am always looking for easier ways to brew without compromising quality.

All right, let's get to it. Below are several of my alternative methods of homebrewing. Please realize that all of these methods have been used repetitively and produced wonderful beer! I didn't think of all of them, but I put my own twist on most everything.

1. When I sanitize with StarSan, I use a gauged medicine dropper and only mix a pint to a quart of sanitizer at a time. You don't need to soak everything, if cleaned well ahead of time. All that is needed is surface contact for ~30seconds or more with whatever you're sanitizing. It only takes 1.5ml of StarSan for a quart, according to the manufacturer, I believe, so you won't be buying sanitzer for a long time!

2. Easy, efficient, water saving bottle sanitizing method: use a baster and squirt a full shot of StarSan into each bottle, swish around and dump back into your quart of pre-mixed StarSan. Do this one bottle at a time. Not as easy as bottle tree, but effective and cheap, with minimal equipment used.

3. Ditch the Hydrometer. Get a Refractometer on eBay for cheap. Then download a free conversion program for pretty accurate post fermentation readings. This way, you can just use one instrument for ALL gravity readings. This is especially important for brewing small batches.

4. Brew in smaller quantities if you don't need 5 gallons at once. I have never brewed more than 4 gallons at a time, and my norm is 2 gallons. It's easy to convert from 5 gallon recipes and formulas. I usually brew 2 gallons one day, then the next day brew another 2 gallons of a different beer style. I will eventually have 2 different beers to choose from, instead of one.

5. I am a minimalist. I didn't want to buy a mill, so I used my Vita-Mixer blender to grind the grain very fine, almost flour. It's a myth that your end product will be hazy or that you will release tannins into the wort. You get better efficiency with a fine grind. It only takes me few minutes to grind my grain for a 3 gallon batch. I grind 1 lb at a time, and it takes less than 10seconds per lb in the blender (Vita-Mixer is commercial grade strength though).

6. I use a 5 gallon paint strainer bag and place it into the brew kettle. My grain bill is placed in the kettle, then tap water is added, and I turn the stove on high. When I'm approximately 20 degrees from mash temp, I remove the kettle, place the lid on, and monitor the temp until it's around 150 degrees. I then proceed to mash for only 30-45 minutes. I also have let my mash temp vary as much as 15 degrees with no ill effects. I don't worry anymore about a holding a constant mash temp, it doesn't seem to matter. As long as I'm somewhere around 150, I'm happy. I plan on experimenting with even shorter mash times in the future. So you can see, my mash is transitioning from room temp to mash temp in a few minutes. There's no need that I can see to have pre-heated water and add that to the grain. This is easier! No ill effects, I promise! I only have to use one 5 gallon kettle since my max is 3 gallons.

7. When the mash time is over, I don't bother checking pH, conversion, or any other technical voodoo. I raise the temp to the low-mid 160's, stir vigorously, and remove the paint strainer (grain) bag, then place it in a 5 gallon bucket. I then proceed to do what this process is called; I mash the grain bag with my brew spoon, squeezing out as much of the sweet wort that I can. Then I place the grain bag in the sink to get it out of the way. Next, I pour what I extracted from the squeeze into the brew kettle with the rest of the wort. All the time the temp was being raised toward boiling while I was mashing the bag in the bucket. Another myth busted: no tannins from squeezing the bag. Also, you don't need clear wort, it will all settle out eventually in the fermenter.

8. Now, ready to boil, but not ready to add hops. Why? This one will blow you away: I place my hops in a pint of water in a separate small saucepan, and boil them SEPARATELY for ~2-3 minutes. This apparently has the effect of maximizing the hop utilization since the gravity of water is 0.

9. When my wort has started to boil, I skim off much of the hot break film. I wait 5 minutes, then dump the "hop tea" that I just made into the wort.

10. Now, I merely boil the wort for another 15-20 minutes, make sure I'm at my proper OG and volume levels, and remove from heat.

11. The lid is placed on, saran wrap sealed around the lid/kettle junction, and I place it in my fermentation area. It will be allowed to cool naturally overnight. This is similar to "No Chill", but just left in the kettle, instead, and you must transfer to the fermenter the next day to minimize any risk of infections. Remember, this is safe to do because you have a sterile environment from the extreme heat. If you're worried about something really dangerous getting in the wort overnight, then I advise you to quick chill the normal way. I always have it transferred within 24 hours, and never any infections or different tastes than a 15 minute quick chill. The only drawback, temporary only, is that there is a cooked vegetable DMS smell the next day when you remove the lid. That is alleviated early on during fermentation, so the end product will absolutely not be affected! Also, never any chill haze in my beer, another myth busted!

12. I guess my fermentation process is pretty traditional, so nothing strange to report here, except I sometimes use gallon jugs to ferment in. I have only ever fermented in glass 1 gallon jugs or 5 gallon plastic buckets. No perceived difference in taste, but more chance of infection with plastic, it seems.

13. Here's one that will surely have you wondering about me: When I first started brewing, I didn't have siphon hose, so I just poured the beer from the fermenter into my sanitzed brew kettle. Then, I used a sanitized Pyrex measuring cup, and dipped into the beer carefully, and poured it into each primed bottle through a funnel. Biggest drawback was a little foamy, but accomplished the task, nonetheless. Another possible myth busted here: I didn't get any perceivable oxidation, and the beer tasted great! I will say that because of my small batches, beer doesn't usually last beyond 3 weeks after bottling. So I don't know if my beer would store as long as yours? I have a theory that since there's another micro-fermentation going on in the bottle, that the yeast clean up the oxidation, but I just don't know. I have since siphoned to ascertain any differrences, but I can see none, so far.

14. I scoffed at the notion that you just can't simply reuse twist off bottles and their caps, as long as the caps are in perfect condition. Sure enough, I get great seals just by twisting the caps back on the Ultra bottles. Nice to just twist off the cap when you're ready to drink one! Caution: They are hard to twist off, so you may need a cloth or twist cap remover. I guess the CO2 builds up and swells the gasket, so it's on tighter than a commericially sealed twist off bottle.


OK, there's other things I have done that are off the wall too, but this is about all I can think of now. Just want everyone to know that my fermentation and carbonation times are all normal, my beer tastes normal, and you don't have to spend as much time and energy brewing. I'm not here to disrespect traditional methods, and I have the utmost respect for my fellow brewers. I just get frustrated because I read all these negative posts and people parroting what will happen if you do such and such. Also, I have scoured the forums for alternative methods, and while I have been immensely helped by discovering the BIAB, No Chill, and Stovetop Mash methods, I haven't really found much on short boil AG, boiling hops in water first for increased utilization, and just pouring instead of siphoning when transferring.

I hope you've enjoyed my post, and I welcome all points of view to discuss my processes or any other "far out there" methods. Please just be sincere, because this is not a joke, I seriously brew this way...and it's great!



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Old 12-31-2011, 02:44 AM   #2
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Old 12-31-2011, 03:16 AM   #3
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too late to nominate for post of the year?

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Old 12-31-2011, 03:37 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlterBrewer View Post
However, I was put off immediately when I researched homebrewing and all the trouble and time this hobby required
This paragraph makes me wonder if you have every tried a "traditional" AG batch. Have you?

Quote:
Originally Posted by AlterBrewer View Post
There had to be a better way, I thought.
Better is relative and subjective. Different is a more appropriate word here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AlterBrewer View Post
I'm hoping I can share some easy, shortcut brewing methods with others, and hoping that some other brewers will share their non-traditional brewing methods with me.
Nothing wrong with this, but realize that not everyone is looking to go the "easy" route. I've developed many ways to shorten my brew day to a manageable amount of time, but I enjoy every minute of the time I do spend brewing. If I was looking for a quick and easy brew day, I would boil some extract, add some hops, stick it in my freezer, then pitch some yeast once it cooled.

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Originally Posted by AlterBrewer View Post
Please realize that all of these methods have been used repetitively and produced wonderful beer!
Hang around here long enough and you will see that there are alternatives to almost every single aspect of this hobby.

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Originally Posted by AlterBrewer View Post
1. When I sanitize with StarSan, I use a gauged medicine dropper and only mix a pint to a quart of sanitizer at a time.
I mix up 5 gal batches because they allow me to just dump whatever needs to be sanitized into my large plastic tub and forget about it until I need it. But I reuse each 5 gal batch of StarSan for about 5-6 brew days, including my kegging/bottling and transferring days.

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2. ...use a baster and squirt a full shot of StarSan into each bottle, swish around and dump back into your quart of pre-mixed StarSan. Do this one bottle at a time. Not as easy as bottle tree, but effective and cheap, with minimal equipment used.
Why waste so much time?

I dump my already mixed, previously used 5 gal batch of StarSan into my plastic tub, put 45-55 bottles in there all at once, then start bottling. Your method has to take at least 4 times as long, if not more.

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3. Ditch the Hydrometer. Get a Refractometer on eBay for cheap. Then download a free conversion program for pretty accurate post fermentation readings.
Personally, I prefer more than "pretty accurate", but that's just me. I tried a hydrometer at my friend's house and didn't see how it would save me any time or effort.

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4. Brew in smaller quantities if you don't need 5 gallons at once. I have never brewed more than 4 gallons at a time, and my norm is 2 gallons. It's easy to convert from 5 gallon recipes and formulas. I usually brew 2 gallons one day, then the next day brew another 2 gallons of a different beer style.
This is kinda obvious.

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5. I am a minimalist. I didn't want to buy a mill, so I used my Vita-Mixer blender to grind the grain very fine, almost flour. It's a myth that your end product will be hazy or that you will release tannins into the wort. You get better efficiency with a fine grind. It only takes me few minutes to grind my grain for a 3 gallon batch. I grind 1 lb at a time, and it takes less than 10seconds per lb in the blender (Vita-Mixer is commercial grade strength though).
Other than BIAB methods, this won't work because it would result in seriously stuck sparges. Yes, with small batch and/or BIAB, this is fine. Labs use a crush like this to make fermentable wort for experimentation. But with any other brewing method, this is not the best way to crush grains.

With my drill and my Barley Crusher, I can rip through 15lbs of grain in about 2 minutes flat. I don't see how you can be saving more than 30 seconds using your method, and you're only crushing a few pounds for your typically sized batch. Let's say you crush 4lbs of grain. That's 40 seconds of blender time alone, plus the time spent transferring the crushed grain and to-be-crushed grain as you finish each pound. Now that I think about it, your way might actually be slower.

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6. I use a 5 gallon paint strainer bag and place it into the brew kettle. My grain bill is placed in the kettle, then tap water is added, and I turn the stove on high. When I'm approximately 20 degrees from mash temp, I remove the kettle, place the lid on, and monitor the temp until it's around 150 degrees. I then proceed to mash for only 30-45 minutes.
Plenty of people do this with full 5 gallon, and even 10 gallon batches. Nothing special here. I've done it for wheat beers with very high percentages of wheat.

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I also have let my mash temp vary as much as 15 degrees with no ill effects.
This is the only part I have to call BS on. Let's figure a mash temp of 150º. You end up at 135º and you are basically doing a protein rest. You end up at 165º, and very few starches will be converted because most of the enzymes will denature. While a lot of literature will tell you that ALL enzymes will be dead at this temp, that isn't true. But most of them certainly will and you won't end up with much fermentable sugar. If you are serious about this statement, I'd love to try one of your beers mashed at 165º.

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I don't worry anymore about a holding a constant mash temp, it doesn't seem to matter. As long as I'm somewhere around 150, I'm happy.
Only above average palates are going to be able to tell the difference between beers mashed +/-4-5º, nothing strange here. While you may get some newer or uneducated brewers on this forum arguing against that, anyone whose well read will agree to some extent with this statement.

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I plan on experimenting with even shorter mash times in the future. So you can see, my mash is transitioning from room temp to mash temp in a few minutes. There's no need that I can see to have pre-heated water and add that to the grain. This is easier! No ill effects, I promise!
With good malts and an iodine test, even the most anal brewer can possibly start running off their mash in about 15 minutes. Many people do 60 minute mashes just to be sure they've achieved full conversion. You may be getting all of the possible sugars out of your grains doing it the way describe, but you also may not be. I prefer to know that I am.

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7. When the mash time is over, I don't bother checking pH, conversion, or any other technical voodoo.
I've never checked for PH or conversion (not sure what other technical voodoo exists for the end of the mash).

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I raise the temp to the low-mid 160's, stir vigorously, and remove the paint strainer (grain) bag, then place it in a 5 gallon bucket.
I don't mash out. My sparge water goes in at whatever temp the mash was.

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8. Now, ready to boil, but not ready to add hops. Why? This one will blow you away: I place my hops in a pint of water in a separate small saucepan, and boil them SEPARATELY for ~2-3 minutes. This apparently has the effect of maximizing the hop utilization since the gravity of water is 0.
You definitely are not maximizing the hop utilization this way. There's loads of literature, from many different angles (using plain water, time, temp, etc) that backs this up. If you are happy with this method, that's fine, but it certainly is not maximizing your hop usage.

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9. When my wort has started to boil, I skim off much of the hot break film.
A lot of people don't do this at all. I do with my lagers, but not my ales.

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10. Now, I merely boil the wort for another 15-20 minutes, make sure I'm at my proper OG and volume levels, and remove from heat.
Do you have any picture of your beers? I'd love to see the clarity. Personally, I strive for beers with high clarity, but that is personal preference and nothing more.

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11. The lid is placed on, saran wrap sealed around the lid/kettle junction...
Plenty of people do this, myself included.

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The only drawback, temporary only, is that there is a cooked vegetable DMS smell the next day when you remove the lid.
This is more than likely because of your short boil time. I never smell DMS.

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Also, never any chill haze in my beer, another myth busted!
I am not happy with a lager unless I can read through the glass.

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12. ...but more chance of infection with plastic, it seems.
I don't own a single glass fermentor of any size or shape.

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14. I scoffed at the notion that you just can't simply reuse twist off bottles and their caps, as long as the caps are in perfect condition. Sure enough, I get great seals just by twisting the caps back on the Ultra bottles.
You drink Ultra?

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I haven't really found much on short boil AG,
Myself and many others have brewed without a boil at all.

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boiling hops in water first for increased utilization,
You won't see that because it isn't true. There's plenty of lab-proven literature out there if you are interested.

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Please just be sincere, because this is not a joke, I seriously brew this way...and it's great!
Every brewer should do what works for them. Other than your view on hop utilization and 15º temp swings in the mash, everything you mentioned here is personal preference and many others do either the same thing or something similar.

Brew on!
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Old 12-31-2011, 03:37 AM   #5
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Wow, I got a message that my reply was TOO LONG. That's a first for me. I had to edit it to cut out 440 characters.

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Old 12-31-2011, 03:48 AM   #6
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The icing on the cake would be if you entered your brews into competition and had wins.

Your methods are not too far out there. The common response is "people have been brewing for umpteen centuries".

No chill is the norm in australia. I use it occasionally during the summer months and with certian styles where late hop addition flavors/aroma are not factors.

Brew in a bag is another common mainstream means of extracting those sweet sugars.

Small batches of sanitizers, normal. Spray bottle of star san is my friend.

I'm not thrilled by your means of filling your bottles, in part because it seems that you are doing things the hard way! To each their own. A nice auto siphon and filler tip would be a huge time saver.

Small batches, jugs, standard. Many people keep their mr beers for that exact purpose. I like the idea of many smaller batches full of variety. Grandma used to make wine in a clay jar.

If reusing twist offs works for you, godspeed. A bench capper and bottle tree with a squirty vinerator would save a ton of labor.... of course this is a hobby... Labor is part of the game!

Not so "alternative" afterall! just different strokes for different folks. The end result is the same...a drinkable potent potable.

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Old 12-31-2011, 04:15 AM   #7
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I have only been brewing a few months, but none of that was all that revolutionary.

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Old 12-31-2011, 04:21 AM   #8
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I bottle the same way. Very primitive. I just rack onto my priming sugar in a bucket and use a sanitized 4 cup measuring cup and a funnel to fill my bottles. I have yet to taste the wet cardboard! Still learning of course. So much to know!

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Old 12-31-2011, 04:25 AM   #9
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I bottle the same way. Very primitive. I just rack onto my priming sugar in a bucket and use a sanitized 4 cup measuring cup and a funnel to fill my bottles. I have yet to taste the wet cardboard! Still learning of course. So much to know!
A bottling bucket and wand is fairly inexpensive and wil save time and is so much easier.
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Old 12-31-2011, 04:30 AM   #10
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Wow, I just spent a lot of time reading through a lot of garbage.

If it produces beer you think is good, then have at it.

Some of your techniques are pretty standard, but some are not. Try making 5 gallons+ of a beer, using the same procedures. You might find they do not scale. I also think doing 5 gallons is easier than doing 5 x 1 gallon, or 2 x 2.5 gallons.

Personally, I do 7 gallon batches, and most times I think I don't have enough of each batch ... it goes too quickly. If I only had 12 or 24 bottles of a beer, it would be gone way too quick (Oops that's why you don't taste oxidation).

And I think your boiling hops for 2 minutes in water to get higher hop utilization is bull. I assume you put both the hops and the water in the wort boil after the 2 minutes to actually get some bitterness.



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