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4 Tips for Making Great Beer in 15 Minutes

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Would you like to reduce the length of your brew day? Perhaps you would like to move onto something else you enjoy, or maybe there are higher priorities that occupy your time. My motivation for shortening the brew day was the birth of my daughter. Spending less time making beer means I can spend more time with my family. I've honed processes through careful analysis of brewing, and more experiments than I would care to admit. Without sacrificing quality, my brew day has been reduced to just 15 minutes, and I'm not using pre-hopped liquid malt kits. That's two batches of beer in the time it takes Rachel Ray to make dinner. Whether you are looking to minimize your brew time, or simply reduce the time, these tips for efficient brewing can help.
Tell an all grain brewer that you made a great beer in 15 minutes and I bet his eyes will roll and he'll mutter something about extract in a condescending tone, but secretly he's envious. Trust me, I know, that's what I used to do. But just because you're using extract doesn't mean you are making inferior beer. Most of us started with an extract kit, and made all of the same rookie mistakes. For many of us, our first beers had a sickly sweet taste that is unfortunately dubbed "the extract twang." It's not the extract that causes this taste, but often caused by an inadequate pitch of yeast, using tap water, or insufficient aging time (I'll tackle all of these later).
Extract beers have beaten out plenty of all-grain beer in competitions. You don't have to take my word for it, John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff wrote a whole book on it called "Brewing Classic Styles." Ingredients are important in great beer, but more often it's the processes that makes or breaks a beer. If your processes are sanitary, an appropriate amount of yeast is pitched, and fermentation occurs at a constant and adequate temperature, most of the time you'll end up with a great beer. The easiest way to wreck a beer is by experimentation. Checking the gravity daily opens up possibility for contamination. Although fun and adventurous, using new and unusual ingredients often creates unexpected results.
When considering brewing using all grain versus using only extracts, cost will likely be a consideration. You might be surprised to find that extract brewing may actually be less expensive! Even though the fermentables made with extract will cost more than the same gravity made with malted barley, losses during the processes can make all grain brewing more expensive at the homebrew level. A 12oz bottle made using all grain methods cost $0.75 per bottle while an equivalent extract beer cost $0.69. My book "Brewing Engineering" discusses this in detail in the "Efficient Brewing" chapter.

Tip #1: Use extract and bottled distilled water.

The distillation process kills virtually any microbes, leaving the water sanitized. Because extract contains minerals from the original brewing process, there is no need to add additional minerals to the water.

Tip #2: Use water from the boil kettle as it is heating to hydrate dry yeast.
Dry yeast stores well and can be keep on hand to brew on short notice. There are a number of conflicting methods for hydrating yeast: Is water better than wort? Does temperature effect viability? There have been plenty of experiments that you can read across the web about this, including one that I did demonstrating temperature effects on viability. While it may be hard to come to a consensus on some of these points, most people will agree that the manufacturer has a pretty good idea on how their yeast should be handled. Fermentist recommends using one half cup (115ml) of 80F (27C) water to hydrate an 11.5g package of yeast. It is also very clear that the yeast should be sprinkled on the surface and not immediately mixed in. In my experimentation, I have found that this last point is most crucial. The time the yeast floats on the surface is directly related to the viability of the yeast.
When the kettle reaches 80F (27C) pour one half cup of water into the fermenter and sprinkle the yeast on top. Just let the magic happen. Using this technique my viability commonly measures 98%.
You might wonder if you have enough yeast in one package, or if you are over pitching. You could use a pitch rate calculator, but it's really even easier than that. Each 11.5g package of yeast contains enough cells to ferment 7lbs (3kg) of extract.[1] If the recipe is anywhere between 4 and 12lbs of extract I'll just use a whole package. If the beer is over or under pitched by a factor of two, it often goes unnoticed. Using the yeast directly from the package reduces the chance of contamination, speeds brewing, and simplifies the process.
Tip #3: Reduce the boil volume.
When I was learning to brew beer it was drilled in my head that a bigger boil means better beer. While this may be the case when brewing with all grain, this is simply not the case when brewing with extracts. When all grain brewing, large mash water volumes increase the sugar extraction efficiency, but with extracts, the sugar has already been extracted. Dried malt extract has already been boiled by the maltster and then packaged and sealed. The chance of contamination is very low if the package has not been opened, and furthermore, bacteria are not able to propagate easily without water. So, only boil what you must- the hops and grains. You may have heard that some malt extract is required in order to isomerize the alpha acids, but anyone who has made hop tea can tell all you need is hot water.
Tip #4: Only boil enough water to achieve the correct fermentation temperature.
Put your immersion chiller in the closet and don't worry about having enough ice, because you aren't going to need either of them. Boiling wort can be combined with refrigerated distilled water to result in wort that is at the target fermentation temperature. Generally you'll want to boil one sixth of your wort and use refrigerated water for the rest. I typically boil about one or two quarts (or liters) for a 1.5 gallon (6 liter) batch. When water of two different temperatures is combined the resulting temperature is the weighted average of the two temperatures. This can be expressed by the following equation:
(V_boil T_boil+V_water T_water)/(V_boil+V_water )=T_result
What might be more useful would be to solve for the ratio of volumes given the target fermentation temperature and your refrigerator temperature.
V_boil/V_water =(T_result-T_water)/(T_boil-T_result )
You can use this equation as is, or use the table below to determine the amount of boiling water to add. To use this chart, find where the temperature of your refrigerated water intersects with your target fermentation temperature. The percent listed at this location in the chart tells you what percentage of your total water volume should be boiling water, the rest of your water will be refrigerated water.

With these tips, you can reduce the amount of time you spend in the kitchen, and enjoy more time with you friends, family, or just enjoying your beer.
Keep an eye out for more posts on 15 minute brewing.
[1] At 21 billion cells per gram, each 11.5g package contains 242billion cells. A pitch rate of 0.75 billion cells per L/P is equal to 0.75 billion cells per 10g or 75 billion cells per kg. 242 billion cells / 75 billion cells per kg of extract = 3.23kg)
***
When Steven isn't busy writing for HomeBrewTalk or brewing great beers he can be found on his blog, WoodlandBrew.com. Please show Steven our support by visiting his blog and signing up for updates!

 
These are all great tips, but you definitely need information on hopping and specialty grain steeping.
Regarding hopping, how are you getting target IBUs without using pre-hopped kits? I imagine you're doing a very short boil, so aren't you adding an insane amount of hops? Sounds great for a pale ale but what about more subtle beers that still require a decent bittering?
And as for grains, if you're steeping something, it definitely needs to be boiled at least a little. I assume you steep as the water is heating? Any other details to share there?
I'm right with ya on saving time so you can be with the family, so I've started cutting as many corners in wort-production that I can. I'm still doing all-grain, though, but I've gotten to where I can produce three 6gal batches of beer in about 6 hours. Still, I understand how even that might be more time than someone is willing to spend brewing.
 
I have to echo the question above - how do you get a full bittering addition of hops, without the late hop aroma or flavor, for styles that need that - e.g. stouts?
I guess you can go with a high-alpha hop to reduce the amount of aroma produced, but then you are likely to end up with unwanted hop flavors - high alpha hops generally aren't appropriate flavor-wise for e.g. English styles. Pre-isomerized hopshots could work, but aren't that cheap.
 
The assertion that a 12oz bottle of all-grain beer costs $0.75 is misleading. Buying grain in bulk, and hops in bulk, the cost can be brought down to $0.30-.35.
You have good tips in here, they will benefit many new brewers. However, there are some assumptions that are silly, and as posted above, there are details that need filled in. I will stick with my all-grain thank you.
 
I don't think hop tea is going to give you the bitterness you give from isomerizing the alpha acids in a 60 min. boil. Another idea is to maybe get some hop extract & do a partial boil with that.
Kudos to you, though for experimenting & sharing the results.
 
Just need to clarify the yeast activation process. Are you suggesting I add 1/2 cup water and the yeast to my empty carboy? And can it sit like that for the duration of my 60-min boil (with LME)?
 
I like how this method turns classic all grain brewing upside down.
Given more explanation, I can see where this would be valuable in understanding different ingredients. For example, I'm throwing around the idea of roasting my own black patent malt. This is a great way to test how much color I will get with my own roasted malt. Also, I've always wanted to try making a sorachi ace hefe. I would consider using this method instead of making 10-15 gallons like I'm used to. Hell, i could do it on the same brew day during my mash or boil.
 
I'd just like to point out that the recipes in Brewing Classic Styles were ALL originally all-grain. They were converted to extract and partial mash for the book. I don't think that it is claimed anywhere that those recipes all won competitions in extract version.
And, while it's true that there are a few styles that lend themselves very well to extract brewing, where the finished product can be every bit as good as all-grain, most styles really need at the very least a specialty grain steep to approach AG and there are a number of styles that would require at least a partial mash to get there.
 
As others have said, I'd love to know more about how you boil the hops. This is a great article, but is missing some crucial details for us to be able to give this method a try (how about a sample recipe, too).
 
Thanks Steven, I was planning on making a small batch of apple-ale using Maris Otter whole grains but after reading this piece I bought some MO LME and will see how this turns out. My plan this evening was to brew one batch of apple ale (similar to Graff but without the torrified wheat or the crystal malt) and make 4 different batches of cyser (apple -honey wine) - using different varietals of honey (sourwood, acacia, wildflower (spring) and wildflower late fall) with one local orchard's apple juice formulated for cider makers (pH 3.4 and SG of 1.052 with a fair percentage of cider apples). Being able to really reduce the brew time for the ale will make tonight's project doable. When I make hopped meads - technically that's a metheglin - I boil the bittering and flavor hops in water. And when cooled I add the honey. Never had any perceptible problem utilizing the alpha acids.
 
I agree with the above comments regarding hop isomerization, and I would like to see a process that demonstrates such a brew can be completed in 15 minutes. Surely it takes 7-10 minutes alone to get the initial water volume to boil?
I also think the section on yeast rehydration is largely unnecessary...how does this save time exactly? Why you choose to spend so much time on this (approx. 1/3 of article), but not discuss adjusting hops for short boil times is a mystery. Perhaps it is because you have a blog post about yeast rehydration?
Lastly, I think if you are going to drop the statement that you can brew extract batches cheaper than AG you should back that up with some numbers and not put a link to your e-book. Similarly, you should have demonstrated specifically how this 15 minute brew day works. You end the piece by suggesting this is a multi-part series...forgive me if I don't read the next installment, I feel like you are using this platform solely to promote your blog and e-book.
 
that's extract brewing.NOT ALL GRAIN.all the hard work is taken away by can/bag of extract.
will agree in some way people have won prizes with the above method.
 
Are you suggesting that the entire brew day is only 15 minutes (setup through cleanup) or just the boil portion is 15 minutes? If it's the former, insert eye roll. If the latter, then this is interesting but would like to see more info on hop schedule, steeping grains, etc. (as other posters have suggested).
 
I brew beer because I love the control and the process.
Somehow I find it hard to believe that a 15 minute IPA can truly compare to a beer where all the shortcuts are removed (either extract or all grain).
For me it is all about the process. While I agree there are shortcuts that we can all take, and for many styles the use of extract can result in wonderful beer, the idea of a 15 minute brew day appeals to me as much as a microwave dinner..
 
@bbrim he could be factoring in the extra cost of equipment and propane to go to All grain? Obviously this depends on how many batches you spread the cost over.
 
I have a sour taste in my mouth, and it's not from extract twang. It's the fact that this article was clearly written in hopes to promote a book. And by doing so, causing some debate. If extract brewing was so superior to all grain, breweries would have invested in that technology Ages ago... Time is money. If a large brewery could save time brewing beer in 15minutes, they would. But this article is making a lot of assumptions and candy coating non truths for those naive enough to believe it.
I'm not saying you can't make a decent beer with extract, but you simply do not have enough control with extract. Plus a lot of other negative things I could rebuttle and candy coat in terms of promoting all grain over extract. I can make a good cake with a box mix, but I can make a better cake from scratch.
And don't blow wort up our a**ses about extract being less money. Simply not true especially with buying in bulk.
Good luck on your book...
 
This is crazy talk ( my opinion).
It sounds like this guy who wrote the article, either works for a company that makes dry or liquid extract or sells it.
Sorry guys who love Mr. Beer, but I'll keep making my all grain batches.
 
So you're using distilled water to re-hydrate the yeast? And you've had good success? Everything I've read would indicate that re-hydrating with distilled water would be detrimental to the yeast due to osmotic pressure.
 
There is no way extract is cheaper than all grain. This article details nothing new, it is the Mr. Beer instructions rewritten.
Good luck with your "books" and website. It is disappointing to see blogspam keep showing up in these articles.
 
Another point on a small boil, at a certain point the wort can become super saturated with "IBUs" (for lack of a better way to put it) the point of a full boil is crucial for beer like an IPA you can't make a pliny only boiling a 1/2 gallon of wort for a 5 gallon batch the wort can only absorb so much, let alone only boiling for 15 min. My two cents
 
This article rubs me the wrong way. Book plug. It's completely ludicrous and disrespectful to the art. I totally agree with the user who commented if you want beer in 15 minutes, go to the store. AG brewing for me is all about science, planning, process, and perfection. I have children as well. That's why I brew after they go to bed. I'm not trying to coordinate making beer with my family life. This is a passion I pursue on my own time.
 
@Ajgeo
Yeah I was about to post something like that. For a 5% beer I spend barely more on grains than I would for a 3lb bag of DME.
 
Has this guy ever brewed AG? That's what I'd like to know. When I first got into homebrewing I was one of many that started with extract brewing. And while I was brewing my extract beers I was of the opinion that my beers were good and how much better could AG really be? Then I discovered BIAB and that I had the equipment on hand to make the transition to AG relatively easy so I decided to give it a try. All I can say is, I thought I was making good beer brewing extract, but my AG brews blew those extract recipes out of the water.
It's easy to say extract beers are every bit as good as AG brews, but I have brewed recipes doing both extract and AG and in every case, my AG version was hands down better than my extract version was.
Lastly, brewing is a hobby that I LOVE doing. Why would I want to cut down the time on something that I enjoy doing to just 15 minutes? I have a family with 3 girls and I still have plenty of time to find to spend with them despite taking 4-5 hours out of one day per week so that I can brew. I used to golf a lot and would spend far more than 4-5 hours per week on the golf course. At least when I brew, I'm home and can still spend time with my family WHILE I'm brewing...
 
I don't have any issue with his premise...I love to shorten the aspects of brewing he proposes can be shortened...I can live without standing in a cold garage waiting/watching water/wort to boil. Of all the elements involved in homebrewing, these are only slightly more exciting that cleaning up IMO.
My contention is that his article in no way indicates how one can accomplish shortening the brewday to anywhere less than 2 hours, let alone 15 minutes. This was either because of poor writing/omission of pertinent facts or because his true motive was to drive clicks to his book and blog.
Based on his absence from this comments thread, I think I know the answer. I am also beginning to question what sort of editorial control is in place that allows this sort of article to be put on the front page of the website.
 
I think there needs to be better editorial control of the articles... recently they seem to be for lack of a better word "thin"
 
Thank you for the feedback. Knowing that this information is valued is a big motivator to put the research and effort into writing these articles.
During this series I hope to answer all of the underlying questions that this first part may have raised. An article on hop bitterness for 15 minute brewing is coming up soon that you can look forward to reading.
If this article offended anyone, you have my most sincere apology. If the way you brew is working, then keep doing what you are doing. My intent was to share some tips for those looking to shorten their brew day.
Cheers,
Steven Deeds
Woodland Brewing Research
 
In respond to some specific questions my article has generated:
Is extract really cheaper than all-grain?
When doing a 5 gallon batch or less, for me it is. I have analyzed all of the consumables and losses such as ingredients, (malt, water, yeast etc) fuel, and trub and for me, extract comes out cheaper.
Are the recipes in "Brewing Classic Styles" really award winning recipes?
The introduction to the recipes in the book says they are award winners.
Did you do this just to promote your blog and book?
A big part of writing is because I enjoy giving back to the community, but some of it is monetary. The compensation I receive from Home Brew Talk is allowing me to link my blog and book. The significant time putting an article together is compensated by sales generated from advertising my book and blog.
15 minutes? Really?
Yes. From pot on the stove to in the fermenter. That includes bittering. (... and the time it takes to put the pot in the dishwasher.) It's going to take a few articles to lay down all the ground work so bear with me.
What about an IPA?
Yes. I'll dig into isomerization, kinematic reactions, solubility and everything else you need to know in the next article.
Do you brew all grain?
I used to, but don't really have the time for it. If you have time for an all grain brew day and have a family, I think that's great.
Do you work for a company that sells dry yeast or malt extract?
No. I'm just highlighting some products that I have discovered over the last 15 years.
 
@WoodlandBrew back up the 15 minute from pot to fermenter claim with a 15 minute YouTube video. And don't prepare any of your equipment, hops, yeast starters or addition in advance. Also, clean up should be in there since its part of the brew day. If this cannot be done, I call BS.
Then to top it off, submit that beer to competition and lets see the judges comments/score.
Until you can back the fluff ups with real proof not just, "my research indicates", it's nothing more than over hyped bs.
You can make good beer with extract, but you're claims are so over hyped they're teetering on the line of being a lie. There are a lot of half truths and "in a perfect world" scenarios.
I haven't read the book brewing classic styles, but if they claim they're award winning beers, and it's true that the recipes were ORIGINALLY all grain but converted to extract, you're backing your lies up with lies.
And I want you to fully understand that None of us are aposed to your claim that extract can be faster than all grain, but it's your over hyped claims that we all have an issue with.
The article is written in a way that makes me assume you think your audience is uneducated--especially how you try to sell the idea that all grain Brewers will bash you for this because we're "jealous" and you know this because you used to be one. PLEASE! that comment alone makes me discredit anything you have to say. Go sell your book to an uneducated crowd since that's your demographic.
Btw, do more research on using distiller water in brewing. It's not something you do. And buying bottled distiller water would sure as hell increase the over all cost of an extract beer--well beyond all grain. And to distill your own, will increase time beyond 15 minutes.
 
@Silentdrinker: I actually buy the bit about distilled water although this is the first time I've heard it being used in extract brewing. If DME/LME is made by concentrating wort, then whatever mineral/salts present in the wort will also be concentrated. By using distilled water and assuming you reconstitute the wort to the same gravity, you should have similar levels of water salts as before the concentration step. If you use regular (salt/mineral-containing) water your reconstituted wort would have increased amounts as both the water and the DME/LME are contributing to the overall totals.
Your comment about extra cost and or time using distilled is are good points, however. I'll also add that distilled water isn't something you would want to use in AG brewing, specifically.
 
@WoodlandBrew
"Is extract really cheaper than all-grain?
When doing a 5 gallon batch or less, for me it is. I have analyzed all of the consumables and losses such as ingredients, (malt, water, yeast etc) fuel, and trub and for me, extract comes out cheaper."
Lets see the numbers!
explain how trub is a consumable?
 
Gentlemen,
Chill. Relax, Don't worry; Have home brew. I think there are very good points made here-- 15 minutes refers to "on the stove time". I may not use all his methods, but I sure will consider some, like the temperature / viability angle.
It seems that some respondents are being a bit to accusatory; something like tasting a beer freshly bottled beer and complaining that it's flat. He said there is more coming. . .
 
Sorry, but if you refer to your audience (all grain brewers)as condescending...but secretly envious don't be surprised when people have strong negative reactions. Basic Brewing has done some great videos on 15 minute beers, I am certain they can produce quality beer. There is plenty of documentation of NHC winners using extract.
Why the need to be on the attack of all grain? I do AG, BIAB, and occasionally extract, see no need to argue what's better.
Isn't the whole purpose of this forum to positively inspire people to think of things they wouldn't have thought on their own.
 
@WilliamWS
As told in the book, they started out making a book about making great beers using extract but ended up going a different way. Apparently you can make great beer with extract but I'll also be quick to point out that I never did ;)
 
Nice write up, I'd like to read more if your going to add to this. The only thing I'm really wondering is where your getting your extract for so cheap? I'm trying to think back to earlier times seems like extract was like 3 times the cost of grain. I paid like 70 cents a pound last time I bought 2row. I'd definately buy extract for that much!
 
@ruddyscot 15 minutes "on the stove time" may in fact be what the author means, but that is not what he says in the article. Direct quote from the article:
"Without sacrificing quality, my brew day has been reduced to just 15 minutes, and I'm not using pre-hopped liquid malt kits."
99.9% of people will include setup and cleanup in their brew day. I think that's why people are so mad about this article, it's misleading. If only he clarified that boil time was 15 minutes, you'd see a lot less negativity.
 
I would like to further apologize, this time specifically for one particular comment in my article:
--- Tell an all grain brewer that you made a great beer in 15 minutes and I bet his eyes will roll and he'll mutter something about extract in a condescending tone, but secretly he's envious. Trust me, I know, that's what I used to do. ---
This was meant to be humorous aside pointing the joke back on me. Honestly I think all-grain brewing is right for some people, extract brewing suits others better, and some people are better off just going to the liquor store. That judgment is not something I will decide for anybody beside myself, and I'll do my best not to judge others for their decisions. The comment was meant to capture the superiority that some (not every) all-grain brewer (often unintentionally) express. Before I started all-grain brewing, the message I heard was that all-grain brewing produced a superior product. What I am attempting to communicate is that I do not believe that is always the case.
If you are interested in the cost comparison between extract and all grain, I blew the dust, that had been accumulating for a couple of years, off of a draft blog post. This was a similar comparison to the one done for my book that is cited in the article.
http://www.woodlandbrew.com/2014/11/extract-vs-all-grain.html
 
@WoodlandBrew May I ask where you're buying your extract that you can get it so cheap (or is it that your grain is so expensive)? If I did a hypothetical 5.25 gal batch at 1.042 OG using Northern Brewer Prices (just a standard we all can relate too), all grain wins by a mile (assuming no bulk discount):
DME (5 lbs) = $24.95
LME (6.1 lbs) = $23.22
US 2-Row (8 lbs) = $14.32
I know everybody's lhbs pricing may be different depending on where you live, but it just seems all grain will always be a lot cheaper.
 
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