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. 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.
 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!