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Speeding Up Brew Day

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Most of us are strapped for time. Jobs, family obligations, household chores, and other activities compete for our precious time. Brewing is a hobby, which by definition is "an activity done during one's leisure time for pleasure." Unfortunately, we all don't have the same amount of leisure time and we sometimes need to find ways to speed up our brew day. But that is the great thing about this hobby--it can be tailored exactly to your lifestyle.
I have a lengthy commute and often work long days, so my time at home on a weeknight prior to bedtime is about 4 hours. My normal brew day takes 5-5.5 hours. Simple math = Brett can't brew on a weeknight. So let's see how much time we can save with these techniques.

Below I present five options to help decrease the time it takes you to make beer on brew day. Utilize one or more of these ideas to make your brew day more efficient. It is your hobby--make the most of it!
  1. Organize Prior to Brew Day
  2. Decrease Mash Time
  3. No Sparge
  4. No Chill
  5. Go Small
1. Organize Prior to Brew Day (Time savings: ~30 min)
I can hear the critics already trying to argue this one. Yes, I realize you are spending the same amount of time on another day to accomplish organization, but for some people it's very useful. Some of our time constraints are dependent on trying to carve out one solid block of time for brew day.
a. Setup - Some of us don't yet have a dedicated brew space or sculpture. Brew day can require setting up and tearing down all brewery equipment, which can burn a lot of valuable time.
b. Water - Make sure you have already measured the volume you want for your strike water and have it sitting in your kettle on the burner ready to be lit. Also, if necessary, make sure your brewing salts have already been measured and added to your strike water vessel.
c. Grains - Have your grains weighed and crushed. If you are concerned about freshness you can grind your grains while your strike water is being heated. But make sure the weighed grain is already in the hopper, ready to be milled.
d. Recipe - I am often guilty of adjusting recipe values at the last minute (this is what happens when you keep a steady supply of grain on hand). However, your recipe should be determined prior to brew day. Trust your gut and stick to that recipe. Don't make "game-time" decisions, as this can slow you down. Your recipe should be printed out and on your clipboard, ready for note-taking.
You can probably accomplish all of this in about 30 minutes on a day prior to brew day, and thereby shave 30 minutes off of your brew session.
2. Decrease Mash Time (Time savings: ~15 min)
While not appropriate for all recipes, I have been having great success with doing a 45-minute mash. With today's highly modified malts, starch conversion happens quickly. I am tempted to try a shorter (30-minute) mash for some beers. There is even a thread which talks about mashing for only 10-20 minutes! I haven't noticed any difference in attenuation or OG when mashing for slightly less time, and I am saving another 15-20 minutes in the process.

3. No Sparge (Time savings: ~10 min)
I have always batch sparged. At first I performed two separate batch sparges. Each time I would add the sparge water and stir, wait a few minutes and then vorlauf a quart. If you have the room in your mash tun to just add all of your sparge water after mashing, you can vorlauf once and drain into your boil kettle. This is a smaller time savings, but can still shave off a good ten minutes.
4. No Chill (Time savings: ~15 min)
No chill brewing has been utilized by many brewers in an attempt to save water. In addition to being great for the environment, it can also save some time. It usually takes me about 15 minutes to chill my wort down to pitching temperatures. This time greatly varies with the temperature of the groundwater, so the actual time savings from this method will be dependant on your own climate. Another consideration is that you don't have to worry about cleaning a chiller.
5. Go Small (Time savings: ~15 min)
It takes less time to bring a smaller amount of water up to temperature using the same equipment than it does to bring a larger amount of water to temperature. If you normally brew ten gallons, consider a five gallon batch. If you are a five gallon batch brewer, consider a 2.5 gallon batch. A smaller batch will take less time to heat up and cool down. It also means less grain to weigh and mill, and less water to measure. Cutting your batch size in half could save 15 minutes, if not more.
Another variant of going small is doing a BIAB if you currently use a two or three-vessel system. One vessel means less cleaning.

Adding it All Up

If I were to employ all five of these techniques I should be able to cut an hour and a half off my brew day, which would put me under four-hours total! I will have to give this a try someday on a weeknight to squeeze in a brew!
What are your tricks for making a brew day go faster when you are under a time crunch?
Let us know in the comments below.
One thing I like about BIAB is allowing the bag to drain into the kettle while the wort heats to a boil. Not necessarily a time savings, just an overlap of activities that doesn't require focus on two separate activities. Sometimes just the perception that you're saving time or effort is just as valuable as the time you have gained.
This isn't technically a "time saver", but while planning my brew day, I also factor in things that I can do WHILE brewing. There's a lot of waiting around (mashing, boiling, etc.) involved, so I try to plan a chore during the process. For example: I'm planning my next brew day for Friday, and I already have plans to clean the back gutters (long overdue) during the mash, and the front gutters during the boil. Two less things I need to do AFTER brewing.
I feel like not sparging saves you way more than 10 minutes. Correct me if I'm wrong. But when I sparge (batch sparge), I stir it, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlauf, then run off fairly slowly. Takes me closer to 30 minutes.
I was in the same boat. My solution was small batch BIAB. Brew days are about 3.5 hours from the time I dig out my gear until I turn the lights out with the yeast pitched and everything clean. Heating less water (3 gallon batches) was way faster. BIAB is no sparge and only one vessel to clean. If I really like a recipe I'll find tone and do a big batch but I rarely brew the same beer twice so the small batches are nice.
The problem with no chill is that you can develop DMS or lose hop aroma if you just let your wort chill naturally then pitch yeast when it gets down to room temp.
I route my hot chiller water output to my mash tun and add PBW and then use it for cleaning when my wort is in the fermenter.
Try a 30 min mash, I've had nothing but success with this method.
AG Brew days are clocking in @ 2.5 to 3 hours for 5.5 gal batches.
I prepare my water and grind the grains the night before and while it doesn't save me lots of time, it makes the brew day less hectic to start. Once the fire it lit I can then sit a bit and go over everything without rushing to make sure I have everything I need for the rest of the brew day.
If I setup the night before, I can do an all grain batch in 3 hours. It helps that I have multiple burners so I can heat strike and sparge water at the same time, but I'd say the biggest place I save time is in the mash. I only mash 20-25 minutes, until an iodine test says conversion is complete.
I also fly sparge, and I think fly deserves a better look in terms of time saving. Sure, while batch spargers can get the wort out of the kettle quicker, they then have a longer wait between runoff and the moment the wort starts boiling. Contrast that with fly sparging, my wort is boiling as the last drop comes out. I also run off the first 2ish gallons of wort very quickly, until the liquid level gets to the top of the grain bed. Then I slow the sparge to normal rates. But in this way I can sparge in about 25-35 minutes, and be boiling at the end of it.
I fly sparge but since I have two burners I heat my wort while sparging just making sure it doesn't boil before I finish sparging. When I'm done sparging I can get a boil pretty fast since the wort is preheated. I also weight out all my hop additions in separate bowls and put them in order. I put my whirlfloc tablet and yeast nutrient in the order of the hop bowls so I don't forget to add them.
When I batch sparge my wort is boiling as the last of my sparge goes in too. I start the boil with the first runnings and then add the sparge water to the mash tun, then as I drain that the keggle is still heating and is boiling as I pump out the last bit.
Another way to save time per batch is to actually lengthen the brew day. All of my brew days are double batch days. A single 15 gallon batch takes 5-5.5 hours, but a double only takes about 2-2.5 hours more due to the amount of overlap of processes and savings in both setup and cleaning time. That brings the average time of a 15 gallon batch to 4 hours - and that's without shortening sparge times or chilling.
I've found that using automation (BCS for me) is incredibly helpful in keeping the processes moving exactly when they should. It also allows me to multitask without fear of missing the timing on a brew step since the controller audibly alerts me on things like fly sparging, hop additions, boil start, chill start, etc.
You could try a PicoBrew Zymatic (saw one this weekend) and brew during the week, Brett! 4 hours for 2.5 gallons and it is "fully automatic brewing".
I second JonW in doing double batches...saves on a couple of things including cleanup, which most people leave out of the brew time equation. Thanks for the writeup!
I do the same. When making water adjustments it often takes a long time for the salts to dissolve, even with vigorous stirring.
I do 20 gallon batches and agree that setting everything up the night before, while not a direct time saver, does make the brew day easier. The thing for me that IS a tremendous time saver is the use of bucket heaters. Woth the HLT and the Boil kettle both filled with ~20 gallons of water, a bucket heater plugged in overnight will get that water up to about 180 degrees. Easily cuts 45-60 minutes off brew day to be starting with water already at temps to mash in.
1) Motorize the mill
2) Install hose outlets close to where you'll brew.
3) Place a shed or outdoor storage box close to where you'll brew to hold all your brewing equipment.
4) Minimize the amount of tools you use (and thus need to clean) without compromising quality.
5) Get one or more friends to help out, especially during clean-up.
Two more things, start with heating up water using a heat stick and a lamp timer, then use the same heat stick to speed up heat times.
On national homebrew day I finished in 3 hours with my lhbc, when some guys were just finishing their sparge!
my time saver: only make 10+ gallon mashes, and either queue it up for after the first keg kicks, or change something between each half:
I vary yeasts, hop-stands, dry hops, fermentation temperatures, clear/dark sugars, fruits -- basically anything that can be done after the boil. You can get two VERY different beers with minor modifications to each half after the boil is done.
This saves me about two and a half hours per 5gal batch (I take 5.5 hours for a double batch, instead of two batches at 5 hours each). I only do the dishes once, mash once, boil once, instead of TWICE for two batches.
I'm interested in the no sparge. I'm switching to a keg mash tun so I would mash with say 5 gallons, which I expect to get say 3 out of. Then add 4 gallons, bringing the temp up to 168 and then just drain it all at once? Any efficiency hit from that? It seems you wouldn't be washing as much sugar from the grain as a second stir and sparge. You could also just no sparge with all the water from the start and take your efficiency hit.
While reduced volume may shorten your brew day, increased BTU will do the same. My HLT has 9000w of elements, this brings my water to strike temp in a fraction of the time compared to most propane burners. It takes about 12 min for 12-14 gal to get from room to strike temp if i recall correctly. I've also heard of people setting there hot water heater to 170-180f the day before a brew, i have a toddler and this would be a horrible idea for me but for some it may be a possibility.
@JonW I currently do a similar concept but i will brew two or more batches at the same time with 10-20 min between each batch. The only stage that requires me to stagger is chilling. I use BIAB so the only extra equipment requirement is a BIAB bag, kettle, and burner.
I really need to speed up my brewday. At the moment a 10 gallon batch is taking me over 8 hours. The biggest bottleneck is chilling - my wort chiller is really inadequate for the volume I'm brewing. Adding this to high ambient and tap water temps and it takes much too long to get down to pitching. An upgrade is in order as soon as my bonus comes from work.
My mash and boil are both 90 minutes too... I've not tried anything shorter yet, but am now encouraged to give it a go. Anything that makes brewing likely to happen more often is good.
Another time saver on mash conversion is use the iodine test. I won't go into lengthy explanation here, Google it. Easy way to tell when starch conversion is complete. I've had batches complete in 20 minutes, even when recipe called for 90 minute mash.
There's a Basic Brewing Podcast with a half hour boiling experiment and they notice no difference to a 60 min. Something else to consider.
Impossible. Sure, your first runnings might be boiling, but adding that second infusion will drop you quite a bit. And not just X degrees below boiling, but also over that energy threshold that it takes to get from "not boiling at 212" to "actually boiling." This isn't negligible time, especially in an article about saving time where every minute counts.
@kanzimonson I'm sure that conpewter is using the fly sparge method, where sparge water is added as the mash tun is draining into the BK.
In that case, the wort from the Mash Tun is slowly added to the BK while the BK wort is brought to temp. The sparge happens at a rate that allows the BK to heat faster than the sparge can cool it down. It's a pretty common technique for fly sparge brewers.
Brett, I really appreciate this article. I do a lot of these things already to shorten the brew day when I'm feeling pinched for time. I haven't really had to utilize them all for every brew; sometimes I just get a sudden urge to brew and just jump in.
But, I do believe that preparing for brewday the day before has always been helpful. I tend to misplace things, or forget that I need certain items and it's much better to discover that, and to have all my brewing items ready to go beforehand.
I find it faster NOT to measure my water the day before brewing. Overnight, the water will come to room temp, about 70 degrees, meaning I have to raise the strike water temp about 90 degrees. If I use hot tap water instead, about 120 degrees, I only have to raise the strike water temp 40 degrees. The time to measure the water is significantly less than the time to raise the temp the additional 50 degrees.
So my suggestion is to use the hottest tap water you can get and measure on brew day.
I do 5.5 gallon BIAB batches in about 3.5 hours.
I increased time by purchasing a 220,000btu burner. That alone cuts off at least 15 minutes doing full volume boils.
Also a 50ft chiller instead of the standard 25ft immersion chiller cuts chill time down.
No need for more than one vessel as efficiency is >70% BIAB unless doing a wheat.
Nice article Brett! Good advice. Definitely some useful tips. @JohnK93, I would recommend cooking and brewing with COLD water though. Hot water can pull in lead from the pipes or other gunk from the hot water heater.
A few threads touch on this pretty well, especially the one linked below. I usually take 3=3.5 hrs using several of these shortcuts (shorter mash, BIAB, heating water with multiple pots, immersion cooler, etc.)
I am so glad that most times when I have a brew day with the fellas, it's a brew day. I am blessed with a great schedule and a loving wife who understands I need a bit of time to let off steam every once in a while. We brew, drink great beer, and tease each other. I totally get that sometimes you gotta brew a batch under the gun, but make sure every once in a while you take time to enjoy a brew day and how lucky we are to be part of this history of great people making such a wonderful drink that brings us all together. As much as I hate the quote from the book we all have read, but "Sit back, relax, and have a homebrew."
I hear some of you guys using "hot water" from your tap. I've always been told that using hot water for cooking gets you not only sediment from your hot water heater but also traces of lead from all the sweated joints... With copper anyway? I'm not sure if you polybutylene or PEX? Has this been debunked?
Using tap water is not an option for me. Due to high alkalinity I basically use RO water for every brew that's not a stout, and then I only use about 50% tap water.
This will all become moot when I wire up my future system with a function that will have my strike water ready when I get home from work. =8D
I BIAB 5 gal batches. I can easily do 4 hour brew day.
Get a big burner, start heating water. Grind grain while water heats. Mash 60 mins. Raise bag on hoist and let drain into BK. Start boil - at hot break pitch hops, boil 60. Chill with immersion to 90*F then put in ferm chamber. Clean up and pitch yeast next morning.
@goingcamping -- Any sediment you might get would be the same stuff that is already in your water anyway. And unless you live in a really old house there is little or no risk of lead from sweated solder joints - lead-free solder has been required by most building codes for decades.
Interesting comment above about getting DMS from no-chill. I've used this method several times and the beer has been good. But the loss of hop flavor/aroma probably is very true. The longer those hops sit in hot wort the more they will behave like boiled hops! To my mind the use of no-chill eliminates a flame-out addition to be replaced with dry-hopping at yeast pitch.
Good comments all!