Dear Mr. Wizard:
Dr. Fermento, what is the fastest time an all-grain homebrewer such as myself who bottle conditions his beer can brew, ferment, and have drinkable beer? I have been asked this question quite often by novices and I usually tell them 2.5 to three weeks. I then state that in order to do this a brewer must have a very active yeast slurry and a refrigerator.
Mr. Wizard replies:
So you wanna know just how fast you can be sippin' your suds after brewing and you're afraid that your friends will be afraid of your beer if you tell them that it is 10 days old vs. 45! If the novices to whom you give advice are fellow brewers, I would tell them that a bottle-conditioned ale can be ready to drink in as little as two weeks but the beer may be very yeasty and have green flavors that will change over time. Most brewers, including myself, feel that a rushed brew is one that is just waiting to cause problems.
When I speak to non-brewers who ask such questions I tend to leave out the many short-cuts that are sometimes used in brewing and tell them the story that includes longer fermentation and aging times. An explanation that leaves people with the idea that beer can be brewed and ready to drink in a few days takes away much of the romance and craft appeal to specialty beers.
On the other hand, push can turn to shove and very drinkable beers can be made in short periods if you have the right tools. For instance kegs help decrease turnaround times in the brewery. At a Saturday mud football game a fellow brewer brought a keg of porter to offer to the participants. We all were impressed with the rich, chocolatey flavors and clean yeast character in the beer and not one of us noticed anything off with the beer. When asked when the beer was brewed, our friend replied "last Monday!" Three days of fermentation, one day to settle the yeast at a very cold temperature, and one day carbonating in the keg was all the time available to make the big game. There are some very well-known microbreweries in this country that have pushed their beers to keep up with the fast growth rate in the specialty-beer market. Some have pulled the feat off without a hitch and others have produced products of variable quality under the pressure of time. Homebrewers would be best advised to take this sound advice: "Serve no beer before its time."
Dear Mr. Wizard:
I've been using sections cut out of pantyhose, knotted at each end, as a hop bag during boil. How does this affect hop utilization? It seems logical that there would be less utilization because the hops contact a smaller volume of water per unit of time than if they were loose in the wort. But then, logic isn't always the best tool. If there is a reduction in utilization, is it enough to require an adjustment to the hop quantity? On a related note, for other boil additions, such as the coriander in a Belgian witbier, is it a bad idea for me to make use of my seemingly endless supply of recycled pantyhose?
Mr. Wizard replies:
Pantyhose are truly a multi-function item! Dryer filters, hair nets, and hop bags can all be made from leftover pantyhose. Since you have this endless supply of recycled pantyhose, maybe you should consider a marketable item made from them!
In any case, boiling hops in a hop bag probably will result in a decrease in hop utilization. The magnitude of the decrease will vary depending on how much hops you try to cram into the hose and will be minimized by using enough hose not to overly restrict the movement of hops during the boil. Hop utilization requires constant tweaking, and you will need to tweak your hopping rate for your pantyhose bag just like anything else. The best way is to simply use your palate and use more or less hops based upon your results. I honestly don't know of a single fancy calculation that you can use to compensate for decreased utilization due to the weight of hops per length of pantyhose.
As you suggest, pantyhose are not just for hops. You can use them for spice bags, dry hopping, brewing your morning tea, or whatever floats your boat.
Mr. Wizard, BYO's resident expert, is a leading authority in homebrewing whose identity, like the identity of all superheroes, must be kept confidential.