With a little planning, some creative techniques, and the right equipment, you can drastically reduce your brewing time, still make great beer, and have fun too.
Do you ever feel like you just can’t find the time to brew? It takes too long, there’s too much to think about, too much to do. If that sounds like you, maybe it’s time to assess the way you brew. You can cut down your brewing time. Just do a little planning and follow a few simple guidelines. Whether you are brewing all-grain or extract, you needn’t spend a lot of time in the brewhouse on brew day.
Set aside a half day here and there for brewing and a few minutes in between to plan your brews, and you’ll put the spark back in your brewing relationship. Spend some quality time with your hobby, not quantity time.
Simple Principles of Efficient Brewing:
- Do everything in advance that you possibly can.
- Write a plan for your brew day and stick to it.
- Simplify your process as much as possible.
- Learn to do two or more things at once.
- Invest in equipment that will aid efficiency.
- Eliminate unnecessary steps
- 7. Clean all equipment thoroughly after use, before it is put away.
- 8. Enlist the help of a friend and share duties.
Brewing is waiting. Waiting for water to boil, waiting for enzymes to do their job, waiting for sugars to be rinsed, waiting for liquid to boil again. The key to an efficient brew day lies in both minimizing waiting time and turning necessary waiting time into productive hours instead of lost hours.
There will be times during the brew when you have things to do immediately to prepare the next step, and there will be times when you have considerable time gaps with nothing to do. Use those gaps to be creative, take care of business, or just have fun.
There are two stages to planning. The first is the ongoing process of thinking about your brew. This may happen consciously, or you might one day just wake up and decide what you want to brew next. Appreciate the fun you can have planning and setting up the brew, and take care of some of the logistics well in advance of the brew day.
Stage One Planning:
- Make a list of all ingredients, including malt, hops, and yeast. Also include gypsum, Irish moss, and priming sugar as needed. Buy the ingredients well in advance. Make sure you have the right equipment and accessories on hand for the whole process to minimize trips to the homebrew shop. This includes items such as bottle caps, airlocks, and hoses.
- If you’re using liquid yeast, prepare yeast starter in advance. Leave plenty of time to culture them up to the proper pitching amount.
- Do all calculations in advance. Many of these you’ll do when making your ingredient list: grain amounts, target gravity, color, and bittering units. Calculate others as well, such as mash water volume and strike temperature, sparge water temperature, and length of the boil.
Stage Two Planning:
Stage two consists of all those things you can do the night before your brew day to make your job easier.
- Write a plan for your brew day. Write down specific times and record each step in the process. Think in advance about ways to save yourself time and do two things at once.
- Measure out hops and other ingredients, such as specialty grains for steeping, and place them in individual bags or containers labeled for quick use.
- Do any set-up that you can. If possible, rinse and set up equipment such as the kettle to heat the mash water for the start of the day. Or assemble the mash tun and fill it with grain. If you filter your water, filter it the day before and fill the kettle. All of this preparation takes only a few minutes in advance but will add up to time saved on brew day.
Now that you’re practicing good principles of planning and are managing to get more done in less time, use a few tricks to shave off more minutes.
- Purchase good equipment. Using well-made, efficient equipment is one of the most effective ways to make your brew day faster and produce better results. Equipment that is easy to clean and assemble or disassemble is crucial. Mash tuns with a greater surface collection area will give you higher extract in less time, for example. Some other key equipment:
A powerful propane burner. Heating water and bringing wort to a boil are two of the most time-consuming steps in brewing. Powerful burners (100,000 BTUs or greater) can boil 10 gallons of cold water in 25 minutes. Propane burners range from $35 to $80, but a sturdy, high-output jet burner can generally be found at restaurant or homebrew supply stores for about $50. Time saved: 20 to 30 minutes.
- Wort chiller. If you are not already using a wort chiller, adding one now will make your day much faster and minimize your beer’s risk of contamination. Good counterflow chillers are the fastest and can easily be sanitized by pumping hot sparge water from the kettle through the chiller on the way to the hot liquor tank. Counterflow chillers should cool five gallons of wort in 10 to 20 minutes. They cost $50 to $80, but making your own is a cheap alternative.
- Immersion chillers will cool five gallons of boiling wort to pitching temperature in 30 to 45 minutes. They can be purchased at your local supply shop for as little as $25, or you can make your own. Try attaching a garden hose to the immersion chiller and coiling the hose in an ice bath to speed up the chilling time. Time saved: one to three hours.
- Pumps. Pumps are handy for brewing large batches in all-grain systems and for sanitizing. Simple pumps operated by a power drill can be found for less than $20 and will help you move large volumes of sparge water quickly. Small pumps with their own motors run around $80. Time saved: five to 10 minutes.
- Bottle washers, mini-kegs, and CO2 kegging systems. Mini-kegs hold about a 12-pack of beer, are naturally conditioned, and dispense with small CO2 cartridges. Cleaning, sanitizing, and filling one mini-keg will save substantial bottling time and is a cheap alternative to full keg systems. Mini-keg systems with kegs, tap, and CO2 cartridges can be purchased for $50.
- Full kegging systems will cut your bottling day from about four hours down to one. The disadvantage is the cost. Full keg systems cost $130 to $200, and you will need a spare refrigerator to cool the kegs.
Use simpler techniques: Put hops and grains in boiling bags instead of adding them loose to the wort and straining after the boil, for example.
Don’t make extra work for yourself by sanitizing items that don’t need it. Remember that your equipment should be clean, but nothing needs to be sanitized until the last stages of the brew: chilling and carboy filling.
- Try splitting the day. One of you starts the brew and brews through the sparge. Then the other comes on and finishes the brew through pitching.
- Take blocks of time out. During a waiting time, one can take a few hours to run errands, returning to provide a break for the other.
Minimizing Bottling Time
Bottling can be a tedious and time-consuming operation. Most of the work involved with bottling comes from the need to clean, de-label, and sanitize lots of bottles. The most important thing you can do is to make sure you thoroughly clean all equipment immediately after use. Then you will only need to rinse the equipment off and sanitize it on bottling day.
- Rinse bottles completely with warm, soapy water after each use and store them in a box or enclosed space where they will not collect dust.
- Set a limit to the accumulation of new bottles that will need label scraping. For example, every six new bottles collected will be de-labeled, cleaned, and put away.
- If you have a dishwasher, use the “heat dry” cycle to sanitize bottles.
- Use a dilute sanitizing solution that does not need to be rinsed.
- Use large (22-ounce) bottles and/or mini-kegs.
- Invest in a kegging system. For large batches you will immediately cut your bottling time in half.
The few hours you actually spend making and bottling beer should be well worth the accomplishment of having fresh, hand-crafted beer to share with your friends. After all, brewing beer should not be a chore. Enjoy yourself and make the whole process fun.