Over the years the amount of time I can dedicate to brewing has drastically decreased. When I started homebrewing in college, I had nothing but free time. Then, becoming a single young professional, I still had a lot of time and now more expendable income as well — the perfect recipe for a homebrewer, pardon the pun. Over time though, I got a girlfriend, who turned into a wife, then came a house, then kids. Each step along the way my pool of free time got smaller and smaller. However, the passion for brewing went in the opposite direction. As you know if you are reading this magazine, the more you learn about brewing, the more you want to try.
Over the years I developed a way to get the most out of my brew days. Since I now only have the time to brew once every couple months, I have to brew bigger batches. I quickly found out that 25 gallons (95 L) of a single beer got old really quickly. So, I started experimenting with splitting a batch into multiple fermenters and pitching different yeasts, or adding different secondary ingredients like dry hops and fruit additions. After doing this for a few batches, I noticed that the beers just never turned out different enough from one another to make it worth the effort of cleaning and sanitizing the extra fermentation vessels. That’s when I started experimenting with adding dried malt extract (DME) or sugar and steeping darker grains in the kettle to get very different beers from one brew day. After a lot of trial and error, I came up with a process that results in four distinct beers out of a single brewing session.
With the goal of getting four very different beers from one kettle of wort, you have to think about what really makes one beer different from another. For me, it really comes down to a few main things: Yeast expression, starting gravity, color, adjuncts, water chemistry, and wood aging.
Yeast is obviously the easiest one to deal with. You simply need multiple fermenters and a large enough kettle to fill all of them with one batch. However, like I mentioned in the opening, with a few exceptions (mostly sour-related), different yeasts in the same wort just doesn’t differentiate each beer from one another to the level I am looking for.
Next is the starting gravity. This can be done a few different ways. For Belgian styles and a few other styles of beer you can add a sugar solution (cane sugar and water) directly to the fermenter to boost gravity and dryness. Another method is to add dried malt extract (DME). The best way I found to add this is during the whirlpool. This is much easier if you use a counterflow or plate chiller, or use the no-chill method. The reason for this is you will want to run off some of the lower gravity wort to a fermenter prior to adding the DME to boost the gravity for the next fermenter. Keeping the kettle of wort hot here and chilling on the way to the fermenter allows you to both dissolve the DME easily and make sure it is sanitized by the hot wort. It can be done without a counterflow/plate chiller if you wanted to dissolve/sanitize the DME in a small amount of water on your stove separately and make a very high gravity solution to add directly to the fermenter, but the counterflow/plate chiller makes this a much simpler method.
For color you can use a very similar method as for boosting starting gravity, but instead of adding DME to the hot wort, you can steep dark and caramel grains with a mesh bag or some other heat-safe strainer to add color and/or sweetness and body to the wort to follow. Other options here are products like SINIMAR® or Belgian candi sugar.
The addition of adjuncts is another way to significantly differentiate a beer. Normally I use things like fruit or spices, but this can literally be anything edible.
Water chemistry can drastically change the beer’s expression. Starting with a neutral profile and adding gypsum or calcium chloride to the fermenter can really set the different style apart.
The final method to create a different beer is to age it on wood (oak or other) — whether you have a small barrel, or use barrel alternatives such as chips, cubes, spheres, etc.
Planning out four beers
The first step is to think through and plan your brew day. Keep in mind it will be longer than a normal brew day and require much more planning, so you will want to start thinking about it well in advance. There are endless possibilities on the combinations of beers you can make with these methods, so it really depends on what beers you want to drink and how involved you want to make your brew day. My general rule is to design the brewing process to go from light to dark, low to high gravity, and low to high bitterness/hoppiness. Here are my tips for designing the brew day:
1. Think about what beers you like that have similar base grain bills. For example, a saison and a hefeweizen are basically the same grain bill with 50/50 or 60/40 Pilsner malt-to-wheat.
2. Think about beers that don’t have grains as the star. For example, an IPA could be many combinations of base grains because the hops are really what you are trying to showcase.
3. Create the base recipe. This is basically the recipe for the first beer you will run out of the kettle. You just scale it up to the full volume of your system. In my case this is 30 gallons (114 L). So, if my lightest, lowest ABV, lowest hopped beer is a helles, then I would enter my ingredients for that into my brewing software as if I were making 30 gallons (114 L) of it.
4. Clone that recipe and then scale the batch size down to a volume that equals the full batch minus the batch size of your first beer. For example, my full batch is 30 gallons (114 L), and I want 10 gallons (38 L) of helles. Then I would clone that full recipe and then scale that clone down to a 20-gallon (76-L) batch size. This is my new base recipe for the remaining three beers.
5. Add additional ingredients to the scaled down recipe to make the second beer on your list. If my second beer were a saison, I personally wouldn’t add anything to adjust the gravity in the kettle. I would just boil some cane sugar and water in a saucepan on my stove and add that to the second fermenter before running more of the original wort into it. That would boost the gravity and help dry out the second beer. But I would add some hops to the kettle to increase the bitterness to get the bite I want in a saison. You add those hop additions to that cloned recipe, which now increases the base bitterness for your next two beers as well.
6. Now clone the recipe again and do the same thing as before. I want 5 gallons (19 L) of saison, so I take 20 gallons (76 L) from the previous recipe clone and subtract 5 gallons (19 L), resulting in 15 gallons (57 L) remaining. Now I scale the new clone down to a 15-gallon (57-L) batch size and work from there. My next beer is going to be an old school IPA, so get ready for some crystal malt. I add a pound (0.45 kg) or so of crystal 40, and enough DME to the recipe to bring my gravity up to around 1.065. Then I add my hops to get the flavor profile I’m looking for and increase the bitterness.
7. Clone the recipe for the last time and scale it down again. I want 10 gallons (38 L) of the IPA, so I subtract 10 gallons (38 L) from the 15 gallons (57 L) of the previous recipe and scale it down to 5 gallons (19 L). For the last beer I want an imperial stout. So, I add a mix of dark grains and more crystal malt to the final recipe, as well as some more DME. I might even use a Munich DME or something like that to boost the malt backbone on this one. I don’t have to add any hops because the ones I added for the IPA
Write it all down
Now I have a recipe. But since this is a much more complex brew day than most, I like to make a list of steps to follow. It’s not just that there are more steps than a normal brew day, but there is also more cleaning due to the multiple fermenters. I write down every step of the day so I can just go down the list after each thing I do and see what comes next. I didn’t do this when I first started this method, and there were many more mistakes than I care to admit. The list may not rid you of mistakes completely — with so much happening in one brewing session, mistakes will sometimes happen — but it will reduce that number.
Here is a sample brew day list:
1. Heat 16 gallons (61 L) of carbon-filtered water to 166 °F (74 °C) in mash tun.
• Add crushed Campden tablet.
• Add 20 mL lactic acid (88%).
• Add 20 g calcium chloride.
• Add 12 g calcium sulfate (gypsum).
2. Heat full hot liquor tank (HLT) for sparge water.
• Add Campden tablet.
3. Mill grains into buckets.
4. Add grains to water in mash tun, mix and recirculate.
5. Check pH and adjust if needed.
6. Clean fermenters.
7. Check temperature after 30 minutes and heat if needed.
SPARGE and BOIL
1. Vorlauf mash then transfer full liquid contents from mash tun to boil kettle (start heating boil kettle).
2. Add half of HLT water to mash tun, mix, and recirculate until clear.
3. Transfer full liquid contents from mash tun to boil kettle.
4. Repeat until boil kettle is full.
5. Bring to boil for 30 minutes.
6. Sanitize fermenters.
7. Add 1.5 oz. (42 g) Magnum hops.
8. Add yeast nutrient.
9. Recirculate wort through chiller and hoses for last 5 minutes of boil
COOL and TRANSFER
1. Turn off burner.
2. Recirculate the wort for about 10 minutes (whirlpool).
3. Make sugar solution for saison on stove in kitchen (1 lb./0.45 table sugar in ~4 oz./118 mL water).
4. Turn off pump and let stand for two minutes for whirlpool to settle before running off.
5. Runoff 10 gallons (38 L) of wort to the helles fermenter (Speidel #1), chilling during transfer.
6. Add table sugar solution to saison fermenter (carboy).
7. Add saison hop addition, 15 g gypsum, and whirlpool for 10 minutes.
8. Run 5 gallons (19 L) of wort to saison carboy.
9. Add IPA hops, 6 lbs. (2.7 kg) DME, and 1.5 lbs. (0.68 kg) of crushed crystal 40 in a grain sack to kettle and recirculate for 15 minutes.
10. Runoff 10 gallons (38 L) of wort and transfer to fermenter (Speidel #2).
11. Steep the remaining dark/crystal grains in last 5 gallons (19 L) of hot wort for 10 minutes.
12. Add 3 lbs. (1.4 kg) of DME.
13. Chill and runoff to last fermenter (FastFerment).
14. Pitch yeast in IPA and saison fermenters.
15. Move helles and stout to fermentation fridge to cool to pitching temperature, then pitch yeast.
When you get really good at running your brew days like this, you can even throw in the cleaning/sanitizing of kegs and the transferring of last week’s batches out of their fermenters, in prep for this week’s brews. I like to reuse my yeast from the previous week’s batches. If you do this, you might want to plan both brew days at the same time so you can maximize your variety and utilize the large amount of yeast you will have for the second brew day. Maybe do some strong lagers that normally take an obscene amount of yeast to do them right.
Tips for success
When planning a four-batch brew day like this there are a few tips that will help you be successful.
1. Don’t drink, at least until you are running off into the fermenters. This is by far the biggest factor in the resulting beers. I often fail at this, so trust me, I know from experience.
2. Make sure to have all ingredients on hand, and have some extra DME around in case you don’t hit your gravity or your recipe calculations were off (this is good practice for any brew day, but especially important for a complicated one like this).
3. Normally I will keep the mash water profile very neutral so I can add gypsum or calcium chloride to the fermenter to adjust for the specific style. This can make a big difference in flavor and mouthfeel for the different styles.
4. Be prepared to improvise. Things will sometimes go wrong — don’t panic, just work through it and everything will be fine.
5. Typically, I don’t use this method if I am brewing for competition. You will need to cut corners on some styles, so even though this practice produces great beers to drink, it might not result in beers that perfectly align with style definitions.
6. If you do want to enter them in competitions, choose one or two of the beers and really try to hit those recipes to style.
There are many combinations of styles that you can brew in this manner, where each style builds off of the ingredients from the previous. To help get the ideas flowing, here are some of my favorite 4-in-1 examples from past brew days:
Lagers and Ales
1. Light Lager – 85% Pilsner malt, 10% Vienna malt, 5% flaked corn, German Magnum hops (10 IBU).
2. Amber Mexican Lager – Add Munich DME to desired gravity and whirlpool a little more Magnum hops, (to get 5–10 more IBU).
3. Belgian Dubbel – Add dark Belgian candi syrup to the fermenter.
4. Barleywine – Add a bunch of Maris Otter DME and more American hops (Chinook/Cascade). Also add gypsum to the fermenter.
Notes: This set is relatively straightforward. Distinguishing flavors of the different beers relies heavily on the yeast and DME additions.
1. Session IPA – 50/50 Pilsner/pale malt, 30 IBUs of whatever hops you like (including some in the whirlpool). Add gypsum to fermenter.
2. Pale Ale – Add some pale DME and gypsum to fermenter.
3. New England IPA – Add some wheat DME to boost gravity, add calcium chloride to fermenter, and multiple dry hop additions (some during active fermentation).
4. West Coast DIPA – Add more pale DME, maybe a touch of crystal or Munich DME, bring back to boil if you want more bitterness out of the whirlpool hops you already have in there. Add gypsum to the fermenter.
Notes: Each of these four beers will be dry hopped differently in their fermenters and playing with different yeast strains can help set them apart as well. I don’t recommend this 4-pack on this large of a scale if the beers won’t be consumed rather quickly. It’s not easy to finish that much hoppy beer without a lot of help before it starts to go downhill. I generally limit it to one or two hoppy beers per wort. However, if you’ve got a lot of hop-loving friends this may not be a problem.
All Pilsner Malt
1. Light Lager – 100% Pilsner malt, 10 IBU noble hops.
2. German Pilsner – Add some Pilsner DME and more noble hops to boost IBU and aroma.
3. Saison – Add sugar to kettle to boost gravity and dry out the beer. Also add gypsum to the kettle (see
4. Belgian Tripel – Add more Pilsner DME.
Notes: Most of my favorite beer styles start with a 90–100% Pilsner malt base. Boosting the Pilsner’s gravity with the Pilsner DME will give it a similar character as if you used a pinch of melanoidin malt in your grist. You can move that gypsum addition around depending on how crisp you like your Pilsner. I would leave it out of the light lager, but you can add it to the kettle after that, or after the saison, or just pick and choose by adding it directly to the fermenters where you want the hops to pop a bit.
If four beers sounds too ambitious or your maximum batch size makes three beers from one brew more reasonable then you can do that too. Here are a couple of suggestions for brewing three beers from one wort:
Wheat and Pilsner
1. Hefeweizen – 50/50 Pilsner/wheat malt, 10–15 IBUs of German hops.
2. Saison – Add sugar solution and gypsum to fermenter.
3. New England IPA – Add some Pilsner or wheat DME and a bunch of juicy, citrusy hops in the whirlpool and to the fermenter to your liking. Also add calcium chloride to
Notes: I like my saisons to be nice and crisp, so I add a little gypsum to that fermenter. The 50/50 Pilsner/wheat base works great for a New England IPA. It gives a nice neutral, slightly sweet backbone for the hops to shine. I like to add a small amount of dry hops to the New England IPA fermenter at yeast-pitching. I think it adds a nice layer of hop flavor and prevents hop creep by introducing the enzymes during fermentation.
1. Pale Ale – 90% Pale malt, 10% light crystal, 30 IBU Cascade hops spread throughout boil.
2. West Coast IPA – Add some pale DME and sugar to boost gravity and dryness. Add more American hops of your choice. Depending on how bitter you like it, you can bring the wort back to a boil.
3. Barleywine (or Imperial Stout) – Add pale DME, steep dark grains like Carafa® and chocolate malt if you are going with the stout.
Notes: Here are three really classic American beers that I can never get enough of. All three of these beers are great to have on tap whenever you can. They are crowd pleasers and easy to crank out. Probably the easiest of the brew days on the list.
There are countless ways that you can utilize the methods outlined in this article. Even if you don’t have a large system the ideas can be scaled down for small batches. The number of beers you make can vary from two to infinity depending on your scale and imagination. The point is, variety is important, but so are the other things in life. So, we need to think creatively on how we can accomplish both without too much compromise. Especially in the times we live in now, where 9 out of 10 beers on every menu are some form of IPA.