Desert Sear

Brewing in intense heat

author Ryan Colvin brewing in the heat of Phoenix, Arizona
Brewing through the intense heat of a desert summer day adds a challenge to homebrewers dedicated enough like the author seen here. Photo courtesy of Ryan Colvin

Brewing in the desert during the summer months isn’t for everyone. The steam of a boil kettle wafting against your face almost feels cooler than the 115 °F (46 °C) ambient air around you. With every minute ticking by, the imminent threat of heat stroke sets in. Instead of reaching into an ice chest next to you for a beer, you reach for water or a sports drink . . . because you have to.

I live in Tempe, Arizona, home base for the Arizona Society of Homebrewers (ASH) to which I am a proud member of. Many homebrewers around here take a hiatus from the hobby during the summer, but not me. I’ve found there’s other crazy people like me who also liked to brew in the extreme heat because it adds an extra challenge to the brew day. I’m going to take you on a journey of what it’s like to homebrew here with the hope that some of the tips I share can be applied to your own summer brew days, whether the temperature gets to triple digits or not.

A typical brew day here from June through August starts at 6 a.m. or earlier in an attempt to beat the heat (though 95 °F/35 °C) at 6 a.m. is hardly a victory. Waiting for strike water to heat up to temperature is a very fast process since the water is already 90+ °F (32+ °C) ambient temperature if it has been sitting in the garage. The mash will hardly need a heating device like a recirculating heat system or heating pad because your loss will probably only be a degree or two in a 60-minute mash. This may be the lone benefit of brewing in this type of heat.

It’s now 7:30 a.m., 98 °F (37 °C), 70% humidity because of the awesome monsoonal storm last night. Your mash is complete and your t-shirt is already soaking through in sweat, but you push on because this is the very moment you have been looking forward to all week. There’s something special about brewing a beer outside with the sun still rising, birds chirping, and the world so quiet around you.

At 10:30 a.m. it’s time to flip that pump on for a big whirlpool hop addition on that hazy IPA your friends have been pleading for you to brew again. The 108 °F (42 °C) temperature is starting to make you feel exhausted but you keep telling yourself “just a little bit longer.” As the aroma of Citra® and Mosaic® take over your senses you start to feel a tingle in your hand. It turns out that scorpion you noticed during the boil did get you and now your right hand is numb. 

11:00 a.m. and it’s time to knock out and start to chill the wort. In the Phoenix area our ground water can get near 90 °F (32 °C) in the summer so it’s very hard to use tap water as a complete way to chill wort. Most of us will choose to knock out to a certain point with tap water and then switch over to a submersible pump in an ice bath to chill the rest of the way down. It usually takes 60 lbs. (27 kg) of ice to get the wort cold enough for most ale yeasts. 

Hmmm, it’s supposed to be 118 °F (42 °C) next weekend, that sounds perfect for another brew day . . .

11:30 a.m. and now it’s not even worth looking at the outside thermometer. The wort has been chilled and moved to the fermenter. Yeast pitched. You get some help from your partner to lift it all into the fermentation chamber because you only have the use of one hand at the moment, damn scorpion! Now, it’s time to crack a beer and start cleaning all that equipment for the next brew day. 

Since being kicked out of the kitchen, we homebrewers around the world have some crazy battle stories like mine to tell. We put up with it all because we love what we do and in many ways, it’s therapeutic. The plus side is that we make a product so special that it brings people from all walks of life around a table to laugh and cry together. I am proud to be a homebrewer and will stay one for as long as my body will let me. 

Hmmm, it’s supposed to be 118 °F (42 °C) next weekend, that sounds perfect for another brew day . . .

Issue: July-August 2023