Brewer: John Maier of Rogue Ales in Newport, Oregon
John homebrewed from 1981 to 1987. He took the Siebel Institute long course in 1986 and has worked as head brewer at Rogue for twelve years.
Use a Hopback. If there is one piece of equipment that I really wish I had used as a homebrewer, I would have to say it is the hopback. This is a device used after the boil. We have a stainless-steel screen with a bunch of small holes — big enough to let the wort flow through, but not the hops. Homebrewers could fashion something of similar design, maybe out of a bucket top or perhaps a stainless-steel screen fashioned to fit inside a bucket or a pot. A hopback allows you to get an excellent aroma from the hops without losing some of the aroma characteristics, which might happen if you added the hops at the end of the boil. The longer the hops are in contact with the near-boiling wort, the more aroma is lost. The hopback makes the contact fast and the loss of aroma minimal. It adds tremendously to the brew.
Go Low-Co. I used to use some of the more standard dry-hopping hops like Chinook and Cascade, but I’ve found that the better finishing hops are low-cohumulone hops. Cohumulone varies between 20% and 65% of total alpha acids, depending on the variety. Some varieties, like Cascade, have higher levels of around 40%. These higher levels of cohumulone impart a harsh bitterness to the beer. Low-cohumulone hops are in the range of 17% to 25% and impart more subtle flavors and aromas, and they add to head retention. I prefer varieties like Horizon and Amarillo.
Mash Short. I would shorten the mash time and only do single-temperature mashes. The way malts are modified these days, I think homebrewers waste their time doing a step mash. We do everything single temperature at Rogue, and 148° to 152° F is the best range. The rest time only needs to be about 45 minutes. Lab tests show that conversion can be reached in seven minutes, but I wouldn’t try that. You could try 30 minutes, too. I mean, why extend the brew day?
Brewer: Mark Lupa of Tabernash/Left Hand Brewing in Denver, Colorado
Mark began homebrewing in the early 1980s, then helped to start Tabernash Brewery in 1993. Tabernash merged with Left Hand in 1998.
Transfer with Utmost Care. Transferring the beer is a critical step, and there are two times when you need to be very attentive. The first is when the hot wort is transferred to the lauter tun. It’s important to minimize oxygenation at this stage, since it leads to off-flavors.
The second is the transfer of the hopped wort to the cooling vessel. The goal is to get the wort down to fermentation temperature as quickly as possible. You want to reduce the time that organisms other than yeast can work on it. Once the temperature is below boiling, those bad organisms will start going to work.
Monitor pH. I learned it’s important to monitor pH during fermentation. This tells us how the yeast is managing. The pH drop is the first effect the yeast has in the fermentation process. A rapid decline in pH in the first days of fermentation is a good sign of healthy fermentation. The general starting pH is between 5.2 to 5.5, then it should drop to between 4.4 and 4.6. Anything below 4.2 means you might have some trouble with the beer. But if the drop isn’t low enough, you will not have a complete fermentation. And if it’s too slow, other organisms will have an impact.
Regulate Temps. The need for temperature regulation is often ignored because of equipment limitations. The goal is to create the right environment for yeast. If it’s too hot — above 60° F for most lagers and above 70° F for ales — you’ll get all kinds of by-products, like higher alcohols or fusel alcohols, which can impart a solvent-like and rubbing-alcohol flavor and aroma. If it’s too low — below 40° F for lagers and below 65° F for ales — fermentation will be too slow. We regulate lagers at two levels. First we ferment for three days around 50° F, then we drop for several more days between 42° to 44° F. This limits the diacetyl.
Brewer: Bob Davis of the Weyerbacher Brewing Company in Easton, Pennsylvania
Bob started working at the Weyerbacher brewery in September 1991 and became head brewer in 1998. He brewed at home for about five years before “going pro.”
Count Yeast Cells. Professional brewing forces you to learn things you never even considered as a homebrewer. Yeast is one example. It’s really easy to just grab a packet of yeast and throw it in the fermenter, and then let the little guys do their work. But knowing cell counts and the viability of your yeast is dreadfully important. Being able to do this requires some basic biology and chemistry skills, a microscope with slides, and the ability and patience to count the cells. As a general rule you want to check the cell count throughout fermentation to make sure they are propagating well and are viable, because this guarantees a good fermentation.
Make a Starter. This is helpful whether you count cells or not. However, there are some general rules of thumb. First, a thick slurry always trumps a packet of dry yeast. Second, an active, frothing starter always trumps slurry, which may contain dead, mutated or tired cells.
Watch the Temps. It is often beyond the enthusiasm of most hobbyists to strictly control their fermentation temperatures, but it can be vitally important. Most homebrewers only pay attention to temperature if they are lager brewers, but ale yeasts have preferred temperature ranges as well. Certain ale yeasts give off wacky out-of-flavor-profile esters if permitted too high a primary fermentation temperature, as is evidenced by certain Belgian beers which are fermented in the 80s.
Ignore IBUs. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that IBUs are not the gospel. They are absolutely impossible to duplicate exactly, so there is no point in worrying about doing so. Why? Because your kettle is different from Urquell’s, or Bass Brewery’s, or wherever. They more than likely get better alpha-acid extraction than you could ever dream of with your home brewery. You’ll never know the exact IBUs unless you send your beer to a lab for analysis. Just make the best flavor, aroma, and (above all) the best beer you possibly can, and don’t worry about trying to hit a target IBU.