Monday, April 18, 2011

Patience & Planning Ahead

Brewing is an art that requires patience - not only on the day of brewing, but also in the days, weeks, months and sometimes years that follow.  A lack of patience can lead to undesirable results.  You don't want to interrupt an active fermentation to move your beer to another fermenter.  You don't want to be impatient about letting your beer condition a while before kegging it.  You don't want to tap a newly filled keg without allowing it time to settle a bit.  Etc. etc.  All of these things can lead to problems with your beer. 

Brewing also requires planning.  If you want to have a beer ready by a certain date, you have to plan well in advance to make sure you hit that date.  Take, for example, an Oktoberfest beer.  Since Oktoberfest is a Lager, it will take longer to ferment and condition as an Ale would.  Preferably, you want to age an Oktoberfest for several months and, ideally, they should be ready by mid September.  That means, if you want to make an authentic Oktoberfest beer and have it ready on time, you should be thinking about brewing it around May or early June at the latest to allow it sufficient time to ferment and condition. 

The Price of Impatience:
Sometimes, as homebrewers, we can forget about patience.  The result is a noticeable difference in the quality of the finished beer.  Take, for example, the batch of IPA I brewed back on March 20th of this year.  It was my first batch of homebrew in nearly seven years and, as a result, I was impatient.  I hadn't had any of my own homebrew in several years, and I was eager to take my first sip and enjoy the fruits of my labor.  So, I left this beer in the primary fermenter for only a week - and in the secondary fermenters for only one more week before kegging it.  To make matters worse, I started drinking that kegged beer almost immediately. 

I could taste a few 'off' flavors in my beer.  But I attributed this to it being so 'young', so I forgave it's problems and kept on drinking it.  Don't get me wrong.  It is by no means a horrible beer.  It has a good color, a good, medium body, holds a head quite well and has an overall decent flavor.  However, it does have it's share of problems, mostly associated with my own impatience.  It's hazy, it's a bit husky/grainy and it's slightly astringent.  Definitely not my best beer and nothing I'd be particularly proud serving.  As a result, I have resolved to work harder at exercising my patience going forward. 

Slow it Down:
The Chamomile Ale I brewed on April 9th, for example, has now been in the primary fermenters for 9 days, and I plan to leave it in those fermenters for nearly another three weeks before moving it to kegs and allowing it to continue to condition for another 3-5 weeks.  Admittedly, I may tap some of it just a bit 'young', so I can bring some to my next Impaling Alers homebrew club meeting on May 20th, but I'm taking my time with this one. 

I also recently learned something new about today's yeasts and how the strains have improved over the years.  For example, when homebrewing was young (back in the late 70's and early 80's), it was common to recommend racking your beer off the yeast in the primary fermenter as soon as primary fermentation was complete.  The idea was to get your beer off the yeast cake at the bottom of the fermenter so that your beer wouldn't pick up any 'off' flavors from the spent yeast. 

Now, that concern is mostly gone.  Most experts agree that, with today's yeast strains, you should only have to rack your beer off the yeast in the primary fermenter if you plan to do a true secondary fermentation (adding more ingredients to the second fermenter for the yeast to do it's job on) or unless you plan to dry hop your beer or add any fruit or other adjuncts.  Less racking of your beer means less chance of oxidation or introducing any contaminants that could infect your beer.  With today's yeasts, you should be safe leaving your beer in the primary fermenter, on the spent yeast, for up to four weeks before having any issues with the yeast imparting any off flavors to your beer. 

Adjusting My Schedule & Batch Size:
All of these considerations along with some equipment restrictions have made me rethink my brewing schedule and realize that I have to slow down a bit.  Originally, I had planned to brew an Imperial IPA this past weekend, but I had to reconsider due to the time my 10 gallons of Chamomile Ale still needs in the primary fermenters.  I only have one water bath with an aquarium heater to regulate the fermentation temperature, and that bath holds only two six and a half gallon carboys.  So, I have to wait until the Chamomile Ale is ready to be moved to the kegs and start conditioning in the fridge before I can brew another batch. 

Another issue is keg and refrigerator space.  I have a fairly large brewing fridge.  It's big enough to hold up to four full Cornelius kegs and my CO2 tank and regulator.  However, when I brew 10 gallon batches, that means two kegs per batch (unless I bottle half).  That would mean I could only have two different beers on tap in my fridge at any one time. 

That seems insufficient, so I have decided to drop down to brewing only 5 gallon batches for a while.  I'm sure I'll still brew the occasional 10 gallon batch, but if I stick to 5 gallon batches it will afford me many advantages.  First, I'll have room for two different batches at a time in the heated water bath I use to keep my fermenters at proper fermentation temperature.  Second, it virtually doubles my capacity to ferment and keg beers - since each batch will only be half the size of what I've been doing.  Finally, with only one keg per batch, I should be able to keep up to four different beers on tap at any one time in my fridge. 

What's Next?:
I still want to brew an Imperial IPA once my Chamomile Ale is done, but I would also like to make an Oktoberfest this year to be ready by mid-September.  Since each of these will only be 5 gallon batches, however, I think that should definitely be doable. 

My Chamomile Ale should be out of the primary fermenters and into kegs for conditioning on or about May 7th.  That means, I can brew my Imperial IPA on the weekend of May 7th or 14th and my Oktoberfest on May 14th or 21st.  I should have enough fridge space for the two kegs of Chamomile Ale and the fermenter for the Oktoberfest, while the Imperial IPA will ferment in my heated water bath. 

I also have a 5 gallon batch of strawberry cider in the works, but that should be ready to rack off the strawberries and into the keg by next weekend (April 23rd).  I plan to keg it and then fill some bottles from the keg a week later.  I will definitely have some of this cider to bring to my next homebrew club meeting. 

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there. 

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