Friday, August 15, 2014

My Brew Day Checklist in 15 Steps.

I've noticed a bit of a silly trend of people with not enough to do while heating strike water or mashing. But then forgetting steps, using the wrong hops, the wrong yeast, whatever the case may be in their haste to make up time later on in the brew day. Generally people not enjoying the process because it feels rushed.

Look, the fact of the matter is it's gonna be ~4hrs from start to end of the brew day (less if extract, but I'm talking all grain) assuming you've got an immersion chiller (or other chilling method aside from ice bath) and have your process dialed in. There are a number of things that must be done, but you don't need to rush any of it at all. If you find yourself rushed to do anything, you lack the ability to manage your time. Learning how to manage your time during your brew session is essential to making it an enjoyable, relaxing time of day. It's going to take up a good chunk of your day, you should enjoy it!

Now if you bought the wrong ingredients at the LHBS or whatever the case may be there, can't help you with that! The one time that happened to me so far I just rolled with it and made some tasty beer regardless. Not the end of the world long as you have base malt and yeast, really. Now I make sure to write down my list (or print it off) before I purchase ingredients and double check before the purchase. But if you just wing it, sometimes that happens.

Below is my brew day checklist.

The first step, start strike water heating. For me, it takes anywhere from 30-45 minutes to heat the strike water depending on the grain amount (which dictates water amount). During this time, I do the following:

1: Make sure ingredients are all sorted properly. For me this means make sure the grain is ready to be milled, remove the yeast from the fridge, the hops from the freezer, and lay it all out on the countertop. Once I verify all the things are there and as they should be, I mill the grain.

1a: Play with my daughter and/or let her help mill grain. Remember that I put the yeast back into the fridge, and remove it so it's at room temperature when it's time to pitch.

2: Calibrate! Seriously, your thermometer(s), hydrometer, and if you have one your refractometer. Calibrating them regularly ensures you get the correct readings, and make the best beer you can. Especially important for the mash is going to be the thermometer.

One of the biggest reasons people have issues in the mash is a faulty thermometer. The other is the crush on their grain, but if you've had it crushed at the LHBS there isn't a lot to be done about that 'cept double mill it and hope for the best. Personally, I say get yourself a mill and then the biggest thing to keep an eye on after you dial in the crush is your temps.

You don't necessarily need to calibrate every time you brew. I do it because it's part of my routine and it takes a few seconds to do.

3: Double check strike/mash volume numbers. If you use software to do it for you, you're probably fine with this. I prefer to do it myself. Only takes a few seconds with a calculator anyway.

3a: Play with my daughter.
I've sorted out that I have about 20 minutes to watch her out front on her bike before it gets close enough to strike temps I need to actually be inside/paying attention. Usually works out well enough, she gets bored after about 20 minutes anyway. Worst case scenario we go into the backyard and play more out there 5-10 minutes later anyway.

If you've got a lot of time left after doing that, pour yourself a beer and relax. At the very least you've done things that needed doing to make sure your brew day goes smoothly. If you aren't brewing with a small child you'll probably have more down time, but I love my brew days the way they are and would be bored without her help.

Note that you may have less time than me while heating strike water. I use two burners on my gas stove, and it gets the job done just fine but it isn't fast by any stretch. If you use propane you probably don't have time to play nearly as much as I do so you'll need to adjust accordingly. 

Second step to the brew day is the mash. Once I've mashed in and everything is set, there is about an hour to kill. What to do, what to do... for me it's simple:

4: Check calculations again. Prep mash out and/or sparge water.

4a: Have debate as to the existence of monsters with my daughter. Convince her starsan kills monsters.

5: Sanitize things. Get a bucket of starsan going and use it to sanitize things for post-boil. I do this early so if I forget something the first time I'm putting things in the bucket there is still tons of time to add things later.

5a: Have my daughter drop things into the bucket and try not to splash it everywhere.

6: Prep for grain disposal. I dump mine into a compost heap in the backyard, I like to prep a hole to dump it into.

7: Test my immersion chiller. I haven't had issues with it, but I still test it during the mash on each batch. If I'm going to have an issue I'd rather discover it prior to having it in the wort to chill it.

8: Finish mashing (mash out, sparge, whatever I'm doing for that batch) and transfer to BK.

For steps 6-8 here the little one is usually bored of the process and watching a movie instead. This makes the rest of my brew day flow smoothly without interruption except occasionally getting her a snack or telling her not to try to eat a blanket. I just chill with her on the couch when I've got nothing to do at the moment. Sometimes she naps! Oh those rare nap days...

Third step to the brew day is the boil. I'm usually so well prepared for this step by now that it takes almost zero effort:

Bring to a boil and make sure it doesn't boil over. Seriously. Think you've got enough headspace? Yeah. You're probably going to be wrong sooner or later (try it with a rye beer, I dare you). Or get some FermCapS. I just haven't done that yet, not sure why. Keep a spray bottle (water, starsan, whatever. Just have one ready) if you don't have another method of foam control for boil overs. Spray the crap out of it when the foam starts to rise and you'll kill it before it's a problem.

10: Add hops throughout the boil according to hop schedule. This step benefits from the double checking you should have done at the start of your brew day. If you lined up your hop additions properly before this, you won't need to worry about using the wrong ones when it comes time to add 'em.

Steps 10 and 11 happen more or less at the same time for me. Unless you're doing a crazy hop schedule, you've got time to do 11 while 10 is going on. I almost always can.

11: Dump grain and rinse out cooler & bucket that I milled the grain into. Leave upside down in the backyard to dry. Spray down grain bag that I use with hose. This entire process should take no more than 5 minutes if you do it slowly.

12: Add immersion chiller and whirlfloc @ 10min.

This is by far the easiest part of the brew day. By now everything should be ready to wind down.

13: Chill the wort to pitching temps & transfer to vessel you're going to ferment in. If I can't get it to fermenting temps, chill as much as I can then allow to drop to pitching temps overnight, no big deal.

The next two steps can be done in either order. For me it depends on time of year - if the ground water is cool enough to drop to pitching temps I'll do 15 then 14. Otherwise it's 14 then 15.

14: Clean. Rinse out everything immediately, scrub the kettle if need be. Clear brew related clutter from the kitchen. Because I already cleaned the cooler, rinsed the grain bag and the bucket that held the milled grain in step 11 the final cleanup process really does not take much time at all.

15: Pitch the yeast. DONE!

That wasn't so bad, now was it?

I allow myself an hour for strike water/grain prep time even though I never use the full hour. I give myself an hour and 15 minutes for the mash, because sometimes I go over. Sometimes I don't. The boil I do 60-90 minutes depending on grist (Pilsner malt I go to 90). Sometimes I boil longer if I overshot volume.

That's roughly ~3.5hrs. If I clean while I go it doesn't add much time at all. Chilling time adds a little, but shouldn't add that much. All told, an extra 30-60 minutes and I should be 100% completely done with everything. That means the house looks like it did before I started (hopefully cleaner).

I round up to 4.5hrs for my total brew schedule just in case. If I finish before that, great success! I've only gone over once, and it was one of my first all grain batches. I've learned a lot since then.

To me it's a fairly therapeutic way to spend the day. I get to focus my energies on making something delicious. I get to engage my mind sorting out the correct volumes, temperatures, etc, and I get to spend quality time with my daughter throughout the process. She may not fully understand what we're doing every step of the way, but she knows that I like it and that she can help. Plus grain is tasty, so there is also that.

Some people might read this and think "wow, that's a lot of steps and work!" That is an accurate statement. It is a good amount of work and steps. However, it all leads to the final product. Delicious, delicious beer.

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