Best Brewing Practices – Updated 10/1/17

Learning is good. And there’s nothing like experience to help you learn – unless of course it’s learning from some one else’s experiences. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Mashing

For one gallon batches, one gallon of water at 150 degrees for 75 minutes with the lid off.

Efficiency, Water & High ABV Beers

I’ve been using BrewersFriend.com to calculate my original gravity on recipes. In addition to the variable of actual efficiency, there is the amount of water. That is, irregardless of how efficient the brewer is in getting sugar from the barely and into the water, there is the issue of how much that water boils down to. If the former is a constant, the latter can always be a variable impacting your OG reading.

Best practices dictate boil the mash and the wort sans lid. So be it. The question then is, how much water goes into the brew? Using 1 gallons for the grain and an additional 0.4 gallons to sparge the grains over a strainer afterward on top of the kettle should leave me with a fermenter two-thirds full and a BrewersFriend efficiency of roughly 75%. Have a carboy only two thirds full is good for high ABV beers (that will require room to accommodate crazy fermentation, i.e. a substitute for a blow off valve set up), but means less beers for more subtle brews – like a session IPA. So, the question now is – what is the water amount used and efficiency for high ABV beers vs. plain vanilla beers? Here’s my starting point for the moment:

Style Efficiency Water Used Notes
Imperial 75% 1.4 gallons leaves room in carboy for crazy fermentation
Session  75%  1.5 gallons  With just enough wort in the kettle to contain all the spend hops

Related to this idea is maximizing the amount of wort in the fermenter, and minimizing spent hops and other sediment. What this may require is increasing the water used in the boil (and tweaking the efficiency percentage used) given the volume add-ins. On a long enough timeline, I should be able to determine a ratio of add-ins (either by volume or weight) for a ratio of additional water added to the boil. With respect to a beer with few add-ins, a 75% efficiency will get me almost dead on to the actual FG as per BrewerFriend.com, using 1.5 gallons in the kettle, filling the primary fermenter almost to the top while leaving just enough wort composed of mostly spent hops still in the brew kettle.

The above should theoretically decrease my efficiency on the low ABV beers. However, there are other variables involved – including just how much sugar a volume of water can hold. For now, I’ll assume that both 1.4 gallons and 1.5 used will make for 75% efficiency. Again, this should be theoretically untrue – as increasing water will decrease efficiency. I’ll keep recording my notes to see what I get in the future.

Measuring Original Gravity

After you’re done with the boil, pour some of the wort into your device for measuring  original gravity first – and then into the fermentation vessel. If you go in the opposite order, you’ll be left with wort full of hops and/or other add-ins.

Racking to Secondary & Measuring Final Gravity

Racking to secondary provided a good learning experiment – wait until the beer is settled to begin racking. Where the fermenter lives is a different place from where I rack. So I’ve got to move the fermenter. This stirs up the trub, causing it to mix with the beer. If you racking before letting the trub settle after recently shaking the carboy, you’ll end up sucking up a lot of trub when you rack.

I first siphoned from the primary to the hydrometer sleeve before moving the rest of the beer into the secondary. You’ll note that the hydrometer sleeve is full of trub.

hydrometer sleeve full of trub

Lesson learned: wait for the trub to settle after moving the fermenter to begin siphoning.

Last Minute Racking

A lot of these recipes call for all sorts of crazy add-ins: lemon zest, coffee grinds, whole basil leaves, minced jalapeno. This stuff is substantial – taking up lots of stuff in your carboy. This presents a problem when bottling – because this stuff will either get into the bottle or clog up your bottle filling equipment. Normally, racking to secondary solves this problem. However, in a strategy for these add-ins to make the biggest impact, we’ve working with a single fermenter system – with fermentation taking place in one fermentation vessel for four weeks. No racking to secondary occurs.

Last-minute racking

However, for the purposes of both keeping jalapeno seeds and ensuring a proper mix of bottling sugar into your brew, you can do last-minute racking. On bottling day, the idea here is to put your sterilized priming sugar into a secondary carboy – and then move the beer into this secondary fermenter. This leaves all the big chunks in the original fermenter, and ensures a complete even distribution of priming sugar across bottles.

Why not just use a filter? Well, you won’t get your priming sugar (and possible flavor extract properly distributed) and the filter may serve to keep out yeast, preventing carbonation.

Measuring Original Gravity & Final Gravity

OK. I’ve learned that best way to measure original gravity is to do immediately before the wort goes into the fermenter. This is better than doing so after the wort goes into the fermenter, because you may left with only add-ins and hop pellet mush. It’s hard to measure OG when all you’ve got is mush. So, pour into your hydrometer sleeve first, and then into the fermenter.

When it comes to measuring FG, it’s best to measure FG before adding your add-ins, priming sugar, etc. Otherwise, you’re getting in an accurate reading. When measuring FG in conjunction with doing last minute racking, its best to siphon into the hydrometer sleeve first and then into your bottling bucket/bottling fermenter.

Bottling with Extracts

The flavor profiles contributed by add-ins can fade exceptionally quickly. Vanilla extract is a good example of this. So, the take-away is drink you extract add-ins beers quickly – before the add-ins have a chance to fade.

Use at least 2 tbsp of coconut extract per 60 ounces of beer. 

Brewing with Add-Ins

Use a strainer when dealing lots of large add-ins OR mince the add-ins into finer bits. For example, using a Cuisinart on the coconut flakes before going into the wort.

Use cacao nibs and not cocoa powder to add chocolate flavor. (I think that) cocoa powder makes for a grainy/waxy mouthfeel.

Milk Sugar, Sweet Milk Stouts and Lactose

Add milk sugar at bottling, alongside the priming sugar. This works best for a couple reasons:

  • Less material in the wort

Adding milk sugar to the wort means more wort. That means you have mroe wort to cool quickly. Physics dictate more masss requires more cooling power to get to the same temperature as sometehing with less, all else being equal. Cooling the beer quickly is already a challenge. So, adding milk sugar at bottling makes the cooling process easier.

  • Less commitment.

By adding milk sugar at bottling, I’m less committed to how much milk sugar to add. I can add some milk sugar at bottling – taste the product, and then add more if neccesary. When adding milk sugar to the boil, you have to commit to a single amount of milk sugar – which too much or too little.

Yeast

Unless there is some special reason not to, I’ll always be using S05. Adding a new variety of yeast to the mix can drastically change the recipe. If tweaking a receipe, it’s best to make one change at a time. Likely yeast will be the least importance change – so don’t change it. Stick with S05 – an experiment with S04 yield some pretty weird results – like a FG of 1.1!

Bottling Old Beer

Adding yeast at bottling will definitely work to carbonate older beer.