Wasting my time
Resting my mind
And I’ll never pine
For the sad days and the bad days
When we was workin’ from nine to five
– Pink Floyd, “Biding My Time”
In February, a friend just starting out with extract brewing came over to observe my all-grain brewday. The hot liquor tank had just been fired up for the mash-in when he arrived at 10 a.m.. I mentioned casually that I would be working until about 5 or 6 p.m.. He looked at me in wonder and said something like, “Wow. I can’t imagine what would take eight hours.”
Of course, he was speaking from his experience with extract. Many all-grain brewers probably can imagine an eight-hour brewday. The mash and sparge – i.e., the very things the extract brewer doesn’t have to contend with – can easily add three hours once you factor in the time to heat water, vorlauf, etc. Not to mention time spent cleaning the extra equipment. But my friend’s curiosity got me thinking about whether I could be doing anything differently to speed up my brewday.
I was reminded of the article “Speeding Up Your All-Grain Day” in the March/April 2012 issue of Brew Your Own magazine by Dave Louw, which applied the Critical Path Method of project management to an all-grain brew day to find the shortest distance between Point A (setting up equipment) and Point Z (putting away clean equipment while yeast happily devour the meal you’ve set for them). The principle Louw applied was to identify the tasks that must be done sequentially and focus on those, working in the other required tasks while those are taking place. If you sanitize your fermenter while wort cools, you’ve got the idea.
By sticking to the Critical Path, Louw illustrates how an all-grain brewday can be begun and done in less than 4 hours, though his example is extreme to illustrate a point. There’s an abbreviated 45-minute mash. A no-sparge lauter. A 60-minute boil. All legitimate techniques, but not “my way”. Yes, my 60-minute mash, double batch sparge, and 90-minute boil make for a nearly nine-hour brewday – ten in summer thanks to slower cooling. But I get consistent results. And I’m happy brewing my way.
Was that the choice I was faced with? Between being happy and being fast? I set out to test this on a recent brewday.
NOTE: The following is about as scientific as I get. Unlike some of you homebrewers with backgrounds in engineering or chemistry, I’ve got a liberal arts degree in English and classical studies. I can’t build an Arduino-controlled HERMS system, but I can identify zymurgic puns in classic works of literature and explain the origin of the word “Saccharomyces”.
The brew was about as simple as it gets: a Maris Otter-Fuggles SMaSH ale. 9 pounds of malt and a handful of rice hulls, 1.25 oz of hops each at 60 and 15 and 1 oz at flameout, and Safale S-04. Nothing fancy, just a vaguely English fast-flocculating pale ale to fill an empty keg in 4 weeks. It seemed right for my experimental “rush brewday”.
I did everything I normally do – no shortcuts – but not wasting any time, either. At no time was I sitting on the porch reading a book and enjoying a beer or coffee. I did little tasks while the Critical Path was running: set gear up while water heated, measured out hops while the mash rested. During the boil I even got a head start on the one task that’s so unpleasant I usually save it until the end, or the next day: cleaning.
I didn’t stop. I was so busy going about the various tasks of my “rush brewday” that I completely forgot to hook up the iPod and listen to some Rush.
And I finished in six hours. My “Critical Path” looked something like this:
|Critical Path||Other Tasks|
|11:00||Setup pots, burner, etc.|
|11:15||Begin heating strike water|
|11:45||Preheat MLT with strike water|
|11:55||Set mash timer for 60 minutes|
|12:15||Heat sparge water|
|12:35||Boil water for yeast rehydration|
|12:55||Vorlauf & first runnings|
|1:05||Begin batch sparge #1|
|1:20||Vorlauf & second runnings|
|1:25||Begin batch sparge #2|
|1:40||Bring kettle to boil|
|1:57||Set boil timer for 90 minutes|
|2:45||Prepare wort chiller|
|3:25||Sanitize thermometer for cooling|
|3:27||Start wort chiller|
|3:58||Stop wort chiller|
|4:00||Whirlpool cooled wort|
|4:05||Sanitize fermenter, hoses, etc.|
|4:30||Transfer wort to fermenter|
|4:40||Aerate with aquarium pump|
The one thing I should point out is that I did leave some of the cleaning for the next day. Just the mash tun and brew kettle, which I like to soak overnight with PBW anyway.
The beer isn’t in the keg yet, but it’s going to be great. I hit my target OG and FG perfectly, so consistency was achieved. And I did it all in six hours instead of nine. That’s a pretty definitive result (see note above re: “This is as scientific as I get”). But I was exhausted by the end of the day. And though of course brewing is always better than nine hours at the ol’ day job, my rush brewday was nothing like the relaxing experience I usually get as the other reward for my brewing labors.
And isn’t the fun why we do it? It’s why I do it.
So I’ve done some English-major-level science and answered my own question. Yes, for me it is a choice between happy and fast. And experience has cured me of my desire to brew faster. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to know that by busting my ass, I can get a simple brew done in six hours and still have time to shower before leaving the house if I have evening plans for dinner … or whatever.
But unless I have to, I’m not gonna.
I vote we go back to the Slaughtered Lamb. – Jack Goodman, An American Werewolf in London
Homebrew inspiration can come from strange places. My favorite homebrews are the ones that were inspired not just by an imagined set of flavors, but by places I’ve visited, stories I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, etc. I love using the language of malt, hops, and yeast to tell a story about something more than beer. The trick, though, is that brewing is not an abstract art. A good concept might make for a great conversation starter, but no matter how high-concept a brew is, if it doesn’t taste good I don’t want to be stuck with five gallons of it (I graduated from a Catholic university in New Orleans, but that doesn’t make it a good idea to brew a crawfish & Bananas Foster porter with Trappist ale yeast for the alumni picnic). Finding the right balance between concept and taste is the ultimate goal.
In spring 2011, Lisa and I visited the United Kingdom for three weeks and spent a lot of time in pubs. We drank real ales from so many regional breweries whose names I can’t remember (except for Brains – #1 among zombies in South Wales) served at cellar temperature, often from beer engines – though at one awesome hole-in-the-wall in a one-road hamlet in Scotland I think I remember drinking beer dispensed from a cardboard box. The taste and aroma of real British ale, even the sight of the interior of a British pub, are vivid and powerful memories for me.
In summer 2012, I saw John Landis’ 1981 film An American Werewolf in London for the first time and my nostalgia was kindled by an early scene in the film at a fictitious Yorkshire pub called the “Slaughtered Lamb”. So I brewed a special bitter with English malts and American hops that I named Kessler’s Rampage Special Bitter in homage to the film’s main character and titular werewolf. Not long after I kegged it my sister-in-law and her husband, a native Sussaxon*, came to visit for a week and emptied the keg while I wasn’t looking. I took that as a compliment, and decided to brew it again this summer.
The 2013 version was 94% (8 lbs) Fawcett’s Optic malt, reportedly the base used by Fuller’s and other UK breweries. 4 oz each of Crystal 40 and Crystal 150 rounded out the grain bill. Last year I used Crystal 120 instead of Crystal 150, but otherwise the malt profile was the same in both versions and pretty typical of the style. The mash was one hour at 155°F.
The hops were my chance to freestyle. American homebrewers can be pretty predictable in their hop selections for English pale ales – occasionally someone might get bold and use a little Fuggles, but generally it’s either East Kent Goldings, East Kent Goldings, or another … what’s it called? oh yeah, East Kent Goldings. I suppose that’s what judges look for in competition, but the lack of originality disappoints me. American pale ales and English pale ales are cousin styles, and I see no reason why American hops can’t play a role in a damn fine English bitter if the right ones are chosen – i.e., probably not the 4 C’s (though I suspect someone has done it well).
In 2012, I used exclusively American hops in keeping with the inspiration (you can see both recipes here). For 2013, I deviated with one English hop in the mix:
- 0.5 oz Warrior (15% AA) at 60 minutes
- 0.5 oz Progress (6.6% AA) at 15 minutes
- 0.4 oz Willamette (4% AA) at 5 minutes
Although Progress is English and Willamette is American, both are Fuggle derivatives, so I thought they would pair nicely together despite being a slight variation on the original inspiration. Consider it an homage to Jenny Agutter’s character Alex in the film, the English love interest of the American David Kessler (yes, I can rationalize anything with my artsy symbolic bullshit).
I pitched Safale S-04 into the wort with an OG of 1.046. True to the old adage that “English yeast do it faster,” the fermentation bottomed out at 1.010 less than 48 hours later, leaving me with an ABV of 4.7%, palpable but still sessionable. I kegged it after 4 weeks, and after 2 weeks under refrigeration it’s just starting to get good enough to drink.
I don’t have any of last year’s batch left over to do a true vertical tasting, but I’m a little disappointed in this year’s model. I’m not sure the Progress hops were a good addition (sorry, Jenny). I’ve used them in more robust English-style beers like porters and stouts to great effect, but with so little malt character to hide behind, I’m getting a strong tropical fruit flavor though it is mellowing with time in the keg. The other fault is less diacetyl than I like in this style, though it may be hiding under all those Progress hops and may become more obvious as the hop flavor mellows.
So the beer’s not perfect. But considering I half expected the skies to open up, swarms of locusts and some ancient BJCP curse to fall upon me when I put hops other than East Kent Goldings in a special bitter, I think I’m still coming out ahead. I don’t get the feeling of being an American lost in Britain in this version, but my second Transatlantic ale experiment is good enough to brew again. And again. Until I get it right.
*Sussaxon: a native of East or West Sussex. My brother-in-law assures me this although this term is technically accurate, no one uses it. We both like it because it makes us think of the people of Sussex as mud-splattered, armor-clad Saxons performing great acts of manly savagery like raiding cottages across the southern coast of Great Britain. They’re not.