“I want to brew but I just don’t have the time.” Does that sound familiar?
I know I’ve said it before, and I’m sure many of you have too. Look I get it! Life is busy, maybe you’ve got kids at home, and work full time. You have to help with homework or are taking classes yourself. You’ve got to cook and clean and maintain a yard, then you’ve got other hobbies to attend, and friends to see (extenuating circumstances permitting). And only AFTER you’ve done all those things, can you even think about brewing. At least that’s how I used to think.
Throughout my 10 year homebrewing “career”, I’ve welcomed four children into this world. Though each child brought great joy to my life, each child also made maintaining the hobby more and more difficult, to the point where I would go many, many months in between brew days, maybe only brewing 1-2 times some years. So I had to decide if I was going to retire from a hobby that I loved, or find ways to adapt. I chose to adapt and I want to share the techniques, and more broadly the mindset, which I’ve adopted to be able to maintain the hobby.
When I want to brew it can be difficult to carve out a four to six hour block of time on any given day, so one of my favourite workarounds for this problem is to perform an overnight mash. I happen to have the most free time late at night and early in the morning when everybody else is sleeping, so this method really works well for me.
Basically the process looks like any other all grain brew day. The only difference being that after achieving your saccharification rest temperature, you go to bed and allow the mash to sit overnight, continuing from where you left off in the morning.
I decided to brew a beer and document the process for you.
Brew Day 1 of 2
The first day I had two goals in mind:
1. Get the mash started
2. Prepare a yeast starter
An hour should be enough time to achieve both of those so I got started at 11pm with the goal of being in bed by midnight.
Note: the only thing I prepared previous to starting the “brew day” was creating the recipe, a simple blonde ale, which I’ve provided at the end of the article.
I get to work at 11pm sharp knowing I couldn’t mess around if I wanted to get to bed by midnight. The first thing I do is measure out my strike water and get that heating up ASAP. I brew in my kitchen but store all my equipment in my basement, so the next several minutes are spent hauling equipment and ingredients upstairs.
I get distracted long enough to overheat my strike water (oops) so I kill the heat and while waiting for it to cool, I measure and mill my grains, measure out my salt additions and then add those to the strike water.
My strike water is finally at the appropriate temperature so let’s mash in! I use an old Coleman cooler as a mash tun so I pour all the strike water into the mash tun, then slowly stir in the malt. After confirming a stable target temperature of 66°C (151°F), I close up the mash tun and forget about that for a little while.
I spend the next 20 minutes working on a yeast starter. I start by heating about 700ml water to which I added 60g of DME and allowed the starter to boil for 10 minutes before placing it into an ice bath to cool.
The starter wort has cooled down to room temperature so I pour it into a sanitized Erlenmeyer flask and place it on my homemade stir plate. It’s now 12:12am! But I only have one thing left to do. I check the mash PH to make sure it’s in range. It measures 5.24. Perfect!
Last minute I decide to measure out my sparge water so I had one less thing to do in the morning. I measure it out into my brew pot and place it on the stove so all I have to do in the morning is turn on the element.
Time for bed!
Brew Day 2 of 2
Since last night we got the mash started today, we only have three main goals to worry about.
- Sparge the mash
- Boil the wort
- Chill wort/ transfer to fermenter
I had intended to get up bright and early to finish up this brew but my wonderful wife let me sleep in, so when I finally get out of bed, the first thing I do is start heating the sparge water (remember we measured it and had it ready to go last night). I have a bit of time to kill while waiting for the water to heat up, so I make a cup of coffee and hang out with my kids for a bit.
I adjust the pH of the sparge water to around 5.5 using lactic acid (not necessary but I like to do it).
The water is getting close to the target temp of 76°C (168.8°F) so I start to vorlauf the mash until it runs fairly clear.
I can begin to drain the first runnings and start the sparge (batch or fly sparge–whichever you prefer).
I’ve collected enough wort to start heating the wort for the boil. I add my initial hop charge to the brew pot (first wort hops) and continue to sparge until I reach my pre boil volume (25L) in my case.
The wort has reached a rolling boil so I start the timer for 60 minutes.
With 15 minutes left in the boil, I add my immersion chiller and one whirlfloc tablet.
With five minutes left in the boil, I add a small hop charge for just a touch of hop aroma.
It’s time to chill. I use a 50 ft immersion chiller so getting down to pitching temp takes about 20 minutes in my case. Next all you need to do is transfer your now chilled beer to a sanitized fermentation vessel, check the original gravity (measured at 1.050sg) and pitch the yeast! And other than a little cleaning up we’re done! The time on my watch says 12:20PM.
So to recap!
Day 1, we mashed in, started a yeast starter, and prepped our sparge water for the morning
Total time: 1hr 12min
Day 2, we sparged, boiled, chilled, transferred the wort and pitched the yeast (hopefully you also cleaned in your downtime).
Total time: 3hrs
In conclusion: from start to finish, this beer took 13 hours and 12 minutes to get into the fermenter. But only 4 hours and 12 minutes of that time was I actively working on it. Not too bad considering my average daytime brew day is around the 6 hour mark! I encourage anyone reading this to give this method a try, especially if you are somebody like me who struggles to find time during the day. Of course you’ll need to adapt what I’ve talked about to your own system but I’m confident it can be done on just about any system (you BIAB folks are at a particular advantage).
Here is the recipe as promised. Nothing special here, just a very basic blonde ale.
Sleepless Nights Blonde Ale
FG 1.010 (approx)
ABV 5.3 (approx)
100% domestic 2 Row
Cascade (pellet) @ First wort
Cascade (pellet) @ 5 minutes
WY1056, WLP001, US-05, or equivalent
Kyle Dyck, an auto industry veteran turned stay at home dad, lives in Steinbach, MB with his wife and four kids. A homebrewer since 2010, he enjoys brewing sours and session beers, especially English dark mild—a particular favourite!