Under Pressure!—7 tips to speed up your all-grain brew day

If you are an all grain brewer you know that a brew day requires a large investment of your time. Typically I expect a brew day to take about 6-7 hours. Some brewers spend a bit more time, some a little less. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that the time required is considerable.

So what do you do when you want to brew but don’t have quite enough time? Or you simply want to speed up the process so you have more time for other things? 

Well as it turns out, there are a number of things that we as brewers can do to speed up a brew day and I’ll go into them in more detail below. Just be aware that although these methods can indeed reduce the time needed to brew, they may come at a cost. I will do my best to explain the pros and cons associated with each of the methods discussed but ultimately, it will be up to the individual brewer to decide which methods will work for them and their system, and which will not.

1. Prepare the previous day

There are a number of things that can be prepared the day before a brew day. If I plan on brewing in the morning, I may spend an hour or so preparing the evening before. Although this doesn’t reduce the total time spent, it is easier for me to find two smaller blocks of time rather than one larger one. 

Some things to prep the day before (or earlier):

  • Build recipe and acquire ingredients    
  • Measure and mill grains
  • Measure strike water and water salts (if necessary)
  • Make yeast starter (if necessary)
  • Organize brewspace and take out necessary equipment

2. Shorter mash

The general rule of thumb among homebrewers is to mash for 60 minutes (at least when talking about single infusion) and typically that’s the rule I follow. However the fact is that starch conversion should be complete much quicker than that. According to e-malt.com, a well crushed, quality malt can complete saccharification in as little as 10 minutes, and up to about 25 minutes for more coarsely crushed and coloured malts. Given that information, I would say you could cut your saccharification rest time down to as little as 30 minutes with little to no consequence given that the mash is well mixed in the appropriate PH range and temperature stable throughout.

Pros
Save ~30 minutes compared to a typical hour long mash

Cons
Possibility of incomplete saccharification resulting in lowered brewhouse efficiency. Possibility of starch haze in final beer.

Tips for success!

Make sure the mash is well mixed and at the target temperature. Mix a few times throughout the mash to ensure temperature uniformity. Make sure the mash pH is in the appropriate range of 5.2—5.5. If possible, perform an iodine test to ensure complete starch conversion.

3. Full volume mash

Another method you can employ is to do a full volume mash also known as no-sparge brewing, whereby the grain bill is added to the entire volume of brewing liquor and no-sparge is performed. This method is common among brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) brewers, but can also be employed on a 2- or 3-vessel system assuming the mash tun is large enough to hold the entire grain bill along with the entire volume of water. This method saves considerable time since no-sparge step is required

Pros
Save ~20 minutes compared to batch sparging and up to about an hour when compared to a fly sparge.

Cons
No-sparge means lots of sugars will be left behind. Brewhouse efficiency will be reduced considerably.

Tips for success!

As with the short mash, stirring well and appropriate mash pH will help ensure a complete starch conversion. Again, conversion can be checked by performing an iodine test. I will add that if using the no-sparge method that it is especially important to mash-out at around 75°C (168°F) if possible, since there will be no sparge step to rinse sugar from the grain this will help improve the solubility of the sugars in the mash.

4. Short boil  

When brewing, the boil serves a few important functions, hop isomerization, protein and polyphenol coagulation, sanitation and evaporation of volatiles namely s-methylmethionine (SMM), the precursor to dimethyl sulfide (DMS). As with the 60 minute mash, the 60 minute boil seems to remain the standard among most brewers. However, with the trend to push hop additions later and later in the boil or even post-boil, a full 60 minute boil may not be completely necessary. Though I don’t have personal experience, I’ve heard a number of brewers claim no ill effects to boil times as short as 30 minutes.

Pros
Save ~30 minutes. Retain hop aroma.

Cons
Hopping rates may need to be adjusted to hit IBU targets. Possibility of DMS in finished beer. Possibility of protein haze. Possibility of astringency from polyphonols.

Tips for success!

A good vigorous boil will help drive off SMM, the precursor to DMS, and adding something like whirlfloc or irish moss to the boil will aid in the coagulation of proteins and polyphenols. 

5. Faster heating 

A large portion of any brew day is spent waiting for water or wort to heat up. There are a number of things that can be done to speed this up. The simplest of these is to just put a lid on your brew pot when waiting for liquid to heat up. This will reduce heat loss from the top of the pot, thereby reducing the time needed to heat a volume of water. Of course, heat doesn’t just escape out the top of a pot. It escapes out the sides as well, so insulating the sides of the brew pot will also reduce heating time. There are pre-made insulating jackets available for those with an electric all-in-one system, and for the rest of us, wrapping our brew pot in one or two layers of reflective insulation wrap found at most hardware stores is a good option. 

If you’ve already insulated your brew pot and are still looking to reduce heating time, purchasing something like a heat stick might be a good option. They are handy because they are not permanently mounted and can be moved from one vessel to the next.

Pros
Save anywhere from a few minutes to ???. Potential energy savings. More vigorous boil.

Cons
Upgrading or buying new equipment can be pricey. Increased risk of boil-overs. 

Tips for success!

Watch your brew pot like a hawk. If it’s covered or if you are using a secondary heat source, it will almost certainly want to boil over! Remove the pot lid when nearing boil temperature and use a product such as Fermcap to reduce foaming. Keep a spray bottle of water handy to knock down any foam that does appear.

6. Faster Cooling

Here we are again waiting for water or wort to change temperature, except this time, we’re trying to lower the temperature. Many homebrewers start out by using the water bath method to cool their wort. While this method works well for small-batch brewing, it can become impractical when you start brewing larger batches. If you’re brewing more than 10 litres at a time, investing in a decent chiller will be well worthwhile. 

Now let’s say you already have a chiller. There are a few tricks you can do to make chilling that wort go just a little bit faster. For those of us who use an immersion chiller, simply stirring the wort will increase the rate of cooling. An immersion chiller tends to form cold pockets around its cooling coils, so stirring helps pull away that cold wort to allow warmer wort to contact the chiller (just be sure to stir gently as to avoid hot side aeration). If you happen to own a pump or have an all in one system with a built in pump, either whirlpooling, if you have the ability, or running a normal recirculation should provide sufficient liquid movement. Another thing you can do is run ice water through your immersion chiller to speed up cooling. This is especially effective if your ground water isn’t particularly cold.

Pros
Save a few minutes to ???. More efficient cooling means less water wasted.

Cons
Upgrading equipment can be expensive. You may need to stir your brew pot for several minutes as it cools which isn’t particularly fun. Ice can be an added expense.

Tips for success

If you don’t have a pump to recirculate and don’t feel like stirring by hand, an electric drill with a wine degasser attached can be used to stir the wort. Just be sure to use it at a low speed. You want to stir the wort without adding excess oxygen (while hot).

7. Keep busy in your down time.

It can be tempting to reach for a cold homebrew when you’ve got some down time during a brew day. I know I’m guilty of this myself. Actually I take that back. Homebrewing should be fun and relaxing, and having a homebrew is a perfectly appropriate reward! But I’m talking about saving time here, so in this particular instance, let’s put down the homebrew and get back to work.

This topic is really more about time management and self discipline than anything else, so make sure that you have everything you need ready to go for your next step. For example, if I haven’t already milled my grains beforehand, a good time to do it would be when I’m waiting for my strike water to heat up. Or if I know I’ll be checking my mash pH soon, I could calibrate my pH meter at the same time. I make a mental list of things I know I will need for the next step and make sure I have them ready to go, checking that they’re sanitized and working correctly. The worst feeling is mashing in and realizing that the batteries in your electric thermometer are dead (yes, this has happened) and having to scramble to find either a different thermometer or new batteries. 

If you have done all that and still find yourself with a few minutes to kill in between steps, look for something to clean. Cleaning is the most tedious part of brewing and the more you clean now means the less you need to do later. 

Tips for success

Avoid that homebrew until the end of the brew day. It will taste so much better.

Conclusion

This article was a very brief overview of some methods to save time brewing and I hope you got something out of it. While writing, I found myself wanting to go into more detail on each topic and perhaps I will revisit some of these techniques in the future.

If you are a homebrewer who struggles to find the time to brew, I seriously suggest implementing some of these techniques to see how much time you can save. I realize that some of the methods discussed may have negative effects on the finished beer, but brewing imperfect beer is infinitely better than brewing no beer at all. 

Now go have a homebrew. You deserve it!

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!

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