Friday, July 14, 2017

OK Knuckleheads its time for some TRUTH again

This blog was launched years ago largely on the back of a blog post called A quick Rant.   Years later I find myself still saying and preaching the same things.  Listen to me round eye... you go brew how you want to brew.  If you want to make nothing but no boil hibiscus flower gose... then do that.   If you want to boil everthing for 90 minutes than do that.   But please use your heads about brewing.  There are some disturbing trends that I am noticing that I think need to be addressed. So, today I am addressing them... again.

1.)  It is all about the skill of the brewer not the equipment.  In the past couple of years there has been a near explosion of quality brewing equipment for home brewers.  And most if it is awesome.  Most of it will really help you make excellent wort.  But it will only help you if your recipe doesn't suck.  If you have great fresh ingredients. If you've calculated the correct amount of hops to add. If your process is solid.  If you know how to aerate.  If you can control fermentation temperatures.  If, If, If!  

This is a dream set up for almost all of us.  The electric brewery
sells everything you need to craft your own dream set up. But
remember you can make great beer with a cooler mash tun. 
If you are a brewer who prefers to step mash your beer, these systems are very appealing. I will admit that the idea of wort moving through tubes and then back into the mash tun is kinds cool.  I will admit I am still considering the purchase of one.  But, since I step mash anything and everything I brew, and I happen to own a stove and a pot and a spoon. I'm still not convinced they make much sense.  I can accomplish the same thing by adding near boiling water and stirring.  The effective cost to me...$0.  I already own a pot for boiling and a spoon for stirring.  Remember wort doesn't know it is being recirculated, enzymes couldn't care less.  You see the equipment won't do squat for you if your water profile sucks, if your grain is stale, if your hops are old, if your fermentation temperatures rage uncontrolled. And it won't save you from a lack of general skill and knowledge.  

Listen, you can probably get away with messing up one variable of your beer, and have it still be pretty darn good. (the Brulosophy guys are testing this).  But don't imagine for a minute that a fancy wort production machine will make up for abject failure in other areas of your brewing.  I've said it before, and I will say it again.  Wort production is less important than; great recipe design, water adjustment, aeration, fermentation control, and above all else cleaning.  So follow some common sense in making beer.  Your first big investment is of course your kettle, burner, and mash tun. But your second big investment should be fermentation related.  Remember, brewers make wort, yeast makes beer.  

Commit to 1 or 2 processes for the production of wort (we always step mash unless we are doing German beer, then we do a decoction step mash). Commit to a method of chilling your wort.  Commit to a method of yeast preparation (vitality starters for this guy). Commit to a method of aeration.  And finally commit to temperature controlled fermentation.  Most importantly we use quality fresh ingredients.

2.) You can not make great beer with crap ingredients.   It can not be done, do not dispute this point.  So I understand that you want to save some money and buy in bulk, and it isn't a terrible idea for your grains.  After all, grain is malted and kilned in part to preserve the grain.   But please understand that if you are entering a contest with 2 year old pilsner and you are hoping to win category 2B (Bohemian Pilsner) you're screwed if I show up.  Because I'm getting the freshest pilsner I can get.  (Probably from our amazing sponsors at Cargill) And I am lovingly, carefully performing a step mash decoction with out the aid of a recycling wort system. You'd better not try to use the remaining Saaz from the 1 lb bag you bought last year, cause I'm showing up with fresh nitrogen flushed Saaz from our friends at YCH.   And I can promise you I will get perfect fermentation with a brew-day starter of SafLager 34/70 carefully controlled in our fermentation chamber.  And forget it completely if you do not know how to adjust your water to the correct profile for a Bohemian Pilsner.

How many times have you watched a YouTube video where the guys brewing didn't really know what they were doing, and they never mentioned how old their grain was, and they didn't utter a word about the AA% of their hops? And they are trying a brand new process they have never tried before... shockingly they miss their target OG, and then they blame the process and conclude it doesn't work.  Do yourself a favor, ignore those guy.  Remember the aspects that make quality beer, and keep your process consistent keep your ingredients fresh.   Do the same things every time, for that matter brew the same beer over and over again with great ingredients.   Commit to quality ingredients (if your LHBS doesn't have fresh hops, order them on line)

You can not make great beer if your brewery looks like this.
3.) FACT - most of the problems we face as brewers are because of a lack of cleaning,  a lack of understanding, or a lack of quality ingredients.   If you get even reasonable efficiency, your problems aren't because your wort production sucks.  It's because something else, or everything else, in your process sucks. Most common error?   Lack of sanitation.   So, best advice is slow down and clean everything.  Think carefully about every step of the process.   And again clean your stuff a lot.  I am known to grab a piece of gear and clean it while I watch TV.  My gear is pristine.

You don't have to spend a fortune on any particular step of the process to make great beer.  You do have to be clean.  You do have to think carefully about each step in the process.  Incidentally if you do want to spend a fortune, spend it on quality ingredients, temperature controlled fermentation, on water filtration, and on aeration.  Too many guys are focusing on the wrong things. Remember many of the equipment choices commercial brewers make are motivated in part by ease of cleaning.  They don't have the advantage of being able to easily carry and break down their gear.   They can't deep clean a mash tun while watching Sports Center.

4.) It's not a race.  They don't give out awards for brewing quickly. And why would you want to? Brewing is so much fun.   Just slow down and use your heads, yes I know you are busy.  Yes I know you need to carve out time to brew.  But remember there are no short. If you are serious about making world class beer, Clean, Clean, Clean.  Learn to adjust your water.  Build a mash tun and learn to do infusion step mashing.  Buy a brewbag for a filter, they are just better mash filters than false bottoms, or toilet braiding.  Those changes alone will improve your wort way more than a $2,000.00 wort machine.  (don't misunderstand me, If you are flush with cash go for it! If I win the lottery I'm buying all kinds of cool stuff from Colorado Brewing Systems and SS Brewtech )

For your German beers learn to decoct, it makes a difference.  Who cares if your mash takes 2 hours? It makes superior authentic German beer.  And please don't tell me you can make the same caliber of beer with a single sacchrification rest.   You CAN NOT so don't bring that weak sauce up in here. Only pitch healthy vital yeast.  Learn to make a starter, or at least a vitality starter.   Aerate your wort, so it can become healthy beer. And for the love of Sally control your fermentation temperatures.

Above all else have fun, RDWHAHB, and don't be a douchebag.   I have to suggest that you consider brewing beers that expose problems you are having.  Brew a basic Blonde,  brew a Cream Ale.  If you can, brew a basic lager.  And if you can't control temperatures on a lager, why are you worried about a wort production machine?   Once again for excellent brewing,  expenses related to water adjustment and temperature control should come before wort production expenses.

I write this today as much as a reminder to myself as I do a reminder to all of you.   I also see the fancy rigs on line and think how cool it would be to have one.   I also see the shiny stainless fermenters and think, "man that would be cool,a glycol controlled system in my basement."   But the truth is you don't need that to make world class beer, you can ferment in a keg, or in a stainless steel pot for much less.  You can literally purchase 4 kegs to ferment in for the price of 1 stainless fermenter, and with a keg you can ferment under pressure.   Just a reminder to all of you and to myself, stay clean & use your head.

UPDATE:  I was just thinking... Riddle me this batman, how come standard brew in a bag gets 80 -90% efficiency, and the recirculating units don't get anywhere near that.  You have to do all kinds of stuff to a Grainfather mash to ensure 75%?   Robobrew is no different.  Gash Slug reports 80% on his robo brew with no pump, and we're hearing reports much lower with the pump.   So yeah for me, I will keep my pot, and my spoon.  I will use my BrewBag and crush as fine as I can, No sparge in the cooler infusion step mash.

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