Top brewing tips from 2021: how to make better beer in 2022!

Although quite cliché, it is hard to believe we are already approaching the end of another year. Halloween candy is past and holiday seasonals are in full swing. Before long Cranberry Kolsch and Anise Ale will give way to Dopplebock and Wee Heavy. With such strong complex beers on the short horizon, it is time to start planning ahead. However, before we totally close out the year, let us take a few moments to review some top brewing tips.

In the post below we have highlighted five areas for improvement analysis. Attention to detail is the overarching theme, with focus on efficiency. You have already invested in the labor and ingredient costs, so any improvement is almost like free money! What are the keys to improving efficiency and increasing volumes in going into 2022?
 

Track and Quantify Brewing Data

Track and Quantify Brewing Data

In order to make improvements, you must know where to start. Measuring temperatures and times are practically a necessity, but it is extraction measurements that will begin to give a bigger picture. “First runnings”, a sample collected during the final moments of vorlauf, can help dial in mashing and hydration procedures. Discrepancies among like batches should be limited to hydration ratio adjustments, and ultimately be balanced during the lauter/sparge. A specific gravity measurement towards the end of run-off can illuminate lautering and sparging efficiency and allow for total extract calculations. Whenever possible, follow pH from mash through fermentation to prevent inconsistencies. Buffer solutions or brewing salts can be used to adjust pH when necessary. If you want to push for more, consider the use of supplemental enzymes!

During the recipe creation process, note your expected performance points. If in-process results do not match your expectations, consider changing the target volume by dilution or evaporation. Record batch information to ensure any last-minute changes are communicated to future batches. Traditional brewers tend to favor long-hand calculations and hand-written notebooks, but the advantages of innovation are endless. With a number of quality brewing apps and websites available today, entire recipes can be calculated virtually in a matter of minutes. If you don't have a favorite yet, click on over to Brewer's Friend to enhance your recipe building and data tracking. 
 

Real-time process monitoring is now possible through a myriad of professional vendors. From pre-programed step-mashing to data-logging cellar conditions and packaging runs, nearly every aspect of brewing can be tracked and quantified.

Brewing Liquor

Brewing Liquor

Water is the most precious resource used by any brewery, even if it is often taken for granted. Reverse osmosis offers a “blank slate” to dial in your water profile, allowing you to add specific ion elements. For the uninitiated, simply adjusting your sulfite to chloride ratio can influence Malt and Hop profiles significantly. A 2:1 ratio of sulfite to chloride will “crisp” or “sharpen” the hop profile, perfect for a West Coast IPA. In contrast, a 1:2 ratio will exemplify the rich, malty backbone of a good Oktoberfest Marzen. If you are up for more in-depth adjustments, Brewer's Friend offers more detail.

The pH of finished beer is often in the 4.5 - 4.2 range, depending on style. Lagers often edge toward the high end, while sour beers can dip down to 3.0 pH. 

After basic filtration and ion adjustments, temperature and pH are dialed in to achieve a very specific set of enzymatic reactions during the mashing procedure. Natural barley-based enzymes are very temperature dependent with as little as 10 degrees Fahrenheit making a drastic impact. If temperatures are low, enzymatic activity will be slow. If temperatures are too high, enzymes can be denatured and rendered ineffective in converting starch to sugar. 

Hydration, or water to grist ratio, is also considered extremely important since it directly effects hydrolysis of starch molecules, and ultimately the conversion of starch to sugar. Grist hydrators achieve even hydration with minimal physical agitation, helping to prevent lautering issues. Flow meters or sight glasses can be employed to track water volumes into the mash and sparge. When pre-calculating recipes, grist retention water can be added to the desired kettle full volume to identify total brewing liquor needed. When forming a new recipe, 14.5 fluid ounces per pound of crushed grist is a good estimate for grist water retention.
 

Mash, Lauter & Sparge Procedures

Mash, Lauter & Sparge Procedures

Dialing in a consistent mashing procedure is essential to repeatable results. Arguably the most variable and uncontrollable part of the process, mashing, is entirely directed by water via time, temperature, and hydration ratio. Use a high-quality thermometer, but more importantly, ensure your mash is evenly mixed and rested for a standardized amount of time. This will give you a baseline to make adjustments from. Run an iodine test to see if full hydrolysis has occurred before proceeding to lauter. If the intent is a “hazy” beer, some unconverted starch may be desirable.

Thoroughly mixing hydrated grist is essential for starch to sugar conversion, but aggressive agitation can lead to lautering headaches. Beta glucan and xylans can “blind” the lauter screen, or sediment between pieces of grist, blocking hot sparge water from freely flowing. Collect the “first” wort prior to beginning sparge, but add water before the grain bed is exposed. Most brewers target a consistent liquid level ½" above the grain bed. Maintaining an even differential pressure on the lauter bed throughout lauter will prevent the “filter cake” of grist from becoming compacted.
 

Keeping grist suspended in liquid allows permeability through the lauter bed. If the bed is compacted too far, extraction will suffer. 

Sparging should not be overlooked, despite the simplicity. Adjustments to pH or temperature may be necessary to prevent extraction of undesirable tannins. Usually, a small addition of lactic acid is enough to drop pH at or slightly below 6.0, an acceptable level. A sparge temperature of 175*F is not likely to extract undesirables, but will help lower viscosity throughout run-off. This leads to faster collection, higher wort concentration, and less parasitic energy loss.
 

Yeast Management & Attenuation

Yeast Management & Attenuation

Yeast is a living entity, much like ourselves. Depending on the specific organism, it requires sugar, water and oxygen to thrive. Brewers often balance a delicate act of stressing and manipulating yeast while trying to keep it as healthy and strong as possible. Thousands of strains with a plethora of characteristics exist, however a few general trends hold true across the spectrum.

Active fermentation taking place in an “open top” fermentation vessel.

Pitch rates have a large influence on fermentation characteristics, particularly yeast driven flavors. Lower pitch rates with higher levels of dissolved oxygen drive cell division, creating more flavor compounds through metabolism. Higher pitch rates with less aeration often leave a “cleaner” yeast profile, allowing malt and hops to dominate. Both pitch rate and aeration influence attenuation, the percentage of sugars the yeast will ferment. Increased attenuation directly relates to more ethanol production, however this must be balanced with the desired flavor characteristics. When using new strains or recipes, an online yeast calculator can offer a good starting point. WYeast offers the ability to calculate two-step propagations.

Raising the temperature of fermentation around 1*P before final gravity will (hopefully) increase yeast metabolism. This step, often referred to as a “D-rest”, allows yeast to increase the uptake of Vicinal Diketones (VDK). Lager beer is particularly susceptible to high levels of VDKs (Diacetyl), so the rest is often implemented. As an alternative, Alpha Acetolactate Decarboxylase (ALDC) can be directly added to the fermented wort. Check out Maturex Pro for more detail.

When re-pitching harvested yeast, traditional methods suggest a weighted pitch of 1kg per hL, often lazily converted to 2#/bbl for American brewers. Yeast should be stored under limited pressure to prevent osmotic stress. Contrary to popular belief, it is okay for stored yeast to be exposed to oxygen, so it is not necessary to pre-purge yeast brinks. Vitality and viability will decline over time, so any yeast should be used as fresh as possible, ideally within two weeks from harvest. Generations should be tracked, along with attenuation data, to confirm satisfactory production parameters over successive batches. 

Clarity

Clarity

Once fermentation is complete, the job is not finished. Product must be clarified and packaged for retail dispersion, and that can present unique challenges. Clarity is perhaps the most identifiable characteristic to a novice beer analyst, so any disruption is an obvious flaw. The majority of haze causing substances are polyphenol-protein complexes that form during or post fermentation. Hopping rates and malt composition are primary factors in these formations, but other components can play a role in turbidity. 

Hazy IPAs may be the largest growing category craft beer has seen in the last century, and with that has come an evolution of yeast. New strains geared specifically towards the style can have large numbers of “empty hull” yeast cells, reducing the flocculation and ultimately leaving “floating” cells in suspension. As light hits these cells or the polyphenol complexes, it is refracted, showcasing the signature “hazy” appearance. 
 

Yeast cells tend to create a “cloudy” appearance while protein-polyphenol complexes leave a “haze”.  Fining agents can accelerate the sedimentation of hazy or cloudy compounds, leaving a translucent finished product.

Over time, anything with molecular weight will sediment due to gravity. Adding fining agents such as kieselsol, isinglass, or gelatin can provide a negative charged site for yeast cells or phenol complexes to link, increasing their overall weight. As sedimentation occurs, less light is refracted and translucence is achieved. To extend the stability of hazy beer, you must keep small particles in suspension and embrace the concepts of Brownian motion. Limiting the calcium content in wort hinders flocculation of yeast, so make your water adjustment accordingly. A target of 100ppm is great for clarity, while staying below 50ppm should reduce flocculation. In addition, you can manipulate the lautering procedure by adding unconverted starch at collection. Sprinkling some crushed wheat on the top of sparge will allow protein to carry over into the kettle, and ultimately bind with polyphenols from added hops. The resultant haze should be made of low molecular weight complexes, extending the sedimentation time.

 

As you sip on your social beverage of choice, contemplate what next year will bring. Apply what you can from above, and most importantly, push the boundaries of expectation. Review previous accomplishments, and plan new adventurous challenges. If you need more inspiration, come back to explore additional Gluten Free brewing, incorporating seasonal ingredients, and pro-brewing 101!
 

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