Five Things That Made Brewing Easier For Me

Most experienced brewers will have a list of things that made their brewing easier. And this list will not only change from brewer to brewer, brewers will also disagree on the value of certain techniques. Here is my list in no particular order. Feel free to disagree:

(1) Thinner Mashes:

Through German brewing texts I was introduced to thin mashes very early on. From a practical point they are easier to stir and do a better job at holding their temperature. From a beer quality point they force the brewer to less sparging and thus less extraction of unwanted husk compounds. And from an efficiency point of view they convert faster and more complete than thick mashes. I really miss the latter when I brew my Doppelbock, which needs a thicker mash due to the higher gravity and my limited mash-tun space

(2) settling trub before racking

The earliest problem I had in brewing was trub clogging the screen of the plastic funnel I was using to fill wort into the carboy.I was about to invest into a large conical screen from a restaurant supply house until I found the whirlpool technique and let the trub settle before racking. This was a big step towards more enjoyable brew days. Nowadays I don’t whirlpool anymore but let the trub settle while the kettle sits in an icebath in a large tub. The ice bath chills the wort to pitching temp after I brought it into the mid 20′s (Celsius) which is around 80 in Fahrenheit.  The tub and the kettle are elevated so that I can siphon the cooled wort directly into the carboy.

(3) Brew More Than Needed And Save The Rest For Starters

This goes along with letting the trub settle. In order to not pick up trub during racking about 2-4 qt of wort need to be left behind in the kettle. In my brewing this wort does not go to waste. I’ll filter this sludge overnight through a paper towel set on a screen in a large funnel. The next morning the clear wort is filled into 2 l soda bottles and stored in the freezer. When I need starter wort, and I always need starter wort, I thaw and boil to frozen wort. I haven’t bought DME in years. Another advantage of brewer’s wort for starters is that it has already been boiled and doesn’t boil over as easily or create a lot of hot break.

(4) track pitched yeast amounts by weight

One part of consistent brewing is pitching consistent amounts of yeast. For a while I determined the yeast amount by settling yeast in a graduated cylinder. But that requires a number of yeast settling steps if the cylinder holds only 250 ml but the propagation volume was 2000 ml or even larger. In a forum discussion I was pointed to weighing the yeast sediment instead. So I noted the empty weight on all my flasks and after propagating the yeast I simply settle the yeast in the fridge and then decant the spent starter wort. The flask with yeast sediment it weighed and its empty weight plus stir bar weight is subtracted. From cell counts I know that there are about 4.5 Billion cells per gram of freshly propagated yeast sediment, at least for my most favorite lager yeast (WLP 830).

(5) siphon from keg to keg under pressure.

When I started out performing secondary fermentation and cold conditioning in kegs, transferring carbonated beer from one keg to another was a chore. I like to carbonate beer during secondary fermentation or cold conditioning b/c the beer is ready to drink once that process is done. The problem of transferring carbonated beer is that it has to happen under pressure. Initially I was doing this with a bleeder valve on the destination keg with which I would regulate the pressure in that keg while the beer is pushed in by pressure applied to the source keg. But with this set-up you cannot leave or must not forget amount it otherwise foam will come out of the bleeder valve when done. Then I found a post in a German home brewing forum that mentioned how to siphon beer under pressure: place the source keg higher than the destination keg. Connect both keg’s CO2 outlets with a CO2 line. Then connect the beer out lines with a beer line. Now vent the destination keg a little to get the siphon started (the CO2 line may have to be disconnected briefly). Since this is a simple siphon, that will stop when all beer has been transferred, you may leave and check back in 30 min. 30 min during which I can do something else and don’t have to worry about foam being spewed across the basement floor.

19 thoughts on “Five Things That Made Brewing Easier For Me

  1. Great tips Kai. I will have to try tracking the amount of yeast by weight.

    I actually figured out the siphoning from keg to keg myself by accident when I needed to transfer from a secondary to a serving keg. I also use a transfer line from beer out to beer out, but a few weeks ago when I was doing this, I ran out of CO2. Realizing there was some pressure still in the source keg, I lifted it up to my work bench and the siphon took over. This will save on CO2 and like you mentioned, free me up for a short time to take care of other things instead of worrying about coming back to spraying foam!

  2. I tried to leave a comment yesterday, but it never showed up. Anyway, I’m a big fan of pitching yeast by weight. I used to work at a brewery that harvested yeast in a grundy tank on load cells, and we could double the weight of a pitch while maintaining a near-constant volume by closing the headspace vent when the tank was almost full.

      • It was for pitching yeast by weight. We’d dump the initial trub from the bottom of a cylindroconical fermentation vessel, start sending slurry into the brink (which acted like a big scale), pull a sample to estimate cell counts with a hemocytometer, and then weigh the appropriate amount of yeast to pitch. The problem was that the brink could only hold about half the weight we often needed under atmospheric pressure, so closing a valve on the top of the tank (i.e. allowing the headspace to pressurize as more yeast entered the tank) allowed us to fit a lot more slurry. I still have no idea how it worked (compression of CO2 bubbles?), but it illustrated the huge potential inaccuracies of controlling yeast pitches by volume.

        • yes, that is odd. There must have been a significant amount of gas in the yeast pitch. Otherwise it should not compress that well. Was the head pressure relieved during fermentation or was fermentation done under pressure?

  3. Appreciate tip #3, that’s a good idea. I have been using my extra wort to make mixed batch soleras in 1 gal fermenters. For tip #1 (thinner masher), what is the grain/water ratio you were/now using?

    • I end up using about 4 l/kg (this is about 2 qt/lb) for most of my standard gravity beers. This means ~17 l for strike water and ~13 l for sparge water. When I do this my 5 gal mash tun will be filled all the way up.

      I started using the left over wort also for fermentation experiments. The ones that I have been writing about. No need to brew an extra small batch of wort.

    • The decanting is necessary since I don’t want to add the spent starter beer to my wort. But what you are describing doesn’t work well. The reason is that during fermentation the starter will loose weight as CO2 escapes. The amount of weight drop depends on the size of the starter and the amount of sugars that were fermented. I would need to determine the latter through hydrometer readings and use some heavy math to determine what of the remaining weight is stater beer and what is yeast.

  4. Kai,

    This is all great info, so thanks for all of it. Could you go into more detail regarding your yeast harvesting and weighing procedures?

  5. Thanks Kai for all your incredibly informative information. I’ve benefited a lot from your writings.
    I too would love to hear more on your procedure for yeast harvesting and weighing. I’m just at the point now where this is something I’m trying to control more consistently.
    I look forward to reading about it! thanks again!
    Jeff

    • An average lager (12 Plato, 18 l) gets about 80-110 g of yeast sediment. It depends on how I end up growing. The lager yeast tends to be about 4-5 Billion cells per gram. A recent Weizenbock got about 160g of Schneider Weiss yeast, which had about 2.5 Billion cells per gram.

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