So we made a new batch of Belgian Ardennes Ale this past weekend. And I noticed (not for the first time) that my brewing has evolved into a predictable schedule, whereby I have to pay attention and do a few specific things, but then I can walk away and let the process take care of itself, to a large degree. And, when I do have to pay attention and do a specific task, it has some sort of technical detail about it. And I start thinking of these specific tasks as ‘critical control points’, not unlike we find in HACCP food safety plans.
So in analyzing my brewing process, I’ve come up with the following critical control points:
- Strike water should be at 74C/165F.
- I should have approximately 22 to 24 litres of strike water.
- If grains are at standard temperature (about 18C/65F) then the mash will equilibrate at around 67C/152F. It makes no difference in the final product if I am off by a degree or two either way.
- Mash time should be no less than 60 minutes and does not need to be more than 90 minutes. Most experts seems to agree that 75 minutes is an ideal time, as far as fermentability goes.
- Once mashing is completed, do the runoff in about 10 minutes. Do not run off too quickly.
- Keep good notes!
- Second batch of water (in a batch sparge) should be at 78C/173F.
- Do about 15 litres for the second batch, but go by gut feel.
- Hop additions are best done according to a strict schedule. If dealing with Pilsner malt, do a 90 minute boil, with bittering hops thrown in at the beginning. Flavour hops go in at 10 minutes left, aroma hops 1 minute left.
- Measure out the hops as the wort is coming up to a boil temperature, and have all additions ready to go when the bittering hops go in. Use your timer!
- Be ready to add the Irish moss or Whirlfloc tabs at the same time as the flavour hops.
- Be ready to put the wort chiller in as soon as the hop schedule is done. Start getting it ready as soon as you add in the flavour hops.
- Keep track of the water flow. Not too fast and not too slow. Keep an eye on the wort temperature and stop when it gets to 37C/98F.
- When the wort is cool enough, pour from the kettle to a sanitized brew bucket, at least three times. This is better than aerating with pure O2.
- Don’t forget to take a gravity reading with your refractometer!
- Be ready to pitch the yeast as soon as the third aerating pour is done.
And you know what? That’s about it. It’s not that hard. For most of the process it just goes on its own with very little input from me. Large gaps of time are available when I do basically nothing (waiting for strike water to boil, waiting time for mash, waiting for second batch to come up to temp, waiting for the majority of the boil to occur). That’s okay, as that is part of the brewing process. As long as I am paying attention to the CCP listed above, and am ready for the next step, and carry it out, the beer will be fine. Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew, as a wise man once said!