10 Simple Beer & Brewing Goals for 2016

Happy New Year from Beer: Simple!  To start off this new brewing/beer year, here are some simple things I’m planning on doing in 2016 – and I think you should consider doing the same.  They’re all about getting more out of your beer and brewing life, and shouldn’t take too much of your time, effort, or money (well, except #9, but it’s totally worth it).

But before we get into the list, let’s address a long-standing epidemic that is the shame and bane of the beer world: beer-based puns.  In discussing this post with people, a disturbing number of people jokingly asked what the post title would be.  Among the rejected suggestions were the following: Hoppy New Year, Happy Brew Year, Happy New Beer, Malty Brew Year, Hoppy Brew Beer...

People.  People, people, people.  End the puns.  Never make one again.  Don’t wish me a “hoppy birthday.”  Every time I see that on Facebook it makes me want to punch my dog in the face (but then I look at her, and…well, she's just too damned cute). 

So just stop it.  Now, on to the list!  Things to do this year, Beer and Brewing Edition:

10. Buy a high-quality thermometer – or at least calibrate the one you already have.

I can’t tell you how happy I was to open my new Thermapen MK4 on Christmas morning!  It was the only thing I asked for, and for good reason: temperature is really at the heart of what we’re doing.  It affects mashing, boiling, fermentation, conditioning – even enjoyment when you finally open the bottle or pull the tap handle.  So do yourself a massive favor and get your hands of a good thermometer, or at least calibrate yours so you can make the appropriate adjustment for what it reads – if it’s consistently reading 2-3 degrees high or low, you’ve got an easy fix for a lot of likely issues in your brewery.

9. Make a point of attending either the Great American Beer Festival or National Homebrewers Conference.

Conveniently, this year NHC (June) is in Baltimore and GABF (October) is (as always) in Denver, so one or the other will be (relatively) close to home for nearly everyone.  Both are events that let you taste a LOT of beer, and both also offer myriad ways to expand your beer and brewing knowledge.  I’m a much greater proponent of NHC, but only because I’ve never been to GABF (the only downside to an academic life – no travel in the fall…).  But going to beer events of this size is a wonderful experience – stay hydrated (just drink your cup wash water), eat at every opportunity, and soak in as much as you can!

8. Find a new appreciation for a passé or overlooked beer style – I’m thinking Witbier.

We all have beer styles that we gloss right over on beer menus.  I’m not a huge fan of very many Belgian beers or breweries (some notable examples, though – Allagash and Ommegang are always on my list!), so this year I’m going to focus on a style that may deserve doubling-back on – probably Witbier.  For you, maybe it’s amber lagers.  For others, maybe you’re a hopophobe and it’s time to try out some IPAs again.  But try to avoid brewing or drinking ruts – these beers and styles evolve over time, as does your palate. 

7. Give up beer for Lent, even if you’re not Catholic.

Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations, notes eleven virtues that you should exhibit and which are “wholly within your power” – one of these is self-denial.  Every year, for 40 days, most Catholics you know give up something for their Lenten observance (you can usually tell – they get a little pissy whenever you order beer, chocolate, steak…).  This year, whether you’re Catholic or not, give up beer.  Marcus’ point about self-denial is that it shows that you’re in control of your impulses and desires – you’re not governed by them.  This also gives you the opportunity to spend some time on other beverages you might have neglected: revisit wine, give Scotch a try, delve into meads or ciders – or even “go dry” for 40 days.  It won’t kill you (and, in fact, has impressive health benefits), and your favorite beer will taste that much better come Easter!

6. Write a letter to a brewery that is making your favorite beer and thank them.

When we travel, my wife loves to write thank-you notes to the staff of the hotel or the crew of the cruise ship, while we’re still on it, to let them know that we appreciate their hard work.  She figures that most of what they hear, day-to-day, is complaining (much of it just whining, really) and she wants to change that.  It’s really quite sweet and something I would literally never think to do on my own (she’s a much nicer person than I am).  So this year, I’m going to write (actually write – with paper and pen and all!) a brewery I like, and thank them.  Brewing is hard, hard work, and breweries deserve a lot of credit for doing it, especially when they do it well.

5. Learn one scientific lesson that will improve your brewing.

Brewing is a science.  Just because we learned to do it by accident 5,000 years ago doesn’t mean that it hasn’t grown up!  So, I’m going to hit up one of the biologists, chemists, or physicians in my club and have them teach me the scientific root of a beer process, and then use that to simplify and improve some element of my brewing process.  To paraphrase the book The Martian, I want to science the shit out of something in my brewery.

4. Attend a homebrew club meeting – other than your own!

If you don’t belong to a club, you probably should, because remember – Your Beer Sucks, and they’ll tell you why and how to fix it.  But even if you belong to a club (I do), I think it’s a good idea to go to another one now and again.  For one thing, you’ll meet more homebrewers (fun), and you’ll get new feedback – and new kinds of feedback – on your beer (useful).  It’ll be worth driving an extra 20 minutes or so to get to that club’s meeting.

3. Teach a willing person to homebrew, and brew with them at least three times.

I’m sure a lot of people talk to a homebrewer and decide to brew.  Once.  Then they do it, feel frustrated, and never do it again.  I know this happens because I remember how irritated and frustrated I was brewing in the new house when we moved – I didn’t know where anything was, nothing worked as it usually did, and the beer was a pain in the ass to make (though it turned out well).  If that had been my first go, there’s at least a one in three chance I’d have given up.  The way we tell people to just “get your stuff and brew” is like sending a new skier down that Black Diamond trail called “The Preacher.”  So instead, convince someone to brew, and then brew with the at least three times, preferably on their equipment and at their home/brewery.  Brewing is habit and process more than anything else, and being there to keep them on track for the first few beers will mean a better brewer and one who is more likely to keep at it when you’re not around.  And going back to basics may also remind you of some important things you’ve been letting slide!

2. Stand up for one newbie that is being razzed by an alehole.

Sometimes when we see this shit – new bartender or wait staff being hazed and harassed by a know-it-all (even if he/she doesn’t) alehole – we let it slide.  Even if you don’t confront the alehole, at least have a quiet word with their intended target, and let them know that we’re not all like that, and that (especially if they’re new to the craft beer world) it’s pretty easy to get up to speed.  You might even recommend them to the Certified Beer Server course over at the Cicerone Program – in short, be constructive.  They’ll probably throw you a free beer for it, so do it even if you’re a curmudgeonly, introverted, misanthropic elitist like me.

1. Contribute in a meaningful way to the brewing world – however you can.

And finally, try to find a way to pitch in to our (still quite little) community.  This doesn’t have to be big.  No one’s asking you to organize a 5K.  Or even run in one.  Or even walk in one.  OK, basically, no running unless you’re into that – why do we as a society feel better when we force unwilling people to pay money to run approximately three miles for a cause?  But I digress.  Just try to give something back.  The reason I got so into beer and brewing was that I was so impressed and touched by so many people in the brewing community, and I feel like every year should include a resolution to give back, however and wherever you can.  I think there’s a 5K that is sponsored by a local brewpub that I’ll run in – wait, an 8K???  Well, alright…

Have a wonderful year everyone, and thank you for following Beer: Simple into it.  I’m also resolving to do my best to keep providing what I hope is high-quality writing on relevant beer topics, but if you feel I’m not quite up to the mark, please let me know in the comments or by e-mailing me at [email protected]

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).  

Up in Smoke: Rauchbier Made Simple

Rauchbier (smoked beer) is one of the less-common styles in the market (though I think it's due for a resurgence once we all get tired of this onslaught of barrel-aged beers), and while it's wonderful it's also the source of a lot of undeserved mystery and confusion.  Let's clear some of that up - this is a simple beer, and my recipe (below) will have your LHBS grain attendant thanking you for taking it easy on him/her this Christmas week.

A Brief History of Smoked Beers

Very brief, in fact. Once upon a time, almost all beers were smoky.  Maltsters dried and roasted malts over wood fires, and they produced smoke, which imparted a smoky flavor to the malt itself.  As smoke-free sources (coal fed ovens, primarily) became commonplace, malts became "clean" except for those that wanted to be smoky, and smoked beers became a retronym-labeled thing.  

Wow, That Was Brief - now what?

None of that helps us, really, since the question now becomes, "If I want to make a Rauchbier, how much smoked malt do I use?"  Ironically, few things scare me as much as homebrewers who say "I read it on the internet" as justification for their brewing practices.  But I want you to take this piece of internet trivia to heart:


How do you Know?  

Well, I know because I brew Rauchbier two to three times per year, and because I get a lot of objective feedback on it!  Over the years I've adjusted my Classic Rauchbier recipe a number of times, looking for this magical percentage that will produce the best one, and in doing so I've completed a good natural experiment.  

When I started, I didn't want to overpower what is, essentially, an Oktoberfest plus smoke with an excess of smoked malt flavor/aroma, so my first attempts were pretty conservative and in line with the internet wisdom of that bygone age of 2008. I stuck to about 25-30% of the grist, making up the balance with straight Pils, Munich, and Maris Otter (I use Maris Otter for damn near everything - more on that another time).  It made for a pleasantly smoky lager.  Good stuff.  

But I wanted to go smokier - after all, anyone who's making a smoked beer has the Schlenkerla angel (devil?) lurking on one shoulder, muttering in a German accent in their ear, "You know, vee haff a much smokier beer zahn you..."  So I upped the percentage of smoked malt.  And upped it again.  And again.  

And you know what?  No real difference in the smoke level.  It increased a bit, but certainly not to any level where I said, "whoa, back it off."  

Until I hit my limit.  97%.  That's what I currently use in my Rauchbier.  And I've actually had competition judges tell me to "increase amount of smoked malt" - right, except that wouldn't address the problem!  [Take note, BJCP Exam preppers...]

Not How Much, But What Kind

It isn't how much you use, but what the maltster did to your malt in the first place that makes the difference.  In that way, it's kind of like when you use malt extract: you're at the mercy of whomever created it.  So what do different types do?

First, let's just acknowledge that peat malt is disgusting.  But beyond that, it's a crazy intense smoky/phenolic flavor producer, so use it sparingly (or not at all).

The classic version is beechwood smoked malt, and at least one commercial brewery I'm personally acquainted with actually uses the same maxed-out levels of beechwood smoked malt that I do.

But you can use other wood types as well.  Apple and cherry wood are quite common and can be used at very high levels.  I read that you can do the same with mesquite or hickory, though I admit I have no experience with them.  

So the moral of the story is: Don't be afraid of smoked malt.  Using it sparingly might produce somewhat subtler smoke flavors (only "might," though - one of my early attempts came out crazy smoky despite being only 40%), but using more almost certainly won't make your beer too smoky.  It will, though, almost guarantee that people can tell it's a smoked beer, which I'm assuming was the point of your brewing of it in the first place.

Recipe, Discussion, and Uses

The recipe below is a favorite of mine, and it's just about as simple as simple beer gets.  

R-97 Rauchbier

OG: I shoot for about 1.050, but you can raise/lower to your ABV goal/liking!

Briess cherry wood smoked malt: 97%
Melanoidin malt: 2%
Black Patent malt: 1%
25 IBUs of your favorite bittering hop added at 60 minutes
About an ounce per 5 gallons of your favorite German noble hop (Hersbrucker is my preference) added at flame out
Wyeast Munich Lager yeast (#2308), but German Ale (#1007) can be fun, too
Ferment cool (52F for the lager yeast, 62F for the ale yeast) and enjoy!

The small malt additions there, I've found, make a pretty big impact.  The melanoidin addition adds a touch of rich bread in the background, and the black patent adds a note of dryness without adding any real "roast" flavor - I find that smoky beers tend to come across as a bit sweet.

The hopping is there just for a touch of complexity and enough bittering to balance the sweetness, but this is definitely a malt-centric beer.

And as for yeast, use whatever you like for Oktoberfest, but as I noted above you can get some fun fruity/berry esters out of the German Ale yeast as well, and they seem to complement the beer nicely.

Rauchbier makes for an outstanding cooking beer as well as an easy-drinking pint, and it makes for a great base for marinades!  I've also injected it directly into roasting meats, with very good results.

And as for smoking your own malt: I'm not that guy.  Sorry.

Smoke Away

The simple takeaway here is that smoke malts are like most other things these days: user-friendly.  It's pretty difficult to hurt your beer with these (except the aforementioned monstrosity that is peat malt), so swing for the fences!

Keep it Simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

Of Ice and Men*: Simple Lager Brewing

People often tell me they're making their first lager in the same hushed, anxious tones one might use to describe losing one's virginity or going skydiving for the first time.  There's no need for that: lagering (like much else we discuss here), is pretty simple.  You, too, can lager, and there's no need to work yourself into a kreuzen over it (see what I did there?).

What's ironic here is that so many people care so much about temperature and care that they end up mucking up their beer.  They effectively temperature-control and yeast-coddle their way into a bad beer, and instead of the beautifully controlled masterpiece of a virtuoso pianist they end up with Lennie and the rabbits: they love their beer to death (YES - Monday morning Steinbeck reference...).

So, what's the key to making lagers?  And what are you doing that might be unnecessary?  Read on to find out! 

Lagering To-Do's

This is going to be a pretty short section, because as I said, making good lagers is pretty simple. The driving force in lager beers is producing beers with few flavors from the yeast: so, minimizing esters, phenols, fusels and off-flavors.  We accomplish this in lager beers by using yeast that are conditioned and bred to ferment at lower temperatures, which slows activity and prevents the formation of flavors that are typical in most ale strains.  So, then, lager is mostly about yeast strain selection and fermentation temperature, which is usually in the 50F (10C) vicinity.

The mystery is that so many misunderstand when and why temperatures are important, and as a result they're often being wasteful, inefficient, and/or damaging their beer through their "care."  

There is a very narrow window in which temperature control is essential to producing good lagers.  Your goal is to produce "clean" beer, so avoiding esters, phenols, and fusels is the key.  Well, when do those form?  If you answer that question, you know when you need to control temperatures aggressively.

First off, we don't much need to worry about formation of these compounds in the Lag Phase, when your yeast are just waking up, so from pitching to about 18 hours in, don't sweat it (no pun intended) if your beer isn't at 50F yet.  Then there's the fact that most of what you're worried about is produced in the Growth Phase (18 hours in until about day 3 or 4).  So there it is: a roughly 72-hour period when temperature is essential.  

  • Keep your beer at 50F (10C) for about 96 hours, and don't worry about the first 12-18 of those.  

That's basically it.  Any questions?

Undoing the Damage of Over-Lagering

The problem comes in when people think that they need to treat their beer like it lives in whatever magical place Coors Light keeps that train that makes it instantaneously snowy.  Lagering is about temperature control, not about keeping your beer cold.  

You need that initial cool period to limit the production of stuff you don't want, but here's the thing: in that period, even at cold temperatures, you're still producing things you don't want, just less of them or different varieties of them.  You still may have precursors and compounds that need to be cleaned up (diacetyl, acetaldehyde, etc.).  But if you never let your beer warm up, you're virtually guaranteeing that you'll be leaving them behind when your yeast settle in for their brewer-enforced long winter's nap.

This is why I say you need a little less care with your lagers.  After you're done with the Growth Phase, let that temperature come on up.  Personally, I let it rise 5-6 degrees F, but I've also (for reasons I'll get into in a second) just pulled them out of the fridge and let them come up to room temperature.  The risk of doing so is very low - since the possibility of ester, phenol, or fusel production after a few days is minimal - but the risk of not doing so is very much real and orders of magnitude larger.  Don't believe me?  Judge one flight of Amber Lagers at a BJCP competition: at least half have caramel or green apple flavors which might have been addressed by a more-complete attenuation instead of the Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-like temperature control that the brewer subjected their beer to.

Practical Lager Brewing and Lager Myths

There are other, practical, things you can do to make lager brewing a better experience, too.  First off, as I said, you can just yank them out of that fridge and leave them at room temperature.  I learned this when I got into a run of brewing lots of lagers and needed to keep up my brewing pace so that my ingredients didn't stale - there's only room for two in that fermentation chest of mine, so my young lagers had to get turfed out into the big bad 68-degree basement when they were just a few days old, so that their younger siblings could chill out (it's like that scene in Monty Python's "Meaning of Life" with the Catholic family).  And you know what?  Those beers were awesome.  Better-attenuated, no off-flavors, no precursors, and I didn't have to commit to weeks of waiting for them in the fridge before I could brew again.

Then there's this obsession with massive yeast pitches for lagers.  I read on a message board about a rule of thumb of "doubling" whatever the yeast calculator told you, just to be safe.  One recent FB poster said he made a 6-liter starter for a 5.5-gallon beer because it was a lager.  A homebrew club friend once told me that he pitched five smack-packs into an 8% Dopplebock.  People: CALM DOWN.  Chris White might be laughing all the way to the bank, but you're going overboard.  Every lager I brew, no matter the ABV, gets the same half-of-a-2L-starter into a 4.5-gallon batch.  And did I mention that I've won more than 100 medals for lagers in competition?  You're overpitching, which probably won't hurt you, but it's hurting your wallet.

One more lagering myth I've heard is that you need to transfer off of your yeast for an extended period of aging in the carboy/bucket/vessel.  Put simply: no, you don't.  First, autolysis is the homebrewer's bogeyman.  I've never experienced it, nor known anyone else who has, and I've accidentally aged a Roggenbier for four months on its yeast cake when I forgot about it (we'd just moved in, and it ended up behind some boxes. Call Beer Social Services on me if you must).  So, clearly, the risk is low at our volumes and with our level of hydrostatic pressure.  And second, every time you transfer your beer, you're exposing it to air and contaminants.  Every beer is contaminated and oxidized to some degree, and the more you move it, the more so it gets.  So we're talking about balancing the minuscule (and, potentially, mythological) risk of autolysis against the absolute certainty of a higher level of contamination and oxidation.  No thanks.  Leave it be until fermentation is complete, then package it up.

And then there's the great bottle conditioning question.  "Dude, you totally need to add a pitch of yeast when you bottle lagers because the yeast won't carbonate your beer."  Right.  Let me put this one to bed with an anecdote that - although anecdotal - I think you should consider instructive.  I made my first Eisbock a couple of years ago, and I f***ed up.  I started with a pretty strong (8.9% ABV) Dopplebock that was about eight weeks in the fermenter, and set about to freeze-distilling it. Turns out that takes a while and I started in the afternoon.  Well, at 3AM I had barely any ice formation, and went to bed.  At 7AM when I woke up, I had myself a Dopple-sicle.  I'd concentrated it by nearly 40%, and had made myself a nice 13% beer.  Curious about whether it would bottle condition, I just treated it like I normally would, and added the appropriate weight of priming sugar.  Two weeks later, perfectly carbonated.  If THAT beer with THAT treatment at THAT age and with THAT level of alcohol toxicity can bottle condition, then anything can.  Unless you've actively filtered out or killed your yeast, there's probably no need to add more yeast when bottling a lager.

There's No Lager Mystery

Lagers are just beer.  There's no need to be intimidated by them.  Even the process listed here - which assumes you have a temperature-controlled vessel/chamber/fridge in which to ferment - isn't strictly necessary.  Especially in winter, check for a cold spot in your basement - many, left unconditioned (think a closet, storage area, etc.), hold at a pretty steady 52-57F, which is perfectly acceptable to make lager beer.  Even low-tech solutions like ice baths and evaporation can be maintained long enough to get your beer out of the "danger zone" for esters and all that other stuff.

So, as always, relax.  Sit back, pour yourself a Sinebrychoff Porter, and have George tell you about the rabbits again.

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

*I realize the title is a little bit sexist, and I know that lots of women are brewers (brewsters?), but the reference to "Of Mice and Men" and the easy play on words and its connection to the Lennie/rabbits thing made it irresistible!

Modified No Sparge: Indoor Brewing and the "Weeping Tony Romo"

My single, sad, lonely, awesome, SIMPLE one-pot induction system.

My single, sad, lonely, awesome, SIMPLE one-pot induction system.

Moving from the garage to the indoor brewery entailed some sacrifices.  None of them were bad enough to outweigh the joy of brewing while watching Tony Romo cry after botching a hold for a field goal in the playoffs (remember that game?  Every Eagles fan has it enshrined in their "happy memories" brain file), but sacrifices they were, nevertheless.  One of them was that, due to space restrictions, one of my two kettles and induction elements had to go (for more on induction brewing and why it might be better than whatever your doing, see my previously published work on the subject in BYO).  Au revoir, dedicated sparge water heater.  Life must go on, and seeing those beautiful, delicious Dallas Cowboy tears while I brew is totally worth it.

Change of system: Change of Process

Since I could no longer heat and hold sparge water while lautering, owing to my change of circumstances, I investigated some no-sparge options.  For those who need a primer, "No Sparge" is a process whereby the full volume of brewing water is added in a single charge to the grains, and lautering simply fills the kettle with no mash-out or subsequent washing/sparging additions of water.  It's manageable, and certainly many have seen a great amount of success with it, so it was certainly an option.

Then there's Brew in a Bag, and I look forward to having a guest blogger on at some point to discuss it!  It certainly meets the "Simple" part of Beer: Simple, but I wasn't in the market for a new kettle, and BIAB requires a lot of kettle volume to be able to mash in the same vessel you're boiling in, since it needs to be big enough to accommodate ALL of your grain and your full boil volume.  

No, I wanted to stick with my existing Coleman mash tun and my 5-gallon Kitchenaid kettle (thank you, Target - $47 and induction-capable...).  But I didn't like the idea of just adding a full six-ish gallons of water to my mash, for at least two reasons.  First, I was already changing enough: now I was changing my mash water-to-grist ratio as well.  Second, I didn't like the idea of the hit I'd take in efficiency.  I'd always struggled with efficiency, landing in the low-60s pretty regularly - but all that changed when I started doing a Mash Out to increase my temps and reducing viscosity before lautering.  I was finally hitting 72-73% pretty regularly, and this seemed like a big step back.  No Sparge usually entails a loss of efficiency, all the more so since I wasn't in a heat-producing system, so there'd be no pre-lauter warm up to shake those sugars loose from their grip on the grain.

The Modified No Sparge Method

The result was what I've come to call the Modified No Sparge method.  For the record, I don't claim to be an innovator here - I'm sure that others have thought about this problem and reached the same conclusion - but I've talked No Sparge with a LOT of homebrewers, and they always seem surprised when I explain my process, so I thought I'd pass it along here.

At the mashing end, change nothing.  Do what you've always done.  Simple, right?  Same water-to-grist ration, same strike temps, same everything.

Where things change is in the mash out addition.  Where I'd previously raised my mash temps to 170F (77C) by adding a single gallon of near-boiling water to the mash, I asked myself, "what if the mash out addition was just the mash out PLUS the sparge addition?"  I came to call this the Super Mash Out.  I tried it, and after some tinkering, I was able to consistently hit the right temperature (without going over, Price is Right style, because who wants tannins), drain my mash tun dry while hitting the rum of the kettle, AND preserve most of my efficiency, all without any decrease in quality.

The math was simple.  I use BeerSmith for my mashing/sparge water calculations, and since batch sparging (my previous method) requires a pretty precise addition to get the most out of your grains, I'd already dialed in my adjustments.  It was "whatever Brad says, plus my one gallon of mash out water."  I'm sure there's a button for that in the program somewhere, but I'd just learned from trial and error.  For the Modified No Sparge?  Just eliminate the one gallon for the mash out water, and go with the sparge volume.

Temperature was likewise pretty simple.  The Super Mash Out volume was typically around the same size as the initial mash-in volume.  When they were equal in volume, in my system, 195F (91C) brought the mash just to the brink of 170F (77C).  For every half-gallon more that the Super Mash Out was, I reduced the temperature of it by five degrees Fahrenheit.  For every half gallon less, add five.  Simple, and virtually guaranteed to avoid those hot-sparge tannins.

Efficiency went from an average of 72.8% to 70.1%, but I saved myself at least 15 minutes per batch and an entire heating element and pot.

So What?

Like I said, this isn't groundbreaking stuff.  I'm sure that it's been discussing and implemented by lots of brewers.  But what it does show is that simplification can be done while maintaining (and, given the latent advantages of no-sparge more generally, improving) beer quality.  

If there's a moral here, it's that simple can be better.  It isn't just about economies or efficiency and finding what you can live without, it's about making your system work for you, and not the other way around.

Otherwise you might miss the simple joy of watching a grown man sit on AstroTurf and cry.

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).



Dump the Pump: Newton, Pascal, Bernoulli, and Homebrewing

Gravity brewing 001.JPG

Physics is your friend, and can save you money on homebrewing equipment.  I'm no enemy of Chugger or March, but let's face it: most brewers don't need a pump if they can employ some basic brew system design advice to let physics do the work for them!  And here's the thing: principles of physics will never break down on you.  They won't burn out.  They don't (really) need to be primed.  And they're free.  So let's drink a toast to Sir Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, and Daniel Bernoulli and talk about how gravity, pressure, and suction can eliminate the need for pumps in your brewing (without requiring you to brew from atop an A-frame ladder).

When building out my new system, I wanted something simple (shocking, I know) and convenient.  Therefore, I wanted to build it more or less horizontally for ease of access and operation, and as a result came to the conclusion that pumping was my only real option.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the brewery: it turns out I couldn't stand the added steps, equipment, cost, and cleaning that the pump required, and went back to the drawing board.  Not for the first time in my brewing life, I thought, "well, why don't I just try the simplest thing and see if it works?"

With the minimum possible drop, could I transfer using nothing but gravity, hydrostatic pressure, and siphoning, and still work from counter height to the carboy without the need for a pump?  The answer was yes, and I now have a never ending source of transferring energy to go from my mash tun to my kettle, through my plate chiller, and out into my carboy.  Simple.

But let's talk numbers.

My mash tun sits on the countertop, a standard 36" from the floor, with a drain and ball valve roughly one inch above that.  Draining from the mash tun to the kettle, I have a ZERO inch drop from the ball valve outlet to the lip of the kettle, and a drop inside the kettle (once the beer clears the lip) of 10".  The hydrostatic pressure of the liquid in the mash tun is sufficient to get things flowing over the lip despite the lack of an actual drop, and once started, Bernoulli's Law takes over and keeps pulling liquid until the mash tun empties.  Nice and easy.

Now, once in the kettle, I boil as usual, and the time comes to chill things down.  I have a weldless fitting on my kettle, and I drain from it using the same principles as the mash tun's transfer.  Open the valve and let gravity/pressure do their job.  How big a drop?  Well, it's a whopping 4.5" from the barb to the "Wort In" side of the plate chiller...but here's the thing.  The easiest way to use my Shirron chiller (see the photo) is to lay it flat and clamp it to the counter that the kettle sits on, which means that to get OUT of the chiller, the fluid is now running UPHILL!  Before I let logic overcome reality, though, I just opened it up and observed what happened - no problem.  Once the flow gets going, we're home free again, thanks to Monsieur Pascal and Signor Bernoulli.  

Upon exiting the chiller, there is a 2.5" drop from the lip of the chiller output to the lip of the carboy, and then about a 6" drop into the carboy.  In case you're curious, it flows at a nice, healthy rate, too: 4.5 gallons of beer takes me nine minutes to drain/pull through the chiller, for a rate of about two minutes per gallon.  Even using a pump, you wouldn't want to (or be able to) go faster, chilling with cold tap water, so there's no real time loss.

And that's it: pump-free transfer.  I've literally never had a stuck lauter/sparge or transfer out/through the chiller.  Physics is some reliable stuff.

Obviously you'll need to do some tweaking to make this fit your system, but the gist is a simple one: you don't need big drops in height to make a gravity-fed system work, because gravity's not doing it all on its own.  Pressure is the real lead dog on this one, and so long as you have enough to get things moving, the rest is simple.  

Most three-tier stands on the market have about 24-30" of total drop, and most still make use of a pump to get the finished wort into the fermenter.  

My total drop, mash tun to carboy, with no pumps employed?  17 inches.

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).