Asia Brewers Network

Brewing Brilliant Beer, Pt 2: Brewers Make Wort

Fermentis

This five-part series focuses on providing brewers with structures and tips to navigate the fundamental areas of the brewing process where the collective effect of a multitude of small decisions greatly impacts beer quality.

Part 2 – Brewers make wort

The first piece in this Asia Brewers Network series focussed on building a recipe – if you missed it you can find it HERE. Now it is time to gather the notes, prepare the ingredients, and step into the brewhouse.

A successful day’s brewing should primarily be measured by the quality of the wort created.

Effectively, did it result in the production of sterile wort, that is in specification for all key attributes, and now handed over to the yeast for fermentation. The recipe forms a clear plan and guideline that will help the brewer stay on track.

The measure of success lies in the brewer’s ability to both follow the plan and make the right decisions to adjust when the time inevitably comes for intervention.

Decision planning structure

There is a lot to think about during a brew day, as the brew is often not the only thing on the schedule. Cellar duties, customers and deliveries are just some of the things that pop up and draw attention away from the brew.

There is no match for experience, both in general and on a specific brew house, so learning as you go from making the wrong decisions is an unavoidable, yet healthy part of the process.

Adopting a simple set of objectives that you can keep front of mind will greatly assist you to make timely, effective and ultimately, correct decisions. Beyond making great wort, good brewing practices should:

  • Be safe: for the brewer and the rest of the team working around them
  • Be responsive: reacting quickly when the process drifts from expectation
  • Be repeatable: through recording of data and observations, and
  • Be efficient: with respect to ingredient utilisation, energy and time.

These goals should be applied in a tiered fashion. There is no point chasing efficiency, for example, if the wort will be grossly out of specification. Safety, of course, must always be given top rank.

Write it down

Before reviewing improvement tips on some of the specific phases of the brew, it’s important to discuss an overarching theme that applies to the day in full – collecting information is key!

Observing and recording data is an essential step to ensure a brewer has the facts they need to make sound decisions on brew days

Temperatures, times, volumes and weights are clearly important, but data doesn’t always reside in numbers. A brewer’s palate is a mobile laboratory and should be utilised as much as possible across the day. Taste and smell provide great insight into ingredient and wort quality, sight can determine the effectiveness of a boil better than a temperature probe might, and our ears pressed against a tank can help confirm a spray ball is not blocked.

The information gathered will not only help in the moment on brew day, but it is incredibly valuable when reflecting on a finished beer.

Trouble shooting what might have happened in the brewhouse to contribute to a quality issue is impossible without good records, but equally, so is reflecting on what you did right on a batch that is tasting sensational.

Record keeping is a tedious and thankless task. Luckily there are many software programs now on the market that can make things a little easier to stay on top of.

The vessels

It all kicks off with a mill and a mash tun, often in the quiet morning hours when you are barely awake. It’s a critical stage of the brew, as it’s difficult to recover from errors made. Mill too fine and you’ll be feeling the pain of a stuck mash hours later, mash too hot and the yeast will remind you at the end of the ferment.

Keep in mind:
– Don’t chase 100% malt efficiency. A fine grist can bring more trouble than the 1-2% saving on malt is worth.
– Calibrate your mash temperature probes. An error of half a degree can make a noticeable attenuation difference.
– An iodine test for starch conversion is cheap and simple. It can also help you shave some time from your mash rests and improve efficiency.
– Beta-Glucanase is no longer a dirty word in craft beer. Using it in the mash will give you a faster and more consistent lauter.

A brewer pouring grain into a mill

A good wort starts will well milled grains (Photo: Barrett Burston Malting)

Lautering is the most variable phase of a brew day. When things don’t go right, they can go very wrong. There are a lot of interdependent processes that need to stay in balance, so paying attention is vitally important.

Keep in mind:
– Monitor the pH of your sparge water and keep as close to the lauter pH as you can (ideally <6).
– If the lauter run off gravity is very low, it is likely a better decision to top up the kettle with water and sacrifice the small amount of extract.
– When commissioning, take gravity measurements every 5 minutes for the entire lautering run. This will help you notice any channelling and react to eliminate it.

Boiling brings a lot of interactions, with hop additions, finings, nutrients and more all needing to be prepared and added according to the recipe.

Keep in mind:
– It is helpful to remember the seven main reasons boiling is a part of the process. Alpha acid conversion, denaturing enzymes, coagulation of proteins, DMS and other volatile evolution, colour and flavour development and last but certainly not least, sterilisation!
– Higher doses of kettle finings do not guarantee results. In fact, they can have a negative impact on the trub cone. Conducting a fining trial for every different beer will increase yields and quality.
– Getting the nutritional composition of the wort right is critical (so much so we will be focusing entirely on this in the next part of the series).

Whirlpooling the beer speeds up the flocculation of the hot break, enabling it to quickly settle and form the trub cone at the bottom of the vessel. Trends have driven higher whirlpool hopping rates, so the allowance of time for spinning and settling needs close attention to ensure the wort is of sufficient clarity to be sent through the heat exchanger to the fermenter.

Keep in mind:
– Ensure your fermentation tank is ready on time. Extended whirlpool rests can result in increased bitterness, trace DMS production and delay subsequent brews causing further issues.
– Oxygenation may not be necessary. For example, Fermentis have recently certified that their Easy 2 Use™ range of dried yeasts do not require oxygen to be added for a direct pitch.
– You can’t clean a heat exchanger enough. They should be given a full CIP at the end of every brew day, with many brewers now adopting a short caustic wash between brews.

Handover to the yeast

A brew day will always leave a brewer with a sense of accomplishment. It’s the tactile process we all love and enjoy, creating a beer that will eventually be enjoyed by many others. The recipe planning and hard work is over, and the wort is now in the hands of your selected yeast to ferment. The next part of the series will focus on the nutritional composition of your wort, helping brewers to understand what the yeast needs for a happy and healthy ferment.

 

This series is brought to you in partnership with

Fermentis and Barrett Burston logos

Article by:

Justin Fox

Justin Fox

Justin hails from Melbourne and has 15 years experience in brewing, ingredient supply and beer judging. He is currently keeping busy (and hydrated) as the Australian agent for Bespoke Brewing Solutions, alongside running his own consultancy services.

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