I am a devoted follower and advocate of brulosphy.com, a group of guys that do legitimate scientific experiments on the homebrew scale. I stress on the homebrew scale because that’s what’s important and what’s original about the site – they are not trying to debunk the science of brewing; rather, they are simply showing that many of the techniques that apply to professional brewing don’t necessarily matter or make a difference on the homebrew scale.
They have done over 100 experiments, and I take them all seriously. My cliff notes on the entire site: stop worrying so much; brewing good beer is easier than you thought; mind your water. At least that’s my interpretation.
These are the experiments I have incorporated into my normal brewing routine:
30 Minute Mash & 30 Minute Boil
I jumped for joy when I read these experiments. These are by far my two favorite techniques because they save the most time and, for me, guarantee a 2 hour brewday (and I’ve enjoyed 1:30 brew days). To brew a quality beer in under 2 hours on a Monday night or during my son’s nap- that’s a beautiful thing. In the official experiment, the author compared the same Oktoberfest, one mashed for 30 minutes and another for 60. Sadly a triangle test wasn’t done on this one, but the blind sensory panel was mixed and mostly split down the middle on which beer they preferred. They couldn’t tell the difference, although the author claimed to prefer the 60 minute mash (although he wasn’t blind to the experiment). Here he brewed a decent 2 gallon beer with a 15 minute mash and boil. Nice! Here he brewed a decent 5 gallon batch with, again, a 15 minute mash and boil (although he calls it “lifeless”). I think the recipe was to blame, honestly. Here they brew an 11 gallon batch and mash for only 20 minutes, a lager which turned out delicious and fooled everyone at a fancy homebrew conference. Here they brew a delicous hoppy NEPA mashed for only 30 minutes. Clearly cutting your mash by (at least) half works. I will honestly never go back. A few months ago, I was hanging out with a professional brewer that agreed: barley conversion, from starch to sugar, doesn’t take very long.
The first 30 minute boil experiment produced a hoppy pale ale that people couldn’t tell apart from the same beer boiled for 60 minutes (in fact the short boil beer was the overall preference). Then, amazingly, he compared a pilsner beer boiled for 30 and 90 minutes – which tasters could not tell apart! Pilsner malt is “supposed” to be boiled longer because of “DMS”. They send samples to the lab: no DMS.
Another huge time saver and benefit of BIAB, my sparging technique amounts to grabbing a sack of hot barley (with gloves), squeezing it for a couple minutes, and discarding it. Efficiency issues can be mitigated by crushing barley finer and/or adding more malt. Or not caring. Turns out the only brulosophy experiment on sparging was actually significant; that is, people could tell the difference between a Kolsch that was sparged and one that was not. But only half of those people actually preferred it over the other beer.
Trub in the Fermenter
People go crazy trying to make sure that wort going into the fermenter is crystal clear, and that all the gunk stays in the boil kettle. The first brulosphy experiment actually preferred the beer fermented with Trub, and ironically the beer was clearer, but that was pretty subjective. The second experiment suggested that trub helps fermentation, and showed that tasted couldn’t tell the difference between a beer with or without trub in the fermenter. To me, not worrying about trub is a no-brainer – unless it might clog some equipment you have.
Brulosophy doesn’t just debunk things and make brewers lazy. Water has shown to be significant in sevearl of their experiments on the topic. Adding gypsum to IPAs, adding more calcium cloride to malty beers…stuff like that. But the learning curve is a bit high on understanding your water, downloading water software, and manipulating your water according to particular recipes. As for me, I’ve only scratched the surface. In the summer I use an RV filter attached to my outside garden hose spigot to get rid of chlorine. I think that probably matters for lighter beers. Second, I purchased two different minerals: gypsum and calcium chloride. I don’t really know what I’m doing at this point, but for IPAs I’ve been adding 2 teaspoons of gypsum and 1 teaspoon of cal. chloride to the mash water. Gypsum is supposed to make the hops pop and can be added to the boil as well. I’ve also been toying with adjusting mash pH by using a pH reader and phosphoric acid. I’m not sure whether this improves the quality of my beer at this time.
No Yeast Starter
Again, a time saver on the front end. I don’t want to “plan” on making a yeast starter one or two days in advance of brewing. Usually I decide to brew at the drop of a hat – that’s the beauty of my system. So I was pleasantly surprised to read this experiment which showed the same beer brewed with a starter vs. a vial of liquid yeast was indistinguishable by blind tasters. Sure the beer will take longer to get going, but I don’t care – that’s time spent doing nothing. Similarly, I don’t “rehydrate” dry yeast – just sprinkle it in the wort (experiment here).