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Blinded by Science: Getting The Most Out of YOUR System!

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April 15, 2016 by fhsteinbart


monk brewing

Here we see a monk taking a sample of wort for evaluation at the brewery.

A long time ago when I first started brewing beer at home I didn’t really care about efficiency or consistency. When I met a Monk in Belgium who extolled the virtues of consistency and efficiency, I had to ask him why all the fuss? Well, very patiently he explained to me that the most important thing in brewing is to achieve a balance between the residual malt extract, and the hopping rate, regardless of the type of beer being brewed. When you make a beer that is as low in bitterness that the Monk’s brew, you’d expect that the beer would be sweet tasting, yet I found that all their beers had a nice background bittering with a noticeable malt character that shined through. I was told that it was the dryness of the beers combined with higher levels of carbonation that made their beers taste the way that they did. By using simple sugars to lighten the body, highly attenuative yeasts, and lower than usual mash temperatures, this resulted in their dry character and allowed a lower level of hops than what you’d usually and customarily would associate with beers of these styles. Armed with this new knowledge and useful tips from the Monks, I set about replicating their techniques. This started when I first went all grain in my brewery, so efficiency now became a word in my lexicon. The most common home brewing term I came across was how many gravity points that you got from a given pound of grain to yield a gallon of wort, or simply put points per pound per gallon pf wort or Pts./Lb./Gal. So now I was faced with how do I start, and then where do I go from here? My decision was to brew as simply as possible while still turning out a reasonably decent beer. So I chose to brew  single grain, single hop, and single yeast beer. Today we call these beers SMaSH beers. I kept careful notes, and only changed one thing at a time, in order to track the differences and see what the results were for each and every change. I basically kept brewing the same exact beer until I got the same beer each and every time. By brewing simply: single infusion mash of a highly modified pale malt, single hop addition of a favorite hop, and fermentation with a clean and attenuative yeast with good flocculation characteristics, I was able to see trends in my brewing techniques, and was able to change my way of brewing to the point where it became a reiterative process. While the science part of all this was fairly easy, it was the artisanal part that eluded me and kept me from achieving my ultimate goal of making consistent and efficient beers. Efficiency came finally from careful temperature equilibration across the grain bed with a grist that was finely ground, and evenly hydrated, then sparged carefully, and slowly while I collected the runnings and brought the kettle to boiling just as the pot had enough to cover the bottom. By slowing things down in the lauter and sparge, I was able to get higher efficiencies, and more consistencies from each and every brew. Once I figured this out, I went on to brew each and every style until all of them were mastered and could be made exactly the same each and every time. Finally, this became boring as I wondered what else was there left but to go where no one else brewed before? So I started brewing experimentally, and all my beers became more like Frankenstein’s monster than recognizable styles that they were based on. This encouraged me to keep following the path I was on from basic principles to creating whole new styles that have finally been recognized as individual and unique styles of beer. On looking back at my earlier time spent brewing, I reflected on what the Monk’s taught me, and I could see how by knowing what and how to measure the important characteristics of a beer that the engineering part was taken care of, and what remained was the more difficult task of quality control and taste evaluation. This comes from time and experience and will be different for each and every homebrewer. So I encourage you to make that one beer over and over until it is consistently the same, and then do that for each and every style that you enjoy drinking, then your brewing landscape will change for the better as you dig deeper into the mysteries of fermentation and beer enjoyment!

 

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