Patience: An Essential Homebrew Ingredient
by Tim Kreitz
For me, one of the funnest aspects of being a veteran Basin Brewer is helping new people learn the art and science of crafting beer at home. Beer is food, after all, and my philosophy has long been that just as everyone should know how to cook, so should everyone know how to brew. Beer makes the world a better place. So in the interest of realizing my dream of a homebrew nation, I'm always willing to answer questions, offer advice, and share my own
experiences with new brewers when they ask.
Along the way, however, I have noticed that one of the primary common denominators shared by noobs throughout the entirety of the crafting process is an almost universal lack of patience and tendency to want to rush things along. Granted, this is understandable because brewing is always exciting, and the anticipation of drinking a batch of delicious homemade beer can get the best of even the most seasoned homebrewer. But the bottom line is that from milling grain to sipping a finished creation, you must be willing to invest the appropriate amount of time in each step. The payoff is always better and satisfaction is thereby increased.
A dear friend and fellow brewer, Stan Moore, once told me long ago, "One of the most important things a beer needs for it to be really good is time." Mark this down as an irrefutable truth. In fact, there are several stages in beermaking where time and patience are the secret ingredients. Here's a partial list applicable to most styles:
1. Don't cut mash times short.
There has been a popular viewpoint in recent years that a saccharification mash is complete within 15 to 20 minutes and that there's really no reason for mash times of, for example, an hour or more. And while (from a strict conversion standpoint) there may be an element of truth to this assertion, scores of independent taste tests have reinforced that the traditional practice of longer mash times generally produces better tasting beers. Keep in mind that in more ancient times, brewers didn't necessarily understand the science of brewing at all. For them, producing the best beers was achieved through simple trial and error. Our brewing forefathers deduced as a matter of perception that when grain was mashed for longer, the beer not only produced more alcohol, but also tasted better. Those gustory awarenesses should not be ignored today simply because we can apply certain mathematical and scientific formulas to the brewing process.
2. Leave it on the cake a while. An aspect of traditional brewing that, as of recent years, has been shown to be somewhat of a misconception is the idea that a beer should be racked off of its yeast cake as soon as possible after fermentation "completes". AHA Nationals Ninkasi award winner Jamil Zainasheff claims his beers improved dramatically when he stopped using a secondary on most of his low- to mid-gravity beers. He primaries for up to four weeks and argues that removing the beer from the large mass of yeast too quickly substantially prolongs the conditioning process. Starting six or seven years ago, I began adopting this same practice for most of my beers and immediately noticed an improvement, especially with pale ales and lagers. It's now a standard practice for me to leave a beer in primary for at least three weeks since it has become widely accepted that residual yeast at constant fermentation temperatures perform a "clean-up" effect on the beer, making it generally smoother sooner. This has been my experience, and I always recommend it.
3. Conditioning is king. Just because you've racked you beer into a keg and carbonated it over the span of four or five days doesn't mean you have to drink it immediately. If you can wait it out another week or two (or even longer for some styles), the cold and pressure make magic happen. Flavors further develop and complexities emerge. Much like with traditional cask-conditioned ales or German lagers which sit in cold cellars for months at a time before being tapped, most home-brews will benefit greatly from the same treatment using modern refrigeration. The same goes for many bottle-conditioned beers. Once the bottles have carbonated, store them cold for a while. With the exception of only a few styles such as IPA (which will lose certain hop characteristics over time), well conditioned beers tend to get better.
So there you have it. I encourage you to try one or more of these practices and experience the difference for yourself. You will not be disappointed. In the meantime, cheers and happy brewing.