Brewing is a great hobby but it can be hard to carve out a six to eight hour block of time to set up, brew, and take it all down again. With that in mind I have been experimenting with a faster, lower energy way of brewing that makes the most out of mash hopping and no chilling. An eight-hour brew session for me now takes three. But it is not about brewing faster, really, it’s about being able to brew more often.
To accomplish this I rely on a few methods that are not commonly applied: mash hopping, sparge hopping, and ‘no boil’ beer.
So we’re avoiding a boil (more on that later), how do we get bitterness and hop flavor to balance out the malt?
For low IBU beers you can mash hop to get some of it. Keep in mind that the lower temperature means less isomerization to produce bitterness. In a 1.050 5.5G boil, you’ll get 37 IBU from a 60 minute boil of 1oz of 10AA% hops but only 7.4 from a 60 minute mash (via Beersmith). Ending the duration of the mash to 90-120 minutes won’t get you much more. Since the hops are mixed into the grain bed and mashing out occurs at or above mash temperatures then I add an extra 30 minutes or so to the hop mashing time in the Beersmith entry.
This will do for sours, session ales, and malt forward beers. To get the most bitterness per ounce it’s obvious to go for a high AA% variety.
Cost-wise you’ll use and pay for more hops but excluding the boil altogether saves on propane. Brewing electric or via natural gas will not have the same tradeoff but propane, with an estimate of $5 per session, can be traded for more hops which run less than $1/oz in bulk.
I have used up to 3-4 oz of hops in the mash to achieve the right bitterness with mash hopping alone. The Beersmith calculations appear to be reliable enough. The impact on flavor/aroma is on par with a mid-addition hopping. Weighed against the ease, the boil time, and the cost of propane I decided mash hopping was acceptable.
If this doesn’t cut it for you then you’re alternative is to add hops to the sparge water. To hit higher IBUs (15 – 50), I put up to an ounce of hops into 4 – 5 gallons of sparge water and boil for 30 minutes to mash out with.
Inverse to the poor economics of mash hopping, this has the added benefit of more efficient hop isomerization. Our 1 oz of 10AA% hops examples gives 37 IBU in 1.050 wort but 45 in 1.025 and 54 in plain water.
This does add a boil back to our ‘no boil’ beer but we’re putting a little more energy/fuel in to accomplish a lot more. Since the sparge is heated during the mash we are not adding any extra time to the process and the 15 – 30 minute intervals of stirring the mash and adding hops to the boil work well if you time the sparge boil to start at the 30 minute mark.
Whether you mash hop or sparge hop, make sure the sparge water reaches a boil. We’ll need to mash out hot in the next step.
Side Note: Decoction Hopping
Once or twice I have snuck an ounce of hops into a decoction. The higher gravity will lower the conversion but it is sufficient. Keep the hops bagged and on top of the decoction; it seems they have a tendency to get pulled to the bottom and stick to the pot. It is also difficult to predict exactly what IBU you can expect to get.
No Boil / No Chill
There are ‘no boil’ extract kits out there but in this case we’re avoiding waiting on a boil.
The boil does many things to wort but what it most critical for a drinkable beer is that is kills all the bugs that might otherwise foul it. By mashing out hot at 180F+ the wort will not sour. My run of the famous Deception Cream Stout, a Belgian tripel, and a Belgian dubbel have all sat for three months from 60F to 75F without so much as a pellicle.
What is interesting, however, is that the hot mash pasteurizes the wort but doesn’t necessarily do the same for the grain. If you want to quickly top off the collection bucket with some water it has to be hot water. Otherwise, using your standard 65F tap water will produce a run-off that will spontaneous ferment. This was the case in trying to save some extra wort for starters. Examining the discarded grain beds after a few days, I have noticed that the grain beds which were maintained at mashout temperatures longer took a longer time to go bad.
To collect the wort I use a standard fermenting bucket. A plastic or glass carboy will either deform and possibly shatter so avoid those. The bucket is sealed with a lid/airlock and allowed to cool overnight. Not chilling the wort with a heat exchanger is common in areas where the use of water is controlled due to drought.
If you do not actively chill the wort then the hot mash out becomes more important since it ensures the enzymes have been destroyed and will not risk acting on the wort as it cools down into the alpha/beta amylase ranges again.
After work the next day I will pitch the yeast and put the fermenter into a temperature-controlled chamber. You have the option of using the collection bucket as the fermenter or dumping it into your fermenter of choice which provides the added benefit of aeration and separating out whatever has precipitated during the chill.
I need to crunch more numbers on how to make the most of mash hopping but it does seem as though eliminating the boil on all-grain beers could provide a big benefit to commercial brews by cutting out the cost of bringing at 15bbl+ batch to a boil as well as all the equipment to make that happen.
Sidenote: Wort Limitations
Without a boil you cannot concentrate the wort for bigger beers. It is a limit of this system. I have gotten away with a Belgian tripel at 9.5% via the 15% sugar addition. Partigyle or first running beers are still an option though.
This article was prompted way back when Owly055 started a discussion on time-saving methods. Overall, this method cuts my usual eight-hour full brewday to three hours.
And the effect has not been to cheapen the experience or rush but to brew more often than ever before. For the last six months – over twenty brews – I’ve used this new method to make things from sours to blondes, stouts, and Belgians. I’ve given the beer to friends and family and even debuted much of it at an Xmas party with good praise. The ultimate validation would be to try and compete.