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For all grain brewers, what part of the brew session lends itself best to shortening the total brew session. Time is tight for me these days and shortening up the brew session a bit will certainly keep my wife and family happy. A happy family means more brew sessions in the future.

Is a more powerful burner the answer to shortening the ramping time of getting a kettle to boil? Ultra-efficient chilling devices to cut time off the chill?

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What sort of chilling system are you using? –  Taylor Jan 20 '10 at 19:21
    
I am using an immersian chiller. 50ft, 1/2inch. Its pretty efficient. I have a pump that I haven't started using yet. So maybe getting the whirlpool immersion chill methid going will speed things up. I have friends with plate chillers and those are pretty fast. –  brewchez Jan 20 '10 at 22:59

5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The few techniques I use to speed things along are:

  1. Setup the night before.
  2. Start early - there is nothing worse than cleaning boil kettles and mash-tuns at midnight.
  3. If you need to pre-boil your water to remove chlorine and/or carbonates, do it the night before.
  4. Start heating the wort in your kettle as soon as you have a gallon or so collected, by the time you have the collected the full amount it will almost be boiling.
  5. Use a shroud on your boil kettle to protect the burner from cross-drafts and channel the heat up the side of the vessel.
  6. Use a counterflow or plate chiller.
  7. Use the hot output from the chiller to wash out your mash-tun.
  8. Get the biggest sink you can find and install it in your basement/garage. Cleanup is the least fun part of brewing so anything to make it easier is worth it.
  9. Don't drink too many beers before the first hop addition to the boil, everything gets easier after that.
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There is nothing further from the truth than #2. –  brewchez Jan 20 '10 at 23:02
    
+1 for heating the wort when it first hits the kettle. –  Dean Brundage Jan 21 '10 at 3:51
    
+1 for heating the wort when it first hits the kettle. +1 for using the waste water to clean. –  Dean Brundage Jan 21 '10 at 3:52
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reluctant +1 for not drinking too much beer –  Mark McDonald Jun 12 '11 at 5:39

Let's look at the different steps, and see where the times goes, and how to make it shorter. I've found that overlapping steps when possible is the best way to save time.

Setup

If all your equipment is ready to go, this takes 10 minutes. I have a box of all my gadgets. So I have to grab the kettles, burner, etc., and I'm good to go. Keeping equipment in easy reach keeps this step quick.

Bringing mash water to boil

This is where the big burner comes in handy for sure. I can boil 7-8 gallons of water in a few minutes (10-15) on my propane burner. If you only have a stove, splitting the water into smaller kettles and using more than one burner will make this faster.

Cooling to desired temp

I just wait. This is probably a step I could make faster by using my chiller.. But I just wait.

Mashing

I don't think there's any way to make this step faster.

Bringing sparge water to boil

As long as you do this while you're mashing, it doesn't increase the length of your day at all. I like to get the water boiling, and let it cool, just in time for when I need to sparge. Timing is important there. Sometimes I'll put the pot on the stove on low, to maintain the temperature.

Cooling to desired temp

See above.

Sparging

I honestly don't think I've been sparging correctly, but see this post for more info on various methods of sparging.

Boiling off excess liquid (if necessary)

If this is necessary, go ahead and start your boil while you're sparging. This saves a lot of time. Also, a harder boil evaporates water faster, so turn up that burner. Just make sure you don't burn the bottom.

The boil

Can't really speed this step up. Good time to do other things though. Like clean.

Cooling

A wort chiller is necessary. Letting 5 gallons of boiling wort cool on its own takes all night. Get an immersion chiller or a counter-flow plate chiller. An ice bath works, but the chillers with shave minutes to hours off your day.

Transfer to fermenter

Practice makes perfect.

Cleanup

Try to cleanup as you go. If you can clean everything while the wort chills, you'll have 20 minutes left afterward to finish up.

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Why do you boil your mash water instead of just bringing it to the desired temperature? I have this cool gadget called a thermometer that tells me what temp something is. ;-) –  Dean Brundage Jan 21 '10 at 14:43
    
Why do you boil your mash & sparge water instead of just bringing it to the desired temperature? I have this cool gadget called a thermometer that tells me what temp something is. ;-) –  Dean Brundage Jan 21 '10 at 14:44
    
Just to make sure I'm using nice clean water. I guess I could skip that step since I boil it all later.. Never really thought about it. –  hookedonwinter Jan 21 '10 at 15:15

I've done a few brew-in-a-bag sessions. That really shortens up your brewday. Read up about the other Aussie brewing sensation: no-chill.

A typical BIAB session is about four hours, cut down from a normal all-grain brewday of 7-8. Do the no-chill method and you cut another half an hour off.

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This is facinating! Thanks for sharing, specifically about the no-chill. –  Mlusby Nov 23 '10 at 3:27
    
Came here to say this. BIAB + No Chill = ridiculously quick day. Everyone should start brewing this way. I do normal mashing schedules now, but use a bag to hold the grain, so its a little more complex than BIAB, but you still have no fear of stuck sparges or anything. Works like a charm and you can get your mash tun set up for $5-6 or so (used 5gal cooler + $2 paint strainer bag from Lowes = DONE). –  Graham Jun 13 '11 at 12:19

Batch sparging will cut nearly an hour off your brew day compared to fly sparging.

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Already doing that, but very true. –  brewchez Jul 23 '11 at 0:08

Pipelining of course helps any sequential process.

Many people mash too long. We don't really need to mash for "one hour"; we need to mash until the starches are converted to sugar. With modern day highly-modified malts and quality control, this might be occurring in as little as 20 or 30 minutes; use an iodine test to see if conversion is complete early.

You can usually skip any mash-out step (raising the mash temp from ~150 to ~170) with minimal impact.

As mentioned, start firing the kettle as soon as some runnings are introduced.

If you're batch sparging, you can drain your mash and sparge basically as fast as possible; you don't really need to have a limited flow-rate, as with fly-sparging.

Cooling is a function of the differential in temperature, so adding a pre-chiller to your cooling water can help. I have a ~10g tub of water with a sump-pump driving it through my immersion cooler. The first couple of gallons of super-hot water get dumped, and once things get down to ~100 °F I'll add ice to the cooling water; that'll drop the temp right quick. Keeping the wort moving while cooling (either via stirring or with a pump or whatever) will help tremendously, as well. Of course, nothing's going to beat a proper plater chiller. :)

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But there's more to it than simply "conversion". What is the profile of the wort you're creating? I've actually started going to longer mashes in order to produce a more fermentable, less dextrinous wort. Commercial brewers do a shorter mash because the sparge and runoff can take a couple hours. Since they're at mash temps that whole time, they are in effect doing a mash longer than it may appear. –  Denny Conn Jun 11 '11 at 21:10
    
Great point Denny. Also something to be considered when thinking about accounting for Whirlpool hop additions on the pro-side and how to account for that in the home brewery. –  brewchez Jul 23 '11 at 0:10

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