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I know the 'general' answers: "it allows the yeast to 'clean up' compounds", "it allows the beer to 'condition'", "it allows the flavors to come together", none of which I am satisfied with.

My question is: given proper-to-over pitch rates, cold-pitching (to minimize acetaldehyde/diacetyl production and precursors), and careful monitoring of fermentation temperature, is there any practical reason that homebrewers cannot turn beers around quickly, like in a commercial brewery? Is it diastatic pressure?

For instance, I made a California Common last fall, and was just below a lager pitch rate for a 5G batch. Pitched at 60*, fermented there for 4 days, fermented 4 more days raising up slowly (2-3*/day) to 70*, cold-crashed for 12 hours, gelatin, racked, quick-carbed and served. And it was great.

I'm not saying I didn't get lucky on the above-batch, but for any beer below say 6% alcohol, I would love some information on what is happening to the beer after FG is reached.

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I recommend reading White & Zainasheff's Yeast book, which answers this question in great detail: amazon.com/Yeast-Practical-Fermentation-Brewing-Elements/dp/… –  Galapagos Jim Apr 29 '13 at 19:02
    
Yeah, I have a copy and have read it twice...and probably not retained more than 10% of it! I will check it tonight, just thought I'd put the question out there. –  Pietro Apr 29 '13 at 19:16
    
edited. I also hit it with gelatin once its cold-crashed it I have time. –  Pietro Apr 29 '13 at 19:35

2 Answers 2

The reality is that unless you filter you will have yeast in your beer. Based upon the yeast the recipe of the beer etc. you will end up with different by-products from fermentation which the yeast can degrade. These don't include fusel alcohols (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusel_alcohol) which to my knowledge can't be broken down by yeast, but instead recombine with each other over time to make esters and other compounds which smooth out the taste. But attenuation and mouthfeel etc. can change dramatically depending upon how long you let the beer sit in the bottle with yeast or on the yeast cake in the fermenter.

The really serious problem would be to bottle a stuck fermentation, but if you measure gravities and let the beer hit what you expected from your final gravity you would be fine bottling or kegging. Low gravity beers should be fine for this kind of treatment. It is really only with higher gravity beers and for some adjuncts that you would want to age/condition on a yeast cake. I had a rye beer which was about 60% rye and it was viscous like motor oil soon after bottling, but became much less viscous over time.

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It comes down to the amount of control you have over the process. A typical homebrewer fermenting in a basement, pitching yeast directly from a small sachet or vial is dealing with variable temperature and variable viability/pitching rates, and so doesn't have as much control as a commercial brewery, which is the main reason why turn around times are typically longer for the homebrewer.

I'm assuming you have temperature control, in which case you have several key benefits:

  • constant beer temperature, which helps reduce the amount of unwanted flavors in the beer caused by fluctuating temperature, producing a cleaner beer from the outset
  • the ability to ramp up at the end of ferementation, encouraging the yeast to continue to metabolize and clean up the beer, when they would normally drop out.
  • the ability to then crash cool in place, and rack off a fairly clear beer with most of the yeast and proteins dropped out, removing the flavor these would impart.

So, with temperature control you do have the ability to turn around beer in a shorter time than without.

I am building a temperature controller for these reasons - to be able to better control the fermentation process and reduce turnaround time for my beers.

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I do have a temp controller (single stage, but I switch the jumper based on whether I need to go warmer or cooler than ambient). This also could be a separate question, but on most ales, I really don't worry about controlling the temp after the first 3-5 days. If I'm not in a rush, I will cap the temp on an APA at 66 for 5 days, then bring the fermenter upstairs where the ambient temp is 68-70 and let it ride for another week or so. Cold crash, gel, keg, serve. Other than proper yeast pitches, it has been the single biggest factor in me making better beer. –  Pietro Apr 29 '13 at 20:20

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