My Brewing Process
Note: this page is no longer up to date and my process somewhat changed since writing this. An update page (with pictures) will soon be up.
There are lots of ways to brew beer, and I've gone through quite a few of them before settling on my preferred process. Though very popular throughout the world, my process is considered non-conventional, and up until not long ago was completely ignored by the "professionals" of the homebrewing world like brewing magazines, books, etc.
It is important to understand that the "traditional" process of homebrewing, that which is taught in most homebrewing books and websites, was mostly extrapolated from the processes of commercial breweries. This makes sense, but there are a lot of factors that are very relevant for commercial breweries - that brew beer at a tremendously large scale - but have absolutely no relevance in the homebrewing world, where the average batch is a mere 20 liters. The tradional homebrewing process is, thus, full of ideas and tasks which are pure myth and completely unnecessary.
My brewing process is as follows:
I brew 10L all-grain batches on a gas stove-top, in an 18L stainless steel pot that has no spigots or any attachments. I mash in this pot using the BIAB method. That means that when mashing, I heat a certain amount of water in the pot to the desired strike temperature, then drape the inside of the pot with a bag made of a fine net of voile cloth. I then add the crushed grains into this bag, close the pot with the lid, and wrap it with a sleeping bag to help it maintain temperature during the (usually) one hour long rest period (this is at least true for simple infusion mashes, which is what I and most homebrewers usually do). At the end of the mash, I simple lift the bag out of the pot (with the grains inside it), and let it drain above the pot for a few minutes, or however long I have strength to hold the heavy bag.
This mashing method is in contrast to the traditional method, in which the mash is done in a separate device - usually a cooler that has a spigot affixed with some sort of a strainer - and then strained into the brewing pot by opening the spigot.
After mashing, I usually perform a sparge by simply dunking the bag in a large bowl with water at about 70 degrees Celsius for a few minutes. There are a lot of ways to sparge; some people rinse the grains in the bag (or the cooler) with the sparge water, some don't sparge at all (me too, at times, when I just don't feel like it).
After the mash, I have a certain amount of wort in the pot (significantly less than before, as the grains absorbed a lot of the water). I begin bringing the pot up to a boil by striking the stove top on maximum heat. When I'm done sparging, I pour the sparge water into the pot, and fill it to my desired boil volume with boiling water from a kettle.
Until the wort reaches a boil, I keep the lid on the pot to help it reach boil temperature more quickly. Once a boil is reached, I set the lid to cover about 3/4 of the pot (it is not a good idea to cover the pot during the boil) in order to help it maintain the boil.
When adding hops, I simply dump them into the pot instead of putting them inside a hop bag (which is made of a fine mesh similar to the BIAB bag). I do my hop additions 20 minutes later than the recipe calls for, as I'm using the No-Chill method (explained later) after the boil (actually, it's a bit more complicated than that, but never mind for now).
Close to the end of the boil - usually 15 minutes - I will add yeast nutrient to the boiling wort. The common opinion is the yeast nutrient is not required when brewing beer, but it can't hurt and I like to make sure the yeast have the nutrients they need.
Once the boil is complete, must people will start to chill the wort to fermentation temperature (trying to reach it as fast as possible), transfer it to the fermentor, and initiate fermentation. In order to chill the wort, they will utilize different methods such as dunking the pot into an ice bath, or using special chillers such as immersion, counter-flow or plate chillers. All of these involve a lot of water.
I, on the other hand, prefer not to chill the wort at all after boiling (well, not manually that is). Instead, after the boil I immediately transfer the wort to a santizied HDPE container (a Jerry Can if you will), known in the No-Chill world as a "No-Chill Cube". I do not strain the wort when doing so, I do not perform a "whirlpool" or "vorlauf" before doing so in order to get rid of some of the trub in the pot, I simply dump the wort from the pot until the cube is full. Once full, I squeeze as much of the air out of the cube as possible, close it with its airtight lid, and lay it on its side for 10 minutes (the wort is still near-boiling at this point, which helps sanitize the cube and the lid). In order to transfer the wort from the pot to the cube, I do not use a hose (like I mentioned before, my pot has no spigot), I simply grab the pot and pour the wort from a height into the cube, using a funnel. This is in contrast to the traditional recommendation of not agitating the wort when it is hot in order to avoid something called "hot side aeration", which I (and many others) found to be a myth.
Once inside the cube, the wort will continue to cool naturally over a period of hours upon hours, even days, until it reaches room temperature. That means that I will not initiate fermentation at the same day of brewing the beer, but anywhere from 1 day to several months after. Yes, I said several months. I've gone as much as two months between brewing a beer and starting its fermentation.
When I'm ready to begin fermentation, I will clean and sanitize my fermentor (currently I have two HDPE fermentors by German manufacturer Speidel, in the past I had glass carboys and PTE Better Bottles); I will hydrate the yeast (I use dry yeast, as it's all that is available in Israel) according to the recommendations of the yeast manufacturer; I will dump the wort from the no-chill cube into the fermentor (using a funnel); I will aerate the wort by laying the fermentor on its side and rolling it vigorously back and forth; and pitch the yeast. I do not strain the wort when transferring it the fermentor, which a lot of people do.
After pitching the yeast, I will affix the fermentor with an airlock that has vodka in it. The airlock is meant to prevent airborne microorganisms from entering the beer from outside, while allowing gas to bubble out of the fermentor (during fermentation, yeast will generate a lot of CO2). Other people might use water, which is not sanitary and may get sucked into the fermentor if there's a temperature shift, thus possibly infecting the batch. Others might use a sanitizer, but if it gets sucked into the beer, then you might ruin your beer. Vodka, on the other hand, is a mild disinfectant, and if sucked into the beer, then all you did was raise the alcohol content of your beer a little bit.
The traditional recommendation is that after a few days of fermentation (when most of the activity is made), the wort is transferred from the first fermentor (called the "primary") into a secondary fermentor (called "secondary"). The reason for the recommendation is that supposedly the yeast, which floculate to the bottom of the fermentor, will be under a lot of pressure from the beer above them, causing their temperature to rise and eventually causing them to rapture and die (i.e. autolysis), which will cause off-flavors to the final beer. Thus the general recommendation is to transfer the beer to a secondary fermentor after no more than five or seven days. This, however, is complete bullshit. Like I said before, this recommendation comes from the commercial world, where the fermentor is huge, and the pressure on the yeast is indeed tremendous. On a homebrewing scale, however, this is simply not true. This makes transferring to a secondary fermentor completely unnecessary. Plus, transferring to a secondary means risking infecting your beer. I've gone up to 3 or 4 months in the primary fermentor with no problems.
Priming and Bottling
Once fermentation has finished, I will transfer the beer from the fermentor into a cleaned and sanitized Party Pig, which is a plastic dispenser that is meant to provide a cheaper and simpler alternative to kegs. I will add between 1/4 to 1/3 of boiled table sugar to the Party Pig, so that the yeast that have remained in the beer will eat this sugar and carbonate the beer. I will then let the beer sit for 2-3 weeks at about 21 degrees Celsius, until it has finished carbonating.
Finishing (Spicing, Flavoring)
If the recipe calls for it, I might also add flavoring when transferring the beer into the Party Pig. By "flavoring" I usually mean a tincture of herbs and spices soaked in vodka for a few days/weeks. Most people will add such herbs and spices to the wort during the boil, but I prefer to use the vodka method. Of course, when adding to the "keg", I first strain the herbs and spices out of the tincture.