Dogma runs strong in the homebrewing community. Just like in politics and religion, homebrewers hold certain beliefs very strongly and some even get offended if you challenge them, no matter how thoughtfully and delicately. The problem with a lot of these “best brewing practices” is they’ve never been scientifically proven to make much of a difference. Perception of beer through taste, smell, feel, appearance are all subjective measurements. In addition, a lot of these brewing practices were handed down from professional brewers who brew on a much larger scale. Comparing what they do to what we do on a 5 or 10 gallon scale is not exactly apples to apples. I tend to find a little bit of enjoyment in bucking the rules a bit, mainly to save time and trouble on brew day, and still churn out what I think is still pretty darn good beer. So here’s a list of what I do “wrong”…..on purpose.
1. I never propagate and use a yeast starter. If I’m using dry yeast, I sprinkle it on my wort in the fermentor, let it sit for 30 minutes to get acclimated, then stir vigorously. If I’m using a Wyeast smackpack, I smack one pack at the beginning of my brew day, shake it every 30-45 minutes, then pour into my wort in the fermentor and stir vigorously. I’ve never had an issue with stalled fermentations, yeast derived off flavors or getting down to my target final gravity, even with my imperial stout which I’ve brewed twice and have my third batch in the fermentor now. One smackpack of London ESB 1968 brings my OG of 1.100 down to 1.025 with nary a solvent or other off flavor.
2. I don’t mess with water chemistry. Granted there are many homebrewers that use their tap water to brew. Depending on their particular water profile, it probably is necessary to supplement their water with minerals and get rid of any chlorine/chloramines. Then there is the dogma that water chemistry profiles are needed for certain styles. But I’ve decided not to mess with that. I use bottled spring water for every beer. I spend about 70 cents per gallon and I usually need about 8 gallons for a 5 gallon batch. In my opinion, it is worth that small expense to not have to worry about conditioning my water. One less thing I have to mess around with.
3. I don’t wait until my wort is at “pitching temperature” before I pitch my yeast. Dogma states that pitching yeast at elevated temperatures stresses them out, starts fermentation too quickly and throws off flavors. By the time I cool my wort as far as my chiller and groundwater will allow, my wort is in the high 80s by the time I’ve transferred it to my fermentor. Then I pitch away and then put it in my fermentation chamber where it will slowly continue to cool to fermentation temperature (usually about 68 F). I’ve never had an issue with the outcome. What I do believe in is temperature control during fermentation. Some yeasts do not do well when fermenting at elevated temperatures such as the high 70s or 80s (belgian strains excluded). I have experienced this when I used to just let my fermentor sit in my house for the entire duration at whatever my thermostat happened to sit at. The beer just wasn’t as good. But I don’t believe that elevated temps during the first 10 hours or so before fermentation really takes off is that big of a deal.
4. I don’t check or adjust my mash pH. The belief out there is that your mash needs to be ideally around 5.2-5.5 to get full enzymatic activity and starch conversion. There is scientifc evidence to back that up, so I don’t dispute that. But up to this point I’ve never bothered to check what my actual mash pH is for my assorted recipes mainly because I didn’t have a pH meter. But I’ve never had a problem hitting my gravity targets and, again, the beer came out tasting great. I did just recently buy a cheap pH meter mainly because I wanted to get into brewing a berliner weisse and pH monitoring is a bit of a necessity. So now that I have it, I’ll probably start checking my mash pH for information, but I doubt I’ll start doing adjustments.
Don’t get me wrong. All you have to do is peruse my blog to see that from time to time, I have a batch that doesn’t turn out quite right. But they are more the exception than the rule. The majority of my beers come out to my satisfaction using the above listed practices. I guess in a way, I like to keep my process as simple as possible and see what I can get away with. I’d rather focus on recipe formulation and recipe adjustments more than process tweaking. Guys out there love to tweak, expand and improve on their equipment and process. My guess is they are engineers at heart (electrical and otherwise) so they love to build and tinker. I get that and more power to them. But I don’t believe it’s necessary to have things be complicated in order to make good beer.