Saturday, January 29, 2011

The importance of good brewing equipment

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A few weeks back a buddy of mine and I got to talking about different breweries that we like and what it is we like about them. After a bit of discussion we realized that many of the breweries we enjoy, we enjoy because of how they do a particular style. For example, Dogfish Head is known for their IPAs (60, 90 & 120), Bells for their stouts (Expedition, Kalamazoo, Java, Double Cream, +8 more according to their website), Capital Brewing Company for their lagers, and the New Glarus Brewing Company for their fruit beers (Wisconsin Belgian Red & Raspberry Tart). This got me to thinking about the effect of brewing equipment on the final product. Could Dogfish Head have an equipment setup that is conducive to IPAS? Is Bells equipment ideal for stouts? Don't get me wrong, I am aware that attention to detail, and a good recipe that is carried out by a capable & experienced staff all bear influence on the final product, but this time around I am curious about the effect equipment has on the beer it helps produce.

In the beginning of my research, I came across an article that Charlie Papazian wrote in 2009. The article is about how brewing equipment affects the beer it helps make. Specifically, he provided the following four points about how kettle and tank design can influence beer character. Please note that the brown text is my commentary & not Mr. Papazian's.
  • Color of the beer – Even though it’s liquid boiling inside there is a degree of caramelization that occurs. That means color and flavor change. Depending on the method of heat exchange and the degree of motion available to the brew while it boils effects how much darker the color and caramel the flavor happens. For brewers desiring the lightest of lagers these kinds of reactions are avoided. For brewers formulating more flavorful beers a degree of caramelization is sometimes desired. The common types of heat exchange utilized when heating/boiling wort are direct fire + manual stirring of the wort, a recirculating infusion mash system (RIMS), or a heat exchanged recirculating Mash system (HERMS).
  • Beer stability - Without a vigorous boil many essential reactions and transformations have a more difficult time in happening. Vigorous boils helps the clarity of the beer and drives off undesirable compounds that can later result in sometimes not so pleasant sweet corn-like flavors. Foam stability also has a lot to do with kettle configuration and vigorous boils. Poorly designed brewing equipment can introduce oxygen into the brewing process which will later accelerate oxidative reactions that are detrimental to flavor, aroma, clarity and foam quality. A good article about beer foam can be found here. A possible example of poorly designed brewing equipment could be one that has cracks/holes at the top of the kettle or mash tun through which air can enter the brewing system.
  • Hop utilization – hops in the kettle require significant swirling with vigorous boiling. If this doesn’t happen then all those interesting hop characters have difficulty making the transition from hop to brew. When I brew I rely on the boil to work the hops I use throughout my wort. I have not tried dry hopping but should I want to work the hops into my beer more I believe I will periodically swirl the fermenting wort. I will let you know what I try and what works best for me.
  • Healthy tasting beer – Remember yeast is a living organism. Just like all forms of life the environment in which it is lived affects behavior. When behavior is affected then resulting byproducts of life vary. Brewers have to take into effect tank size and configuration and assess how it will affect the lives of yeast and their metabolism of carbohydrates to sugars, alcohol and other flavor by products. A very tall tank will result in an immense amount of hydrostatic pressure on the yeast cell walls on the bottom of the tank. Pressure effects life process. Life atop Everest is different than Miami beach. Skilled brewers make adjustments throughout the process to compensate and dial in the consistent beer characters they seek. To learn more about yeast, consider reading 'Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation' by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff.
This is a general look at the importance of knowing your equipment when brewing beer. For additional information, I suggest you peruse the internet, check your local library for pertinent books, or ask your fellow homebrewers.


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