May 16, 2014

Solo Brewing

Not what I mean when I say, "solo."
My first South Carolina brew session is behind me.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it was a solo brew.  This whole "brew by yourself" is a new thing for me.  While a typical brew day involves conversations over mash tuns and pints of beer over boil kettles, this one was a little different.  Ok, very different.  It was all up to me.  From hitting mash temps to sanitizing a plate chiller, it was all mine to do.

"What's the big deal?" you may be asking.  "People do this solo brew
thing all the time."

Well, yeah, people do brew solo all the time.  But I think having a brew partner is a favorable thing - and it's something I am quite accustomed to.

Sharing stories and beers is one of the best things about brewing with someone else.  But division of labor ain't bad either: one can monitor the boil-overs while another cleans the mash tun.  I knew that I wasn't going to have the luxury of splitting the duties on this particular brew day.

Nor is this...
So, here are a few things that I learned on my all-grain solo brew day.
  1. Know the process.  And I am not just talking about water, grain, sparge, boil, cool, pitch.  I mean, know what needs to be done and when.  What do you no longer need so you can go ahead and clean it and put it away?  Once the boil starts, you don't need the mash tun; clean it.  Having brewed on my current setup many times with a friend helped me tremendously when starting out by myself.  If you're new to brewing, prepare for some long-ish days until you get in a good rhythm.  If you can, recruit someone else who is interested or, preferably, more experienced.  The partner aspect will help you out until you get comfortable.
  2. Planning is essential - unless you want to be cleaning all day.  Part of planning is knowing the process (see above), but having a game plan for what can happen now or 15 minutes from now can make things run more smoothly.  Know what you have to pay attention to and when in the brew process and plan your cleaning and sanitizing around that.  If you plan right, cleanup gets segregated and seems way less burdensome.
  3. Beer is not your replacement friend.  It's tempting to drink a lot while you brew.  You're out there for hours, often thirsty, and beer is on the forefront your mind.  But, let me tell you, drinking doesn't do any favors at the end of a brew day.  Motivation is sapped.  Thought processes are slowed.  There are hot liquids and glass containers and the most important part of brewing happens at the end:  yeast!  Screwing up that part can ruin a whole day's effort.  I didn't drink a beer until the kettles were away and carboys were in the fridge.  I probably could've loosened up toward the end of the boil and had a lovely, refreshing, delicious beer.  It just ended up that I was too busy to drink.

    Or this.
So, there are a few things to think about.  I'm sure these are painfully obvious to some of you - and they even apply if you brew with a partner.  I may catch flack about #3 above, as many people brew because it is an excuse to drink beer at 9:00 a.m., but I stand by my list.  If you want a safe, efficient brew day, keep the brewskis to a minimum.

If you are a solo brewer, anything you would add to the list?  Partner brewers, what would you miss most if you had to brew alone?

Until next time, brewers.