Ben Stange on June 12, 2015 0 Comments The secret to making consistently excellent beer is perfecting the brewing process. Having all of your processes “down” will not only help you to make excellent beer, it will also make your brew days easier, shorter, and better in every way. There are many keys to mastering your processes, but the most important one may be repetition. Brewing as often as possible will really help you master your brew day and make forgotten steps and organization issues far less common. After all, practice makes perfect. There is more to mastering your brew day than just repeating steps over and over again, though. It’s important to take the time to analyze and modify your brewing processes regularly in an effort to improve upon them. What is a Feedback Loop? A Feedback Loop is a very effective tool in implementing new processes, refining existing processes, or knowing when to retire old processes. The general idea is to operate in iterations, or repetitions, which allow you to monitor changes and evaluate how they affect your finished product. Essentially, you plan a process, implement the plan, assess the successes or shortcomings of your plan, and implement changes to correct those problems. It looks something like this: As an example, let’s say you use an ice water bath to cool your wort. In your notes, you show that it is taking an hour to chill your beer this way. So, you make a plan to buy a wort chiller. You implement the plan by buying an immersion chiller and using it on your next batch. You then find that your chilling time is now 30 minutes, so you’ve cut it in half, but you still think you may be able to improve upon this, so you once again make a plan. You use a pump to recirculate ice water through the immersion chiller rather than using water from the hose. In your assessment, you find that the cooling time shortened by another three minutes, but you also realize that using the ice water is problematic, as you have to buy ice each brew day or invest in an ice maker. So, you reassess the situation and decide to build a counter-flow chiller out of your immersion chiller. This plan is implemented, and the chilling time is shortened to 20 minutes, and you find you use far less water than when you were using the immersion chiller. We’ve just gone through the feedback loop three times. Brew It Again As a brewer, you should have your go-to beer that you brew the same way every time. Evaluating your brew day is a lot easier if you aren’t comparing lagers to porters. This will allow you to fine-tune your brewing procedures and avoid bad habits that cause off-flavors or inconsistency in your beer. You should be able to brew a recipe the same way every time and it should taste just as good every time. I like to use this Pale Ale recipe to evaluate how well I am brewing. By periodically brewing the same beer, I learn how changes made to my brewing process affect my finished product. I also get to have my favorite beer around all the time, which is always a nice bonus. Start With the Assessment Step Doing an initial assessment of your brewing processes can help you understand where you can improve your processes the most. Have a brew day where you brew your go-to evaluation beer, in this case I’m going to use my aforementioned pale ale recipe. Record the times when you start the processes, such as heating strike water, mashing, recirculating, sparging, and boiling, etc. You should also make a note of their duration and any problems or unusual occurrences you encounter. Make a special note of anything that delayed you, interrupted you, or otherwise broke your stride. All of this is important to track, as it will help you learn more about the details of your brew day. You should also record anything that went wrong and may contribute to an off-flavor in your beer or an unusual result. If your wort chiller leaks or your ball valve is dirty, make a note of it. If your mash was stuck or you boiled over, you should also make a note of that. Not sure what to make note of while brewing? If you aren’t sure what to record, we have a downloadable brewing log which will help you out. It will also help to know what you are trying to improve upon specifically. For instance, if you are focusing on speeding up your brew day, you would need to be sure you are recording the times and durations of all of the activities during your brew day, making special notes on anything that delayed you. If you’re keeping a general journal to try and increase the quality and consistency of your beers, you’ll need to collect a lot more data, such as recording every step of your brew day and if anything unusual happened. Make notes of anything that may make a difference. Which sanitizer did you use? Did you clean your ball valve before brewing? Did you have a stuck mash? More importantly, record all the statistics of your beer. What was your original gravity? What was your brewhouse efficiency? How did the beer taste at bottling? How did it taste after it was carbonated? By recording this type of information, you have measurable data to compare against the next time you brew the same recipe. It allows you to be more confident in any conclusions you may draw about your beer. Whether you are trying to shorten your brew day, improve your flow, or just improve your beer, using a baseline recipe to evaluate your brewing processes through a feedback loop will help you to isolate, correct, and eliminate problems in your brew day. In the end, you’ll make better beer more quickly and more consistently, and more beer is always better than less beer.