I wanted to share some of my beer cellaring tips, as I’ve been doing a lot of cellar work lately. I’m back in a brewhouse, after some time out, since my last consulting gig.
The brewery was previously run by someone with little commercial brewing experience and it showed. I get it, we all have to start somewhere. I was once, a pretty clueless brewing assistant, fresh out of high school.
When I take over brewery operations, I don’t make wholesale changes instantly. I like to learn current practices, keep the good and slowly introduce changes, as I see fit. But always explaining to the team why I’m making those changes.
It shows I’ve respect for what the team has done before, even if some of the previous practices weren’t those I agreed with. For instance, in this brewery, they didn’t clean the FV’s (fermentation vessels) or BBT’s (brite beer tanks) as soon as they were empty but, only when they were to fill them again!!!
As some of the tanks were not used in some time, there were some pretty gross tanks to deal with. I didn’t get angry with the team, as they were only doing as directed.
So yeah, one of the first jobs was to clean and passivate all tanks in the brewery. Considering there were over 20 cellar tanks, it took some time. So, this backstory neatly leads into my first beer cellaring tip.
Beer Cellaring Tips #1 – Clean as You Go Along
I find it hard to work in an unorganized brewery. I like to have place for everything and clean as I go. It has several benefits.
- It’s easier to clean a tank as soon as it is empty, the soiling hasn’t had time to dry out so, it’s easier to remove. Be it doing a caustic CIP** on a tank or cleaning a hop cannon.
- If something breaks or you have a problem in the brewery, you better prepared to deal with it. Fixing an issue, knowing later you’ve got stuff to clean or your brewery is dirty is much more stressful.
- Contamination or infection issues: you increase the chances of having infected beer or for it to become contaminated if you’ve a dirty brewery is dirty. One of the beers at the brewery I’m now at, was a diacetyl bomb when I arrived. Which could have come from a source of pediococcus damnosus with tanks not being cleaned properly.
There are more positives from cleaning as you go but, you get the idea. Plus, a clean brewery makes for better working environment for you and your team to work in.
** CIP stands for Clean In Place, to learn more please click here.
Beer Cellaring Tips #2 – Keeping Good Records
One of the main roles of a brewer is to find ways to improve a beer over time. Yes, you might have some beers which are dialed in, if they’re part of your core range. Newer beers might improve with a bit of tweaking over the course of several batches.
If you’re looking to make tweaks; you need to keep good, detailed records which you update every day. At a minimum you want to check gravity, pH and temperatures daily and make sure to record the data.
One of the biggest influences on a beer once it’s in FV, is the temperature of the fermentation. For example, many people use Fermentis WB-06 when making wheat beers.
At the lower end of suggested temperature range 18 to 20°C (64.4 to 68°F), you get more clove notes. At the higher end of the range 22 to 24°C (71.6 to 75.2°F), you get more banana notes typical of a German Hefeweizen.
When making tweaks, it much easier to understand them if you’ve kept good records. I like to keep notes on sensory analysis too, which I write on my fermentation sheet.
Bonus Tip – Only make one tweak per batch, it’s the only way understand how the change you made effected the final beer.
Tip #3 – The Role of pH
Understanding the role pH plays in sensory of a finished beer, will improve you as a brewer. For example, diacetyl when present in beer gives beer a butter/butterscotch off-flavor, which is easier to remove at lower pH (4.2 to 4.4).
Furthermore, a lower pH has shown to improve head retention as well. Then you have other studies in beer sensory, explaining how pH influences people’s perception of a finished beer.
For example, low beer pH (4.2 to 4.3) gives a rounder, fuller and more delicate flavor. A typical German style lager usually has a final pH of 4.2 to 4.4.
When it comes to British Ales, a pH on the lower end of the suggested range (3.9 to 4.1) produces beer with a sharper, crisper and perceived “fresher” flavor. When the pH drops below 4.0 in British beers made with British malt, the beer will taste more acidic with the perception of astringency enhanced.
Furthermore, the hop bitterness seems more pleasant and less “harsh and lingering” at this lower end. Although the perceived IBU’s (International bitterness units) may seem higher to the drinker, than actually measured. Also, the beer foam will be finer and more stable too.
The beers final pH is dependent on a number of factors. From the pH of the beer going into FV, to the type of yeast chosen. Keeping good records allows you to make tweaks to a beer and thus influencing final pH. So, you can brew a beer better received by your customers.
Beer Cellaring Tips #4 – Carbonation is King
On this site, there are few resources I’ve shared when it comes to carbonation. I’m a big fan of spunding beer to naturally carbonate it, as it ferments. For more information on spunding please read our in-depth guide by clicking here.
Spunding is fermenting under pressure. When wort is under CO2 pressure, it’ll naturally absorb some of the CO2. When you ferment beer, carbon dioxide is given off.
Brewers will tell you spunding during fermentation creates finer bubbles, better beer foam/head and produce a cleaner beer.
You can also download my guide, which lists the recommended carbonation level for each beer style. Every beer style has a suggested carbonation level with an upper and lower limit. Below is an example for some lager styles taken from the guide.
Understanding the correct carbonation level for the beer you’re brewing, and being able to naturally carbonate it (spunding), will elevate your beer for sure.
Tip #5 – Some Yeast Health Tips
If I’m re-pitching yeast, I like to go from cone to cone. There’s less chance of contamination and infection. However, I also realize it’s not possible for everyone. As much as possible I plan ahead, making a production schedule so, I can transfer yeast from cone to cone.
For example, I use a wet yeast for my Belgian Wit. The initial pitch from the yeast company goes into a Wit, the second generation goes into another wit. But the third and final generation goes in a white IPA (WIPA).
The dry-hopping schedule of the WIPA means I can’t re-use the yeast again. So, for the next Wit brew, I need to order a fresh pitch.
One thing I do, is drop some wort from the cone in a conical fermenter roughly 24 to 48 hours after the FV has been filled and yeast pitched. This gets rid of some of the sediment and trub before the yeast begins to flocculate helping promote good yeast health.
Beer Cellaring Tips #6 – Vessel Maintenance
I know we’ve covered cleaning but, this tip is subtly different. When I took over the brewery, I’m currently running, the were some very dirty tanks.
After every tank becomes empty, I like to break it down and clean all parts with dish shop. In the summer time, tanks can may suffer a lot of condensation when chilled and kept cold. Even with daily cleaning some hard to reach parts might have a little mold on the them.
Also, if the krausen leaked out of the FV, some parts might get dirty which will not be cleaned by the CIP. I like to a hot rinse a tank after it becomes empty. Remember when you rinse or CIP a tank, to have some form of venting.
Venting releases pressure or allows air into the tank (if doing a cold rinse). This will release any built-up pressure or stop the tank from imploding. After a hot rinse I’ll do a quick cold rinse.
I’ll then break down the tank, clean all the parts with dish soap, rinse and put the tank back together ready for the CIP. I know other breweries may have a different process and some breweries CIP under pressure too.
I’m just sharing my technique. Once the tank has been chemical cleaned and rinsed, it’s ready for sterilization and beer filling. If a tank is empty for more than 72 hours, I will often do a quick acid CIP the day before I fill the tank again.
Tanks also need to be passivated on a regular basis, many brewers passivate their tanks every 6 months or so. To learn more about tank passivation, please read my guide by clicking here.
Beer Cellaring Tips – Conclusions
When it comes to brewing; time and temperatures are key and this is true for cellaring as well. For example, you need time to clean up diacetyl in some beer styles. Temperature plays an important role in flavor profile and sensory analysis.
Keeping records will help you tweak beers and problem solve, if a batch has an issue. Data really is your friend I brewing.
Cleaning as you go has many advantages, which we’ve already listed. As one of my first head brewers used to say “cleanliness is next to godliness Neilly”. This phrase has stuck with me throughout my brewing career so, I always clean as I work.
I hope these beer cellaring tips I’ve shared, has allowed you to learn something new. I believe to be a good brewer; you need to constantly read/learn to pick up new knowledge. Brewing is constantly evolving, with new techniques or studies being shared.
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-> I’m also a brewing consultant, helping people with their brewing projects and/or improve their brewing processes. If you’d like to some assistance in your brewing endeavors then please feel free to message me too.