Have you ever needed to have beer ready for a get-together on short notice? Or you run out of homebrew, and itch to have more on tap ASAP? My lack of planning and foresight have put me in this situation more times than I can count! If you own a kegging system, you have the ability to brew a beer in under 7 days if you make the right choices. In this post, I describe a recent situation where this happened to me, with some tricks in how to turn a beer around from grain-to-glass as quickly as possible.

What happened to me

Recently, Shortfinger Brewing and Royal City Brewing decided to join up and hold a BJCP sanctioned competition dubbed the Royal Finger Homebrew Competition. This competition allowed entries into 7 different BJCP categories. I purchased an entry, and allowed my future self to deal with deciding what to brew and when to brew it.

Naturally, life got in the way and 2 weeks before the submission deadline I realized that I did not have any beer that fit into any of the categories for the competition. I also didn’t have very many available brew days. I had to act quickly if I didn’t want my entry to go to waste. The Wednesday the week before the competition deadline the strike water hit the grain. 10 days later, the finished beer was hitting the bottle and being run over to Royal City brewing as a competition entry.

Things to consider

The goal is to ferment the beer as quickly as possible while still having a quality fermentation. While the quick lager method can reduce the amount of time required to make a lager (perhaps a subject of a future post), you really want to limit yourself to ale strains that will get the job done quickly. I chose to brew an English Porter (my Brownian Motion recipe with some slight tweaks), based on the relatively low OG of the beer, as well as the low attenuating, high flocculating yeasts usually used in English style beer. In general, the elements that need to be considered when trying to quickly turn a brew around are:

  • Use an Ale yeast (preferably liquid as dry yeast tend to have longer lag times)
  • Low OG
  • Force carbonation. Bottle conditioning can use these ideas too. It’s just impossible to make a beer in 7 days that must be bottle conditioned.
  • If the appearance matters to you, consider a style that doesn’t require clarity, or use a high flocculating yeast.
  • A vitality starter doesnt’t hurt!

A Rough Brewing Schedule and What I Did

Before Brew Day

Make sure you have a healthy, viable pitch of yeast. You don’t want to under pitch as that can arguably take more time to completely ferment out the beer. If this requires new yeast, go get some. If you have time to make a starter, do it.

On Brew Day

Before brewing, you can use a vitality starter. This means you feed the yeast that will be going into your beer with a little bit of malt extract, just to wake them up and get them going. This isn’t necessary, but can reduce lag times substantially. I usually use 50 g of malt extract in 500 mL of water. Once you have finished brewing, pitch the yeast as you normally would and start fermenting. I usually add concentrated O2 into my wort at this point. Anything you can do to encourage the yeast to have a quick healthy growth phase, is beneficial to you turning your beer around ASAP.

My brew: I used Escarpment Labs English Ale I in a wort with an OG of 1.052. This yeast has extremely high flocculation, and an attenuation of 63-71%. I set my fermentation chamber to 19 C, and left it to do its thing. This all happened on Wednesday evening (less than 10 days before the competition).

Fermentation and Ramp Up (2-4 days)

Most of the esters and temperature-created off flavours are produced during the growth-phase of the yeast. Once a low gravity ale has been fermenting for 48-72 hours, most of the growth is complete, and the beer will be > 50% attenuated. At this point, you can ramp the temperature up 2-3 degrees C. I typically do this with most of my beers as it seems to promote complete attenuation and cleanup.

My brew: I had to go out of town, so I was only able to check it after 72 hours (Sunday evening). At this point the fermentation seemed to be very close to finishing. At this point, I set my fermentation chamber to 21 and left it to sit for a further 24 hours.

After The Ramp Up

At this point, the yeast should pretty well be done their thing. To be sure, I usually take a hydrometer reading and check the gravity. I usually drink this sample to see if I can detect any off flavours. If so, I let the beer sit a little longer, and sample again 12-24 hours later.

My brew: The beer was already pretty clean after the first 24 hour ramp up (Monday Evening). It had attenuated down to 1.015 (expected was 1.016). The beer was good to move on to the next step.

Cold-Crashing

For a high-flocculating yeast like English Ale I, a cold crash isn’t necessary to remove the yeast. However, carbonation will require the beer to be cold anyway, so why not take advantage of that cooling stage anyway? I usually chill the beer as cold as I can. My fermentation chamber allows me to go below 0 C, but that isn’t always the case.

My brew: Once the porter had cleaned up after itself, I set the temperature of my fermentation chamber to -0.5 C and let it cool (Started Monday Evening).

Fining (for clear styles)

Fining adds 12-24 hours to the process, so this can be skipped if you need the beer really fast.

I personally find many styles taste better after being cold-crashed and fined, as that process removes some left over yeast and the polyphenols that can contribute to chill haze and astringency. For fining, I use gelatine. I’ve read that once the beer has reached 10 C, you can add gelatine. I normally wait until the beer is below 5 C to add the gelatine, as I really want to the beer to be clear. The gelatine takes 12-24 hours to work its magic.

My brew: I added gelatine Tuesday Morning.

Kegging and Carbonating

Once the beer is ready for packaging, you can rack into the keg like you normally would. A quick way to carbonate the beer without fear of overcarbonation is to set the pressure to the pressure you want to serve at, and rock the keg gently at this pressure for a while. One can also set the pressure slightly higher than serving to reach carbonation sooner. You can actually hear the CO2 flowing into the keg while you do this.

My brew: For the competition, I kegged the beer Wednesday night (7 days after brewing it). I wanted the beer to have the proper amount of carbonation and I also had 4 days until the competition. I was home free on having this beer ready! So, I took my time. I set my CO2 regulator to 30 psi and left it at that setting for 24 hour hours, until Thursday night. This carbonated the beer most of the way. I then released the pressure in the keg and set the regulator to my serving pressure of 10 psi. I would not touch the beer again until Saturday.

Bottling/The End

Most of the time, once your beer is carbonated you are done. Enjoy! However, this was being submitted to a competition, so I had one final step. On Saturday afternoon, a couple of hours before the submission deadline, I poured a couple of pints off of my keg to enjoy while I bottled and to remove the last bit of gunk that would have collected at the bottom of the keg. I used my bottle gun to bottle up 3 bottles (two for the competition, and one for me to drink while reading the judges feedback). I ran the beer over to Royal City, and this competition brew was complete!

The porter I brewed in less than 10 days. I entered this beer into the Royal Finger homebrew competition.

Summary

If you keg and choose the right beer to brew, you can have a beer ready in 7 days. Below is an example of a timeline that would allow you to pull this off.

Day What to Do
0 Brew beer
1-3 Fermentation/Relax
4 Ramp Up
5 Cold Crash
6 Fine
7 Carbonate and drink!