I really drew the short straw here. And if you’re reading this, so did you.
Just kidding! Sort of… This is certainly one for the purists, the nerds and brew-curious among you. So let’s start at the top. What is brewing efficiency? And why do brewers pay so much attention to it?
Let’s start by saying that brewers are not measuring how well they can minimise the time and cost to brew their beer. No, no, no. Brewing efficiency is the measurement of potential fermentables converted into sugar in your wort. It is usually measured by a percentage, with a higher value indicating a better output.
So, before going any further, some simple steps to brewing beer. Those of you who have done a brewery tour will have forgotten this, but here goes:
You soak your grain, typically malted barley, in hot water to produce a sugary solution, or “wort”.
You then boil the sugary solution adding any hops wanted to enhance flavour and bitterness.
You cool the solution and add yeast to begin fermentation.
The yeast reacts with the sugars in the solution to release carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol.
When fermentation is complete, you carbonate the beer, package it (bottle, can or keg) and BOOM. You’ve got beer.
So what brewing efficiency basically measures is, ‘are you getting the most out of your grain?’. By soaking the grain in hot water you are effectively extracting fermentable sugars from the grain that will later react with the yeast to produce alcohol. So how much bang for your buck are you getting from the grain?
Unfortunately, you could have the exact same amount of grain in two different brews and end with varying efficiencies. Because things like temperature control, pH management and water purity can all affect how many sugars you extract from the grain. This is why brewers control and record every aspect of their brewing process from start to finish, recording every step of every brew in order to assure quality of the final product.
A typical brewing efficiency will be somewhere between 60% and 80%. A higher brewing efficiency will mean more fermentable sugars and therefore a higher alcohol content in the beer. It also means using less grain, or malt, which can save larger breweries a significant amount of money when they’re brewing regular, large batches of beer. As a home brewer, I wouldn’t worry too much about it being closer to 80%, as long as you’re happy with the quality of beer you’re producing and its final gravity (story for another day!).
For large commercial breweries it’s about more than just cost. Quality assurance and consistency of product is key. Measuring brewing efficiency is the best way to maintain control of these things. If you’re using the same grain, the same water, at the same temperature and at a similar pH, in the same brew kit (which must be cleaned properly between every brew!), then you should get the same output, brewing efficiency and, finally, quality of beer.
For Friendship Adventure, as a cuckoo brewery, this has been a big focus for us since we started brewing on a commercial scale. We use several different brewing partners to brew our beer, so obviously the variables increase dramatically (different brew kit, different source of water, different brewer) between brews. In order therefore to try and maintain the consistency of taste and quality of product, we maintain a record of all our brew sheets and keep them on file to refer to any difference we see between batches of beer. The beer is still delicious every time but we notice the small differences when they occur. That’s why the next and arguably most important step in our journey is to bring our production in house, to make sure we’re producing the same taste and quality of product every time, so that you guys can enjoy every last sip. We’re hoping this will happen very soon.
Cheers everyone. Enjoy a beer with a friend this weekend.