Michael Donaldson explores method to save water while brewing
Aucklanders will be well aware of the current water shortage in the region – Watercare’s portable electronic signs scattered around the streets shout “reduce water use”.
The whole thing came to a head during the March ‘Tasman Tempest’ when the amount of silt in the reservoirs demanded a cutback in use.
And there are other areas in New Zealand suffering from regular drought conditions – notably Hawke’s Bay and North Canterbury – although no one seems exempt from more regular dry spells.
Water is a precious resource and I’ve always been aware of wasting too much of it when brewing, so lately I’ve adopted a number of new techniques to save water.
The most notable is the “no chill” method.
Homebrewers are always told to cool their hot wort as quickly as possible to prevent the risk of infection. I went from ice baths a few years ago, to a copper coil immersed in the wort, to a counter-flow chiller which came with my Grainfather.
In the past, when I was less water-wise, I wasn’t aware of how much water it took to cool my wort – and then I measured it by running it into a 240 litre recycling bin. The bin overflowed before I was done and I reckoned I used around 300 litres of water.
I reused that water in the garden but it got me thinking about an Australian method called “no chill” – which is a misnomer of sorts as the wort chills … eventually.
The method requires an HDPE cube or jerry can that can handle 20 litres – I bought a plastic cube of water which I gradually emptied by drinking it, but you can also buy empty cubes online.
After brewing as normal in my Grainfather I transferred the wort to the cube. Because the wort was 80-85 degrees, it sterilised the cube. Squeezing it to remove extra air, I sealed it, turned it a few times to make sure the wort came into contact with all surfaces and left it in my bar fridge overnight, before transferring to my fermenter. I’ve seen some brewers talk of leaving the wort for days – but overnight did the trick.
The warnings about no chill are that you can get some DMS re-conversion but I didn’t notice that – and made sure of a longer boil than normal. The other worry is around increased bitterness. Because the hops – even late addition hops – are at a higher temperature for longer, you will get more isomerisation and therefore more bitterness. As an aside, the belief that hop additions at zero minutes don’t add bitterness has long since been disproven. Luckily Beersmith, which I use, has a box you can tick for “no chill” and will calculate added bitterness for you. I added bittering hops a bit later in the process (40 minutes instead of 60 minutes) and did my 10 minute additions at zero minutes and my zero minute additions went into the Grainfather as it was emptying into the cube. There was some guesswork and possibly I shouldn’t have tried a double IPA as the first no chill experiment. The finished beer was a tad bitter but otherwise delicious.
Next time I might try super-late hop additions by adding a bag of hops to the cube. And I’m convinced this method would work exceptionally well on less darker beers.
On top of saving water, I also saved about an hour on the brew day by doing away with the counter-flow chiller and the cleaning associated with using it.