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One of the first questions people usually ask when exploring the idea of making beer at home is "how long does it take to make beer?" Well, there is an easy answer and a long answer. We'll provide the easy answer first, but we highly suggest reading (or at least skimming) this entire article to understand exactly why it takes as long as it does to make beer and also how to greatly speed up the process by optimizing for time.
This is How Long it Takes to Make Beer
There are 4 parts to the beer brewing process. Here's how long each part takes, on average:
- Brewing - 4 hours
- Fermenting - 1-2 weeks
- Packaging - 2 hours
- Carbonation - 1-2 weeks
The short answer is that, on average, it takes about four hours to brew beer, one to two weeks to ferment and condition, two hours to package in bottles, and one to two weeks to naturally carbonate in bottles. So, trom start to finish, on average, it takes anywhere from two to four weeks to make beer. The reason the process varies so much hinges on the style of beer being brewed, the type yeast used to ferment the beer, and the processes used for conditioning and carbonating the beer. The numbers listed above assume that the beer being brewed is an ale. Lager beers brewed using the traditional lager fermentation and conditioning processes take much longer to make. So the long answer is that it can take as long as 6 to 12 months to make beer if a lengthy conditioning process is required.
Why Does Brewing Beer Take So Long?
Next we discuss each phase of the brewing process and identify how long it takes, when possible, as well as why it takes so long. Keep in mind that each of these points varies by style of beer. There are also shortcuts for each point which could potentially reduce the amount of time needed by 50% or more in some cases.
Very low alcohol by volume (ABV) beer styles and very high ABV beer styles take different amounts of time to ferment due solely to the amount of sugar that yeast needs to eat and turn into alcohol. High ABV styles take longer to make.
Interestingly enough, the actual brewing process (converting starch into sugar, boiling and adding hops, etc.) varies the least when it comes to the length of time it takes to make beer. It generally takes an hour to prep, grind grain and heat water, an hour to mash, an hour to boil, and an hour to chill, add yeast, and aerate. It can take longer when step mashing and conducting extended boils. It can also take a lot longer if the brewing process is doubling as a social activity and completing the process in a timely fashion isn't a concern. That said, the amount of time it takes to brew beer can be reduced by an hour or more by using our quick brew day tips and tricks listed below.
There are two types of yeast used to ferment beer; ale yeast and lager yeast. In short, ale yeast makes beer faster than lager yeast. Ale yeast is fermented at much warmer temperatures than lager yeast. Ale yeast is much more active and ferments faster due to the fact that the enzymes it uses to break down sugar and turn it into energy work much better at warmer temperatures. Ale yeast typically takes 7-10 days to ferment 5 gallons (19 liters) of beer at a fermentation temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). However, if fermentation temperature is lowered, the amount of time fermentation takes will increase.
Lager yeast ferments at much lower temperatures and is typically stored at 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.75 degrees Celsius). Because of the low temperature, lager yeast can take as long as 3 or more weeks to ferment, and this does not include the conditioning process, which can take another 3 weeks, and is discussed below.
Another consideration when it comes to yeast is something called flocculation. Flocculation is a rating of how well the yeast drops out of suspension after fermentation is finished. For example, low flocculating yeast will remain cloudy long after fermentation is finished. Sometimes indefinitely. Highly flocculating yeast will quickly drop out of suspension, producing clearer beer in less time. If clarity is desired, understand that medium or low flocculating yeast will make the process take longer.
We discuss two very significant fermentation shortcuts below which significantly speed up the process of fermenting beer.
Some beer doesn't get conditioned at all and is more or less ready to drink as soon as fermentation is finished. An example of this would be a pale ale. Other beers, such as German Doppelbocks, can be conditioned for as long as 6 months at temperatures just above freezing (this is called "lagering"). Higher gravity beers, heavy stouts, and extremely hoppy beers tend to benefit from conditioning as well, which is usually done at serving temperature (roughly 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.5 degrees Celsius).
As mentioned above, flocculation, or the propensity of yeast to drop out of suspension, will have an impact on the conditioning time. Low to medium flocculating yeast will make conditioning take longer if clear beer is desired. We discuss methods for speeding up the clarity process below.
Packaging finished beer in bottles, or "bottling," takes a couple of hours. However, it almost always feels like it takes longer than any other part of the process. Why? It's just that unenjoyable. Maybe we're doing it wrong, but that's how we feel. That's also why we almost never bottle and almost always keg. Packaging in kegs takes about half the time. It also takes a lot less time to carbonate in kegs. Check out our tips on quick carbing below.
The process of carbonation can take as little as 5 minutes and as long as 2 weeks. The amount of time it takes is entirely dependent on the type of packaging used to serve the beer and the method of carbonation. There are two types of packaging:
- Bottling - takes longer to package and (naturally) carbonate
- Kegging - much easier to package and takes less time to carbonate
When beer is bottled (after fermentation is complete) it is siphoned into individual bottles, along with a bit of extra sugar, capped, and then stored at room temperature. Residual yeast in the fermented beer re-activate and eat the newly added sugar. As a result they create a tiny bit of extra alcohol AND a bit of carbon dioxide. Because the bottle is capped and the carbon dioxide has nowhere to go, it is absorbed into the liquid, thus carbonating the beer. The upside to this process is that it is simple and reliable. the downside is that it can take as long a 2 weeks for bottle carbonated beer to be ready.
Slow carbonating in a keg takes about a week consists of a keg with beer, attaching a bottle of CO2, set to serving pressure (12 pounds per square inch) and leaving it slowly carbonate over the course of about a week. This process is fairly easy and is a sure bet for perfectly carbonated beer. However, this process can be accomplished much, much quicker, as discussed below.
How to Make Beer, Fast!
Next we discuss how to greatly speed up the process of brewing beer using fast acting ingredients and speed optimized processes.
Tips for an Ultra Fast Brew Day
The number one way to speed up a brew day is to pay careful attention to what you're doing and not leave things sit around while distracted by something else. For example, when strike water is ready, add the grain and begin the mash. Below are some additional tips.
Start heating mash water immediately and use an automatic controller to dial in the temp. It will stop automatically when the water is ready so there will be no need to keep an eye on it. Prep for the rest of the brew day (grind grain, sanitize fermentation equipment) while water is heating.
Don't mash for 60 minutes. Starch conversion (to sugar) almost never takes 60 full minutes. Cut mash time down to 30 or 45 minutes. Don't boil for 60 minutes. Use a recipe calculator to dial in desired benchmarks assuming a 30 minute boil. This will likely require a bit of extra grain and hops but it won't be much.
Use a plate chiller, as opposed to a counter flow chiller. In our experience, plate chillers work faster. If groundwater in your area is warm, pre-freeze a lot of ice and recirculate ice water through the chiller to cool things down faster.
Use Fast Fermenting Yeast
If speed is the primary objective, using an ale yeast (as opposed) is going to be the easiest way to make beer quickly. As mentioned above, ale yeast works 2-3 times faster than lager yeast. However, not all ale yeasts are created equally and one stands above all others when it comes to speed. Norwegian Kveik is extremely heat tolerant, highly flocculating, and can be fermented as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius. Fermenting Kveik yeast at this temperature can produce finished, relatively clear beer in as little as 2-3 days.
If the clean, crisp flavor profile characteristic of lager yeasts is desired, but speed is also a priority, there are two shortcuts that can be implemented to achieve both objectives. The first is using a high temperature lager yeast. Our favorite strain is Saflager 34/70. It's extremely heat tolerant and can make lager beer in 3-5 days.
The second method for quick lager fermentation is using a pressure fermenter. This allows any type of lager yeast to be fermented at room temperature with favorable results. The beer is literally fermented under pressure 5-15 pounds per square inch, which slows ester production of the yeast just enough to allow it to finish the job quickly while not also producing a lot of funky off flavors.
We prefer using a fermentation optimized keg for this process, which also negates the need for transferring the beer from a fermentation vessel to a keg, speeding up the process further.
Sometimes conditioning is necessary to achieve the desired taste. At best, younger beer can be bit rough around the edges, depending on the style and may need a week or two to mellow out before it hits its stride. At worst, off flavors can be present that need time to work themselves out. For example, a common off flavor associated with lager fermentation is sulfur, which presents as a freshly it match, or a rotten egg. In low amounts this flavor is acceptable for some styles. But in most styles and in most cases it is not desirable and will go away with time.
However, there are times where conditioning is not always necessary. For example, if an IPA is done fermenting and tastes great, but isn't crystal clear. Don't fret. There's no harm in drinking beer that is a bit cloudy. Some purists will say that clarity should match style, exactly. However, we would argue that it is ok to bend this rule if speed is more of a priority.
Quick Carbonation in a Keg
As previously mentioned, kegging is generally faster than bottling due to the amount of time it takes to carbonate beer in a keg vs. in a bottles. Carbonation in bottles takes 1-2 weeks and slow carbonating in a keg takes upwards of a week. However, this process can be accomplished almost instantly using a process called "quick carbonating." This is done by chilling beer to about 33 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0.5 degrees Celsius) and pressurizing it to 50 pounds per square inch with a CO2 tank, then gently shaking it for 2-3 minutes. After that, it is left to settle for about 2 minutes and then served. When done this way, the entire process can take as little as 5 minutes.
Kegging Before Bottling
If speed is a priority but the beer must be bottled, as opposed to kegged, it is possible to quick carb in a keg and then transfer to a bottle without the need for additional sugar and natural carbonation.
Fermenting in a Keg
In our opinion, the absolute quickest way to make beer is to choose an ale style (simple pale ale) with medium bitterness that is fermented in a keg using kveik yeast. After fermentation can then be chilled and served out of the same vessel, with the entire process spanning as little as 3-4 days.
In summary, making beer takes anywhere from 3 days to 6 weeks depending on the style of beer, the type of yeast used, the amount of conditioning needed, and the method of packaging and carbonation.