I’m often emailed about how I handle the cold side of brewing, specifically as it pertains to conicals and more advanced fermenting vessels. I’ve spent a lot of time researching and talking with commercial brewers on the very same topic. It’s probably where I had/have the most questions myself.
Once you venture into brewing NEIPAs and IPAs, the cold side becomes even more critical to your beer’s success. While this article will emphasize brewing hoppy beers, it applies to ANY style. If you treat all of your beers with the same careful considerations of a hop-infused NEIPA, you’ll see success across any style. Let’s dive into my step-by-step process. You can learn more about my fermenter and glycol chiller before diving in.
1. Chilling Wort
As soon as I conclude the final stage of my hot-side process, I immediately chill my wort down to pitching temps. I use the Exchilerator Maxx CFC to simultaneously chill and transfer my wort directly from the boil kettle to my conical fermenter. In terms of temperature, I usually shoot for anything under 80°F. Once the wort is in the fermenter, I’ll do more fine-tuned chilling down to my exact pitching temps via glycol chilling.
This last step saves on water consumption and allows me to not overshoot my pitching temps. My Brewer’s Hardware jacketed conical is really efficient and can quickly bring the wort down to pitching temps in under an hour. During this time, I usually focus on cleaning equipment and organizing my brewery. Once my wort has reached pitching temps, typically 66-68°F, I aerate with pure oxygen and pitch plenty of yeast. I pitch two pouches/packs for any 5-gallon batch with a starting gravity over 1.055. It’s not uncommon for me to brew in the morning and pitch my yeast at night.
I let my beer ferment for 5-10 days before adding any dry hop or secondary additions. Most ales finish fermenting in roughly 3-5 days, depending on the strain. The first 24 hours of active fermentation are the most critical in terms of proper temperature control. Once fermentation starts to slow, I let the fermenters free-rise to 70-72°F. This ensures fermentation fully completes and scrubs out any unwanted off-flavors.
Since I ferment in a conical with a dump valve, I don’t use a secondary fermenter. Even back in my plastic bucket days, I skipped secondary vessels to mitigate oxygen exposure. From the moment my yeast is pitched, I take all precautions possible to mitigate oxygen from my product. Up until then, it’s not really a concern (unless you’re worried about hot side aeration). I do not ferment under pressure and always use a blowoff tube submerged in a bucket filled with sanitizer. Airlocks are great too.
3. Yeast Removal
If you’re harvesting yeast, it’s recommended to remove it prior to dry hopping. This is both for preserving yeast health for repitching and mitigating negative interactions between the yeast and hops. I currently do not harvest yeast but I do my best to remove as much as I can prior to dry hopping. It’s difficult to remove yeast at warmer temps, so many brewers will soft crash their fermenters down to 55-60°F to allow the yeast to settle into the cone.
A lot of commercial breweries are dry hopping at the same cooler temperatures as well. The only word of caution with this approach is to ensure your beer is FULLY finished fermenting before soft crashing. I would not start a soft crash until days 7-8. If you ferment in a bucket or bucket fermenter, yeast removal and dumping are not possible. This is fine and should not be a major concern for most styles.
4. Dry Hopping
Once fermentation is complete, I’ll cap off my fermenter and seal it up in preparation for dry hopping. I dry hop under pressure, meaning after I add my dry hop charge, I’ll seal the vessel off under 10 PSI. You will need to take measures to safely do this as pressure will typically RISE from dry hopping. Be sure you are equipped with a pressure gauge, a PRV, and a spunding valve to safely mitigate pressure.
If using a dry hopper, you’ll want to ensure you fully purge the dry hopper of oxygen before adding your hops. This is best done from the bottom up. I add pressure to my conical, crack the top butterfly value, and let the pressure move through the vessel and through the dry hopper while I purge from the top. Add your dry hops, pressurize the vessel, and seal it off.
If you’re double dry hopping, there are a few considerations. Prior to adding additional dry hop charges, I typically remove as much trub/hops as possible through my dump valve. This should be done very slowly under a few PSI. My first DH charge is on days 5-6, and my second DH charge is usually on days 8-9.
The use of a dry hopper will also allow you to dry hop while under/maintaining pressure. To do this, you’ll need to equalize the pressure in the dry hopper with the pressure in the fermenting vessel. This allows you to safely open the conical port without having a beer explosion.
5. Cold Crashing
Once secondary fermentation is complete, I begin my cold crash. My cold-crashing process consists of pressurizing my vessel and dropping the temperate down to 35°F for 48 hours. When beer is chilled, the pressure inside the vessel drops and creates a vacuum. This vacuum creates a phenomenon called suck-back, which typically sucks your airlock’s sanitizer into your beer along with oxygen. To avoid this, I completely seal my vessel under 7-10 PSI. The pressure is necessary to prevent the vacuum from damaging your equipment.
This is obviously much simpler with a pressure-capable fermenter. If you ferment in buckets, it gets a little more complicated. My advice would be to look into a CO2-filled mylar balloon that will replace the fermenter with CO2 as the pressure drops. In general, it’s very difficult to totally mitigate oxygen at this stage unless you have the right equipment. S-type airlocks are said to be better at preventing sanitizer suck-back, however, this won’t save your bucket from the vacuum effect.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I was nearly as concerned with oxygen introduction before I started brewing IPAs. Some styles are simply not as sensitive as others.
6. Conditioning, Carbing, and Packaging
Most of my beers are kegged around day 10-12. From here I do a completely closed pressure transfer into a fully purged keg. Look into the star-san purging method if you don’t know what it is. This method is far more effective than simple CO2 purging. I usually transfer my beer with 3-5 PSI of head pressure to avoid foaming. Since my beers are usually under some degree of pressure throughout the process, they start to partially carbonate.
Once my beer is transferred, I seal the keg with 25 PSI. This ensures a tight seal on the lid and also gives an initial burst of CO2 to help with carbonation. Do not remove the pressure, simply dial back the regulator to serving pressure for extended carbonation and conditioning. Leave your beer hooked up to CO2 and place it in your fridge/keezer. Your beer should be fully carbonated in about 7 days.
I’m a believer in the low and slow force carbonation method because it doubles as much-needed cold conditioning time. My beer is typically ready around days 20-22. Hoppy beers need ample time to mellow out and form their delicate flavors. Rushing this process is only doing a disservice to yourself. It’s amazing how much beer can improve in a week of cold conditioning. More details on keg carbonation are here.
This process was born from brewing NEIPAs. That being said, I follow this same process for every brew I make. I think it’s made a big difference in overall beer quality because I’ve tried to mirror commercial processes as much as possible. There are several benefits along the way. If you feel as though I missed anything or I should provide more detail in any step, I would love your feedback!