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Express Brewing - Speed Brewing from Grain to Glass in Less Than 10 Days

Express Brewing - Speed Brewing from Grain to Glass in Less Than 10 Days

Need to turn over a beer quick? Say in less than 10 days? Drew's here to help you with a few simple tips for getting that beer ready in a hurry

This article is a quck summary/reworking of an article I wrote for the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Zymurgy. AHA Members can read the whole issue (and issues going back to Jan/Feb 2000!) online here.

Disclaimer Before You Complain:

I'm going to start this article with a simple disclaimer - no, this isn't always the best way to brew or will yield the best results, but it can help you get beer ready when it's needed. But, you knew there was a but, homebrewers have a problem - we've been convinced that we need to take weeks to go from grain to glass.

In the days before people made starters and understood fermentation control (and if you're not doing these - then right back to waiting weeks for you until you do.), weeks were necessary because our yeasty besties had a lot of clean up work to do. With good yeast and fermentation practices waiting weeks isn't a necessity. How else do you think pro breweries turn their beer around so quickly? They sure aren't waiting a month to release their main beer line. But if you want desire taking your time - more power to you. I certainly do when I'm in no hurry. But it is completely within the realm of everyday life to produce great beer in just a few days.

Problem Statement

Once it's known that you're a brewer, suddenly you're everyone's best friend. People ask you to parties. More pointedly, people ask your beer to parties. Or you foolishly decide "hey, I should throw a beer party." If you're like me, that means a lot of sudden demand for your beer without a lot of time to brew it. Especially if you're like me and forget until the last minute.

What Makes a Beer "Speedy"

  • Lower the gravity = greater chance of success
  • Big flavors (specialty malts and hops) overpower green beer syndrome.
  • Clarity? Bah! Bring on the Wheat, the Rye! (or filter!)
  • Ales. No time for lagers, Doctor Jones
  • Force carbonation is key

Speedy Styles

  • Lower gravity ales - session ales - mild, bitter, Pale Ale, Session IPA are great.
  • Darker ales like an Irish Dry Stout or Porter with their big roast notes. 
  • Hefeweizen - One of the best I've ever had was Steve Cook's Ball-o-holic Hefe that was entered into competition a whopping 12 days after being brewed - it won BOS.
  • Lower gravity Belgian Ales, including ones like my Saison Ordnaire.

The Express Brewing Process

N.B. - This process turns beer around in a hurry, but I assume you have a keg to force carbonate your beer. If not, well, there's no getting around that 2 week waiting period for your bottles to carbonate.

Here’s the basic six day outline for express beer brewing. We only have one or two more steps than the sort of lackadaisical brewing we usually perform. Packing it all into a shorter span just feels like a ton more effort.

Day 1: Pitch

Nothing new here, but a cautionary tale or two is needed. Assuming you have one, a yeast cake is pure money. No cake? You’ll need a big healthy starter. I still cold crash my starters and decant even when in a hurry.

Don’t try for the land speed record in lag times. I’ve never understood the fascination with the contest that has people proclaiming “ha ha! My beer took off in 2 hours and 75 minutes!” You’ll be missing out on flavors and more importantly, you’re probably pitching hot which is a big no-no.

On that note – cool your wort completely. I try for a few degrees under fermentation to compensate for fermentation generated heat. As tempting as it is, don’t cool your beer to the mid-70’s and pitch. Your fermentation will be faster, true, but the resulting noxious soup of a beer won’t be worth it.

Day 2-3: Fermentation

Let the ferment ride. I tend for my express beers to push the ferment up to the higher end of the preferred range after the lag phase is complete. At high krausen the majority of ester, phenol and fusel production has passed so we can safely goose the accelerator. Just a touch, we’re not leaving rubber stripes on the road.

Day 4: Crash Day 1

By this point, your krausen should start falling naturally. We’re just going to kick it in the pants. At the end of Day 3, set your fermentation temperature to as close as 32F as you can get. Let it sit overnight. In the morning, rack to a keg.

Day 5: Keg Day (aka Crash Day 2)

In the evening of day 5, hook up your transfer hose to the keg and blow out the first pint or so of sediment. Hook the transfer line to a second clean and sanitized keg and transfer again. Marvel at the amount of yeast left in the first keg.

Carbonate the beer and let set over night.

Day 6: Drink!

Bleed the head pressure. Hook up your favorite dispensing device and revel in the miracle of quick turnaround beer.

Have 10 days? Spread the love and spend an extra day fermenting and some extra time crashing / fining the beer.


Yeast choice is absolutely critical to your speedy brewing. A number of yeast strains out there produce great flavors but have lousy fermentation times. Taking a lesson from our British brewing cousins - find a British strain you like and cultivate that for your speed brews.

For me that means choices like White Labs Essex, the Wyeast West Yorkshire and, since I can’t keep those around (sadness abounds), my old standbys of Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley and WLP005.

For the more American side of the house - WLP090 San Diego Super Yeast is a pretty fast mover and reliable at both fermenting and getting out of the beer.

For my Belgian francs, use WLP510 Bastogne or Wyeast 3522 Ardennes or Wyeast 3711 French Saison

The German Hefes - that's a more personal choice, but you'd be hard to avoid Steve Cook's suggestion of WLP Hefe 4

Regardless of which yeast you choose, make a starter! Heck, make a double sized starter. Going into an express situation without plenty of yeast is like trying to win the Daytona 500 with a Yugo!


Cold crashing is as simple as it gets. Yeast hibernate when things get chill. Bad for fermentation, great for forcing clarity. As the krausen drops, dial your cooling down as low as it will go. Reasonably flocculent yeast will mostly settle within a day. Push it for another day and you’ll be reasonably assured of a non-swampy beer.

Filtering requires additional equipment, but the expense assures clarity. I don’t filter because I don’t like the hassle and expense of sanitizing/cleaning of the cartridges, but don’t let my hang-ups affect you. Plenty of people filter their beer with great results. For the swampy beers we’re dealing with here, a two stage filtering process is best. Use one rough filter to catch the major gunk and a finer filter to grab the remainder without clogging.

Have more time? Take another cue from the Brits and fine your beer. There are a number of traditional options out there for instance gelatin and isinglass.  I’ve been playing recently with Super Kleer, a two stage fining that works wonders. Serving beer to vegetarians? Be kind:  Biofine Clear and Polyclar both lack animal parts.

Packaging / Carbonation

As we stated above, sadly this process really only works well for kegging brewers, but hell, go borrow someone's kegs for a week and then fall in love and decide you need your own rig. (Or you could get some carbonator style caps, some 2 liter soda bottles, chill the beer, borrow a friend's CO2 rig and carbonate that way)

Drew’s Carbonation-rama:

I know many of you believe in the old fashioned “set it and forget it” method of carbonation - digging out the table of desired carbonation / temperature to determine the correct PSI for your keg. I don’t usually have a week or two to wait. I used to be a preacher of the “slam and shake” method, but I got tired of the imprecision and taunting from fellow brewers about the ridiculous foaming.

My hybrid method combines that beloved pressure chart and the shaking workout. I find my target pressure for my desired carbonation and set my regulator to that psi plus 1. (Say 14.5 psi for 2.5 volumes at 42F) I attach the gas to the chilled keg, lay it sideways on my workbench and gently rock back and forth until the bubbles stop flowing loudly. It takes about 10 minutes, but once done the beer can be served immediately.


Expressway Mild

This is the beer that started the whole thing. In 2011, I found festival season rapidly approaching with no beer to serve. I traditionally bring a mild to fest so folks have a sessionable alternative to the cannon strength ales most brewers bring.  I brewed on Sunday and pitched at 4PM.  The beer was tapped 5 days and 18 hours later at 10 AM on Saturday. The resulting was a smooth, lightly roasty quaff of a beer. (Alastair Hewitt beat my record with his 90 Hour Mild)

For 5.5 gallons at 1.034, 12 IBUs, 15.7 SRM, 3.2% ABV (60 minute boil)

Grain / Malt / Sugar

6.0 lbs   Maris Otter

0.5 lbs   Thomas Fawcett Oat Malt

0.25 lbs                  British Crystal 55

0.25 lbs                  Weyermann Carafa II


Single Infusion at 153F for 60 minutes.


0.25 oz  Target   11.5%AA                60 minutes

0.12 oz  Progress                8.1%AA                   20 minutes


5 gms     Calcium Chloride (added to start of boil)


Yeast Nutrient


Wyeast 1882 Thames Valley II

Beer Diva Stout

From the inimitable MB Raines, this beer, brewed a few years back, was the reason I knew the whole express idea was possible. This lovely stout went from grain to glass in 4 days for a St. Patrick’s Day party. How? By building a healthy army of yeast using the techniques that MB’s disseminated to the homebrewing world.

For 5.0 gallons at 1.045, 41 IBUs, 26 SRM, 4.4% ABV (60 minute boil)

Grain / Malt / Sugar

5.5 lbs   Maris Otter

2 lbs       Flaked Barley

1 lbs       Roasted Barley

6 oz         Acidulated Malt


Single Infusion at 155F for 60 minutes.


0.25 oz  Perle                        6.5%AA                                     60 minutes

0.25 oz  Magnum                12.9%AA                60 minutes

0.10 oz  Progress                8.0%AA                                     60 minutes

0.60 oz  Phoenix                                   9.0%AA                                     15 minutes



Yeast Nutrient


Wyeast 1056 (slurry from a previous batch)


Flaked barley was rehydrated separately to soak up water without messing the mash calculations. Acidualted malt added during the last 15 minutes of mashing.

Yeast pitched at 60F. Wort was oxygenation prior to pitching and after 12 hours

Pliny the Toddler

Back in 2005, brewing partner Jonny Lieberman and I decided to brew a smaller beer (1.055) inspired by Pliny the Elder called Pliny the Toddler. Oddly, we had a grain mishap and ended up brewing “Pliny the Unwanted” at 1.097. Damn good beer, but we never made the Toddler until this year when I wanted a nice “Session IPA” for San Diego.  It’s a revised edition at 1.048 and 60 IBUs and 100% delicious and it uses my favorite IPA base mix of Maris Otter and Domestic 2 Row

For 5.5 gallons at 1.048, 60 IBUs, 37 SRM, 4.7% ABV (90 minute boil)

Grain / Malt / Sugar

3.5 lbs   Maris Otter

3.5 lbs   Domestic 2-Row

1.0 lbs   Cara-Pils Malt

0.5 lbs   Table Sugar


Single Infusion at 152F for 60 minutes.


0.75 oz  Warrior                                    15.5%AA                                  60 minutes

0.75 oz  Columbus             11.4%AA                                  10 minutes

0.75 oz  Centennial          8.5%AA                                     10 minutes

0.75 oz  Cascade                8.5%AA                                     0 minutes


WLP001 – Slurry.



5 gm Gypsum

Falcons Gyre Rye IPA

Yes, an American IPA can be turned around in a few days, if you not obsessed with dry hopping the style. This beer was 10 days getting to the glass. I did two portions one with Thames Valley and the other with US-05. Even after crashing and fining the carboy hard for 2 days, the US-05 carboy refused to clear completely. It tasted fantastic so I still served it and no one noticed because of my evil Randall trick. (Since the carboy refused to clear- I just poured it through a Randall filled with hops. The hops acted as a rough filter and added their own haze, so who cared if the beer was still a bit murky)

For 5.5 gallons at 1.064, 64 IBUs, 7 SRM, 6.6% ABV (90 minute boil)

Grain / Malt / Sugar

10 lbs    Domestic 2 Row

2 lbs       Rye Malt

2 lbs       Munich


Single Infusion at 152F for 60 minutes.


1.0 oz     Warrior                                    15.5%AA                                  60 minutes

1.0 oz     Falconer’s Flight                                  10.5%AA                                  5 minutes

1.0 oz     Falconer’s Flight                                  10.5%AA                                  0 minutes





5 gm Gypsum

Single Shot

I’m a huge fan of simple Belgian beers that use interesting ingredients to shine.  Using candy syrup is a perfect example of interesting simplicity. In this case, this was an experimental base for exploring the new products of Candi Syrup, Inc. (Not to be confused with Dark Candi, Inc)

For 5.5 gallons at 1.050, 20 IBUs, 7 SRM, 4.2% ABV (90 minute boil)

Grain / Malt / Sugar

7.0 lb     Pilsner Malt

0.5 lbs   Flaked Wheat

0.5 lbs   Candi Syrup D-90 (half a pouch)


Single Infusion at 150F for 60 minutes.


0.33 oz  Magnum                12.9%AA                60 minutes


Belgian Yeast of your choice (I used French Saison)

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