Gaining an EDGE
If you've been to a meeting or followed us on Facebook, you've undoubtedly heard us refer to "EDGE Projects". Founded by longtime members Arn & Jim, read on for insight on EDGE and how you can apply the concepts to your own brewing at home.
The idea for EDGE Brewing started in a HAMS meeting as Arn and myself were listening to reasons why people can’t brew: time, lack of equipment, lack of experience, cost, or just afraid of failure.
Both of us had done small batches in gallon jugs and Arn wanted to show the techniques to the group. I wanted a catchy name and (E)asy (D)emo (G)allon (E)xperiments was born.
It was simple and meant to be used as a leading edge for more advanced brewing. We push it as a way for enhance creativity and experimentation.
EDGE solves many problems:
Time - we put something together in 1 to 10 minutes.
Equipment - just need a gallon jug.
Experience– we made it so simple you get it on the job.
Cost- by doing one gallon cost are 1/5 of full batch.
Failure- who’s going to fret over gallon?
We started to demo this regularly for the club but it didn’t really catch on. The following year we went to group projects. At first it was a large group but then shrank to just a few. Still didn’t catch on. Most members thought of this as too simple, beginners only, and you can’t make anything really good. I have to disagree. I use these techniques for most of my brewing which covers 35 years. Arn has had up to 18 gallon projects at one time. We both have won medals in various competitions and best of show medals owing to this technique.
Ciders and meads are easy because the source is ready to ferment. Beer from scratch takes the same time as a full batch, so take it from your normal batch; throw in a few extra pounds of grain and make an extra gallon. It doesn't matter if the beer you brew if different than the one you EDGE. Cut it with water for a lighter beer, add non-mashable grain for flavor (eg caramel, roast), add in first-runnings for a heavier beer... It is a lot of fun figuring out how to your starting wort which can be totally different than your normal batch of beer.
Every Pro brewer has a small pilot system to test out a recipe or technique before he/she commits it to a larger batch. The same can happen with homebrews. You can find out if that boiled peanut gose would taste good before you commit a large batch that you might have to dump or force down, suffering later with strange burps. Many non-traditional brewing ingredients do work well with beer. We call it proof of concept: go from an idea to a quick and easy demo finish product just to test if it is worth the effort. The concern isn’t ratios, yet... only if it could work. Many ingredients don't taste as expected once the sugar is fermented out. Most fruit lose flavor leaving strong acids behind. Other flavors are too weak or overpowering and have to be tweaked.
This is where I spend most of my brewing time. Over the years I’ve done hundreds of yeast experiments, such as different temps, stress, re-using, ranching. Many of these were reduced to a bottle size instead of gallon.
Try different techniques that can be used to improve your beer. For example, if you are doing last minute hop additions for aroma and flavor with a counter flow chiller, your first gallon has that 5 minute hop and your last gallon has 5 min hop plus the 20 minutes to cool the 4 gallons before it. By putting each gallon in its own jug and fermenting it, you can tell if that hop flavor/aroma disappears in the later gallons. Maybe you need to re-hop the finish half way during the counter flow to maintain the finish hop character you want. Edge brewing will give you the data to support this analysis. Ever wonder if your beer will taste like with a different yeast or different temp? Pull a gallon and try it. Can we say Belgium pale ale?
I try to create an experiment for every batch. I look for what I could learn new and set up the test for it. This gives be a broader understanding of the ferment process. Most American brewers use a neutral yeast with recipe formation for flavors. European brewer use base malt with special yeasts for flavors.
It takes 8 to12 bottles for an EDGE. I rack and bottle in the bottom of a sink for easy cleanup.
I hope that this will open many ideas for each of you for experiments that will improve your brewing both in flavor and experience. Remember you can learn 5 times the information by doing 5 one gallon batches than one 5 gallon batch.
Because you are dealing with a much smaller batch, small things can have big effects. Contaminants, additions, ph, going off etc… the more you mess with it, the greater the risk of unexpected problems.
Testing can be more difficult, a few hydros can be a big part of your batch.
You should keep your head space to a minimum to reduce oxidation in the secondary. I have sized my jugs, some are just over or under a gallon. I start off with larger and rack to smaller. You can add sanitized glass marbles to fill up head space on long term secondary. Sometimes I create a sideboy (12oz beer bottle with same fermenting wort) to use to top off secondary after racking.