Monday 25 October 2021

Do you still need to do a 60 minute boil when brewing beer?

Most homebrew recipes, books and other literature reference a 60 minute boil time. For decades this has been the standard boil time - however, we're seeing an increasing number of recipes calling for shorter boil times - typically 30 minutes. This prompted us to dive deeper into this - what are the pro's and con's of shorter or longer boil times, and do we still need to do a 60 minute boil when brewing beer?

Why is wort boiled for 60 minutes when making beer? 

There's several reasons - including; 

  • Sterilisation of the wort
  • Isomerization of hops (ie. bittering)
  • Putting a stop to enzymatic activity that was started during the mash
  • Protein modifications - also known as hot break
  • Drive off the risk of the dreaded DMS - Dimethyl Sulphide - which leaves a taste/smell reminiscent of corn.

Most of these factors listed above would only need a matter of minutes, certainly not 60 to take effect during a boil, which begs the question about why we still boil wort for 60 minutes?

The biggest reason most people will say is to remove the risk of the previously mentioned DMS developing - especially when using paler malts such as pilsner. However, advancements in malting technology have significantly reduced the risk of DMS occurring, and there are loads of documented cases of shorter boils (eg. 30 minutes) using malts such as pilsner with no ill effects.

Brulosophy ran an experiment back in 2015 where they compared the beers made from a 30 minute and a 60 minute boil with the results indicating that most people could not reliably tell the difference between the two different beers (including some BJCP certified judges).

Loads of YouTube brewers such as David Heath, and Flora Brewing are also doing regular 30 minute boils with no noticeable difference.

Why use a shorter wort boil time?

Reducing your wort boil time will obviously reduce your brew day time, and the amount of energy used/required during the boil. And since you're starting with a smaller pre-boil volume (as there is less boil-off to compensate for), the amount of time required to get it boiling is also reduced.

You will need to make some adjustments to your recipe and water volumes based on a shorter boil time. For example, you will need to use slightly more hops for your bittering addition since the hops will have a shorter period of time to isomerize to provide the bitterness to your beer. All decent homebrewing software apps such as Brewfather are more than capable of handling this. It's also worth noting that if you reduce your boil time by 50% (ie. to 30 minutes), you don't need to add 50% more bittering hops to compensate - so make sure you use your brewing software to do these calculations to avoid overcompensating and ending up with an overly bitter beer.

There's certainly a counter argument of "why risk it" in terms of reducing boil time - and for many the safety net of decades of tried and tested knowledge of 60 minute boil times is perhaps worth sticking to.

We like the idea of a shorter boil time and will certainly be testing it in the near future on upcoming recipes.

Have you been using 30 minute boils, or do you tend to stick to 60 minute boils (or longer)? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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