The rock music artist Tom Petty had a hit song that went, “The waiting is the hardest part”. And when it comes to brewing your own beer, maybe the most difficult step of them all is the fermentation and aging process. After all, the steps leading up to the time when you wait for beer to mature is full of activity. From shopping for new equipment and ingredients, to cleaning and preparation to boiling the wort to cooling and preparing for fermentation, it’s a fun process. And that is what you want from a great hobby.
But once you have used all of your skills (so far) to make a great wort that is ready to ferment and age, storing and waiting for that process to finish seems to take forever. If this is one of your first batches or if you tried a new grain or hops, you are eager to see how good the beer will taste. And you are eager to serve ice cold home made beer to friends and family. But you also know that if you break in and interrupt the process too soon, the beer you drink will be unsatisfactory and not nearly as rich and flavorful as how it will be when the aging process is done. So you wait, sometimes impatiently.
One way to continue enjoying the “fun part” of home brewing is to have fresh batches of beer in production each week. If you went that route, you would eventually end up with a lot of beer in various stages of fermentation and aging and you would have to date and mark the storage bottles so you know which beer is ready to use and which needs more time to reach maturity. And when you consider that an average minimum size of a home beer brewing cycle results in five gallons of beer, that can mean you will have a lot of finished beer around unless you have a big audience of beer drinkers to help you drink up the stuff.
The time between when beer is bottled after the brewing process is complete until it is ready to taste can be anywhere from six weeks to six months if you include both fermentation and aging. The actual aging process is pretty fascinating and understanding it helps you develop patience for nature to take its course. During fermentation, the yeast will work to change the structure of the sugar that was part of the brewing process. As the fermentation continues, carbon dioxide is created and this gives your beer that bubbly quality that is a big part of the appeal of the beverage.
Fermentation also pushes sediments from the yeast and proteins and these sediments would hurt the taste of your beer if the cycle were interrupted. It’s worth it to let the process naturally cure the beer so these unwanted byproducts naturally work their way out of the finished product. It does take a lot of patience to be a brewer, even a home brewer because allowing the aging process to produce perfect beer may take over a month or even longer. But this waiting is just as much a part of making great beer as the boiling and fermenting so you have to nurture the patient side of yourself to get a great outcome.
Part of your preparation for brewing is preparing a place for your beer to be housed in optimum conditions for fermentation to work its magic. As opposed to perhaps your impression before you became a home brewer, you will not store the beer in the refrigerator during this phase because colder temperatures actually stop the fermentation process. That is why you keep milk in there.
Instead plan to set up a “fermentation room” that wills stay at a constant cool temperature between 65 and 75 degrees any time of the year. This should be a room where you can achieve some temperature control so the beer stays in a stable environment to reach a perfect flavor. It is also a room you won’t feel the need to go to and interrupt the fermentation process. You can draw some of the beer out as early as 4 weeks from the start of fermentation. But for the best possible taste for your beer, you should give this process two to four months for adequate aging.