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Split Batching: Optimizing Craft and Experimental Brewing

Posted by zeith on 4/08/2014 at 02:46:51 AM


As an avid homebrewer and father of an infant, I juggle between brewing recipes I know will be amazing and recipes I know will stand up to experimentation.  There are tried and true recipes (like Biermuncher's Centennial Blonde & Ed Wort's Apfelwein) where the resulting taste is easy to anticipate based on thousands of homebrewers reviews.  We started homebrewing because we wanted to explore new flavors, try wacky combinations, and above all else, brew amazing beer to call our own. In this article I will try to flesh out, based on my own homebrew experience, how to walk the fine line of recipe exploration and brewing quality beer.

I have been homebrewing for 3 years (serious/full-time for about half that time) and I know I am just now starting to construct amazing beers from scratch.  The primary challenge I have with creating my own beer recipes is that I don�t know what most grains, hops, and yeast taste like, individually or in various combinations. Sure, I have tried SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beers and I have read hop/grains descriptions, but how does one know when to dry hop with 1.5 oz of Simcoe rather than 2 oz? For a rye IPA, do I prefer 25% rye or 30%? What really makes a mild and how does that differ from a low ABV brown ale? I began to buy every brewing book in sight and while my library of brewing literature grew, I realized that the best way to learn is to brew constantly, even if it means taking a shot in the dark. As an aside, everyone should read Brewing Classic Styles and Designing Great Beers at the bare minimum.
Herein lies the problem, creating your own recipe is a gamble and takes time to adjust to your preferences. Now don�t get me wrong, I prescribe myself to the Relax Don't Worry Have a Homebrew (RDWHAH) mantra, but there is a large difference in a drinkable beer and an amazing beer. Thus the best way is to tweak your recipe is to allow an experiment to become a masterpiece over time.  Just like any other homebrewer, I want my beers to be amazing the first time, but if it doesn't I�ll make the next batch better. My problem is that with an ever growing backlog of beers to brew, how can I brew all beers (experiment or standard style) while still producing high quality beer?

Let me give a concrete example to this dilemma; a few months ago, I was reading a thread on Reddit's /r/homebrewing about brewing Belgian inspired beers.  /u/Mjap52 and /u/Eddie_The_Brewer were discussing using American/fruity hops (most notably Citra & Amarillo) to pair with phenolic and fruity Belgian yeasts.  Jackpot.  Instantly my brain went off with recipe ideas; Belgian wit with Mosaic, Belgian dubbel with Nelson Sauvin, Belgian blonde with Amarillo and Cascade. The list went on and on. However, I knew that if I attempted any of these combinations, they would be a shot in the dark in terms of taste and I could easily spend the next 2 years just exploring and brewing Belgian/American inspired beers without ever setting foot in British ales, German lagers, or American French Biere de Gardes. While this is not a bad thing (and in reality what has ended up happening), I wanted to get the best of both worlds: an experimental Belgian beer and an American style ale. On the one hand, there is this great idea (Belgian beer with American hops) that could end up being a crazy experiment or a terrific success versus a beer (American) that was a safety net.  Then it dawned on me, why not do both?

If I just split the batch by dividing the wort up into pieces and pitching different yeasts, and using American and Belgian Yeasts, I could get the security in a beer that is mostly to style as well as be able to experiment and see what happens.  The end result was an American/Belgian IPA that utilized a Belgian malt base and Mosaic, Citra and Amarillo hops. The Belgian version was entered and won 2nd place in the Experimental IPA category of a local homebrew competition in the Pacific NW.  The recipe is posted at the end of the article for those interested.

The most satisfying part of split batching is that there is little additional hardware that brewers need in order to experiment with numerous yeast strains.  Assuming the average brew size of 5 gallons, all one needs are smaller carboys and additional yeast strains.  My setup is slightly different in that I normally brew 1 gallon BIAB, thus all I need to do is scale my brewing up by n where n is the number of different yeasts I want to experiment with. In essence, all a homebrewer needs for split batching is numerous yeast strains and extra carboys/buckets!

Any combination of yeasts can be used during split batching, but there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing yeasts.  Assuming you use a fermentation chamber to regulate temperatures, you will want to use yeasts than ferment at similar temperatures.  For example, it would be rather difficult to split batch cold fermenting Lager yeast while attempting to ramp up Saison yeast to 80+ F.  On a similar vein, fermenting 2 or more Belgian yeasts at the same time would be a great combination (because honestly, who hasn't wanted to taste all Trappist yeasts using the same wort side by side). If you are using temperature control, hook your probe up to the carboy that you think will produce the most heat. This will keep the temperature of both carboys from fluctuating too much.

In addition to the temperature of the yeasts, it is useful to select yeasts that have similar flocculation and attenuation characteristics, though definitely not required.  Let�s say you brew a beer of around 1.080 while mashing around 152.  If you select one yeast that attenuates well and a second yeast that attenuates very poor, you will be ending up with different mouthfeel and ABV. For the sake of experimenting, this is why I love homebrewing, however it is something that users should be aware of.  This happened to me with a smoked cherrywood rye beer I brewed (though at a much lower OG level). I ended up splitting between 2 yeasts, WLP 400 Belgian wit and WLP 011 European ale.  Due to the flocculation and attenuation of the Euro Ale yeast, it finished at almost 3 points higher than wit yeast did.  The beer felt rather heavy, though the yeast really let the smoked cherrywood shine.  The wit yeast was my favorite as the spicy characteristics of the yeast paired well with the rye and smoked malts.

As my final piece of advice regarding split batching, remember that if you add anything after primary fermentation (dry hops, candi sugar at high krausen, fining agents, etc.) you will need to use the correct amount per your batch size.  For instance, if you are split batching an IPA and trying out different yeasts because everyone raves about using WLP007 dry English ale yeast as a perfect substitute for Stone yeast but you much prefer Wyeast 1450 Denny�s Favorite as your go-to IPA yeast.  Your recipe for a standard 5 gallon calls for 2 oz Citra and 2 oz Galaxy and you are split batching to 2.5 gallon (don�t forget to make starters for each yeast!). When it comes time to dry hop, make sure you only use 1 oz of each hop rather than the recipe required 2 oz (or 'accidentally' forget and hopefully avoid the grassy taste that can come with overhopping).  I have almost had this happen to me numerous times when split batching since you author a recipe for the entire 5 gallon beer but you are splitting the wort, not the beer.

Now that we have gotten the brewing logistics out of the way, let�s discuss the fun part: what to brew using split batching.  Below are some ideas that I have mentioned in the article, that I have personally brewed, or are in my backlog that utilize split batching as well as the rationale as to why Split Batching is useful in the brewing process.

Base Beer Yeasts to Use Justification
Belgian Blonde All Trappist varieties Have you ever tried reading Wyeast or White Labs descriptions? Not the most informative, so do it yourself!
Imperial Stout English & Belgian Adding fruity and phenolic spice to an Imperial Stout? Yes please.
Rye Beer
Any combinations Do you want to complement the spiciness of the rye or enhance the smokiness? Why not both?
English Barleywine Any high octane English yeast People rarely brew numerous high gravity beers in a year, let alone the same recipe multiple times. Might as well get the most bang for your buck.
American IPA WY 1450 and WLP 007 Do you prefer the closest thing to Stone's yeast or your favorite strain?
American IPA The Yeast Bay Vermont Ale and WY 1469 Some people on internet claim WY 1469 produces similar fruity/peach aromas as Conan.

In the end, brew what makes you happy.  Using split batching, I have found that I can get a wide breadth of recipes done in a reasonably short amount of time.  I have never regretted pitching a random strain of yeast for an experiment.  All of the split beers has turned out fantastic, and above all else, I have more data points for choosing which yeast to use next time. Almost every beer I brew I split batch yeast to explore new flavors or try yeasts I would not normally pick. In time, any brewer will learn what their taste preferences are for ingredients such as % rye or flavors of hops; however, if you want to truly explore numerous styles/flavor combinations in a short amount of time, split batching is the way to go.

Cheers and happy brewing!

Share this recipe on reddit

Batch Size (gallons)5
Recipe typeAll Grain
Style14B. American IPA
Original Gravity1.071
Final Gravity1.010
ABV8.01% (basic)   /   8.03% (advanced)       [what's this?]
Color19.3 SRM
Boil Time60 min

YeastWhite Labs WLP090 (San Diego Super Yeast)
White Labs WLP530 (Abbey Ale)

Pale Malt (2 Row) US10 lbs75.8%2
Wheat Malt, White1 lb7.6%2.4
Candi Sugar, Amber 15.04 oz7.1%75
Special B Malt 12 oz5.7%180
Aromatic Malt 8 oz3.8%26

Citra (Boil).55 oz1512%10
Amarillo (Boil)1.09 oz158.5%13.8
Citra (Boil)1.64 oz512%12
Mosaic (Boil)1.64 oz512.7%12.2
Amarillo (Boil)1.09 oz58.5%5.6
Mosaic (Steep/whirlpool)2.2 oz3012.7%0
Amarillo (Steep/whirlpool)2.2 oz308.5%0
Mosaic (Dry Hop)2.2 oz412.7%0
Citra (Dry Hop)2.2 oz412%0

for complete recipe (with details like mash and fermentation temps), click here

When not brewing, reading, drinking, or writing about beer, Jordan is slaving away like many others in the software industry and exploring the Pacific Northwest with his family. You can look him up at reddit as u/zeith, or on twitter as @MarcheseBrewing.

Tags for this post: split, batching, brew, brewing, yeast, combinations

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Great article! I've been considering doing split batches for a while. Thanks for the additional motivation and information!

posted by Ian on 4/08/2014 at 11:39:03 AM

As a new father myself, I can relate to trying to be "experimental" with my precious limited brewing time. After my son was born I was brewing very little, who has time for that? But I was able to manage and over the course of a few months started brewing larger batches and splitting them out for experimentation. I've even gone as far as brewing a base beer, and splitting with two yeasts, then taking a portions of each of those and adding 2 different fruits. 4 beers from one batch. Another cool experiment is to make a base beer, then split. For half of the batch take different grains that require steeping only such as roasted / crystals and use those to change the color and flavor of your second beer. I was able to get a "stout" and a best bitter from the same base wort.

posted by madmatt1974 on 5/27/2014 at 12:58:47 PM

I must say, great outlook on bettering your skill/knowledge of something more than just a hobby. We all friends here so i'll say it, for me its an obsession. I worked at a LHBS for almost 2 years in Houston,Tx. Brewed for almost 4 years, but all grain for only 1. The store only had extract demo's, so i never made the jump to adult brewing. I loved how your trying to get double the experience in half the time. So I wanted to share what i came up with to do the same. I needed to get 2 years of knowledge in 4 months so i would write down 2-4 ideas toward a new recipe everyday (all standard 5 Gal). So instead of have to use the same base, I divided the recipes into 1.25 Gal batches. I would brew 2 a night 4 times a week, all different worlds i wanted to explore. Now the were Partial mash at first, but i did turn my girl's 2 1/2 gal igloo lunch pail into a tiny mash/tauter tun. Worked great and the best thing was the price. $15 for an elaborate recipe. Sorry Mr. Jordan for the length of this post. You seem like a, just want to help everyone if i can, kind of guy. Great site, thanks for sharing your passion with others.
Kirk Fincher

posted by Kirk on 6/17/2014 at 07:09:20 AM

This is very nice and really appreciating.
Everyone should visit site for such information.

posted by garrett.patton on 3/02/2015 at 05:11:25 AM