Sometimes it is fun, as a homebrewer, to be able to whip up a batch on a spur of the moment whim. I know that a lot of people do this as part of their regular process, but it is not the norm for me. I plan most of my batches out a couple months in advance. There are a lot of reasons that I do this and while I lose some of the spontaneity, there are many advantages.
The first reason I plan my batches ahead of time is to have seasonally appropriate beer. Seasonal beers are the norm at commercial breweries and they’re often some of the most popular beers, with fans waiting for their release every year. I brew Elkland Golden Lager late in the Winter for the Spring, Table Cat over the Summer. Old SMaSHy has become my annual Winter strong ale. In the Fall, I usually do an Oktoberfest of Pumpkin Ale, although this year I didn’t get to either.
Beyond seasonal beers, specific events are good to plan for. The holidays are coming up and I always like to have a beer specifically for Christmas that has some kind of tie to the season. Last year I did Hop Holiday, which I’ll be covering here soon. It was an IPA with piny, Christmas tree flavor and aroma. This year I’m planning a cranberry beer. In addition to those bold beers, I also like to have something light and approachable for less adventurous relatives at the holidays. Last year it was N.E. Helles, this year Elkland Amber Ale.
There are practical, brewing related reasons to plan ahead as well. Yeast washing is not a topic I’ve covered on this blog yet, but reusing yeast is a great way to save time and money. I don’t usually go through with a full yeast washing process, I just plan two brew days close enough together to either rack or bottle one batch while I’m brewing the next and then reuse the yeast right away. I have found inconsistent results trying to save washed yeast for an extended period and with reusing the yeast past a third batch.
Planning my brew days this way makes yeast management much easier. I am able to try a lot of different yeasts, not being stuck with one house strain, but still use them in multiple styles of beers and get multiple batches on a single vial. I plan a low gravity beer first, often meaning that I don’t need to do a starter, and then a higher gravity beer that will utilize the huge number of yeast cells formed in the first fermentation. This is practical and also fits my tastes. I love session beer and big bold beers equally, though the session beer always seems to disappear too quickly.
I usually have about five batches of beer planned. I usually don’t get to all of the beers I plan, though. Those last minute wild hare plans still work their way in and take the spots of some of the more planned out brews. That is the beauty of homebrewing, you can schedule things out if you want, but you can also ignore your own plans if the urge to try something different hits you.
About four out of five of the beers I plan on usually happen, though they often get moved around. That cranberry beer I’m working on for Christmas was originally meant to be for Thanksgiving and I was going to do a Red Saison for Christmas. That saison got reworked to be a standard, paler color but is going to get fermented with Brettanomyces, which will mean it won’t be ready for Christmas. The cranberry beer got moved into its spot.
Planning ahead this way can help with purchasing other ingredients, as well. You can save a lot of money by getting pounds of hops you’re going to be using in a few batches instead of ounces. I don’t have a grain mill, but if you do, getting sacks of grain can be a big money saver as well. You can even save gas by just getting ingredients for multiple batches in the same trip to the homebrew store.
I used to keep a detailed spreadsheet with my brew schedule. It was useful, but a pain to update. This blog has more or less taken its place. I post even more details here and it is easily searchable, so it works out better for me. iBrewmaster, the iPad app I use for making my recipes also keeps a calendar based on how you schedule things, which is helpful in planning new batches as well as managing in process brews.
Planning batches ahead of time also just gives me more time to think. This can help with recipe formulation, research time for different processes and figure out label designs. Plus, it is just fun to think about beer.