When the idea of this brewery first began to take shape, we realized that we needed to simplify things if we were to have any success. The latest technology is nice, but we could not afford that. Even if we could, it would likely not be consistent with our ideal, our mission.
To that end, I have been experimenting with ways to reduce the brewing process to its essential elements. Regarding equipment, all that is needed is heat and containers. Perhaps a bit of tubing for fluid transfer would be a help. In the work-flow of most breweries, each step of the brewing process requires its own container. Given our situation, we need to keep the number of containers to a minimum.
The method I devised involved eliminating the secondary fermenter and the container for priming (bottling bucket). In the process I have previously used, the beer moves from the boiler to the primary fermenter to the secondary fermenter to the bottling bucket for priming then it gets bottled. In this new method the beer will move from the boiler to the primary fermenter then get bottled, thus cutting the number of containers in half. This is akin to brewing processes of the middle 19th century.
Using only single stage fermentation is not that uncommon a practice, especially among home brewers. I myself have only recently started using two-stage fermentation. Two-stage fermentation may yield a cleaner (less cloudy) beer and less sediment in the bottles, but does increase the risk of infection due to increased handling. Furthermore, beer properly conditioned in the bottle can be as clear as anything. The main reason I used two-stage fermentation was to reduce the amount of beer lost during the blow-off phase. I used to be a big believer in the blow-off phase, but that is the subject for another article.
As to eliminating the priming bucket, that was a bit trickier. Accomplishing that would mean I would have to prime the beer while it was still in the fermenter. I would need to mix the priming solution thoroughly enough to ensure uniform carbonation across the entire batch. I would also need to minimize agitation of the sediment. The two goals seemed mutually exclusive.
I finally decided to rely on some good old high school chemistry. To wit: If two solutions (in this case raw beer and the primer) are miscible (can dissolve completely each into the other) they will diffuse into each other and eventually form a uniform solution simply due to the kinetic energy of the constituent molecules. No mixing needed.
The final process involved two steps. First, the primer was poured slowly into the fermenter while the fermenter was very gently agitated to give the diffusion process a jump-start. The second step was to wait about 7.5 hours to allow the process of diffusion to complete its work. The beer was then bottled.
So how does this new streamlined method work? I have now used this on two batches of English bitter, with excellent results in both cases. Both times the final product had good carbonation and hop character with a crisp finish and no off-flavors. One reviewer, who is quite knowledgeable in things beery, asked how I managed to get such good hop aroma and still have such a clean, dry finish.