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The Paradox of Palmer

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by mattbk, Mar 15, 2013.

  1. mattbk

    mattbk Savant (425) New York Dec 12, 2011

    I have thought about this lately. Usually, when a new homebrewer comes to this site looking for advice, we recommend him to Palmer's How to Brew. This is the first resource I ever read, and is a resource I still refer to from time to time.

    However, as I learn more about brewing, there is some advice in his work that, if you take it to be gospel, can be misleading for new homebrewers. Some examples:

    1) "Ready-to-pitch yeasts, and and the larger 175 ml smack-packs do not need a starter"
    2) "secondary fermentation is beneficial to nearly all beer styles"
    3) "A word of caution when adding hops at knockout or using a hopback - depending on several factors, e.g. amount, variety, freshness, etc., the beer may take on a grassy taste"
    4) "A thinner mash of >2 quarts of water per pound of grain dilutes the relative concentration of the enzymes, slowing the conversion, but ultimately leads to a more fermentable mash because the enzymes are not inhibited by a high concentration of sugars. A stiff mash of <1.25 quarts of water per pound is better for protein breakdown, and results in a faster overall starch conversion, but the resultant sugars are less fermentable and will result in a sweeter, maltier beer."

    My intention is not to slam this work, which is invaluable for the newcomer, but rather when we point a new homebrewer towards How to Brew, we also have some other reference collected for all the updates, or an addendum of some kind. Thoughts on this? Would it make sense to create a post to catalog each of these?

    Can of worms: opened.
  2. The online edition? It is getting dated in some minor aspects.
  3. DanimalFL

    DanimalFL Aficionado (235) Florida Mar 15, 2012

    It's better than just winging it or half the retarded advice you overhear in homebrew shops or forums. Now if you will excuse me I have to go boil my yeast.
    itchytasty, hopdog09, NiceFly and 3 others like this.
  4. Sounds like good beginner advice for new homebrewers to me...and most of his statements leave some wiggle-room.

    Generally, I think his work, most of which has been around for awhile, is solid, readable, and is a good source for any brewer, but especially for beginner and intermediate brewers.
  5. leedorham

    leedorham Champion (845) Washington Apr 27, 2006

    1) They don't "need" one
    2) Change "secondary fermentation" to "letting the beer finish completely and sit a while." He's trying to get the new brewer to have some patience.
    3) I can't get on board with this one. Never experienced grassiness no matter how much the casual brewers I talk to claim to have experienced it. I think they are tasting something else.
    4) Don't know enough to comment.
  6. epk

    epk Savant (325) New Jersey Jun 10, 2008

    2) "secondary fermentation is beneficial to nearly all beer styles"

    That one is sort of out of context. The next sentences are:
    "But for now, I will advise new brewers to only use a single fermentor until they have gained some experience with racking and sanitation.

    Leaving an ale beer in the primary fermentor for a total of 2-3 weeks (instead of just the one week most canned kits recommend), will provide time for the conditioning reactions and improve the beer.his extra time will also let more sediment settle out before bottling, resulting in a clearer beer and easier pouring. And, three weeks in the primary fermentor is usually not enough time for off-flavors to occur."

    He's old school, he likes his secondaries.
  7. I'd like more discussion on number 4.
    DanimalFL and IKR like this.
  8. Sounds accurate to me. What is the complaint?Mash thickness is a relatively minor factor compared to temperature, but thinner mashes do lead to thinner beers from everything I’ve ever read.
    DanimalFL likes this.
  9. pweis909

    pweis909 Advocate (715) Wisconsin Aug 13, 2005

    I think you are right that some ideas that seemed valid the time Palmer wrote it now seem dated. I believe he is working on a new edition (I think he said so on a Brew Stong episode). He might appreciate some feedback on what some of those things are, although I bet he is aware of some of it.

    I haven't looked at alternatives that have come out in recent years. Maybe some are getting those dated points right and therefore would be good for us to recommend. On the other hand, starting with Palmer and committing yourself to continual revision of your understanding of beer is how many of us got to where we are. I imagine that regardless of what source you use at the start of your homebrewing adventures, learning more from other sources is always going to be valuable.
    JimSmetana and GreenKrusty101 like this.
  10. Protein rests are almost always thicker anyway by necessity as you will never make it to sacc temp otherwise (with the correct volume).
  11. leedorham

    leedorham Champion (845) Washington Apr 27, 2006

    And, in my experience, hazier beers, which would fit with the protein breakdown argument too.
  12. No complaint by me. The OP asked is he should create a post to catalog each of these. This is one I'd like more info on. Guess we are doing it here.

    Yeah I have learned that by experience.

    Now we are getting somewhere. So thinner = more fermentable, but thicker breaks down more protein?
  13. First off I want to say that I agree 100% with GreenKrusty: “Sounds like good beginner advice for new homebrewers to me...and most of his statements leave some wiggle-room.”

    As regards the four discussion topics:

    1) I agree with leedorham: “They don't "need" one”

    2) I also agree with leedorham on this one: “Change "secondary fermentation" to "letting the beer finish completely and sit a while." He's trying to get the new brewer to have some patience.

    3) As regards the topic of grassiness I have never personally experienced this but everybody has a different palate. I may dry hop with a certain variety of hop (e.g., Saaz) and describe the aroma/flavor as “herbal”. Somebody else might use the word “grassy”.

    4) As regards the mash thickness there may be some errors in what John Palmer is stating. In the experiments that Kai Troester conducted, which was discussed in a past thread, he summarized: “The thickness of the mash doesn't seem to effect the fermentability of the wort that is produced but thinner mashes can significantly improve the conversion efficiency. As a result brewers who see low efficiency from their mashing may try to use a thinner mash (3-4 l/kg or 1.5 - 2 qt/lb) as they were shown to convert more starches.”

    I am sure that there are other topics from John Palmer’s book that we can discuss but my overall feeling is that if a newbie brewer conscientiously follows the directions that John Palmer provides in his book the next result will be good homebrewed beer. I personally give John Palmer’s book How to Brew a ‘thumbs up’.

    On the topic of the book being outdated in some aspects I suppose I really can’t argue with that characterization. I would just say this in retort: even if you follow the outdated aspects the net result is still good homebrewed beer.

    pweis909 and OddNotion like this.
  14. You might be interested in the below verbiage from Kai Troester’s white paper “Effects of mash parameters on fermentability and efficiency in single infusion mashing”.

    “The results for mash thickness were somewhat surprising. Contrary to common believe no attenuation difference was seen between a thick mash (2.57 l/kg or 1.21 qt/lb) and a thin mash (5 l/kg or 2.37 qt/lb). Home brewing literature suggests that thin mashes lead to more fermentable worts, but technical brewing literature suggests that the mash concentration doesn't have much effect in well modified malts [Narziss, 2005]. Briggs cites data that doesn't show a change in fermentability when the mash thickness is changed [Briggs, 2004]. This was confirmed by these experiments where all the data points were on the same curve that had already been established in the temperature experiment.”

    Reneejane, OldSock and sergeantstogie like this.
  15. I think Palmer might be saying mash longer when you mash thinner.
  16. Not just for Jack,
    So what is the limit? When I am doing a step mash, what is too thin?
  17. VikeMan

    VikeMan Champion (820) Pennsylvania Jul 12, 2009

    I don't know if anyone knows the limit (for very thin mashes), but I strongly suspect it depends on at least one factor...diastatic power, i.e. the amount of enzymes. As the mash gets thinner and thinner, you're decreasing the enzyme concentration in the mash volume. As the concentration of the enzymes and of the starches gets lower, it's harder for them to find each other. So you have enzymes starting to denature before they can finish the job.
  18. Yeah I've always played it safe, starting really thick so I ended up around 2 qt/lb. Would be nice to be able to guess with a little more confidence.
  19. VikeMan

    VikeMan Champion (820) Pennsylvania Jul 12, 2009

    I'm not sure what you mean by this. (I'd call 2 qt/lb thin rather than thick.) Are you doing step (multiple rest) mashes?
  20. WickedSluggy

    WickedSluggy Savant (435) Texas Nov 21, 2008

    What exactly is a secondary fermentation anyways? Unless we are talking about actually adding more fermentables, I would make the claim that there is no such thing as a secondary fermetation. "secondary fermentation is beneficial to nearly all beer styles" is more a statement about the brewer's process than the fermentation process. It is based on the claim that it is beneficial to remove the fermenting beer from the aging yeast and trub layer. This is probably rooted in truth because autolysed yeast can contribute undesireable flavors to beer, so if you want to avoid these flavors you should remove their source from your beer. However, the practice, it certainly isn't required for all styles. After spending some time in this forum, it seems fairly obvious that most BA homebrewers feel it is usually unecessary.
    GreenKrusty101 likes this.
  21. Yes, depending on my grain bill, starting thick and stepping up if I feel a Beta glucan rest is called for, protein rest, sacc, mash out.
  22. epk

    epk Savant (325) New Jersey Jun 10, 2008

    The statement is really taken out of context.

    Honestly, I kind of see "secondary fermentation" more or less as synonymous with "conditioning phase" and Palmer actually lumps them both together anyway on that page online. He actually follows that with what I quoted earlier - keeping it on the yeast for 2-3 weeks is not a problem.
    sergeantstogie likes this.
  23. He does, however, go on to say, "There is a risk trade-off between letting the yeast finish the job and getting the beer off the trub...I routinely leave my beer in the primary for three to four weeks."
  24. mattbk

    mattbk Savant (425) New York Dec 12, 2011

    Here is the full statement:

    "There has been a lot of controversy within the homebrewing community on the value of racking beers, particularly ales, to secondary fermentors. Many seasoned homebrewers have declared that there is no real taste benefit and that the dangers of contamination and the cost in additional time are not worth what little benefit there may be. While I will agree that for a new brewer's first, low gravity, pale beer that the risks probably outweigh the benefits; I have always argued that through careful transfer, secondary fermentation is beneficial to nearly all beer styles. But for now, I will advise new brewers to only use a single fermentor until they have gained some experience with racking and sanitation.

    Leaving an ale beer in the primary fermentor for a total of 2-3 weeks (instead of just the one week most canned kits recommend), will provide time for the conditioning reactions and improve the beer. This extra time will also let more sediment settle out before bottling, resulting in a clearer beer and easier pouring. And, three weeks in the primary fermentor is usually not enough time for off-flavors to occur."

    It is exactly this kind of ambuigity that was confusing to me as a homebrewer. Not to mention there is no mention of oxidation, which many would argue is the primary reason to not rack.

    We've all agonized over certain decisions as homebrewers, such as the questions I posed above: it has taken me several years to move past these myths. Of course, we've all gone through that journey. But I wish someone would have told me "Here's How to Brew*. * and here's some information clarifying some of the ambiguity in How to Brew." It certainly would have saved me some time and made me a better brewer faster.

    EDIT: Not to mention saved me some cash. Do you know how many f**king 5 gallon glass carboys I have in my house?
  25. epk

    epk Savant (325) New Jersey Jun 10, 2008

    To answer your actual question, I suppose it will not hurt to catalog things. In the end you could even send to Palmer to review himself. I mean, if he simply removed that one statement in question, the page would still be just as meaningful.
  26. True. But we need to remember it's a book meant to help beginners and stand by itself. They weren't myths. They were the lessons learned from a guy who really knows his stuff. Most homebrewers wont even read the whole book let alone do the kind of research we are talking about already just in this thread. People want small bite sized nuggets of information they can immediately apply. John did that. Could it be fleshed out and really be a compendium of homebrew knowledge? Maybe but it would look like a phonebook. Would everyone agree with the points made? Nope. Just a thought. I thought the use of myth, which some points have spun themselves into, was a tad harsh. Ugh I need to go to bed.
  27. VikeMan

    VikeMan Champion (820) Pennsylvania Jul 12, 2009

    First, as hopfenunmaltz mentioned, the online version is somewhat dated. Palmer may have been a guy ahead of his time, but he was still feeling his way through the process a little in some respects. From what I have read of the print version, it's less dated, generally easier to understand, and probably less equivocating. No, definitely less equivocating. Maybe. The problem is, I don't think there's anything better than the online version that a newbie can read right away (i.e. without waiting for a book to arrive). So a catalog of clarifications might be a good idea. But I wish whoever tries to build a consensus of what goes in it the best of luck.
    JimSmetana and sergeantstogie like this.
  28. Matt, this whole “should I secondary” thing has been discussed many times on various threads. Some folks have speculated that the need (or benefit) of a secondary is from the time in the past when brewer’s yeast was not always of high quality. The implication was that using that 5 gram packet of dry yeast that was under the lid on top of the pre-hopped can was not high quality yeast. A transfer from the primary to the secondary to get off that ‘bad’ yeast was considered helpful. Were those 5 gram packets of yeast really ‘bad’? I really don’t know since I never used them. I would add them to the boiling wort since they are apparently good yeast nutrient.

    Another rationale that has been stated as a benefit for transferring to a secondary is getting the beer off the trub. Does it ‘hurt’ the beer to have it sit on the trub for several weeks? The answer to that question is “no” from my homebrewing experience.

    You are correct that John makes no mention of the potential risk of oxidation during the transfer. Whenever I post on this matter I insert qualifying verbiage that the risk of oxidation is a small risk. If you transfer in a non-haphazard fashion then there should not be much oxidation occurring. If you drink your beer in a timely fashion (e.g., in a few months) in all probability you won’t even notice the effects of oxidation if it did occur.

    So, why do I personally not conduct a secondary? Two reasons:

    · I am lazy; why make the effort?
    · What exactly are the benefits of a secondary? Does sitting on the trub really affect the quality of the beer?

    So, since I am personally unconvinced of the benefits of a secondary I don’t do it. As others have stated, I view this overall discussion by John Palmers on the secondary in the broader context of conditioning. I have also posted numerous times that I view conditioning as being the same as whether you bulk condition vs. bottle conditioning; conditioning is conditioning in my humble opinion.

    One thing that homebrewers need to learn whether they are new or experienced is that there are plenty of different ways to homebrew good beer. Each homebrewer needs to decide for themself what homebrewing practice is ‘good’ for their personal setup.

    sergeantstogie likes this.
  29. WickedSluggy

    WickedSluggy Savant (435) Texas Nov 21, 2008

    I agree.

    I see the term "secondary fermentation" as a misnomer that is probably based on the fact that we sometimes use a secondary fermenter. However, the beers need for conditioning is not related to the trub/yeast removal step that one may or may not choose to perform.

    I might also mention that there are also various types of conditioning (this was discussed yesterday). The phase of cleanup of fermentation byproducts is a form of conditioning. The carbonation process is often referred to as conditioning (If the beer is bottle/sask conditioned, then it is an actual secondary fermentation.) We also use the term "cold conditioning", which is a step that many brewers feel improves many beers - but most importantly lagers.
  30. mattbk

    mattbk Savant (425) New York Dec 12, 2011

    Haven't seen the written version.

    I may or may not decide to re-read through the online version, cataloguing what I believe to be, um, questionable advice (for lack of a better term), and use as forum topics. At the most, it could serve as a future reference guide; at the very least, may lead to some interesting discussion.

    And, yes, "myths" may be a tad harsh. Interpretations is probably better. Thanks.
  31. scurvy311

    scurvy311 Savant (465) Louisiana Dec 3, 2005

    When I made the move to no-sparge, this is the exact reference I used to confidently make the jump to 2.3qt/#. I have mashed my last 3 beers using Belgian pils and marris otter as the majority of the grist at 2.3/# with no discernible difference in conversion.
  32. Compare the aforementioned quote of Palmer in the written 2006 edition to the 2-3 weeks (I assume from the "on-line" edition?)
    Seems like his fermentation sweet spot maybe shortened/changed a little over time. I dunno
  33. I mash in thinner than most, and have no problems with the temp changes using a direct fired mash tun with a March pump to recirculate. A friend mashes in a cooler, and he changes temperature for the later steps with decoctioins, even for ales. You need to think of other ways of doing it on your system.
  34. Jeff I got that, and I do pretty well but my question was, how thin is too thin? Where is the line?
  35. If you read Kai's page, some where he talks about the German brewers mashing at about 3 qts/lb, and having it that thin helps with pumping the mash to the decoction kettle.
    sergeantstogie likes this.
  36. Below is from Steve Holle’s 2008 AHA presentation on German Brewing Techniques:

    Water:Grist Ratios
    (wt/wt, 1liter = 1kg, 1qt 2 lb)
    Mash more liquid than English infusion mashes because German mashes are stirred and pumped
    • Water grist ratios are adjusted for beer type
    • 3.0 to 3.5 : 1 dark and/or malty beers (Maerzen)
    • 4.0 to 5 : 1 pale and delicate beers (Pils)
    • Lower water : grist ratio requires more sparging: _efficiency _ _ phenols _ _ fermentability
    • Higher water: grist ratio requires less sparging : _ efficiency _ _ phenols _ _ fermentability

  37. I saw that presentation, and talked to Steve Holle later that day. It makes sense that they don't go as thin on the darker beers, as malts such as Munich and Dark Munich have a lot less Diastatic Power.
  38. Oh Jeff, you are such a name dropper!;)

  39. You can talk to just about anybody at the NHC. Except Jamil Z. He is usually surrounded 3 or 4 deep with others talking to him. :)
  40. It sounds like Jamil is a Superstar!


    P.S. Do you have an autograph from Jamil? I am willing to bet you do!;)