How Long Does It Take to Brew Commercial Beer?
As a beer enthusiast, you’ve probably wondered about the brewing process at one point or another and all that it involves. From microbrewing to craft brewing to commercial brewing, there are similarities and differences between each type of brewing. You may have even found yourself wondering, “How long does it take to brew commercial beer?” If you’ve asked that question before, you’re in the right place.
Before we discuss how long it takes to brew commercial beer, let’s first get reacquainted with the commercial brewing process and understand how it differs from craft brewing. From there, we’ll dive in to answering the question of how long it actually takes to brew commercial beer.
What is Commercial Brewing?
The term commercial brewing refers to the process of brewing beer on a large scale, in mass quantities. The beer industry defines a commercial brewery as any brewery that brews more than six million barrels of beer per year.
In a recent blog post about nano breweries, we revealed that there are four companies in control of over 50 percent of the beer market. They are Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Molson Coors Beverage Company, and Carlsberg. Each of these breweries is so big, they operate on a global scale and distribute their products worldwide. While the four largest brewing companies control most of the market, they aren’t the only commercial breweries out there.
What is Craft Brewing?
To put commercial brewing into perspective, it’s important to understand how craft brewing is defined. The Brewers Association classifies an American craft brewery as a small, independent brewery. To be considered small and independent, the brewery must only produce six million barrels of beer or less per year.
The next condition craft breweries must meet is that the brewery must be independently owned. To be considered an independent brewery, no more than 25 percent of the brewery can be owned or controlled by someone who isn’t identified as a craft brewer.
Craft breweries’ smaller brewing capacity enables them to use more innovative brewing processes and to brew with nontraditional ingredients in new and inventive ways that commercial breweries simply can’t.
How Long Does It Take to Brew Commercial Beer?
The answer to this question varies depending on the type of beer being brewed. To gain a better understanding, let’s familiarize ourselves with the most common styles of beer.
Now, at practically any bar or beer distributor, you’ll find a wide array of options available for consumption. You’ll likely see everything from traditional lagers to double IPAs to barrel aged sour ales—and even more niche brews than you recognize. But each beer, no matter what niche category it may fall under, ultimately stems from two specific styles: lagers and ales. And depending on the yeast used and the fermentation process, numerous other styles of beer such as wheat beers, stouts, porters, brown ales and others may emerge.
Lagers require more work and specialized brewing equipment than a typical ale. Because of this, brewing a commercial lager can take anywhere from four to eight weeks. Lagers need to be conditioned, which is the most time-intensive part of the brewing process. The conditioning (or lagering) process allows the harsh, bitter flavors that arise from the fermentation process to mellow out. Conditioning a commercial lager can take anywhere from one to four weeks, depending on whether it’s pale or dark.
Ales are the oldest style of beer. Ale fermentation takes place in a warm environment, which accelerates the process, meaning this style of beer doesn’t need to be fermented or conditioned for as long as a lager or an IPA.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
An IPA is more bitter and has a higher alcohol content than a lager or a traditional ale. There are many popular IPA styles, including New England Style, West Coast Style and English Style, to name a few. Each style has a different flavor profile, which largely depends on the hops used and, of course, the fermentation process. Even within the category of New England Style IPAs, taste can vary greatly. The brewing time for a commercial IPA is largely dependent on what style it is. To get a better idea, let’s take a closer look at these popular IPA styles.
New England Style
New England IPAs (NEIPAs) are characterized by fruit-forward hop varieties and flavor profiles, muted bitterness, high chloride levels, ester-forward yeast and unique dry hopping techniques. However, yeast and malt varieties also contribute to the end product’s mouthfeel, flavor and appearance. Many breweries dry hop NEIPAs in multiple phases over the course of both the primary and secondary fermentations. This process is called double-dry hopping and takes place during the one-to-two-week fermentation process. But there are plenty of single dry hopped NEIPA options with a more subtle hop aroma available too.
West Coast Style
West Coast IPAs feature a bold hop aroma, intense bitterness and citrus or piney flavors. In contrast to an NEIPA, West Coast IPAs have more hops added during boiling (similar to tea), which imparts the bitterness into this style of brew. When it comes to adding hops during boiling and fermentation, proportions for West Coast IPAs are more equal than those for a New England style which may have few or no hops added during boiling. The fermentation process for a West Coast IPA is similar to the process for a NEIPA and can take anywhere from 10-14 days. If the West Coast IPA is one that’s dry hopped after fermentation for an increased aroma, it often sits for a few days before canning or bottling, making the entire process one that takes several weeks.
English style IPAs are brewed similarly to NEIPAs in that the majority of the hops aren’t added during the boiling process, but are added later for a more subtle hop aroma. However, English IPAs have more herbal, earthy and floral aromas with a malty, crisp flavor. Hop levels in English IPAs are also lower than their New England or West Coast counterparts. On average, an English IPA may ferment for up to ten days, and then dry hop for an additional five or six.
Session IPAs vs. Double IPAs
The IPA brewing process can be broken down even further still. There are session IPAs (which have a low ABV of 5 percent or less) and then there are double IPAs which are stronger and generally have an ABV anywhere from 8 percent to 9.5 percent. Session IPAs can take anywhere from two to three weeks to brew, ferment and condition, while double IPAs can take four or more weeks.
Answering How Long It Takes to Brew Commercial Beer
As you can see, there’s no perfect answer to this question. It varies based on the style of beer and the specific brewing process, as each brewery’s will be different. Because commercial breweries brew beer in such large quantities, they’re able to optimize the brewing process and cut the brewing time down to meet market demand.
Learn More About Commercial Beer and the Brewing Process
We’ve just covered the basics of how long it takes to brew commercial beer and discussed a few popular styles of beer in this blog. If you’re looking to upgrade your brew transfer equipment, the experts at BrewSavor can help you choose the best tubing, hose, fittings and clamps for both low- and high-temperature applications.