Home-based beer brewers just getting started can find all sorts of information online. There certainly is no shortage of opinions about how to brew great beer at home. Interestingly, a quick perusal of a few dozen home brew websites reveals an obsession with oxidation. There seems to be no middle ground. Either you obsessively hate it, or you obsessively love it. Most of the oxidation obsessed fall into the former category.
What is oxidation in the beer brewing process? Why do so many home brewers seem to despise it? Finally, what can be done to prevent it? All these questions will be answered in the following paragraphs. As you read, bear in mind that brewing your own beer at home is an intensely personal experience. The goal is to come up with something that you love, irrespective of whether anyone else appreciates it.
Combining Things with Oxygen
In a strict chemistry sense, oxidation is the process of combining oxygen with other things. Corrosion is a form of oxidation caused by oxygen coming into contact with materials susceptible to rust. To a beer maker though, oxidation is the introduction of oxygen at any point of the brewing process.
Accomplished brew masters want at least minimal oxidation early on. That’s because yeast needs oxygen to thrive. Some brewers will aerate their wort on the very first day of brewing. This gives yeast all the oxygen it needs to do what it does. After that however, a lot of brewers prefer to prevent any future oxidation.
Brite tank brewing is a trick that larger, commercial breweries utilize to prevent late-stage oxidation. Craft breweries and local brewpubs may invest in brite tank brewing if they have the financial resources to do so.
More About Brite Tank Brewing
So what is brite tank brewing? Houston-based CedarStone Industry describes it as a brewing methodology that utilizes a separate stainless steel tank to hold beer just prior to packaging or serving. While being held, the beer is further clarified, and its flavor enhanced.
Without a brite tank, brewers may choose to use a unitank set up. CedarStone Industry explains that a unitank is a single tank capable of facilitating the entire brewing process, from start to finish. Some larger commercial operations prefer the unitank method because they see it as more efficient and less labor intensive. Others still prefer to use the brite tank.
Why It Matters
This takes us back to the question of oxidation. Every time beer needs to be transferred from one vessel to another, you risk introducing oxygen. That risk is present when transferring unfinished beer to a brite tank for holding. However, going directly from brite tank to bottle, keg, or beer stein prevents any further oxidation.
Home brewers seem to prefer the brite tank method because they don’t like what oxidation does to their beers. Apparently, oxidation alters the flavor. Beer connoisseurs insist that too much oxidation can make a beer taste flat and stale. It can make some brews taste a little bit like cardboard.
If nothing else, working extremely hard to achieve a particular flavor can end in insurmountable frustration if oxidation destroys that flavor. Even if it only weakens the flavor somewhat, it is not what you wanted. That is why home brewers are so obsessed with oxidation. They do not have the high-tech equipment available to commercial brewers, equipment that tightly controls oxidation throughout.
There are ways to prevent oxidation at home, whether one can invest in a brite tank or not. If you are curious, do an online search. The information is out there.