In my real job, I improve processes using Lean and/or Six Sigma. A key tool in my trade is the Value Stream Map (VSM). It’s essentially a process flow chart, but with extra bells and whistles.
I also teach people how to create VSMs. Since beer is near and dear to my heart, I like to use my homebrew process to illustrate how a VSM works. I love the process of making beer! I probably enjoy making beer more than I like drinking it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the latter a great deal, but it’s very rewarding to actually create beer.
So I’ll celebrate the amazing process of making homebrew with a three part series. In this first part, I’ll share my brew day process flow. In the second part, I’ll talk about the value added and non-value added tasks required to brew beer. In the last part, I’ll use Monte Carlo simulation to predict how the long I can expect my brew day process to take in the future, keeping in mind that there is variation in the process.
To be clear, I don't present my process as the “best” way to brew beer. This is simply how I do it. I hope some can learn from it, and I would really appreciate suggestions from others. I also won’t explain the purpose or details of each step. The experts can help you with that. That said, here we go…
My homebrew process has 10 steps:
- Measure Strike Water and Begin Heating
- Mash In
- Mash Grains
- Vorlauf and Sparge
- Heat Wort
- Cool to 70 F
- Sanitize Carboy and Transfer
- Aerate Worth & Pitch Yeast
- Clean up
The chart below provides a visual representation of the process. For each step, I list the cycle time (how long it takes to complete each activity).
For some activities, you’ll notice additional data to the right of Cycle Time. The length of these steps varies based on the style being brewed. The three numbers represent the minimum, most likely, and maximum cycle time values (also known as a triangular distribution). We’ll delve more into this geekery in part three.
Anyway, you’ll also see some icons with a clock. These represent when I’m sitting around waiting (and drinking beer). The Mash Grains step is also spent waiting (and enjoying beer), but I displayed it as a non-wait time, for reasons I’ll explain later on.
In summary, my process takes 298 minutes (nearly 5 hours) for a typical brew session. Next time, we’ll look at which of the activities in this flow create “value” and we’ll search for waste in the process.
How does your homebrew process differ? Any suggestions on how I can improve mine?