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Divide & Conquer: Practice the Art of the “Splatch”

Consider the possibilities of split-batch brewing—to get twice the variety without a lot more work.

Joe Stange Apr 13, 2021 - 8 min read

Divide & Conquer: Practice the Art of the “Splatch” Primary Image

Photo: Courtesy Tannery Run Brew Works

As it turns out, I’ve been “splatch” brewing for years. I just didn’t know there was a cool portmanteau for it until I heard from Tim Brown recently.

Brown is the owner and head brewer of Tannery Run Brew Works in Ambler, Pennsylvania. We were exchanging emails about something else when he mentioned that his regular method for brewing was to split batches—i.e., use the same wort to make at least two different beers. He calls it splatch brewing.

“It’s kind of contradicting itself,” Brown says. “I took the words ‘split batch’ and smashed them together.” He says he’s even trying to get it trademarked. “It certainly means something different when you look it up on Urban Dictionary.” (Sorry. You’ll have to do that yourselves.)

Brown even designed their seven-barrel brewhouse specifically for splatch brewing. “We have one big mash tun but two boil kettles,” he says. “You can make two drastically different beers off of one batch.”

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Brewing split batches probably isn’t a radical idea to most homebrewers—it’s been my own default process for years (more on that below, along with the pros and cons). So, it’s no surprise when Brown tells me he was homebrewing for 17 years before opening Tannery Run in 2018. “Homebrewing is really what led me to where I am now,” he says. “Especially when it comes to splatch brewing.”

Brown recalls one of the first split batches he ever did: Half was a dry-hopped IPA that got the clean-fermenting Chico strain; the other got Belgian-style yeast and some dark candi sugar to become an abbey-style ale. “It came out to be pretty drastically different beers,” he says.

Other splits are less dramatic, such as when he brews IPAs and changes only the hops. Tannery Run often releases these beers side by side—in four-can “splatch packs” of two cans each—so that customers can taste the difference. Another splatch pack they did: two single-malt, single-hop lagers that were hopped differently—one got only kettle hops, while the other was all whirlpool and dry hops. The result is always instructive. “It’s kind of neat to engage people, to say that these beers are similar, but look how they’re different.”

It’s unusual for a smaller commercial brewery to have a brewhouse specifically designed for this method. But it’s not unheard-of for one to release similar beers with slight variations. One recent example: White Labs Brewing released its two Better Haze Ahead IPAs side by side, each fermented by a different White Labs yeast strain—WLP066 London Fog and WLP518 Opshaug Kveik. They’ve done the same with their 10°P Pilsner—one getting WLP802 Czech Budejovice, and the other WLP830 German Lager.

“Most breweries I know do some version of split-batch beer,” Brown says. “What makes us different is that’s our focus.”

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One reason Brown wanted separate boil kettles was for a more specific form of split-batch brewing: the parti-gyle. That method involves using stronger first runnings and weaker later runnings to make different beers, and (traditionally) doing some blending between the two. (For more about that, see Practical Parti-Gyle Brewing.) Obviously, being able to boil two worts simultaneously can shave hours off that kind of brew day.

However, running off into two separate kettles does make it trickier when he wants to brew two beers of equal gravity. “That’s the real balancing act,” he says. “I have to make sure I’m paying so much attention to my runoff. I’ve done it so many times now, I can pretty much do it by feel.”

In that regard, there’s something to be said for not splitting the batch until after the boil: There is less to monitor while boiling (I’m a terrible multitasker, especially after a couple of homebrews), and then it’s easier to get two worts of more-or-less equal strength.

Splitting Batches in the Home Brewery

With that in mind, let’s set aside the option of splitting the wort pre-boil. From a homebrewer’s perspective, boiling two separate beers eliminates the biggest advantage of splitting the batch: For very little extra work, you get to drink double the variety—or more than double, if you want to split the batch more than two ways.

Even without separating the wort until after the boil, there are still numerous opportunities for divergence. Permutations abound.

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For me—and I suspect for many other homebrewers—split batches didn’t become a regular thing until I upgraded from five- to 10-gallon batches. My fermentors each held five-plus gallons, my kegs each held five gallons … and there I was, brewing twice that much on brew day. The questions were obvious: What if I pitch this yeast in that half and that yeast in the other half? What if I dry hop with this variety here and with this other variety there?

However, the quantities aren’t that relevant: You can split any size batch into smaller ones, as long as you have enough fermentors.

Here are some possibilities, far from exhaustive:

  • Pitch different yeasts and/or bacteria.
  • Dry hop one and not the other—or try different hop varieties or blends thereof.
  • Add fruit or other ingredients, or different fruits, or add them at different times.
    Bump the gravity and lighten the body with sugar—and darken the color, if adding dark candi syrup.
  • Try different fermentation temperatures.
  • After the boil, run half the batch through the chiller, but leave behind the other half for a whirlpool and extra hop burst.
  • Wood age half a batch but not the other, or try different woods or barrels.

My own variations are usually limited to different yeasts, fermentation temperatures, and dry-hop regimes. Why? Because the two things I like to brew and drink the most are saison and lager. They’re a natural pair for split-batch brewing: similar grists (often 100 percent pilsner) and compatible kettle hops (usually Noble, but I play with New World varieties, too). Another split I tried last summer was a Berliner weisse, where one half was “clean” while the other got Brett and a bunch of blackberries.

Each fork in the road will lead to other forks and eventually to destinations you might not otherwise have considered. It will also lead to you having more choices on tap or in your bottle stash.

So, what are the disadvantages?

It does take a bit of planning (but not much). And if you’re not already going to use two fermentors, then it represents extra cleaning and sanitizing (but not much). There is also something to be said for being able to focus on making one type of beer the best you can, rather than dividing your attention. It’s very possible—nearly inevitable—that you’re going to like one beer better than the other. So, you could just focus on perfecting the one beer you’re most likely to enjoy.

Do I always make two good beers that way? Oh, hell no. (That blackberry beer was a disaster, to be honest.) But I’ll tell you this: It’s always educational. Every single time.

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