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Old 08-20-2013, 01:10 AM   #1
DonRikkles
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Default 16 Month Report Card - Help me improve

Sixteen months ago I started brewing from a 1 gal AG kit sold Brooklyn Brew Shop in my Memphis, TN kitchen. After a few SMASH batches, I fell in love with brewing and the creativity it inspires, and upgraded my system when I moved to Washington, DC. Because of space limitations, I make 3 gal batches here. My wife and just bought our first place that will, among other things, allow for bigger batches (5 gal), a keezer (4-5 taps, hopefully), and better storage. (Also, in case you didn't notice, my wife is wonderful. She's my biggest brewing supporter )

I feel that I've come a long way in the past 16 months; I've improved my process some, come up with original recipes, and have even entered (and won!) some competitions. I know, however, that I've got a lot of room for improvement. This is where the kind folks on HBT come in. I'd like to take full advantage of the opportunity for improvement the bigger space will allow me and I'd love your thoughts and opinions on how I could do that. Please let me know how I can improve my process to become an even better brewer! I apologize in advance for the length...

My equipment:

5 gal aluminum brew pot
10 gal Gatorade cooler with ball valve and steel rope
2 better bottle carboys (1 5 gal and 1 6 gal) and 1 glass 3 gal carboy
standard floating thermometer
standard hydrometer
standard air locks
kitchen scale
auto siphon

Recipe formulation:

I usually pick the style I'd like to brew, and get ideas through drinking that style and reading "Designing Great Beers" by Ray Daniels. After tinkering in BeerSmith, I post my recipe here on HBT. I am forever grateful for kindness, insight, and help I receive on this forum.

Ingredient Purchase:

I either make the trip or order from my LHBS. I usually get enough supplies for two batches to make the trip or the mail order worth it.

Starter preparation:

36-48 hours prior to brew day, I always make an appropriate sized starter using Mr. Malty's calculations. I use the 1 gal carboys I used when I first started brewing. I keep it on my mantle to reach the appropriate temperature. I do not use a stir plate.

Sanitation:

I use idophor and soak all of my tools, etc, in a large bowl and let dry on a clean towel. I re-soak and dry as necessary during brew day.

Mash:

I use beersmith's water and temperature calculations. Lately, I've been a bit below the target temperature and needed to add boiling water to bring it up. I usually stir at a half hour and take a temperature reading at that point. First runnings are usually pretty close to the beersmith target, as is the pre-boil OG.

Sparge:

Batch sparge twice per beersmith. I fill the kettle to 4.5 gallons if doing a standard 60 min boil and fill to the brim for a 90 min boil. I never use the full amount of the second volume addition. I do not take a PH reading of the pre-boil wort.

Boil:

During the mash, I weigh and measure the hops and other additions and put them in stainless steel cups. I put them on a piece of paper and label what they are and when they are to be added. I occasionally have a small boil over, but otherwise have a nice rolling boil on my electric stove.

Chill:

Ice bath in my kitchen. It takes about 45 mins to cool a 3 gal batch. I built a 50 foot copper cooling coil, but since I don't have a spigot or a faucet with a hookup, I still use the ice bath. The wort above the water line is always significantly warmer than the wort below. I remove when the weighted average temperature is at the pitching temp.

Ferment:

I use a funnel to help pour (read: oxygenate) the wort from the brewpot and shake. I do not have a way to regulate fermentation temperature. Other than wrapping a towel around the carboy to warm it up, or turning up the A/C to cool it down, I can't regulate. I hope for the best. The competition results I received yesterday made mention of this. Comments on two of the five beers I entered mentioned that I should either ferment cooler or warmer. I plan to build a fermentation chamber with temperature regulator in the new place.

I usually take a weekly gravity reading until activity stops. My FGs have been consistently .06-.08 below Beersmith's target. Not optimal.

Bottle:

I use an auto siphon and split the bottling between approx 3-4 22 oz bombers and 26-28 12 oz bottles.

Rinse.Wash.Repeat.

Please let me know where I can improve. Brewing has become my passion and I want to be the best possible brewer I can be. Thanks!!

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Old 08-20-2013, 01:14 AM   #2
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Sounds like your on track to build the fermentation chamber. That's where I would start..
Maybe get some burner setup. Should make life a little easier with the bigger batches you plan on making.

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Old 08-20-2013, 01:17 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DonRikkles View Post

Please let me know where I can improve. Brewing has become my passion and I want to be the best possible brewer I can be. Thanks!!
There are just a couple of really important things to do to make great beer. The main one is taking care of your yeast (ie yeast health). Making starters is important, as proper pitch rate is important. Just as important, though, is pitching temperature and fermentation temperature. I'd correct that first. There are several ways- swamp coolers, dedicated fridges, etc,- but that's the first thing. If you do everything else perfectly, but ferment the beer warmer than about 72 degrees (beer temperature), the beer will suffer. There are some yeast strains that are ok at higher temperature, but they are still not optimum.
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Old 08-21-2013, 08:23 PM   #4
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I had the same issue with cooling post boil...no spigot in the kitchen...i bought a small pond pump from HD and set up the pump outlet with a male garden hose connection set it in an ice bath in the sink..

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Old 08-21-2013, 10:21 PM   #5
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I had the same issue with cooling post boil...no spigot in the kitchen...i bought a small pond pump from HD and set up the pump outlet with a male garden hose connection set it in an ice bath in the sink..
I bought one of these for my chiller: http://www.homedepot.com/p/NEOPERL-D...9#.UhU9JtKkqLx

My normal faucet head fits on one thread and in less than a minute I can take that off and hook up my chiller. Easy, cheap solution to that problem.
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Old 08-22-2013, 12:50 AM   #6
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I agree with previous posters, two biggest impacts on my beer were starters and controlling ferm temp, with the latter having the more noticeable impact.

If budget is your bottleneck, check out a son of fermentation chamber, i built one for about $60 altogether.

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Old 08-22-2013, 04:35 PM   #7
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I would spend a little time and make a stir plate. You are already making a starter, why not make a better one?

Perhaps a larger kettle? I like doing 1-2 batches a year that require a 3 hour boil. I don't know if that's an interest to you.

I will echo the thoughts on getting something to control ferm temps.

Are you to have any space to garden in DC? You may enjoy growing assorted ingredients. I do Rhubarb for a honey ale. Peppers for a split batch porter. I also grow hops.

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Old 08-22-2013, 04:46 PM   #8
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do the fermentation chamber before anything else. without mine, i don't know that i'd even bother making beer.

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Old 08-23-2013, 01:03 AM   #9
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I agree fully with the above statement, unstable ferm temps will beh armful to your beer regardless of how much yeast you pitch.

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Old 08-25-2013, 09:52 PM   #10
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As everyone else said, do the fermentation chamber first. It's easy to build, and you'll be able to make great beer *consistently* with one. Then step up to yeast starters because all that yeast coddling isn't worth anything if they aren't at the right temperature. My basement goes from 50s to upper 70s depending on the season so it would be really hard to make beer at all without some kind of fermentation chamber. To cold and nothing happens (for ales at least). Too warm and it tastes like gasoline. With a ferm chamber it comes out like beer

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