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Old 09-13-2013, 02:12 PM   #1
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Default What “advanced” techniques have improved your beers?

What advanced brewing processes have you implemented that noticeably improved the quality of your homebrew? I’m not talking the relatively standard stuff (e.g., temperature control, starters, aeration, flushing with CO2, equipment), but the stuff that comes after that.

Over the next few months I’m planning to brew a bunch of batches to really dial in a classic American pale ale. I’ll be using this as an excuse to work on elements of my process that I probably should have been paying more attention to all along. Things like pH control (not just the mash, but the boil, and finished beer). Really learning for myself how the chloride and sulfate in the water profile affect the final flavor. Acidified sparge water? Maybe pitching rates?

Anything else I should focus on?

Once I learn what works and what doesn’t, I can then apply that process to all my batches. I tend to think that the breweries that consistently brew delicious beer aren’t necessarily talented at coming up with recipes, but instead really have their process dialed in.

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Old 09-13-2013, 05:37 PM   #2
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The basics you listed have made the biggest difference to me. The water stuff not as much, but maybe helped push a few points in scoring, especially for lighter beers, as my water is very alkaline.

At some point it's hard to dial in something perfectly because of individual tastes. But, trying different flavor salt combinations is likely to help you there for sure. The acidifying sparge water may be a big one for you if you have fairly alkaline water.

Other than that, recipe formulation is important. That's kind of an individual tastes sort of thing too.

The one thing that strikes me as being important, but I haven't yet gotten to try it, is having a very CONSISTENT process and knowing it well. Once you have that, you can tweak to your hearts content, but until then, it's hard to hake changes and know how they affect the finished beer.

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Old 09-13-2013, 05:42 PM   #3
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For me, learning basic water chemistry and managing mash pH have taken my beers to the next level.

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Old 09-13-2013, 05:51 PM   #4
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For me, learning basic water chemistry and managing mash pH have taken my beers to the next level.
Ditto. Reducing the alkalinity of my water, and getting the pH right made a BIG improvement in the quality of my beer.

I don't think of temperature control as an "advanced" technique as there are some easy, inexpensive ways to do this. People just need to do it. Now there are advanced ways to control temperature, but I find them more of a convenience factor.
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Old 09-14-2013, 02:30 AM   #5
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Gravity system. Quality brew kettles with heavy bottoms. Using the BestMalz available. Using ONLY leaf hops and buying in sealed light tight 1 lb bags. RECIPE FORMULATION getting it right the first time and according to style. Being a food scientist and chef helps. Sanitation sanitation sanitation. Simpler is virtually always better. Strain now avoid turbidity later. Skim the hot break proteins off before adding a leaf of hops. If you are using a plastic mash tun and pellet hops why are you even still reading this? Proper yeast strain and temperature control is key. Cooler ferment temperatures within a range are generally better at producing a cleaner beer which generally tastes/scores better. Stainless steel and glass are superior to plastic for any brewing application. Pumps are to be avoided. Don't get caught up in the process if that means more and more and more gadgetry. Iron Chefs can make a gourmet meal out on an open fire if you catch my drift. Ultimately the beer that tastes the best scores the best.

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Old 09-14-2013, 02:39 AM   #6
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Great topic. I have the book Water on order and hope for a pH meter for Christmas. Hope for great beer to become excellent beer.

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Old 09-14-2013, 12:54 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bethebrew
Gravity system. Quality brew kettles with heavy bottoms. Using the BestMalz available. Using ONLY leaf hops and buying in sealed light tight 1 lb bags. RECIPE FORMULATION getting it right the first time and according to style. Being a food scientist and chef helps. Sanitation sanitation sanitation. Simpler is virtually always better. Strain now avoid turbidity later. Skim the hot break proteins off before adding a leaf of hops. If you are using a plastic mash tun and pellet hops why are you even still reading this? Proper yeast strain and temperature control is key. Cooler ferment temperatures within a range are generally better at producing a cleaner beer which generally tastes/scores better. Stainless steel and glass are superior to plastic for any brewing application. Pumps are to be avoided. Don't get caught up in the process if that means more and more and more gadgetry. Iron Chefs can make a gourmet meal out on an open fire if you catch my drift. Ultimately the beer that tastes the best scores the best.
In relation to what you say about leaf hops... I'm a bit curious as to why you dont like pellets. I'm pretty new to all this, but from what I understand pellet hops are very high quality. Interviews I've heard with craft brewers talk about switching away from whole leaf for various reasons, but the head brewers of these places wouldn't make the change unless they know it won't hurt the final product.

Also, while the best chefs in the world can make a great meal no matter the equipment, and knowledge and technique trump fancy gadgets every time... Then shouldn't using a plastic mash tun and pellet hops be able to result in a fantastic beer if you know what you're doing? I'm playing a bit of devils advocate here obviously, but I do think it's a bit silly you say certain equipment is better than other stuff, and then end by saying equipment doesn't matter if you know what you're doing.
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Old 09-14-2013, 01:05 PM   #8
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Oxygenation(not aerating) and water chemistry

I use bru'n water to build custom profiles and the difference in my house recipes with and without water adjustments has been dramatic.

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Old 09-14-2013, 01:10 PM   #9
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First, master your basic steps so that you can consistently and repeatedly produce a quality beer. What I would consider advanced would be different than what you'd probably consider advanced. For instance, a professional brewery capturing it's fermenting CO2 for force carbonation later in the production process. I wouldn't even begin to know how to do that.

There are some tricks that i've used to produce a better beer though. The first is hops bursting/whirlpool hops for IPA's and the second is making a cold tea from roasted grains to prevent astringency in porters, stouts and the like. The rest just comes from trial and error, learning how NOT to do things so you can have more success in future brews.

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Old 09-14-2013, 01:46 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Oldsock View Post
Things like pH control (not just the mash, but the boil, and finished beer).
That is, IMO, the sine qua non which many have in the past overlooked. But I sense that more and more are aware of the importance of this now and the availability of relatively inexpensive pH meters and the fact that many LHBSs are stocking sauermalz have made it relatively simple for home brewers to control pH to proper levels.

Get the pH in the mash right and you have probably done all you need to do but checking on pH throughout the rest of the process and adjusting if necessary could be of benefit. Gordon Strong revealed in one of his talks that he adjusts the pH of his finished beer. I've never felt the need to do that but while I might not always follow Gordon's advice I never ignore it.

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Really learning for myself how the chloride and sulfate in the water profile affect the final flavor.
This is definitely on the list and it is relatively easy to do. Brew an ordinary beer using low mineral water (RO with 2.5 grams CaCl2 and nothing else in it). When the beer is finished taste it as is and with varying additions of calcium chloride and/or gypsum in the glass. Or just buy some relatively neutral commercial beer with hops above threshold and experiment with that. Taste findings on finished beer can guide you as to how much of these salts to add to the water with which you brew.

Many brewers find that the fewer minerals in the water the better the resulting beers. There are obviously some styles for which this would not be the case but there are many (delicate beers) for which this does seem to be the case.

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Acidified sparge water?
One of the new process related trends is to use RO water as it allows total control over the mineral content and total (or nearly so) freedom from seasonal or other variations in the supply (not that the water is that variable in our area). RO sparge water does not need to be acidified as its proton deficit with respect to mash pH is already 0 (no buffering).

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Maybe pitching rates?
Make a good starter (oxygenate it) and oxygenate the wort at pitching and you should be fine. Home brewers tend to under pitch but I did over pitch once (club's 30th anniversary Barelywine) and the beer suffered for it. If someone brings you 2-1/2 gallons of paste and tells you to put it in 30 gal of wort, don't do it.

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Anything else I should focus on?
I've found that with lagers it is important that plenty of yeast go into the lagering vessel. If this is done and the traditional program followed there is no necessity for a diacetyl rest, that the beer develops better head and that it is stable for a long time (over a year).

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I tend to think that the breweries that consistently brew delicious beer aren’t necessarily talented at coming up with recipes, but instead really have their process dialed in.
I agree that process is much more important than recipe. You must have your process down. Once you do you can, of course, throw in a little more or less of this or that to enhance or mute a particular flavor. You will also find that what you get depends a lot on your equipment. A brewer tends to do things a particular way. Move him to a new system and he will, at first at least, try to brew the way he did on his old system to the extent possible. But he'll made beers that are quite different on the new gear.
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