I've been brewing since 1990, but took a long kid related hiatus and got back into the hobby about two years ago. The following are some reflections from my last 12 AG batches over the last 2 years and is posted as a thank you to all forum members and hopefully will serve to assist my fellow brewers with a few observations that helped me.
- Batch sparging with a hose braid in an insulated cooler sure beats the Zapap method that was in vogue in the 90s. If batch sparging and its simplicity appeals to you, seek out Denny Conn and his website. Good stuff.
- Brewing is fun. Constructing your own mash tun and other items and developing good techniques and practices makes you appreciate what you create. Enjoy the process and the journey.
- Propane burners are great. Get a pot big enough (at least 30 quarts) to do a full boil for 5 gallon batches.
- Kegging is the best $200 ever spent. I am not the first to say this and won't be the last...
Once your technique is solid and you are practicing good sanitation, focus on other key factors. These include:
Water - i live in Dallas. We have alkaline water based on the water report and my calls to the city. My porters and stouts were great, my ambers and blondes had bad efficiency and were one dimensional. Treating the water with brewing salts using Bobby Ms calculator or the one from brewer's friend made a huge difference. I was able to get the ph in the right range and improve efficiency and taste considerably. 5.2 is not a bad product but attention to your water really helps you dial it all in.
The Crush - I have no interest in purchasing a mill. Have your LHBS double crush for you. With my toilet braid setup, there are no issues with a stuck sparge.
Measurement - Calibrate your thermometers and measuring tools. A refractometer is a nice luxury. Be sure that you have a stick to measure volume for your mash, sparge and wort. Reasonably precise measurements allow you to trouble shoot if you have an issue and/or want to replicate. When I state that my efficiency averages about 84%, I am sure that this is correct due to calibration.
Efficiency - we seem to have this obsession about efficiency. My efficiency jumped from 74% to 84% when I (this is in no particular order):
a. adjusted the water and dialed in the ph
b. double crushed at the LHBS
c. tilted my mash tun and drained out all the runnings
d. stirred the grains very well during mashing and prior to vorlauf
e. used the iodine test to ensure that the issue was not mash related.
Thanks to this forum and its members to help make this hobby even more fun.