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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > All Grain & Partial Mash Brewing > What I Learned from My First AG Brew Day
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Old 10-14-2014, 06:57 PM   #1
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Default What I Learned from My First AG Brew Day

I recently made the step up to AG. After much planning and bargain hunting and shopping and planning, I finally got to brew. I moved out of the kitchen and into backyard. I learned some things in the process, and thought I'd share with the community. I hope those of you who have been around the block find this amusing, and those who haven't, well, your turn will come.

Top 10 things I learned from my 1st AG Brew Day:

10) Take time to completely finish any prep work so you don't slice through the first two fingers on your dominant hand on the sharp edges of a hole you drilled in stainless steel 60 minutes earlier. Really slows down and complicates the brew day. (Remains to be seen what blood & Neosporin's contribution is to flavor.)

9) Put your equipment together at least the day before. It's not fun when the kids' nap & quiet time is over and you've only just finished assembling things. It's even worse when you're unknowingly about to discover you have to start over because your mash tun is leaking. (Still, be thankful you haven't added any grain.) Which brings me to #8:

8) Test your valves and connections, run some water through before taking the time to heat 3.5 gallons of water to 172°F and pouring it into a leaky vessel. Plumbers' tape is your friend. Use it. Excessively.

7) It's not enough to think through your process 60 times over the prior 6 days. Practice it. Go through a dry run. No, go through a wet run. You don't need heat, grain, or anything but water. A couple gallons, transfer small amounts, enough to raise levels over any valves and test your connections (see #8), and enough to discover that when you have X gallons in your boil kettle, and Y gallons in your mash tun sparging Z gallons into a collection pot everything is fine. Your plan is working. And then because your collection pot is only half as big as the full amount that you need to boil, you need to transfer what you've collected into your boil kettle. You're still fine, you anticipated this, all part of the plan. And then you discover you can't put what you've collected into the boil kettle because it still has multiple gallons of extremely hot water in it that you need to finish sparging. Crap. Ok, quick, grab another pot. The biggest unused pot you have is less than a gallon. Double crap.

6) Improvise, improvise, improvise! In a pinch, that hop spider you built also makes an excellent post-sparge grain strainer. (Only necessary because you keep having to start & stop sparging because of your miscalculations resulting from not following #7.)

5) Plan on skipping dinner. (Or lunch if you do the reasonable thing and start at 8am.)

4) Keep plenty of bricks on hand (to make a taller tower). A 1 inch drop with tubing is likely not enough to get things flowing, especially when it's so long it goes up and down like a rollercoaster on its way to the collection pot.

3) If you must start a siphon post-boil, gargle with a strong liquor. Something you enjoy. But don't enjoy too much of it.

2) Holy cow, it's dark and raining! (Corollary: Start as early as possible. Midnight comes quick when you don't start assembling pieces until well after 3pm, and have as much to learn as I did.)

But the most important thing I learned:

1) Stop making excuses. Don't wait too long to brew. Preparation will only get you so far and you'll learn 100 times more by doing. More importantly - no matter whether you're going all extract, partial mash, or All Grain - real beer tastes much better than beer on paper.

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Old 10-14-2014, 09:08 PM   #2
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As a veteran of a whopping two AG batches I can agree wholeheartedly. It took me 4 years to make the switch and I still have yet to taste the new brews but I'm enjoying it. I would add the following tips:

1. Buckets make great (and relatively cheap) liquor holding tanks.

2. Do all your calculations in advance and write down things like what the volume of water should measure on the side of the lauter tank. That way you have less of a chance of overshooting your water in the mash tun by a gallon... like I did. Twice.

3. When you say you're starting at noon make sure you realize that you should already have water measured and in pots... otherwise you're not actually going to start until 2.

4. When the kids don't have school off on your brew day you still have to run them to various activities like Taekwondo, dance, and choir. They're not going to get there alone so that means you shouldn't be 80 minutes into a 90 minute boil when it's time to leave.

5. A good lid can keep your freshly boiled wort absent of insects and dust if you have to run your daughter to choir... late because 10 minutes of boiling is more important than 10 minutes of choir warm-up.

That's a good start and hopefully doesn't detract from your thread. My brew is bubbling in the primary and I hope yours is, too. Here's to many more AG brew days. Many more with fewer "problems."

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Old 10-14-2014, 09:13 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eko View Post

5) Plan on skipping dinner. (Or lunch if you do the reasonable thing and start at 8am.)
start at 5:00AM
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Old 10-14-2014, 09:24 PM   #4
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I second testing all your equipment.

1. Test your equipment, measure and get a feel for dead spaces. Make adjustments to software equipment profiles.
Check valves and plumbing for leaks.

2. Check your thermometer calibration.

3. Have a backup propane tank.

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Old 10-15-2014, 12:05 AM   #5
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I've been AG for a few years now, but I'd say one of the most important things for me was writing down my steps into a text document as a template. The day before brew day I do my strike water, infusion, and batch sparge calculations for the batch I am brewing and update the template with all the numbers. Then I print it out along with the recipe (so I know my hop addition timings mainly but also for the grain amounts I need to pull out and mill of course). I make sure to follow the sheet from step 1! I can't tell you how easy it is to forget things when juggling a few tasks. All too often in the past I would forget to preheat my mash tun for example.

Having followed my step sheets things flow so ridiculously smoothly and I never miss anything. You'll need to work out a sheet of steps for your process but trust me, once you have it all down it will eliminate a lot of future headaches.

^^^Ah yes, and as stated by the gentleman above me have a spare propane tank! I had one since day one, since I was paranoid, and I've used it. It can save a brew day.

**Edit - here's an example of my sheet from what's on my phone. Might not be so up to date (doesn't have my milling for example) but you'll get the idea:

Heat strike water - 2.5G to 163 for 150 mash
Preheat MLT
Heat adjustment water in tea kettle
Mash in and take temp
Mash for 1 hour, stir once in between
Smack yeast pack
Start heating sparge water - 5.34 gallons to 192
Sanitize fermenter
Bring outside burner and connect to tank
Vorlauf and Sparge - 2 x 2.67G at 168 for total of 5.34G
Bring outside pot and start heating to a boil
Bring outside recipe, hops, adjuncts, paper towels, oven mitts, and spray bottle
Add hops when at boil follow rest of recipe
Transfer sanitizer to bucket 15 min before end of boil
Sanitize IC, lid, strainer, airlock, 1/2" tubing, spoon
Take IC outside with cookie sheet to rest on
Cool wort
Fill fermenter - strain
Take fermenter inside
Aerate
Take hydrometer sample
Sanitize scissors & yeast pack
Pitch yeast
Apply airlock
Set in place
Fill airlock with alcohol
Bring in stuff from outside



Rev.

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Old 10-15-2014, 04:30 AM   #6
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3. Have a backup propane tank.
A backup propane tank was the one thing on my prep list that I kept forgetting. As soon as I had everything set in the mash tun, only 2 or 3 hours after my planned start, I made the trip out to pickup another tank. Went to the closest place and probably paid more for it, but I was finally able to stop worrying I'd run out of fuel and pay more attention to the problems I never imagined would pop up.
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Old 10-15-2014, 04:56 AM   #7
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Practice, practice, practice! My first few AG brews were truly tough experiences. I was doing great at PM and extract beers so I figured I was ready... and I suppose I was. However that didn't change the fact that I was breaking in a brand new setup and didn't know all of its little idiosyncrasies. As I got things dialed in it became a lot easier to do it and I am now able to pull off an AG beer even with a few minor issues. 3 weeks ago I did my first double decoction and that was a lot of fun. Just keep practicing and you will get better and better at it.

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Old 10-15-2014, 08:48 AM   #8
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I have to admit my first all-grain brew was 3 weeks ago. i did miss my mark on the mash tun, but over all the beer came out very well balanced. wonderful experience and definitely a learning curve.


Brew it like you stole it

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Old 10-15-2014, 09:13 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eko View Post
But the most important thing I learned:

1) Stop making excuses. Don't wait too long to brew. Preparation will only get you so far and you'll learn 100 times more by doing. More importantly - no matter whether you're going all extract, partial mash, or All Grain - real beer tastes much better than beer on paper.
I completely agree, did my first AG brew in the weekend after weeks of planning and tweaking recipes. Just get in and do it, and take more notes than you think you need.
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Old 10-15-2014, 01:59 PM   #10
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Realize that the described planning, strategizing and hand wringing is temporary. Once you get a system that works for you, you'll do things without thinking about it. My day goes line this now:

1. Set up burner on 4 bricks
2. Level bricks with shims
3. add pot, fill with water, add thermo probe, add lid, fire burner
4. Get big bin o brew day equipment
5. Mix up 2.5 gallons sanitizer in spare fermenter, drop in post boil equipment
6. Have breakfast
7. strike alarm sounds: kill flame, add bag, drop in grains, stir till smash temp is acheived. Add lid
8. set mash timer, refill propane tank for boil if required
9. Pull bag, drop into sparge apparatus, fire kettle, set alarm for 210F, add lid
10. Sparge if required, squeeze bag in sparge apparatus, add wort to kettle
11. Alarm, take off lid, watch feverishly till rolling boil is acheived add first hops addition, set timer, continue watching feverishly til foaming period is over,
12. Sanitize fermenter and lid, add subsequent hops additions, empty spent grains into trash bag, seal, place on curb. Turn on ferm chamber and set to appropriate temp
13. cool wort, place in fermenter, take OG reading, add yeast and airlock, place in ferm chamber
14. Clean pot and lid, put away burner and bricks, dump and clen starsan container
14. Have dinner

For me the biggest change when I went to AG on a propane burner was that my brew spot is just a few steps away from the basement door where keep all my brew supplies. I can fech, use, clean and replace an item within a few steps, although most of the equipment still lives in a big ole rubbermade tub.

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