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Old 10-15-2012, 08:47 PM   #11
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Partner here, finally registered. One step ahead of you - have a yeast starter going for our next batch (which we're doing on Saturday). Fun process, making mini-beer. Haven't gone for a stir plate yet, just using a growler and shaking it, but seems to still be quite effective at breeding yeast.
Perfect!! Go for the stir-plate next. Really easy to build, VERY EFFECTIVE!!!
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Old 10-15-2012, 08:52 PM   #12
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There's no question to me, it's ferm control. Best thing to spend money on early on, and best thing to master first. I'd take plastic buckets right off your list entirely - that's a question of preference and has nothing to do with advancement - some of the best brewers in the world still swear by plastic buckets.

I'd say master your fermentation control, then go to yeast starters, then add some partial mashing.
Is fermentation control largely about temperature control? Our first two beers were pretty low-alcohol content (3% or so), but I'm not quite sure what caused that, precisely. We've been putting the buckets either in my garage (which I think might have been too chilly, the temp strip read about 58 on my latest brew) or inside my basement (which is more steady at around 66-68).
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Old 10-15-2012, 08:54 PM   #13
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I disagree with this. Maybe if we were back in time several years ago, but today's extracts are fabulous and you can make nearly as good of beer as all grain - and someone still new to the craft will likely make much better extract than all grain. All grain is a much larger investment and although it's a logical step if one decides to progress, to say you'll get better improvement from moving from extract to all grain before you get ferm control under control, and learn about the process overall is crazy to me.
It's not so much quality as it is control. You can't control the fermentability of LME. Steeping a few pounds of grain is fine, but what if you have 8 specialty malts that add up to a large amount of weight? You might not be able to steep those (and if you are, you're practically mashing at that point). It's not "better" it's preference.
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Open log Fermenting and gas-can secondary?? I am planning my next brew right now!!
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Old 10-15-2012, 08:55 PM   #14
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Is fermentation control largely about temperature control? Our first two beers were pretty low-alcohol content (3% or so), but I'm not quite sure what caused that, precisely. We've been putting the buckets either in my garage (which I think might have been too chilly, the temp strip read about 58 on my latest brew) or inside my basement (which is more steady at around 66-68).
Yes, fermenation control is all about the temp. For ales, holding steady somewhere between 65-70 is good. 65-68 is a maybe on the better end of the spectrum and the important thing is consistency - you don't want temp swings.
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Old 10-15-2012, 08:57 PM   #15
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Is fermentation control largely about temperature control? Our first two beers were pretty low-alcohol content (3% or so), but I'm not quite sure what caused that, precisely. We've been putting the buckets either in my garage (which I think might have been too chilly, the temp strip read about 58 on my latest brew) or inside my basement (which is more steady at around 66-68).
The thing is, you rarely can control the environmental temperature perfectly in a "room". Add to that, fermentation is an exothermic process that creates heat in and of itself. So now the beer is 10 degrees warmer because of it's own heat, which can push you WAY out of the temp range you need to be in, causing off flavors to manifest themselves.

Get a fridge or freezer off craigslist for cheap. Then build a simple STC-1000 temp controller that comes with a probe, taped to the side of the fermenter to monitor the beer temp inside and adjust the temp accordingly.

Total cost probably under $100 if you score the fridge cheap enough. Hey, if the thermostat doesn't work on the fridge (ie. they say it either freezes or is too warm) that's fine, too. The temp controller will handle that for you anyway. As long as the fridge can cool...
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Open log Fermenting and gas-can secondary?? I am planning my next brew right now!!
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Old 10-15-2012, 08:58 PM   #16
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It's not so much quality as it is control. You can't control the fermentability of LME. Steeping a few pounds of grain is fine, but what if you have 8 specialty malts that add up to a large amount of weight? You might not be able to steep those (and if you are, you're practically mashing at that point). It's not "better" it's preference.
If you are worried about the difference between converting starches in steeping grain or not, before you have figured out to keep your fermentation at the proper range, then there's a lot more to be done before you jump into AG brewing. There is plenty of control in extract brewers for a great many beers to be made to garner the experience necessary. There are plenty of steeping grains and other ways to control recipes than always having to mash munich.
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Old 10-15-2012, 09:02 PM   #17
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Big benefits from:
Using a stirplate for the starters.
Using pure O2 to oxygenate the wort.
Maintaining proper temperature for the beer as it ferments (whatever method you need to use). It's also important to get a correct reading of the wort that's fermenting. IMO, fermometers (that stick on the outside of the fermenter) are of little use. I have a thermowell that goes into the fermenter which I send a sensor into. I then plug up the opening so that the temperature inside the thermowell IS the same as the wort it's in. That way I KNOW what's going on inside the fermenter. Which is the only true way to know with the fermenters I use (see next item).
Moving away from carboys and not using buckets (did two batches in buckets, never again). I ferment in adapted tall 1/4 bbl sanke kegs most of the time. I also have a 50L sanke that's been adapted for fermenting.
Using PBW to clean everything that needs to be. A soak in PBW solution, either over night or just a few hours, does wonders.
Star San for sanitizing.
Using filtered water to brew with. Basically, NOT needing to buy many gallons of water without chlorine (or other nasty things) in it is huge. IMO, if you won't gladly drink the water, don't brew (or cook) with it.

Things that make actual brewing better/easier.
Quality thermometers. I'm now using a Fluke 52II with sensors that I connect to it. I have several that can be fully submerged without issue (stainless around the wires to protect from heat). I use these in the mash tun (either one or two spots during the mash), in the boil keggle (mostly for during the chill) and have one that gives me a reading of the wort as it comes out of the plate chiller.
Refractometers. Again, quality of product is key. I have three that I'll use (not using the first one I got) for either beer or mead. I use them to get an OG and then FG reading. I can also use them during the mash to see what the SG numbers are. Not needing to worry about the temperature of the wort being tested is bigger than you might think. Also, you can take readings FAST. Not something you'll do with a hydrometer since you'll need to cool the sample down first. Also, refractometers won't roll off the table and break on you. Unlike hydrometers.
Getting your own grain mill once you've gone either all grain, or are doing partial mash batches.

IMO, going all grain is more about ingredient/recipe control these days. I want to know, with 100% certainty, what's going into my batch. With extract, it's virtually impossible to know exactly what's in it. Maltsters might call an extract the same thing, but have different grains in it. While some companies will make the break-down available to you, not all do. It's also about freshness of the ingredient. With crushing your grain on brew day, and properly storing it before then, you KNOW it's as fresh as it can be. With extract, it's not so easy. Sure, some places have a high enough turnaround that you'll get pretty fresh ingredients. But, I'd still rather mash my own grain.

BTW, I'm fermenting in the basement where I live. It's been ranging from 58-62F for the past month. With the sensor in my fermenter, I'm not worried. Especially since I can always setup a swamp cooler on the quick IF needed.

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Old 10-15-2012, 09:05 PM   #18
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+1 for fermentation control.

An "upgrade" that I made at some point that's really just about gaining a little perspective on the beer was just being more patient about everything, most importantly:

- Don't rush fermentation. If you secondary, don't rack as soon as the airlock stops bubbling. I secondary (for improved clarity) but I wait at least two and usually three weeks to rack from the primary.
- Don't rush to drink your beer once it's in bottles. I know it's hard, but two weeks is, in my experience, almost never enough time for the beer to really hit its stride. I try a bottle at two weeks, but it's almost always still "young", so I wait another week or two and try one more. Usually at 4-6 weeks it's really in its prime, and then it's a joy to drink. Of course, it gets easier to gain this kind of calm, contemplative outlook when you've got several previous batches ready to drink. Don't worry, you'll get there.

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Old 10-15-2012, 09:05 PM   #19
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wort chiller, making appropriate sized starters, and most importantly fermentation temp control

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Old 10-15-2012, 09:15 PM   #20
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And to the OP - regarding the suggestions of wort chiller, which is a great thing, I would just like to point out to you that it's much less useful or important if you are an extract brewer doing partial boils. If you do full boils or brew AG, it's important - for 2.5 gallons of wort, an ice bath is perfectly good.

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