I have been reading a lot lately in search of my next process improvement. I have a couple of questions about what I have been reading and would like to get some thoughts from others.
I have been brewing for about a year now (and reading this forum all along the way!), I am on my 10th brew, all extract with partial boils. Per the advice of many of the experts on this forum I have been very process focused, over the past 10 months I have been slowly tweaking and improving my process one step at a time.
So far I have done the following:
1. Learned the value of patience, not only as a virtue but as a solution to most homebrewing "problems", I moved from 1 to 3 weeks in Primary, secondary only if I am really striving for clarity and a minimum of 3 weeks in the bottle at 70 degrees
2. Switched from One Step to Star San
3. Bought a chest freezer and Johnson Controls controller to manage fermentation temps, best investment I have made to date
4. Started doing late extract additions adding 1/3rd to 1/2 of my extract up front (1 pound per gallon) and the rest with 15 minutes left in the boil
5. Upped my boil volume from what the recipe suggested to as much as my pot can handle (approx 3.5 to 4 gallons)
Here are some of the things I am thinking about for 2010 and would like some advice on (Note I have no interest or intent of going AG at this time so please consider that in your responses.):
1. Wort Chiller - Right now I am doing ice baths, it takes me 50 minutes plus to get 3.5 gallons of boiling wort down to pitching temps. I fully understand the value of cooling down rapidly (protein fallout, etc.). I am thinking based on the things I have done to this point, this is the next obvious step I should take to improve my process, do others agree? If I stick with a partial boil, do I need a 2 stage IC, is that overkill? Here are the two I am looking at: Super IC - Regular IC
2. Boil Volumes - I can boil 3.5 to 4 gallons now, I have read and fully understand the value of a full boil as it relates to hop utilization and reduced probability of caramelization. But my question is, if I don't plan to go to AG, if I am only using DME are there really any other benefits to a full volume boil that might justify the cost of upgrading to a larger brew pot? I am really leaning towards sticking with partial boils based on what I have read so far...
3. Moving from pre-packaged kits to DIY recipes - My LHBS has GREAT kits with very fresh ingredients so I have been able to make some great beers, but I think it is time to get a copy of BeerSmith and venture into the artistic side of this hobby.
Any other suggestions on what I can do to improve the brewing process and quality of my extract brews beyond the things I have done so far or am considering at this point?