I am getting ready to brew my third batch. First was a smoked porter which is finally starting to taste really good, second was an Irish Red which I will be bottling in a few days. I haven't made my mind up on the third yet but looking at a hoppy porter or an ESB. All are extract kits from my LHBS with specialty grains, I think my LHBS has really good kits from what I can tell, fresh ingredients and good recipes. I have learned a ton from this forum and I am documenting the key lessons as I go, so far:
1) Be patient, let the yeast do their job at each stage of the process
2) Always remember it is REALLY hard to screw up a beer so badly that it needs to be dumped, if ever in doubt, refer to rule 1
3) Focus on your process, dial in a solid process to consistently create great beers
4) Clean and sanitize thoroughly, don't cut corners
5) Control fermentation temps (just bought a chest freezer and Johnson Controls controller, I can already tell this is going to make a huge difference in the quality of my beers from the first batch which I did at room temp to the second which I did at a consistent 65 degrees ambient in the freezer)
6) Leave beer in primary for at least 2 to 3 weeks, secondary is optional but something I will probably continue to do
7) Leave beer in bottles for at least 2 to 3 weeks before drinking (aside from the experimental tasting exercises
For my third batch I am looking to continue to make incremental improvements, especially to my process so I am looking for advice for how to take my extract batches to the next level. Please don't respond with "move to all grain", someday when my kids are grown up and out of the house (I have a 2 year old and a 1 year old so that will be many years from now) I may do that but now I am lucky to find time to brew an extract, I know I don't have the time to do AG nor the equipment so I am going to be an extract guy for a while and have no issues with that.
I am curious about things like late extract addition to boils, steeping grains before adding extract (so far I have been following instructions on my recipe kits which say to dissolve extract then add specialty grains and remove when boil is achieved), etc.
I am thinking my next improvements will be:
1) Steep specialty grains before
adding malt extract (any details you can offer around how to best do this would be greatly appreciated, should I steep at a certain temp for a certain period of time?)
2) Late extract addition (not really sure what this means?)
Any others or additional suggestions on these that you would be willing to share would be greatly appreciated.