Okay, I'm still pretty new at this brewing thing, but have been learning a bunch, improving my techniques, and even brewed my own first couple of recipes (last two). Now I'm looking to see what I should do/buy/build next...
Here's the down and dirty of my first six months of brewing:
I've done 7 beers (six 5-gal and one 1-gal), 7 ciders, and 1 mead (all 1-gal for cider and mead). The beer is mainly what I'm trying to focus on (not to neglect the cider and mead, but they're more for fun in between beers!). Extract, partial volume (I have 5 gal kettle, so usually do 3.5-4 gal boils with top off) boils (some mini-mashes, which I do think I'll keep doing - I like the versatility and final product better compared to just extract), ice bath cooling, and bottling. First couple fermented in closet, next two in swamp cooler, and then I've finally been using a chest freezer/light-bulb heater with STC-1000 for ferm temp control for my last couple brews. Got a stir plate and flask for yeast starters now.
I'm going to stay extract for a while, mainly for time and equipment concerns (though I am reading about and toying with the idea of doing smaller batch - 1 and/or 3 gal - BIAB all-grain... wouldn't need much more equipment for that, just a small cooler for a MT, I think? see below), so not looking to upgrade to all-grain anytime soon. Also not going to start kegging anytime soon (though I do question that every time I clean and sanitize all my bottles on bottling day!), also for the total cost (kegs and associated equipment, and kegerator) involved.
Here's what I've been thinking for next upgrade:
-O2 bottle and aeration stone (I've been just dumping from kettle into ferm bucket, and shaking and/or using paint mixer with my cordless drill)
-7-8 gal kettle to do full volume boils... but then I'd also probably need:
-turkey fryer/propane burner (only have electric stove now), and/or:
-immersion chiller (and pre-chiller and/or pump for warm TX ground water here)
-3-gal carboy and/or 3-gal cooler (for MT) to do small-batch BIAB
Just want y'all's advice for my next step... which do you think would make the most difference in my beers?
I can get down to pitching temps with the smaller volume boil I'm doing now (3.5, usually) in around 30 min, so I don't think I really need the immersion chiller (even though I'm sure it would still be quicker) unless I up the volume to a full vol boil. This would prob be the most expensive, though, as I'd probable want to get all three (bigger kettle, burner, and IC) at the same time. Or maybe just get the IC first, but that brings me back to the first sentence in this paragraph...
Any other upgrade I've totally overlooked? Thanks for any input!