When the month of December came around I decided to do some major beer, cider and mead making, as I had the whole month off. During the course of that month I made 50 gallons of beer, cider and mead. To say the logistics were difficult is putting it lightly since I didn't have lots of carboy and keg space.
Here are some devices and tips that I can whole-heartedly recommend.
While in the middle of all of this I heard many a glass carboy horror story from friends and online posts. The initial reason I switched over to Better Bottles was out of fear, but now that I've used them extensively there are plenty of other great reasons to make the switch. They are extremely light to handle (obviously). After handling glass for so long you feel like superman cleaning these things. And they clean up much easier than glass. You don't have to use ANY brushes on the inside as PBW and a long soak will remove anything and everything. The ONLY
downside I can see is that that when you have the airlock on them and you accidentally squeeze the BB too much to move it around it tends to suck the vodka up in the airlock and down the main vent tube and into the liquid inside the BB. The worst I have had is just a few drops of vodka falling into the beer or cider, etc. I use the 3 piece airlock style.
When I racked everything out of the glass carboys and into the Better Bottles I carefully walked them out to a plastic trash-can and while partially covering the top, smashed up the carboys one by one with a sledgehammer. They make a resoundingly sharp explosive noise when hit. I cannot fu*king imagine dropping one of these while full of beer. To loose all that beer AND to possibly suffer major cuts and lacerations. I am extremely fortunate to have not ever broken one while handling it. I was pretty rough with them.
So I seriously suggest completely switching over to Better Bottles (and no, I have no interest in their company whatsoever). I am even going to age long-term in these bottles as their is no proof at this point that the plastic has an effect on the quality of the beer. I did a lot of research and I believe that beer can be stored indefinitely in these vessels.
Fermtech Auto Siphon
This thing has been unbelievably indispensable. It makes siphoning very easy. A quick tip: To make the siphon stay in place so it doesn't move around and stir up trub, just use masking tape at the mouth of the carboy wrapping it around the siphon.
My siphoning technique is as follows: Carefully lower just the main outer part of the siphon into the carboy and secure it where you want with the masking tape so as to not disturb any yeast. Now take the piston part attached to the siphoning hose and lower the hose into the carboy that has been purged with Co2. Now that the hose is in the empty Co2 purged carboy, push the piston into the outer part of the siphon that is in the carboy you are racking from. If you have Star San in the line you will need a tubing clamp to slow down the flow so you can allow the Star San to escape and then press the clip to stop the flow so you dont loose any extra liquid. Then you carefully lower that end into the carboy to be filled and release the tubing clip and let it flow.
I have probably used the Thief more than any other device I have. It makes checking the gravity fast and easy. While doing so many beers, ciders and meads at once the Thief has made my job much much easier. If I didn't have this one thing I probably would not have undertaken such a brewing schedule. When I got done using it I washed it inside and out with very hot water and then sprayed it all over with Star San and let it drip dry. When I use it again I quickly spray it, let it drip a little bit and use it. After I have taken a reading I wipe the mouth of the carboy with a paper towel that has been sprayed with Star San and carefully dry it with a clean paper towel. While taking my reading I set the stopper with the airlock on a paper towel that has been sprayed with Star San. I love Star San.
I also use a cleaned and sanitized 2 gallon bucket to hold the Thief and Hydrometer. I also use the bucket to hold the Auto Siphon. So a sanitized bucket is just a great all-around thing to hold sanitized equipment. You would be surprised how long it took me to figure that one out.
This stuff sanitizes in 30 seconds. Its fast, safe, and wont do anything to your beer. I have always used a spray bottle so that I don't end up with a carboy full of foam. And the spray bottle really comes in handy for spraying small items like stoppers, funnels, keg parts, etc. And you save a lot of Star San by using the spray bottle. I just shoot it into the carboy, make sure its covering everything and spin it around a few times and lay it on its side. Because it works in 30 seconds it doesn't need long contact so the spray bottle works great for everything.
Ahhh, where would we be without thee? Cleanliness is next to godliness. Use this cleaner and you will never even consider anything else. This is also an absolute must if using Better Bottles. PBW is really the only way to clean them.
This makes hitting your desired gravity while gathering wort extremely simple. The regular hydrometer is great when getting an accurate O.G. and F.G. but for knowing when to stop collecting wort and when to quit the boil this little device cuts down on time and hassle on your brew day. And that makes the cost worth it. Here is a brix to gravity converter http://fredx.org/brewing/convert.php
This is something I use all the time while cooking. It reads in less than 4 seconds and its very accurate. Its not a must but it does make hitting the right temperature in your mash and hitting the right temp for pitching yeast nice and easy. http://www.thermoworks.com/products/...tpen_home.html
Fermtech Double Blast Bottle and Carboy Washer
I wish I had bought this ages ago. It makes rinsing out bottles an easy chore. Its not very stable in the sink or on the counter but once you have you setup figured out it works just fine.
Invest in a Kegging System
If you have ever had bottle washing fatigue kegging your beer may save your life. Once you have it all figured out its fast and easy and its BEER ON TAP! I still bottle some of my big beers for long-term storage but for the ciders and the more everyday drinkers kegging is wonderful. Now if you have the walk-in cooler and too many kegs, by all means, keg that 12% barleywine! I have actually tasted a 5 year, kegged barleywine that had been in cold storage the whole time and it was unlike anything I had ever tasted before or since. I believe that long-term (5+ years) cold storage of kegged BIG beers is a new frontier that we must explore.
0.5 Micron Diffusion Stone and Oxygen Tank
I love oxygenating with this setup. Its fast and you know there is plenty of oxygen for those yeasties. And no more shaking the hell out of that glass carboy (which you shouldn't be doing anyway!). You just sanitize the stone, hold it on to the hose with a cleaned and sanitized cable tie and lower it into the wort and oxygenate away. The spray bottle of Star San really comes in handy here. Keep letting some oxygen come out of the stone, spray it off and its momentarily sanitized.
It really does make a difference. I have noticed much faster, complete ferments using their nutrient. I also use Wyeast yeast exclusively. I've done side by side comparisons of Wyeast and White Labs and Wyeast was almost always a better, cleaner tasting beer. Don't want to start an argument here, this has just been my own experience.
The Barley Crusher
Use this (or some other comparable crusher) and your efficiency will go through the roof. Using freshly crushed malt for brewing absolutely does make better beer.
Always use a Large Starter
It ensures a fast, strong ferment. No guessing if everything is okay.
You can use this in your starter, the boil and the ferment. Just use less than they say, its very effective stuff. http://www.brewerssupplygroup.com/br...am_control.php
Use the freshest honey possible. Use the no-heat method outlined in the Compleat MeadMaker. Heating up the honey can destroy some aromas and flavors. I only use Fermaid K and Go Ferm rehydration nutrient. They seem to be the best products for wine yeast nutrients available on the market.
Feel free to experiment when making Apfelwein or regular Cider. I have always used Organic Cane Sugar to up the gravity and have never noticed any off flavors or aromas. Wyeast Hefe 3068 and Belgian Wheat 3942 make stunning cider. Just be sure to give them time to age and develop.
Well I think thats it. I have only been brewing off and on since 2005 so I have a lot to learn. The things above have helped me out tremendously. I trust that whatever you implement into your system will serve you well. This was not meant to be an advertisement for these products. They have just made my life much easier.
FWIW I have never had a contaminated batch of anything. So I assume my cleaning and sanitizing procedures are sound.
This forum has been invaluable to me and I wanted to give something back with what I have learned.
I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.