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At what point did your homebrew go from good to great?

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smalltown2001

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It would seem that either equipment, recipe, technique, ingredients, all of these come into play when brewing a great beer. And as you progress, your technique improves, you get better equipment, you get a little better with each batch. But has anyone had an experience in their homebrewing that took their beers from tasting okay to incredible? I'm not talking just a little better, but a noticeable difference than all of the beer you made previous. Was it using all grain? Was it using a stir plate and yeast starter? Was it fermentation temperature? Was it sanitation routine? I've been brewing for a year and a half, and have made improvements, but it just seems that my beer tastes no where nearly as good as the person that got me hooked on homebrewing. Does anyone else have this experience? Thanks in advance.
 
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Yours will never taste as good as someone else’s. Sorry, that is just the way it is!!! Just kidding..... But it does seem to ring true for most. I think that we all hit it or miss, but as soon as you know what each grain, malt, hops and yeast will do to the finish beer is when you will see the big difference. All the best equipment in the world wont cover up putting roast in an IPA and fermenting @ 80* w/ English yeast..... If you know what I mean.
Cheers
Jay
 

Brewsmith

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Fermentation temp control, excellent sanitation practices, and experience.

Once I got a temp controller, and had to learn great sanitation the hard way a couple times, the rest was just learning how ingredients work together.
 

MattHollingsworth

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Same for me, when I switched to all grain. Not knocking any extract people. Sure you can get great results. But when I switched to all grain I noticed a lot more depth in the grain character. And yes, I had been steeping. At the time, though, I was really reading a lot and changing technique regularly to get better beer, so chances are it wasn't JUST that. But that was the point at which I saw a huge improvement. Think that was around batch 9 or 10 back in 1998 or so....
 

Zen_Brew

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For me it was hands down the first time I did a water adjustment. For some this isn't even neccessary depending on your local water, but the Seattle tap water is extremely soft and not suited towards the IPA's I was trying to achieve.
 

MOSFET

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Two things for me: Full boil and all grain. I used to put more stock in liquid yeast, but I've come to understand equally great beer is made from dry yeast, but more styles are available with liquid.
 

blackwaterbrewer

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when i started all grain, tempurature control, and reading posts on Homebrew Talk.com my brewing went from 'good' to 'great' to 'my stinking friends and neighbors won't leave me alone!!!'
 

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Fermentation temp control, excellent sanitation practices, and experience.

Once I got a temp controller, and had to learn great sanitation the hard way a couple times, the rest was just learning how ingredients work together.
I think temperature control and pitching the proper amounts of yeast (instead of just pouring in a package) is what boosted my beer's quality from "ok" to "excellent".
 

Orfy

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I'm so happy with my beer I can't stop drinking it. (And neither can others)

As for great, who can say. I'd put most of my beers in the top 25% of the best micros I like.

That's good enough for me.
 

Bsquared

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When I setup my temperature control cabinet.

I did two batches of California common back to back, one at whatever temp my garage was at, and one at 64. Tasted the two beers side by side and It's then I realized: We make wort, yeast make beer...
 
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Temperature control and yeast starters... The beer went from mediocre to good with the switch to all grain. It went from good to great with the addition of fermentation temperature control and better pitching rates.
 

Donner

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I don't want to speak for anyone who has chimed in about going AG, but i'm curious if they feel that their improvement was a combination of going all-grain, but also having refined their process.

I guess i'm trying to say going All-grain right from the start wont guarantee anyone a great beer (though it is possible). I see it as akin to being a chef. A chef can take fantastic ingredients and make a great meal, but they can also do it with mediocre ingredients, though it wont be as good. Conversely, someone with less cooking experience can take fantastic ingredients and still create a terrible meal.

I'm just curious if the more experienced brewers agree with my theory. I just know that i've made good beers as both AG and PM brews, but i've also had my temp control suffer and screwed a few beers up, as well. I don't think it's any one thing that will make someone a fantastic brewer, but the experience of the process (and quality ingredients) all combine to improve a brew.
 

Rick500

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When I began doing full boils, controlling fermentation temperature, and pitching the right amount of yeast.
 

eschatz

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Using starters helped alot. Ferm temp helped alot. Hop utilization was a big one. I had to learn how to drop certain additions in certain beers. For instance I wont do a 30 min addition in an American Pale. Maybe 20 10 5 flame out. It took a long time to find the sweet spot with hops.
 

brrman

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when I went all grain my beer went down in quality... Only when I realized my water was the culprit did I start to recover my confidence by making decent beer again...
 

ottobrew

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When I really started paying attention to everything in the brewing process. The biggest factors were proper yeast handing practices, fermentation temp control, and better sanitization procedures.
 

eschatz

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Come to think of it. I think my beer got dramatically better when I stopped drinking during the brewing.
 

KYB

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Depends on my recipe. My very first recipe (3rd batch ever counting the Gluten Free Extract) was my Foreign Extra Stout, and I was blown away at how great it was. I was expecting OK at best. Some of my recipes have just been ok, some have been awesome. My IIPA was pretty good, but after it aged a few months, it's awesome. This guy I know who has had tons of rare beers even thought so. He loved that and my KY Common. Sucks I only had a couple bottles left when I figured this out. I thought it would be better more fresh. So yea, for me, it has depended on the recipe itself.
 

ajf

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In my case, it was about my 10th brew, sometime in the early 1970's.
My first several brews were OK, but nothing special, and with each brew, I ended up with a few extra ounces of various specialty grains, and I wanted to brew a dry stout. Well, I didn't have quite enough flaked barley or roasted malt, so I used some of my leftovers to make up for the shortage, and pitched a starter grown from a bottle og Guinness. (In those days, it was naturally conditioned in England.)
8 weeks later, it was ready to drink. It didn't taste much like Guinness. It was much better. It wasn't just me that thought this. Everybody who tried it agreed, and many of them kept pestering me to make a repeat. Of course, I didn't take any notes, and couldn't remember what went into the brew. I tried to duplicate it many many times, and never got close.
The moral of this story is: Always take notes!

-a.
 
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smalltown2001

smalltown2001

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Thanks for all of the replies. I wanted to get a good idea of where I need to improve in my brewing, and I believe now it is in fermentation temperature control, water profile, and recipes. I'm still learning how to read recipes and see if they will be really good, but I've had a share of batches that when I look back at that recipe, I know why it didn't have the sort of taste I was anticipating. I have to say using brewing software is a huge help, that takes out a lot of guesswork on technical questions, etc. The LHBS is having a 3 night advanced brewing class going in depth of many of the parts of brewing such as recipe formulation and fermentation, and I thought I might attend this to see where I need to improve as well. Does anyone have good experiences with taking classes at the lhbs?
 

samc

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Temperature

Yeast -oddly enough switching back to dry helped me be better.

Crusher - allows me to brew when I have the time & desire, not with the clock ticking on pre crushed grains.

All Grain was important but I think it was more of the switch to keggles which gave me the room to get a proper boil going.


Steinbarts people know which end is up, but you should be able to brew a great beer by now without the instruction. What about the guy/gal who got you started, why are you not getting some help from them?
 
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I'll have to +1 fermentation temp control....

heck, I've had extract beers that were fermented at proper temps taste a heck of a lot better than AG beers feremented too high.
 

Palefire

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this is a really great thread, IMO - thanks to all who've added to it!

A question to those of you who said "better sanitation practices": I'm wondering if any of you are willing to be a little more specific. I'm really working on trying to improve all aspects of my technique. I'm starting to get my fermentation temps down (swamp cooler + fermometer = pretty damn easy), just started doing full boils, working on getting proper temps all through the process, etc. And my beers are getting better and better!

I think I'm pretty good about sanitation, and basically don't put anything in the post-boil wort that hasn't been sanitized. But I'm sure there's still room for improvement, so I'm just checking to see if there are any specific sanitation-related techniques people have started using that have ended up making a big difference for them. Anyone?

Apologies if this is a bit of a thread-jack ... I'll move it if people want. Thanks!
 

sjlammer

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For me I noticed a big difference when i started adding campden to knock the chlorine out of the water. I also noticed a big jump when i started partial mash. The jump from partial mash to all grain was not as big a jump as extract to PM.
 
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smalltown2001

smalltown2001

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For me I noticed a big difference when i started adding campden to knock the chlorine out of the water.
That's the other thing I was going to try on the next brew is campden tablets, I've really been working on perfecting a pale ale recipe, because darker beers can easily hide any flaws that I might have in brewing, but the pale ale will be tougher to hide anything. After I get the pale ale down, I figure I'm on the right track. For the campden tablets though, does it work better to add it to the water and let it sit overnight before brewday, or just 10 minutes before using the water on brewday?
 

Beernik

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My beers became much better after:

1. I realized my cold room is too warm for most of July and August for fermentation.
2. I made my first hazelnut stout - my first really good beer.
3. I made my first ginger ale - my first really bad beer.
4. I made enough different styles with enough different ingredients that I could imagine the flavor of the beer in my head before I made it.
5. I realized I could tell the difference between well made beers and poorly made beers even in styles I don't like or ones that used ingredients I don't like.
 

Homercidal

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Still not there yet. Still plenty of learning and practicing to do. I always seem to mess up something. That said, I have had a couple of really good beers nonetheless. Just need to get better every time.
 

Droot

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Temp control is a big one. I found big starters worked for me. 3 litres for 10 gallon batches. I since have bought a stir plate and only need 1.6 litres for a 10 gallon batch with the same result. Water does matter, but only if you have problem water. I use only the best ingredients to make the best beers. Don't scrimp on the quality of ingredients. I make my house ale over and over changing one thing at a time. It just keeps getting better. No complicated recipe, just good stuff at the right temps.... Mash, and ferment.


Sanitation is #1, but after a few batches you should have this nailed down. Star San has improved my beer.

David The happy brewer
 

TexLaw

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Temperature control made a huge difference. Using starters made a huge difference. Giving strong attention to ingredients and doing something closer to actually experimenting, rather than just throwing something against the wall and seeing if it stuck, made a huge difference.

If my beer is great, it's that last factor that has made it so. I cannot imagine trying to understand what different ingredients (whether grain, hop, yeast, or water) and techniques do to and for your beer until you start brewing a recipe over and over, only turning only one knob (i.e., changing one thing) each time you do. There's one recipe I have been brewing since Day 1, changing one (and only one) thing each time. It's a very different beer today than it was when it began, but I understand every reason why.


TL
 
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