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Best equipment to invest in next?

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Best equipment upgrade to spend my money on?

  • Mini fridge/wine cooler/fermwrap/temperature control for fermentation temps

  • MLT/HLT/etc. to move to all grain brewing

  • Other (tell me below)


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SiriusStarr

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Hi all,

Firstly, let me just thank everyone in this community. I've been lurking on this forum for a few months and it's been an invaluable resource in my foray into brewing thus far.

With that out of the way, I've been brewing for a few months now and am loving it so far. I've done several extract + specialty grain brews, and they've all come out quite well, so I'm ready to spend some money and upgrade my equipment. I was wondering, in your opinion, what will give me the best bang for my buck, so to speak? I'm choosing between:

A. Purchasing a mini fridge/wine cooler/fermwrap and builidng a temperature controller to maintain stable fermentation temps.

or

B. Purchasing/building a HLT/MLT/etc. to make the switch to all grain brewing.

Obviously both are long term goals, but I only have the funds to justify one or the other at the moment, and they'll cost approximately the same. As far as background information goes, I brew ales exclusvely, both Belgian and American styles, 5 gallon batches, and my brew kettle/other equipment is sufficient to accomodate all grain brewing (I'd just need the equipment for mashing/sparging).

Anyways, let me know your opinion, or if there is some other more worthy option I'm overlooking!

EDIT: I suppose I should specify that I'm looking for the upgrade that will yield the greatest increase in the quality of my beer, if that wasn't obvious. :)

EDIT: I should also mention that I'm very much a DIYer, so whichever option I choose, I'll be building myself, not paying too much for a commercially available option.

Thanks,
~Sirius
 

Erroneous

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Well I don't know much about your setup but getting a reliable fermentation chamber can help a great deal. Your first goal once you get your process down should really be on making happy yeast. Whether that is oxygenation, fermentor temps, or starters. All grain will only complicate matters, so you want to make sure you're making great beer first. AG doesn't necessarily make better beer, just opens up more options and pitfalls.
 
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SiriusStarr

SiriusStarr

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I do have equipment for starters (though I'd like to get a stir plate too) and try to take care with aeration/ensuring my yeast are happy before I pitch. I try to control fermentation temps (my saison yeast are sitting on a hotpad right now), but without any kind of automation, it's difficult to hold a constant temperature, e.g. overnight. Thanks for the input. :)
 

BBQBrew01

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Temp control for your fermentation!

Quality and consistancy of by beer has gone WAY UP since I'm able to control the fermentation temp.
 

BeardedIdiot

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If all you need is a way to mash to go all grain, get a bag and do BIAB. You can buy a 5 gallon paint strainer bag from a hardware store for a couple dollars, or you can order one from one of the vendors on here for up to $30-40. That will allow you to do all-grain with your current equipment, and then you can purchase everything you need to control fermentation temps.

Best of both worlds imo. It will allow you to control temps, but also to go into all-grain. Then, once you're ready to invest again, you could buy/build a mash tun.
 

Revvy

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Temp control for your fermentation!

Quality and consistancy of by beer has gone WAY UP since I'm able to control the fermentation temp.
I guess I'd have to agree....THIS is invaluable regardless of whether you're doing AG or extract brewing. So I would probably tackle that first if I had the means.
 

mredge73

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It isn't like you are in the south and have to drop the temperature by 30F from ambient to ferment an ale.
I just checked the weather, Portland and Brussels are at the same temperature.
If it is easy to ferment in the 60s or lower 70s then I would move to all grain first so you can easily ferment drier than 1.010 for the many Belgium styles.
 

feinbera

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Gotta go mini-fridge... my swamp cooler has done wonders for my beer quality, but, man, am I sick of swapping ice jugs and only being able to brew when I know I'll be around for two weeks straight!
 

scone

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I completely concur. Go with temperature control. You can totally BIAB if you want to do all grain without the equipment, or just stick to extracts until you can put together an MLT. Fermentation control on the other hand will improve things without introducing any additional variables.
 

iaefebs

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Notice that all the Temp control guys are from the South? Except Revvy. I have no clue what you have for a system, but a stir plate is cool, a refractometer helps if you do go all grain.
 

jeepinjeepin

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iaefebs said:
Notice that all the Temp control guys are from the South? Except Revvy. I have no clue what you have for a system, but a stir plate is cool, a refractometer helps if you do go all grain.
Temp control isn't just to keep it cool down here in the dirty south. It's to keep it warm in the frozen north and keep it steady everywhere.
 
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SiriusStarr

SiriusStarr

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Thanks for all of the input, everyone. Despite the fact that I'm not in the south, temperature control would probably help right now, 'cause I'm getting about 20 degree temperature swings over the course of the day right now inside (it was in the mid 80s during the day yesterday and the 50s at night). Also, I'll be moving to Chicago in a few months, where I'm going to have to deal with both much colder winters and hotter summers.

My understanding was that BIAB couldn't be used for 5 gallon batches, just given size requirements? Is this incorrect? I have an 8 gallon brewkettle.
 

jeepinjeepin

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SiriusStarr said:
Thanks for all of the input, everyone. Despite the fact that I'm not in the south, temperature control would probably help right now, 'cause I'm getting about 20 degree temperature swings over the course of the day right now inside (it was in the mid 80s during the day yesterday and the 50s at night). Also, I'll be moving to Chicago in a few months, where I'm going to have to deal with both much colder winters and hotter summers.

My understanding was that BIAB couldn't be used for 5 gallon batches, just given size requirements? Is this incorrect? I have an 8 gallon brewkettle.
I've not done any BIAB but I was under the impression that most people were doing 5 gallon batches. 8 gallons should be plenty large.
 

jCOSbrew

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Depending on your environment, temp control for ales can be pretty cheap. I use the swamp cooler ($10) plus an aquarium heater ($20) to maintain fermentation temps in the 60-70 degrees range. Max temp on my basement floor in the summer was 68 degrees. If you want to lager beer then a more elaborate setup is required.
 

iaefebs

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Temp control isn't just to keep it cool down here in the dirty south. It's to keep it warm in the frozen north and keep it steady everywhere.
I just found it funny. The OP is in Portland, which is more temperate year round. The posts for temp control were all in warmer areas. Just goes to show that whats important. I live in the north, we have temperature swings from -20 to +90. My basement in the Summer is 77 and 64 in Winter. I have nice ferment chamber that I use Year round and can adjust to any temp from the 30's to 80's anytime of the year. It get's a lot of use. But if I was in a more stable temp area, and brewing mostly ales, I would invest in some less expensive items first.
 
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SiriusStarr

SiriusStarr

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Depending on your environment, temp control for ales can be pretty cheap. I use the swamp cooler ($10) plus an aquarium heater ($20) to maintain fermentation temps in the 60-70 degrees range. Max temp on my basement floor in the summer was 68 degrees. If you want to lager beer then a more elaborate setup is required.
So, my thing is two fold. Firstly, I am a strong believer in the theory of "never spend money on a cheap solution when you're just going to want the expensive solution in a year anyways." This is why I bought a 8 gallon stainless kettle to start brewing, 'cause I knew that one day I was going to want to go all grain, etc. Secondly, I'm lazy, gone a lot, and have poor memory, so a solution that I can set and walk away appeals to me, since my previous attempts at temperature control have been thwarted by waking up in the morning and finding it a few degrees too hot or too cold. :D I know the long term solution that I'm going to want is true temperature control, so I'm not sure it makes sense to spend money on a partial solution, just to turn around and spend more in a year or two?

Also, as I said I'll be moving to Chicago soon, which will complicate the whole temperate winter bit. Finally, the nice thing about a fridge/wine cooler set up is that I can use it to cold crash; I don't have a refrigerator with space to fit my carboy in currently.
 

MultumInParvo

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"never spend money on a cheap solution when you're just going to want the expensive solution in a year anyways."
This is the way to go. I am very frugal by nature and just slowly building up is not only a good way to go, but fun in the process as well. Even if they money is there in the bank, it is interesting to find the smartest way to do things.

That being said, temp control is the way to go. Hands down, no question. People who brew the best beer have very consistent temperatures. Some people are bless with a natural way of doing this, others have to try harder. If you fermentation temps are not consistent this will be the first step.
 

Bigscience

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Not to be the only one to say it but go AG and here's why. AG will save you money that can be used to by the temp control where it doesn't work the other way around. It doesn't sound like your temps are that crazy anyway. Try to chill to the low 60s before pitching and let it slowly rise as fermentation takes off. Not total control but it's more bang for your buck. If you can't cool that low then get your chiller situation figured out before you do either.
 
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SiriusStarr

SiriusStarr

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Not to be the only one to say it but go AG and here's why. AG will save you money that can be used to by the temp control where it doesn't work the other way around. It doesn't sound like your temps are that crazy anyway. Try to chill to the low 60s before pitching and let it slowly rise as fermentation takes off. Not total control but it's more bang for your buck. If you can't cool that low then get your chiller situation figured out before you do either.
Interesting point. Does all-grain really save that much money? Just from the bit of digging on prices I've done it looks like you're only going to save maybe $5 per 5 gallon batch, which takes a lot of batches to add up. Looks like I need to brew more. :D

I have a home-made IC that's way overbuilt for my setup, so I could cool to the low 60s in 15-20 minutes, no problem for pitching. My concern is I'd like to do a DIPA next that I want really clean so the hops can shine through, and I've read that S-05 can have a bit of an estery profile without strict temperature control.
 

mredge73

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Interesting point. Does all-grain really save that much money?
You can easily buy ingredients under $15 per batch if you can bulk buy grains/hops and bank yeast. But I have found that after I went all grain I spent more and more on equipment to make processes easier or quicker. For me this is was a wash.

Quick story:
My wife asked me the other day: "how many beer fridges do we have now"
me: "three"
wife: "and they are all full of beer"
me: "yes... well one is full of bubbling carboys, not quite beer yet"
wife: "you need to stop drinking"
 
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SiriusStarr

SiriusStarr

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You can easily buy ingredients under $15 per batch if you can bulk buy grains/hops and bank yeast. But I have found that after I went all grain I spent more and more on equipment to make processes easier or quicker. For me this is was a wash.

Quick story:
My wife asked me the other day: "how many beer fridges do we have now"
me: "three"
wife: "and they are all full of beer"
me: "yes... well one is full of bubbling carboys, not quite beer yet"
wife: "you need to stop drinking"
Hmm, I didn't realize you could get grain/hops that cheaply, though I suppose it depends a lot on what you're making (a DIPA is gonna have $20 of hops in it, versus $2 for some Belgian styles).

Haha... I'm glad I have a goal to shoot for now. Thankfully the significant other is pretty much indifferent on the matter, though slowly being converted to a beer soul (it's inevitable). :D
 

Erroneous

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While you can get bulk grains for ag, if you want to use said grains you'll need a mill. And since we're talking about only buying equipment you'll keep and not want to upgrade, that means 150 or so. I'd rather have temp control and biab for $10 worth of equipment. Btw, you can reuse the bag as either a hop spider or a cheap mash tun manifold.
 

Sir Humpsalot

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Look at the issues of time and money. It sounds like you have the time to brew more but lack the funds. If this is the case, go for BIAB. Also, remember that while brewing is a hobby, the end product contributes to the household. If your hobby is cutting grass, your purchase of a lawnmower isn't suddenly frivolous as a result. You may buy a nicer one, but you need one regardless. Same goes for making beverages.

I have a MLT, but I BIAB most of the time just because it's so darn simple and there is almost no clean up. Go BIAB and invest in a grain mill. You save $5-$15 per batch. Total cost: $150 or so, so you make that back within 10 batches or so. Start reusing yeast (if you don't already) and after two re-pitches, that $6 vial of Whitelabs cost you less than a package of dry yeast, and the cost of that package of Nottingham is well less than a buck! In my household, the equation looks like this: A steak dinner for two on Sunday night? Or a killer pot roast that'll last a week and an extra 5 gallons of low-grav AG BIAB beer on a repitched yeast cake? Ok, screw the steak. I'm gonna have three weeks worth of beer and some awesome slow-cooked pot roast that actually tastes better than the steak anyway. After getting into BIAB and bulk grains, my brewing cost is effectively zero. It doesn't get applied to my hobby budget anymore. It goes into the food budget... where it is a negligible cost. Hey, you gotta drink something with your meal, right? This is cheaper than bottled water or soda... And you get so accustomed to the process that it isn't a big production. You knock out a BIAB AG session with the ease of whipping together a spaghetti sauce. A little of this, some of that, a quick sanitization, throw it in a carboy and cap it off to keep the pipeline flowing. I brew AG beers now without any planning, with no fan-fare. I brew beer with about the same drama that some people go out and buy a 2L bottle of Coke... it just takes a little longer. I see a keg getting low and think, "Well, better whip something together to fill that carboy...." What I spend in beer ingredients, I don't spend on bottled water or Coke etc. And it also eats away at the "going to the bar" budget. Suddenly Friday nights at the bar are far less appealing. So AG BIAB actually saves me money over my previous lifestyle choices. I have friends over for free beer, rather than meeting them for $3 Bud Lights.

Will that be the best bang for the buck in terms of beer quality? No. But what it will do is take brewing costs into the realm of being a non-issue. I make a hefe with 7 pounds of grain. Even without buying in bulk or washing yeast, it's a $20 batch of beer (it's a $10 batch if you reuse the yeast a few times and buy in bulk). It will get you to the point where your hobby costs are trivial no matter how much you brew. That is important because the fancy equipment pays for itself faster if you are using it regularly. And don't worry, you will have no shortage of people willing to take excess beer off your hands. So buy 2 fewer microbrewed 6 packs and you just paid for 5 gallons of AG IPA. The cost of AG ingredients are a savings, not a cost.

Now with batch costs under control, aim for the temperature control to improve your hobby... because that's where your quality will improve. It won't save you money, but now you can brew as often as you like and your beers will start getting closer to pro quality. For the big beers you want to brew, don't be ashamed to add a few pounds of DME. You don't have to be a snob about AG. If it's easier to add some DME than to mash an extra 5 lbs of grain, so be it. It's not worth beating yourself over the head over it. Lots of my beers have a little extra DME despite me considering myself an AG brewer... It's just an equipment limitation I cope with. Besides, boiling down wort eats into your savings anyway. For big beers a little extra DME isn't so uneconomical.

Learn to wash/reuse yeast and experiment with high AA hops to bring you batch costs down even lower. The less it costs you, the more you can brew, the better you will get.
 

usfmikeb

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SiriusStarr said:
My understanding was that BIAB couldn't be used for 5 gallon batches, just given size requirements? Is this incorrect? I have an 8 gallon brewkettle.
You can do BIAB in an 8 gal kettle. Start with 5.5-6 gals of water, and then sparge the grains with whatever amount you need to get to pre boil volume.
 

usfmikeb

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SiriusStarr said:
Interesting point. Does all-grain really save that much money? Just from the bit of digging on prices I've done it looks like you're only going to save maybe $5 per 5 gallon batch, which takes a lot of batches to add up. Looks like I need to brew more. :D
At the risk of starting an AG vs Extract flame war, the answer is yes, it saves quite a bit. I buy my base grains in bulk, .60-.70 per pound. Non IPAs cost me less than $15 for a 5 gal batch, compare that to the $25-30 it used to cost me for extract.
 

shelly_belly

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Get a used chest freezer and temperature controller for $100 or less. More useful than a minifridge. Now go make some Lagers. :D
 

boscobeans

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If you are having problems keeping things where they should be I'd go Temperature control first.

If you can control temps you will improve your brewing no matter what's in the fermenter, all grain, partial, LME, DME, pre-mixed canned ingredients or just about anything. Then when $ permits go all grain.

bosco
 

jeepinjeepin

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shelly_belly said:
Get a used chest freezer and temperature controller for $100 or less. More useful than a minifridge. Now go make some Lagers. :D
My mini fridges aren't ideal but the 2 of them were $70 together. After 2 controllers and the stuff to wire them up I'm gonna be in for around $150 and I have 2 fermentation chambers. One will fit a carboy and the other a corny. The smaller one will be more of a lagering chamber while the larger will be for fermentation. Moral of the story: don't pass up a deal.
 

usfmikeb

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However, don't waste a bunch of time waiting and trying to find a deal when you can quickly have a great ferm chamber running that will hold multiple carboys.

I started on the process of using a mini fridge, and stopped because the freezer option is MUCH better and still pretty economical.
 

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Hi all. This is my first post ever and just started brewing. Just brewed my first 5 gal batch and some mr beer batches. Turned out awsome. I never realized the issue with tempurature control. Me and my wife are very picky about tempurature in the house. A mere .5c difference is noticable to us. Our basement is 66f where the fermenter is. It might hit 67 or 65. I live in kelowna bc canada so there is a big tempurature swift outside but i bought one of those thermostats that can use both the ac
And the furnace in the same day to keep the tempurature constant in the house.
 

jeepinjeepin

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usfmikeb said:
However, don't waste a bunch of time waiting and trying to find a deal when you can quickly have a great ferm chamber running that will hold multiple carboys.

I started on the process of using a mini fridge, and stopped because the freezer option is MUCH better and still pretty economical.
I will agree with this.
 
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SiriusStarr

SiriusStarr

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However, don't waste a bunch of time waiting and trying to find a deal when you can quickly have a great ferm chamber running that will hold multiple carboys.

I started on the process of using a mini fridge, and stopped because the freezer option is MUCH better and still pretty economical.
My only issue with the chest freezer is that I'm moving in a few months to what will likely be a small apartment in the city, and while I know that I'll have room for a minifridge, I'm not sure that will extened to a large freezer. Additionally, is it really useful for a ferm chamber for multiple carboys, since it can only be set to one temperature? I suppose if you were doing two styles that needed to be kept at about the same temperature. I love the price of this option, though. :D
 

jeepinjeepin

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SiriusStarr said:
My only issue with the chest freezer is that I'm moving in a few months to what will likely be a small apartment in the city, and while I know that I'll have room for a minifridge, I'm not sure that will extened to a large freezer. Additionally, is it really useful for a ferm chamber for multiple carboys, since it can only be set to one temperature? I suppose if you were doing two styles that needed to be kept at about the same temperature. I love the price of this option, though. :D
With multiple controllers, yes. Set the chest freezer to the temp of the lowest fermentation and use fermwraps to bring the others up.
 
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SiriusStarr

SiriusStarr

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With multiple controllers, yes. Set the chest freezer to the temp of the lowest fermentation and use fermwraps to bring the others up.
Of course, my concern is just that this would be pretty darn energy inefficient, since the heat wrap and the compressor will basically both run constantly fighting each other.
 

Erroneous

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SiriusStarr said:
Of course, my concern is just that this would be pretty darn energy inefficient, since the heat wrap and the compressor will basically both run constantly fighting each other.
While I have 0 experience with that setup, I'd imagine it is not going to be a huge concern. A few degrees isn't going to be much and the yeast will be releasing their own heat.

That said you can always put up a styrofoam wall with a computer fan. Just keep the cooler temp fermentor by the compressor. Depending on the temperature differences you might not need a heater.
 

Sir Humpsalot

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Hi all. This is my first post ever and just started brewing. Just brewed my first 5 gal batch and some mr beer batches. Turned out awsome. I never realized the issue with tempurature control. Me and my wife are very picky about tempurature in the house. A mere .5c difference is noticable to us. Our basement is 66f where the fermenter is. It might hit 67 or 65. I live in kelowna bc canada so there is a big tempurature swift outside but i bought one of those thermostats that can use both the ac
And the furnace in the same day to keep the tempurature constant in the house.
That's a good temperature. You can improve it further by keeping your carboys in a water bath, such as a large plastic storage tub. But honestly, if I had a steady 66f basement, I don't think I'd even bother unless I wanted to lager or cold crash, or make a really cold ale such as an alt, in which case the storage tub and some ice packs twice a day would probably get you pretty close.
 
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