Did 4 brews, what should be next improvement step?

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LordMcALe

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Hi,

I started brewing last year, did 4 brews so far:
- 1 canned extract kit (Muntons Bitter IPA), came out pretty bad
- 2x DME based recipe, 15 Minute Cascade Pale Ale, came out quite well, especially 2nd time
- 1x DME based 60 minute dog fish head IPA clone. Very drinkable, however taste doesn't even come close to the original :)

I use a starter kit from the local home brewing store. I use a plate cooler, I use a 5 gallon kettle on a electric stove for the boiling. Fermentation I do in the livingroom (approx 20 degree celcius, 68 fahrenheit, but flucuating).

I am thinking what to improve for my next brew:
- Boiling the 5 gallons water on my stove takes a looong time. Does it make sense to shorten the time until boiling? would it improve the beer in some way?
- Fermentation temperature is ok, but not 100% stable. Would a temperature controlled fermentation fridge improve the quality of the beer big time?
- Or, should I switch to all grain? I read a lot about it, opinions are different. From what a read, my conclusion is that other parameters should be optimal first, in order to make the switch to all grain meaningful to further improve the beer.
- .... anything else?

Looking forward to your recommendations. If you need more background on my way of working, let me know. My main goal is to brew nice APA/IPA beers.

Thanks in advance,
Lord McAle
 

WhamFish

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I'd say ordering by the things that will make the biggest improvement:

1) fermentation chamber

2) full wort boil

3) chiller

4) liquid yeast (do you do that already?)

5) all grain (just gives you more control, doesn't in its self make it better)
 

Riot

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I think you would see the most immediate improved cement from temperature control. Not having to worry about fermentation getting too hot and weird tasting is kind of priceless in my opinion. Look around for second hand options, refrigeration is pretty cheap.
 

LakeErieMonster

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1) Fermentation temperature control
2) Yeast pitch rate control
3) All grain setup

These are the 3 things I have done to make better beer
 

Grinder12000

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Screw all grain - seriously until you have a lot more batches and then only if you want to. I've won many awards over all grain brewers - it's not necessary to make great beer.

remember - it's not the process - it's the brewer that makes the beer.

Best thing to do is make starters and pitch the correct amount of years. If you are using dry years don't just pitch it in dry.

Look at your water. Tap water is not always the best choice - especially when making an IPA which is actually an intermediate beer and harder then most people think.

Better temp control is nice but it's only the first 24 hours that are the most critical but still - get that temp correct the 1st 24.

Instead of a 5g kettle- how about two 3 gallon kettles! just sayin. Then you can have a full wort boil (which will REALLY help IPAs and hop utilization).

Make a starter

And for the All- Grainers - YES - a good AG brewer will beat a good Mini mash brewer - but it takes a LOT more experience to get to "GOOD" in AG. I'm a treasurer in a Home Brew Club that teaches brewing (more teaching less drinking . . .well, a good amount of drinking but . . . . ) and I know so many good Mini-mash brewers that have become poor AG brewers.
 

mcbaumannerb

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I would agree that making yeast starters from liquid yeasts would be the easiest and cheapest improvement. After that fermentation temperature control is definitely critical - letting it creep out of the recommended range for the yeast (especially on the high side) can lead to off flavors, over/under attenuation and may other problems. Then I'd try to get a kettle that lets you do a full boil (and perhaps a burner so you can do that since it could be tough on many stoves to boil that much.) After that would be a good time to start considering full grain (and the other improvements will still be just as valuable with all grain.)
 

unionrdr

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Idk...partial mash is pretty darn good too. And a good process is a basic essential. You have to get that right first, in my opinion, before trying to fix other things. But temp control during initial fermentation is important. As is a proper yeast amount pitched at high krausen. And I do pb/pm biab with the same 5 gallon kettle I started with! Brewing to me is also part Zen. You have to just sorta know what to do after a couple years at it.
Long story short, get all the various steps down cold before moving on. don't move on to PM or AG till you're sure you're ready.
 

hunter_le five

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Here's my vote, in order of importance:

1) Temperature control - the single biggest improving factor for most newbies, in my opinion. Most people tend to ferment way to warm when starting out. The only exceptions tend to be people with basements that are cool and stable temp-wise. My beers improved a ton after adding temp control.

2) Yeast pitch rates - A close 2nd to temp control. Learn how to make yeast starters and use a good pitching calculator.

3) Full wort boil - Get yourself an 8-10 gallon pot (bigger is better) and a cheap propane burner, if you can. For 5 gallon batches you generally want to start off with ~6.5 gallons and end the boil with 5 (may vary per recipe and boil off rate). This will improve the flavor of the extract markedly over the partial boil + top-up method, imho.

4) All grain - I put this last, and for good reason. It gives you more flexibility, a wider variety of base grains to choose from, etc - but does not necessarily "improve" your beer, so it is a low priority imho. I love All-Grain and encourage you to try it eventually, but I would work on improving the basics first. If you do go AG, make sure you read up on water chemistry, because it will become much more important. Fortunately, AG can be very easy and cheap to get into if you go the BIAB method. Plus, AG recipes are cheaper than extract.
 

chickypad

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I agree pitching enough healthy yeast is one of the most important things, but it doesn't have to be liquid if you are using a quality dry yeast. I would also put a big plug in for fermentation temp control during active fermentation. Moving to at least partial mash will allow you to expand the range of beers you can brew as there are some recipes that just can't be replicated properly without a mash. I brew mostly all grain but I'm thinking that most folks would be unable to tell the difference between a well made partial mash brew and one made all grain. I also agree with Grinder and others above that full boils will likely help, especially with lighter beers and hoppy IPA's.
:mug:
 

atoughram

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All Grain is a big and expensive step, I'd transition to steeping specialty malts in a full wort boil as my next step. The partial mashes will give you an idea of an AG brew process, and grains will add more flavor to your brews.

One poster mentioned liquid yeasts, I've actually been experimenting with dry yeasts lately! They have improved immensely since I started brewing in the early 1990's, so don't overlook them!
 

unionrdr

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Yeah, I've had some good results with dry yeast rehydrated. S-04 is a good one for English style ales. Even the 15g Cooper's ale yeast rehydrated gives some fruity esters found in English/Australian ales that feature those flavor complexities. And it's high flocculation too. US-05 is another good one, but medium flocculation. But some of the liquid yeast I've used have been great too. Like WL029 kolsh yeast. Steadiest fermenter I ever saw in it's sweet spot of 65-69F. WY 3711 French saison yeast was another good one. So try both dry & Liquid & use'em properly. They can be quite good.
 

ChelisHubby

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Fermentation tempature control is the first thing you need. Then worry about the Larger Boil pot and Burner, For yeast the easy way is to buy Dry and rehydrate. For right now I am buying 2 dry yeast and rehydrating to get my pitch rate close. don't be in a hurry to go all grain, practice getting your process down and tweaking recipes a little for your taste.:)
 

Conman13

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I think all-grain made a huge difference in my beers. They taste much more like real beer now. I always found my extract brews to be lacking in grain character. I also find it a lot more fun on brew day.

The 2 biggest improvements you could make are 1)fermentation temperature control, and 2) all grain + full batch boils.

You already mentioned that you make starters. Continue doing that - it helps a lot for higher gravity brews especially.
 

kpr121

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Here's my vote, in order of importance:

1) Temperature control - the single biggest improving factor for most newbies, in my opinion. Most people tend to ferment way to warm when starting out. The only exceptions tend to be people with basements that are cool and stable temp-wise. My beers improved a ton after adding temp control.

2) Yeast pitch rates - A close 2nd to temp control. Learn how to make yeast starters and use a good pitching calculator.

3) Full wort boil - Get yourself an 8-10 gallon pot (bigger is better) and a cheap propane burner, if you can. For 5 gallon batches you generally want to start off with ~6.5 gallons and end the boil with 5 (may vary per recipe and boil off rate). This will improve the flavor of the extract markedly over the partial boil + top-up method, imho.

4) All grain - I put this last, and for good reason. It gives you more flexibility, a wider variety of base grains to choose from, etc - but does not necessarily "improve" your beer, so it is a low priority imho. I love All-Grain and encourage you to try it eventually, but I would work on improving the basics first. If you do go AG, make sure you read up on water chemistry, because it will become much more important. Fortunately, AG can be very easy and cheap to get into if you go the BIAB method. Plus, AG recipes are cheaper than extract.

Agree 100% with this assessment. If you're talking about what to spend your next $100 dollars on in order to make better beer, consistent temperature control will be your best 'bang for your buck'.

If it were me, ease of brewday factors in pretty strongly, and I remember how nerve-racking it was brewing in the kitchen and trying to keep everything clean. So I might move to a turkey fryer setup before spending any serious money on temperature control. Look for used on craigslist. You can use a swamp cooler for your next couple batches (at a cost near zero dollars if you have a tub your fermenters will fit in). Then after you get sick of swapping out frozen water bottles build yourself a fermentation chamber.
 

Foosier

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For me, I have noticed the biggest improvements in my brewing as follows...
1) Temp control - absolutely critical. Eliminates the off flavors and "oily" mouthfeel that are common when temps get high which you can pretty much guarantee if you ferment in your living room.

2) Yeast pitch rates - Making a starter is super easy and does a ton to ensure you get the right flavors from the yeast in your beer. Happy yeast makes yummy beer.

Beyond that, I think I would go for a full boil set up. However, this is less of an issue than the two items listed above.

All grain is great. You should definitely make the jump as soon as you can. That being said, research the process before you do to figure out how you want to do it. There are ways such as BIAB which keep the additional investment to an absolute minimum. to go all-grain. Also, don't let anyone scare you into thinking you need X number of batches to go all-grain. there are many brewers who jumped very quickly to all-grain. Personally, I did 2 extract batches, 1 PM and then went all-grain BIAB. I like the control you get from all-grain and the "magic" of turning grain and water into tasty adult beverages. However, as others have said, you can make great beers with extract and know some brewers who go back and forth between AG and Extract when time limits their brewing. If you control fermentation, there is no reason you can't make great beers.
 

jekeane

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It looks like you average a brew day every couple of months. With that frequency I would suggest fixing smaller less expensive issues first.

Full volume boils on an electric stove take forever and are potentially a huge mess waiting to happen. Do you live somewhere you can move outside with a propane burner? If so finding a decent inexpensive burner like the Bayou classic SQ14 would be a nice improvement. In order to do a full boil you'll need a 8-10g pot though.

Fermentation Control will always produce better beer. You could try something simple like a swamp cooler with frozen water bottles. With your spaced out schedule I would watch craigslist for a 7cf chest freezer for the next few months and see if you can snag a deal. Patience is a virtue.

Starter and yeast pitch rate items are good relatively cheap investments. A DIY stirplate along with a flat bottom growler, pickle jar, or flask will always be useful.

As far as all grain is concerned. I would consider brew in a bag (BIAB) with the frequency you brew especially if you are stuck inside. You likely have 90% of the stuff you need to jump to BIAB.

Find a homebrew club if you can.
 

Homercidal

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I think all agree that temp control is a big concern. Beyond that you may want to look into using the freshest ingredients possible and maybe try an All Grain BIAB.

If you are topping off your boil kettle instead of doing a full boil, that may be the next thing to try. Or maybe try a late boil method.

The right water is also critical. With Extract I'd try using RO or Distilled water. You can eliminate any chlorine or chloramine contamination issues that way and the extract will still contain all of the minerals that were in the wort when the manufacturer produced it. Without knowing exactly what the mineral content was, you may not want to add a bunch more from your own water.

Yeast cell count and health is critical and require no special equipment. Double check the pitch rates you need and buy a second vial or packet if necessary. It's almost always better to pitch a bit more than you need, than to underpitch.

I think you will find that a steady, proper temperature will produce a nicer beer, (usually), than fermenting with temps that jump up and down in and out of the yeast's optimum range. They will produce a cleaner beer that way. I'd start with a temp of around 62 or so. They will increase the temp when they start fermenting. Raise the temp a degree or two each day AFTER the main fermentation is over (couple of days or when the krausen starts to fall.)
 

Near-Beer-Engineer

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I agree with everything said here. Check out my similar thread for my process, might e more involved then what you're looking for but might give some ideas: https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?t=478315

Cheapest and most effective improvements in my opinion (not in any order really, they're all cheap and good):

1. Liquid yeast starter

2. Temp control in a swamp cooler.

3. Low temp when pitching yeast (I.e. Use a good chiller)

4. Irish moss in boil for clarity.

5. Very high quality ingredients (and definitely fresh extract with fresh grains steeped.




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unionrdr

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I've been experimenting with spring waters the last couple of years & distilled too. distilled is ok, even with extracts. White house Artisian Springs was better, but Giant Eagle spring water, I've found, give a better hop complexity against the malts. Whirlfloc helps with PM recipes to keep things clear & tasteful. And yeast starters or rehydrating dry yeast is a boon as well. I've found that with extracts, AE brews in particular, Water still very much matters, as I stated above. I jump back & forth between AE. E/SG & PB/PM BIAB of late.
 
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LordMcALe

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Hi,

Thanks so much for all the suggestions, great! It's pretty clear to me that controlling fermentation temperature is #1 on my list now.

I read a couple of times that I should do a full boil instead of partial. I am actually doing a full boil (I mean, I boil the ~5 gallons of wort in my 5+ gallon pot. I don't know exactly how big it is, maybe only 5,5 or 6 gallon, but it's just big enough. Although it indeed takes quite some time to get it boiling on my electrical stove. Why should it be at least 8 or 10 gallons, as some people state here?

Thanks again,
Lord McAle
 

madscientist451

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For a 5 gallon batch you want to have about 6,5 gallons pre boil because you'll
loose 1 gallon to evaporation during a 60 min boil and 1/2 gallon waste in sediment (trub) that you don't want to transfer to your fermenter.
You can do all grain on your kitchen stove on the cheap. Get a BIAB bag, make 3 gallon batches to start. BIAB is pretty sinple, heat up the water, put in the bag, add the crushed grain, stir, wrap a blanket around it , come back later and pull the bag out and start boiling. You can go all grain for less than $10.
Thats a pretty simple explanation, you can find more BIAB info on you tube or this forum.
Your temp control can be a cardboard box with 1 " insulation board inside. Freeze 1 liter plastic bottles and experiment how many you need to reach a certain temp.
Its not perfect, but better than nothing.
People have made award winning beers using dry yeast, follow the re-hydrating
directions on the pack or some people just dump it in.
Get the beer chilled to the low end of the ferment temp before you add the yeast. I put my brew pot in an old washtub with frozen 2 liter bottles, changing the water and ice a couple of times. Again , not the perfect set up, but it works.
A good rule is ferment on the low temp range then in the later stages let it warm up a little while and the yeast will clean up off flavor compounds that may have been produced.
Make a lot of batches, keep good notes so you can improve.
 

frankjones

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I think the temp control on a fridge will be a tremendous help in offering stability. Someone keeps saying a brewer makes wort . yeast makes beer.

I use safale o5. It's very forgiving but you can tell the difference on the batch that got up to 75 degrees versus the ones that I baby sat and kept at 64/5
 

frankjones

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A full roiling boil can boil up pretty high and give a boil over when the hot break starts. I have 5.5 gallon pot. I do a rolling boil on 3.5 gallons of water and it gets right to the top. I have an electric stove. I set the pot on the left side over two burners. I mash in that pot and when the mash is done I can get a full boil in 15 minutes. Also doing a full boil my beers come out so much better. Clearer.
 

cobrem

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Fermentation temperature control is probably the largest leap in improvement for flavor.

Dialing in temps, and keeping them stable, should help a lot. I'd go with the fridge and controller.

Switching to all grain probably won't help much with flavor if you don't have decent control of fermentation temperatures.
 

VegasBrew1

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I've done 2 batches so far. Still to early to taste either of them. But I watched Craigslist in my area and got a cheap dorm fridge for $30 bucks. Bought a STC-1000 for $15. I didn't consider that a great expense. And from what people are saying, it is important. The STC-1000 was very easy to wire (plenty of helpful videos on youtube). I took out the thermostat on the fridge, and it now fits my 6.5 gallon bucket. Perhaps this should be your next "upgrade." The downside is only 1 fermentation can go at a time. But hey, quality is what we want, right?
 

WoodlandBrew

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There is a ton of good information in this thread. I just have a couple of things to add.

For temperature control you might consider using a water bath. By increasing the thermal mass the temperature is more stable.
See here for details:
http://www.woodlandbrew.com/2012/09/swamp-cooler.html

You may, or may not, like the flavor impact a full boil has on an extract brew. Because the malt extract has already been boiled by the maltster it doesn't need to be boiled again. The additional boil creates Mailard reactions that produce a sweet malty flavor. Some people enjoy this, others don't.
https://www.homebrewtalk.com/four-tips-making-great-beer-15-minutes.html

All Grain might improve your beer, and it might wreck it. You'll have many more variables and processes to work with, but that could be fun.

Pitch rate is vital to beer quality, but there are ways to achieve a correct rate without a starter.
http://www.woodlandbrew.com/2012/12/no-more-wasteful-yeast-starters.html
 
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