Techniques That Have The Biggest Impact

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Eskimo Spy

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What are the most important/critical things you can do to improve your beer consistency and quality, besides going AG?

Fermentation temperature?

Full boils versus partial boils?
 

mysteryberto

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Sanitation is huge. No matter how good your technique if it gets infected all your work goes out the window.

Temperature is really important as well. If the temperature gets too high the yeast will get stressed and produce fusel alcohols and off flavors.
 

brown_dog_us

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Sanitation is first, but you probably have that down.

The next thing is pitching a healthy starter and fermenting at a good temp. If you pitch enough yeast and ferment your ales between 64-68 degrees it makes a huge difference.
 

OctopusInk

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I have also noticed that temp has a lot to do with the overall taste. I like to ferment my ales at 68F to produce a clean, consistent flavor.
 
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Eskimo Spy

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Okay, off to a good start. If you had to pick three things, beyond the basics, like sanitation, that make your beer better than when you first started brewing, what would they be?
 

antsp1

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1. Full Boil
2. Temp Control during fermenting
3. Steeping grains
4. Patience for conditioning

These are the things that I have found that made a dramatic impact on the taste/quality of my beer.


Ant
 
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Eskimo Spy

Eskimo Spy

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I'm considering going to AG, but for now, I want to refine my processes before I make that leap.

So far, I see a few things I could do to improve the quality of my beer...

1. Full boils - What effect does this have on the quality of the beer? And what about late addition extract, what effect does this have? I seem to remember reading that it allows more control over the flavor, and that it allows for better hop utilization. Any suggestions on what to read about late additions?

2. Temp control during fermentation - Currently, I ferment my beer in a ale pail, which I keep in my walk-in closet with a AC/Heating vent in it, and I have found that I can keep the temps for ales at 70* +- 2*. I am thinking about buying a new chest freezer from Home Depot, but before I drop $200, how big of a difference will it make on my brewing, given my circumstances?

3. Yeast Starters - I made a yeast starter for my SA summer ale clone, and I didn't see a huge difference in things. Maybe I did it wrong. I used a 2000 ml erlenmeyer flask, which I used to boil some DME and spring water, cooled it, then added my tube of yeast, put some foil over the top, and gave it a swirl about 2x an hour for 6 hours. Maybe I didn't wait long enough? Is it worth it to buy a stir bar?

4. Steeping Grains - I am doing this now, and it does make a big difference when brewing extract.

Any other suggestions are welcome. Thanks everyone.
 

JoeMama

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Do a search for Laughing Gnomes full boil. He did a side by side comparison of a full boil vs his partial.

As far as doing a starter, I think this will ensure that you get a vigorous fermentation right off the bat. I havent done this (just rehydrated) and havent had any issues.

As far as temp, I believe cooler temps will lead to slower ferms. As higher temps will lead to off flavors. I think id rather ferment in a place that was cooler than warmer.
-Me
 
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Eskimo Spy

Eskimo Spy

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Thanks for the heads up on the full boil thread, that was great info!

I'll await more genius while I search to try and find more answers to my myriad questions...
 

Gonefishing

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My three things:
Confidence
Patience
Using hop bags and straining when dumping into primary.
 

antsp1

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As far as the temp control goes, it's important to make sure no off flavors are created by stressing the yeast. I mostly make lagers anymore so they go right into a temp controlled mini fridge, and it is pretty much "set it and forget". I had problems in the warmer months, when doing some of my first ales, with runaway temps. (To the point that everything I made tasted like nannas and bubblegum)

HTH

Ant
 
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Eskimo Spy

Eskimo Spy

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So, if I can maintain temps in the 70-72* degree range, and I'm not making lagers, then for now, I should be fine, right? Some people seem to like fermenting at lower temps than the yeast calls for, what's the thought on this practice?

That said, I do want to make some lagers at some point...

On that point, do most of you who have a dedicated fermentation device, be that a fridge or a chest freezer, or do you use the same device as your kegerator? Seems that would be tough to do if you brew a lot.
 

Righlander

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That's a bit too high to ferment at. The temp inside the fermenter can be 5+ degrees higher than the outside temp. I would say have the fermenter in like a 62 degree outside temp. If this is not possible put the thing in a tub or something where you can add frozen bottles of water to bring the temp down to that range. It's a pain but, if you can't ferment at these temps It's the only thing you can do... and it works. Get familiar with the technique called swamp chilling
 

Eves

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Temp control has been the most important thing to me so far. When I was just starting out brewing I didn't control this nearly as much as I should have and those early beers, while still good, are nothing compared to the beer I make now.

Sanitation is important but there is no reason to obsess over it. People have been brewing for thousands of years and I highly doubt things were super sanitary even decades ago.

I haven't been able to move into partial mashes just yet but after having tasted a friend's partial mash and all grain brews I am convinced that the more grains you can use the better.
 

Saccharomyces

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Water. I had super hard crappy water with lots of chlorine. Fixing my water my beers went from barely drinkable to stellar.

If you are using extract there is no reason not to just use all RO water, as the extract already has minerals from when it was made. For AG or PM you can use RO and blend in some filtered tap water to add the required level of hardness for the style back in per HowToBrew.

I have a 5 gallon water bottle I take to Wally World and fill with RO water from their machine for 25c per gallon the morning of brewday, and I use a whole-house carbon filter with an RV hose to slowly filter the rest of the water I need into orange buckets.
 

CBBaron

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So, if I can maintain temps in the 70-72* degree range, and I'm not making lagers, then for now, I should be fine, right? Some people seem to like fermenting at lower temps than the yeast calls for, what's the thought on this practice?

That said, I do want to make some lagers at some point...

On that point, do most of you who have a dedicated fermentation device, be that a fridge or a chest freezer, or do you use the same device as your kegerator? Seems that would be tough to do if you brew a lot.
Most yeast have a listed fermentation range down to 65F or lower. Fermenting at that temp will ensure a clean ferment with few hot alcohols. As mentioned the yeast produce heat during the fermentation and can cause your beer to warm up considerably from the ambient temp. There are some beers that work better at the warmer temps, like Saisons and Belgians but most produce better results at cooler temps.

Once your ferment is past the first 5-7 days then temp control becomes less critical and if you can maintain between 60F and 75F you can leave the beer to finish at room temp. If you lager you will have to maintain cooler temps for longer, which is why many people only make the occasional lager, with ales being the majority.

I don't lager and my basement is about 62F in the winter and 67F in the summer so most ales are fermented at pretty ideal temps.


I think if you use fresh extract, your extract beers can be as good as AG beers. However I can taste an extract twang in many extract beer that I think comes from oxidized liquid extract. Using DME instead of LME or using extract from a fresh source shortly after purchase will make a difference.

Craig
 

Evan!

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Okay, off to a good start. If you had to pick three things, beyond the basics, like sanitation, that make your beer better than when you first started brewing, what would they be?
  1. Healthy Fermentation (adequate viable cell count, correct ferment temps, as little swing as possible in temp, adequate oxygenation of wort). This is 90% of good beer right here.
  2. Going to Partial Mashing or, better yet, All-Grain.
  3. Finding a good basis for recipe formulation (I suggest Brewing Classic Styles).
 
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Eskimo Spy

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Oh, and by the way, I'm not talking about ambient air temps when I say that it's at 70-72*, I mean the beer is at that temp! I use an infrared temperature gun and a stick on temp to make sure I know what the beer temp is.

Keep the advice coming!
 

mmb

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Fermentation temperature control was my number one issue to make consistently good beer. Sanitation is easy, quality ingredients is easy, and letting beer condition properly is easy. Everyone seems to ignore fermentation temperature or included it at the end of the "Must Pay Attention To" list.

All we do is make food for yeast. Yeast do all the major work. Provide them the best food and keep them happy and you'll have consistently good beer.

FYI: I ferment all my English and American Ales at 65* to keep them clean.
 
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Eskimo Spy

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So, a big one is obviously fermentation temperature control. I looked at the temp ranges for the ale yeast, and I'm within those ranges, but the message I'm getting is that while the fermentation may be a tad slower, I get better attenuation and a better product with a lower ferm temps, right?

Would you go with a small chest freezer with a Johnson Controls A419 on it?

I don't plan to use it for a kegerator, just for fermentation.
 

mmb

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I use a Ranco controller but otherwise, yah. That's all I do.

Better attenuation is questionable, but you will get less ester production and a more controlled fermentation by controlling the temperatures. If you are worried about attenuation issues with cooler temps you can always start cooler at 65* and slowly ramp up to 70* at the end of fermentation to insure that the yeast ferment as much as possible. As the beer becomes a less welcome place for the yeast with higher alcohol percentages and little easily fermentable sugar, you can bump the temps up to prevent the yeast from finishing early and dropping out.
 

Saccharomyces

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If you are worried about attenuation issues with cooler temps you can always start cooler at 65* and slowly ramp up to 70* at the end of fermentation to insure that the yeast ferment as much as possible.
I even do this with my Belgian ales.

Pitch: 66*F
Day 1: 68*F
Day 2: 70*F
Day 3: 74*F
Day 4-N: 76*F+

Works great. No fusels, just the right amount of yeast character, full attenuation.
 
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Eskimo Spy

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So, I could leave the fermentation temp at 65* or so without a major problem, and just have a longer fermentation timeline and perhaps a slight ding in attenuation.

So far, it appears we have some clear cut techniques that will improve things dramatically:

1. Fermentation temperature control
2. Full boils
3. Using specialty grains
4. Making a starter

Before I make the jump to AG, I want to make sure I'm making the best beer I can using extract. SO far, I've found four things that should make a big improvement in the taste and quality of my beer. Keep the ideas coming!
 

Tonedef131

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This thread seems to have nailed it. Temp control and pitching rates are the absolute number one thing when it comes to making great beer. I would never let an ale yeast (belgian stains excluded) get over 68F, I prefer to keep them under 65F actually. Another nice thing about a dedicated freezer is that you can easily do lager then too. Making a starter is usually good, but the reason for this is getting your pitching rates dialed in, and the easiest way is usually to make a starter. Remember that the yeast are the ones making the beer, not you, so happy yeast means good beer.

After those everything else is secondary, but I would say the most important things are doing full boils and kegging.
 

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I would echo everything regarding fermentation temps, and know that for ales, it's best to err on the side of cooler than warmer. It may take longer, but the taste will be cleaner.

IMO, all-grain is a big improvement, and it's great because once you can do extract, going AG isn't really any more difficult. It's more fun, and the beer is better.

I've only kegged once, but I am pretty sure that this is the way to go. The beer was great, and it's a much simpler process than bottling. The thing I'm working on now is being able to chill my wort faster. I've had a few infections and I'm just about sure that they took hold while cooling.
 
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Eskimo Spy

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I use an IC to cool my wort, and I'm very happy with that.

I have the equipment to keg, but kegging seems to be a convenience factor rather than an improvement over bottling. I will probably continue to bottle, as I brew mainly to share beer, and a keg makes that difficult!
 

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Just a quick note on starters;

There are 2 school of thought, pitch at high krausen or ferment it out and decant. I have done both and they both work great. Mr. Malty's pitch rate calculator is awesome. If you put a vile of yeast in a starter and only let it go 6 hours that yeast did not have time to replicate.

Keys to a starter:
1. Keep the OG to 1.030-1.040, you don't want stressed out yeast.
2. Oxygenate the wort or get a stir plate. Shaking works.
3. If pitched high krausen, do starter 2 days prior to brewday
4. If piched fermented and decanted, do starter 4 -5 days prior to brewday, 48 hours on stir plate, at least 2 days to cold crash in fridge.

I would say a close second to temp control is pitching the proper amount of happy, healthy yeast!

Eastside
 

OneShoeBrew

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Temp control and pitching rates are the absolute number one thing when it comes to making great beer.
+1

Temp control was The Number One improvement in my brew. From what I've seen here, baby boogers in the wort don't necessarily spell disaster. But if you ferment at too high a temp for the yeast strain, they'll piss in your brew.

Also, if you're not able to do full boils, one option is the Late Extract Method. This approach will give you a boil gravity that will improve hop extraction. I learned a lot from John Palmer's "Gravity of the Boil": How to Brew - By John Palmer - Hop Bittering Calculations
 

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What are the most important/critical things you can do to improve your beer consistency and quality, besides going AG?

Fermentation temperature?

Full boils versus partial boils?
Ask the right questions. Then try out what you have learned. Then ask more questions. Then help others.

I think we are seeing the beginnings of a great brewer.
 

HoppyDaze

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First off: I can't image how much good beer has been made because of this website....Thanks everyone!

Second: thanks for asking the question eskimo; its nice to have everything that I have learned so far confirmed.

and Third: Prost to Homebrew Talk!
 
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Eskimo Spy

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Agreed, thanks to the people that run this place, and all the people who contribute, you make this site a fantastic resource for everyone!

I think I'll be buying a new 10 or 15 gallon pot soon, so the late addition of extract won't be a need for me in the near future, but I did find this on the Beersmith blog, if you use Beersmith, I think it makes it clear how to do this without stubbing your head on the math involved...

Better Beer with Late Malt Extract Additions | Home Brewing Beer Blog by BeerSmith
 
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Eskimo Spy

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Speaking of brew kettles, even when I move to AG, I won't be making more than 5 gallons at a time. I'm thinking about buying the following, is it worth the extra $40 to but the thermometer? I use an infrared thermometer right now, so I'm really wondering why I need the thermometer...

10 Gallon MegaPot. This pot has a capcity of 40 quarts, or 10 gallons. It is 13" tall and 17" in diameter. Wall thickness is 1.0 mm.

10 Gallon MegaPot w/ ball valve $184.99

NORTHERN BREWER: Brew Kettles
 

Moonpile

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Buy a typical kitchen probe thermometer. This should be in the circa $15 range. If it does not have a waterproof looking tubing covering the wire of the thermometer, go over to the aquarium section (you know what store you're in) and get some tubing that lookes like it fits over the probe.

I used some olive oil to lubricate the probe and tube and then slid it through as far as I could (yes, I wrote it). It wasn't easy going, but I managed to work up more than enough tubing over the wire.
 

Bruscar

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For temp contol, find a used chest freezer. Got mine for $60. Save the dough for an electronic temp contoller. My guess is you'll welcome it come time for those "charming" Texas summers!
 
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Eskimo Spy

Eskimo Spy

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I'm going to pick up a chest freezer from Home Depot, and then grab a Johnson Controls A419, plug the freezer into the controller, set my temp and range, and off I go!

Also, a new kettle is in order, I'm thinking that 10 gallon kettle with the spigot I mentioned in the earlier post.

So, that takes care of two areas, full boil and fermentation temp. Hooray!
 
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