The Second Tier: The Four Most Effective, yet Inexpensive Upgrades for Beginners

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We can look at each homebrewer as belonging to one of three 'tiers' of brewing operational abilities. In the first tier is the novice, partial boil, extract brewer, while on the other extreme, the third tier, is a brewer with a seemingly complicated all grain system of pumps and gadgets.
Great beer can be made by a brewer in either of these tiers, but what's in between - in the second tier? How can you make good beer without all the bells and whistles? If you're in the first tier of brewing, you're about to learn a few small, inexpensive steps that will take your beer to the next level.
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Make a yeast starter
Having the correct yeast population at pitching time is important to reduce lag time and provide a strong, effective fermentation. This will lead to less risk of infection and a cleaner fermentation with less risk of off flavors.
But what if you don't have a stir plate and a large flask? You could simply boil some DME in water (100 grams of DME per liter of water), cool it to room temp, and add it to a sanitized growler, covering the opening with foil. After pitching your yeast, simply shake it several times a day.
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Control fermentation temperatures
Temp controlled fermentation encourages happy, healthy yeast, which means good clean beer for you. A cheap fridge or mini fridge can be found on craigslist -- sometimes for free. For even more control, search the HBT forums for the STC-1000 "ebay aquarium temperature controller build."
An even simpler option is to place your fermenter into a larger bin or bucket that contains water. You can lower the temperature of this water bath by adding frozen water bottles.
Boil your full wort volume
Boiling your full wort volume helps with hop utilization and results in a better final product and all you need is an inexpensive turkey fryer!
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Chill your wort before pitching
Chilling your wort quickly after the boil is a very important part of brewing. You want your wort to be cooled down to about the target fermentation temp before pitching yeast. Pitching into warm wort can have negative consequences ranging from off flavors like diacytle, to even killing your yeast. You also want to chill your wort to your target-pitching temp quickly in order to avoid infection.
An expensive counterflow or plate chiller isn't required, however. You can achieve good results with a combination ice bath and immersion chiller. Copper tubing and the necessary hose fittings are sold at every home improvement center. Search the forums various build instructions.
If you're in the first tier of brewers who don't have all of the latest bells and whistles, you can still brew like a pro, simply and inexpensively with these few easy steps, and your beer will be better for it.
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lebucheron

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I think this article is bang on. Yeast starters (big ones), the first few days of fermentation's temp control (fridge or cold spot of my house) were essential to my beer getting better. The chiller saved me time and was a necessity once I started doing full volume boils (I could get away with an ice bath for partials) Good article!
 

403Brewer

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I have just cleared the "2nd tier" upgrades, all fully worth it and so much of it can be DIY on the cheap, made a stir plate for $10, chiller from home depot parts for $20, fridge on kijiji for $50 and a temp controller for another $20. Fun projects to take on and give a massive improvement to the quality of beer.
What is the "third tier" now??
 

CA_Mouse

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I completely agree with the points here. My beer got better with making starters, even better with temperature control and even better with a grain mill.
 

Likefully

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Nice article and great to know I am a second tier brewer!
I agree with Mouse, a grain mill is a great addition to the artillery.
 

BrettV

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I guess I'm a second tier brewer. Although I still can't do full-volume boils. Living in a big city and not having a yard of any kind prevents me from brewing outside, so unless I were to get a much bigger brewpot so I could do an AG BIAB, or move somewhere more suburban (not likely) I'm stuck with partial mashes.
 

MrFeltimo

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Great write up.
Your right, extract/PM brews can and quite often are made fantasticly, but with very little expense it will take you to the next level.
I dont make starters, I know i should and probabally will in the near future, I make good beer, i cant wait to make great beer.
thanks
 

bford

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I'm a novice all grain, small batch, BIAB brewer. I have moved into the realm of temp control with my Cool Brew bag....
Yeast starter.... as of now I'm going to keep on using dry yeast... since I do two gallon batches, I just don't see the need for a starter or to pay the price for liquid yeast.
 

aidan

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Control fermentation temps and cool before pitching are by far the most important of the 4 items you cover and I would recommend all brewers to get a handle on these 2 issues as early as possible in their brewing careers. The other 2 are lesser issues. Yeast starter only appllies if using a limited quantity of liquid yeast and is a no no if using dried yeast. If using dried yeast the next 'tier' from sprinkeling is correctly re-hydrating your yeast. Boil full volume is debatable as a major improvement for extract brewers. I mostly do full volume boils now that I do allgrain but I have made some great beers without full volume boils. Besides, doing a partial boil can be much more efficient in terms of energy usage and time required for boiling/cooling. Even now as an algrain brewer I will ocassionally set aside a small volume of the water to be chilled and used as top water in order to achieve lower pitching temps. And honestly I could never tell beers apart by whether it is full boil or has had some top up water added post boil.
 

castillo556

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@bford
Look into culturing yeast from bottles. There are quite a few commercial beers that you can harvest the yeast from, giving you both a yeast starter and good, style specific liquid yeast. Not to mention it is fun.
 

ballsy

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I disagree with full boils resulting in better taste b/c it depends on HOW the person is brewing, is it an extract batch or a PM batch? If so, the appropriate amount of sugar to volume ratio can be obtained which results in the same degree of hop utilization. I think specifying starters as only being really beneficial with liquid yeast and washed yeast is needed too b/c this is of no benefit if using dry yeast. These two things do not necessarily "brew a better beer" unless it meets certain criteria. Otherwise, def agree on the remaining points in the article!
 

zacster

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I think the biggest improvement to my beer making came with BIAB and full boils as opposed to extract. I've tweaked my method, made a stir plate, bought a fridge, made an immersion chiller, and most recently bought and built around an STC-1000, so mostly I've done everything in the article.
One other thing that I did that made a difference was moving to kegs. It is easier and I think gives more control over carb levels.
 

MindenMan

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I started with one 22qt SS pot that was a gift from my wife, and a re purposed propane burner from a smoker.
I bought a turkey fryer at clearance for $20.00 last year after Thanksgiving with a 30qt Alum pot. Not realizing how much head space a full boil 5 gallon batch can take, I then bought a 40qt Alum. pot. I wish the pot would have been bigger, as now I realize making a big beer, 40qts just isn't enough. I built a 48' x 5/8" dual pass IC, purchased a STC-1000 for an extra coffin freezer I had, and I still use a Zapap tun that I built. I still haven't built a stir plate, but I do is make starters with the swirl and shake method. My point is: I have a low budget system, and I won Best of Category in a recent competition. You don't need big dollar equipment to brew great beer. Just be consistent. And, oh yea, ALWAYS put sanitation on the top of the to-do list, otherwise your perfect brew day may end very badly...
EDIT: Sanitation I believe is the first most important thing, followed by fermentation temperature control. After that, it is all easy. Before I knew about strict temperature control, the crawl space under house was good enough for summer, or so I thought. I made a batch of hard cider, and put it in my pantry and didn't know how easy it was to make nail polish remover with warm temperatures.
 

grimzella

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I would add another... Oxygen. I bought the regulator online $20 and the red tanks at home depo $10. Got some hose and air stone at Petsmart for $5 .. This is what made a noticeable difference in my beers.. it also is a heck of a lot easier to use than shaking a 6.5 gallon glass carboy for several minutes.
 

HolyBeer

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@aidan
Hi,
I use a relatively small pot for the boil (small apartment, etc.) but I actually prefer the faster cool.
I actually just cool for about ten minutes in a bath, which gets the temp down rapidly, but instead of messing around with ice and such, the added cool water gets it right down to pitching temp!
Any comments on that approach?
 
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