Homebrewing: next steps?

Hoping that this blog entry might generate some responses here.

I recently moved to kegging after 2 years of bottling. Also now considering another “investments”: a grain mill. This has me curious as to what upgrades other homebrewers have done and in what order. I recall a Brewing Network show that focused on what they considered to be the wisest order in which to add to your home brew system. I recall following a few of the earlier suggested steps this way:

• a couple 5 gallon extract batches that I did on the stove top with partial boils, in which water was added to the wort in the fermenter, much like the “Mr Beer” method in which you boiled a smaller portion of more concentrated wort and then diluted to the total volume with water. After a couple of these batches, I took the steps to go to a full boil, getting an 8 gallon stainless steel pot and which I use outside with a turkey frier burner.

• yeast starters: a big Jamil Z thing. Build up large enough starters so as to pitch the optimal amount of active yeast cells into your wort.

• moved to all-grain, converting an old rectangular cooler pretty much as Denny Conn describes HERE.

• focused on receipes, and repetition of some favorite ones to see how consistent I was

Went a good year+ without any real changes to my process or equipment. Entered one comp, placed a couple beers, continued brewing once every 6-8 weeks. Brewed, shared, enjoyed. Attempted to mix in new styles as I can, doing some hybrids (California common, Altbier) and finally brewed my first lager (a German Pils) this past winter.

• last summer I moved an old fridge into our basement. We use it for soem food, drinks and as extra freezer space. But it also allows me to cold crash my carboys.

• made the move to kegs this Spring. Using the basement fridge, I drilled a hole through the front door for a faucet. picked up a 5 lb CO2 tank, regulator, and a couple corny kegs. My first kegged beer was a Mosaic IPA and when I tasted it I was blown away by the freshness and hop aroma. And no more soaking cases of bottles, running them through the dishwasher the night before, etc. Plus, I can carb them up in the fridge rather than having to stacked it all up in my bedroom closet. (not to mention the lack of beer bottles around the kitchen sink, rinsing, drying, etc)

Now, I am seriously considering a Barley Crusher, after having a couple questionable crushes at my lhbs. The last one was incredible course, lead to a seriously pour extraction which resulted in my adding DME (dried malt extract) to the boil just to get something I could use. My own fault for not realizing the crush at the store. (Had my 9 year old help me measure and mill the grain so my focus was not ideal) This made me think more about my own mill. More to control the mill gap and crush itself, but the ability to buy base malt in bulk for about 1/2 the price I pay by the batch now is a nice bonus too.

So this has me wondering what other items other homebrewers value, and perhaps in what order of importance to their systems and methods. A few things I don’t yet own are like an aeration system or a stir plate. Plus, I batch sparge, lifting a dumping sparge water in with a turkey frier pot. I don’t mind it now, but eventually, lifting a dumping 5 gallons of hot water is going to be a negative.

I’ve not had my well water tested with the homebrewers water test. I don’t check pH.

So there’s a lot of things I don’t bother with still, and curious as to others thoughts regarding gear/process and their impact.

Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments to this entry.


4 comments on “Homebrewing: next steps?

  1. I’m going to totally lame out on my answer, and defer to michael tonsmier for his list.
    But, I will say my progression has been similar to yours.
    Extract partial boil
    Extract partial boil w/ immersion chiller
    Extract with grains partial boil
    Extract w/ grains full boil
    All grain
    My own mill

    I honestly think that my progression isn’t the best.
    If I were to recommend the progress of brewing to someone, I’d say do smaller batches.
    Do them semi frequently.
    Do Biab instead of getting a full ag setup.
    Smaller batches makes the whole process quicker, easier to manage, and clean up.
    Allows you to do more experimenting.

    • I forgot about the immersion chiller. I did that at the same time I went full boil. Had to.

      Smaller batch angle is interesting. I’m lucky if I get to brew once ever 6 weeks or so. And so I want a decent yield because of that.

      BIAB and smaller batches… I still couldn’t do them in the house/kitchen. Wife. No. Like. The. Smell. Ugh.

      Smaller batch would still take a few hours I imagine, no? And still requires the same time fermenting, aging, etc. I don’t know. I get the experimenting thing…. but then again, I’m not as interested (right now) in trying to many things… like Brett, wood aging, etc.

      Interesting responses so far. Thanks guys! Looking forward to more.

  2. I saw you have a fridge for cold crashing. What about fermentation? It is simply the best thing to better your brewing. If I am reading this wrong. Personally, I would skip the mill. It might be that I am in a big city and have a lot of local homebrew shops that have great mills, but you said you have a good LHBS and you would buy the mill from him, why not talk to him about his mill and the problems you are having. I understand if the shop was far away and buying on line was your only option.

    In addition I would brew the same recipe 4 to 6 times, dialing in your processes. Coupled with a basic stirplate from stirstarters.com or similar.

    • I tend to brew ales primarily, and haven’t had any issues holding my ferment temps. In the summer I may nee dot use a swamp cooler in summer (in the basement) but for the rest of the year, the basement temp ranges from 55-60. I use a fermwrap to warm up to mid-upper 60s. The kegerator/fridge in the basement would be set too cool for lager ferments (plus it’s a top-freezer model than does get used for more than just the beer, so I don’t want to run a temp control on the fridge’s power source.)

      As for the mill… my local is about 20-25 minutes north of my town. But the hours aren’t great and I have a long commute SOUTH so I getting to the brew shop during the week is iffy at best. Their mill has varies quite a bit over time, and I really would prefer to be able to mill right before brewing, and control the crush myself. When using the lhbs’s mill I’m often crushing the grain a week before I actually brew. Timing it all can be tough.

      I hear you on the multiple batches of the same recipe. I was so happy that my Rye IPA had come out so similar the first 3 times. Then I screwed up the 4th batch. BUT, I know what I did wrong, because I had done it right the first 3 times. Simply miscalculated my sparge amount and boil-off. Boil off in the summer months in NE is FAR different than the other seasons.

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