Things I wish I'd known before brew #1 - or advice from myself if I had a time machine

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Narapoia

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I'm still relatively new, only been brewing for a year and a half and about 24 batches done. Thought I would post some of the things I have learned for newer brewers and wish I could go back in time and tell myself! Given how little experience I really have, there's no doubt that those who have been at it longer and have forgotten more than I know will have their own advice.

I BIAB so my advice is focused on this setup/process.

Equipment:
1. Buy a good burner even if you aren't sure you are going to stick with the hobby. I bought a 2 ring gasmate, then 3 ring gasmate for a combined $150, before getting a high pressure burner for $125. I sold the Gasmates on to recover some of that but what a waste of time and money. Getting the $125 HPB would have been way cheaper in the long run compared even to the 2 ring gasmate when you consider resale.
2. Buy a decent quality bag - or consider one of the metal basket setups. Burned through two cheap $10 bags that tore before getting a $25 bag that lasted more brews than the others put together.
3. Get a good immersion chiller - the first one I bought was a bit small for 23-30L batches and it adds a lot of time to the brew day.
4. Get a brew kettle early on if you are going to stick with the hobby. Siphoning your cooled wort is a pain.

These things together probably saved me an 1-1.5 hours on brew day. Would have cost $125 more than what I spent initially trying to save money - nothing over the course of a year and a half really. Converting my pot to a kettle was a PITA but cheaper than a new one.

Process:
1. Don't put the trub in the fermenter. Yes it is quicker and easier once cooled - but stopping this resulted in the single most noticeable improvement in quality in my beer so far. Grew my hatred for siphoning though - see point 4 above hah.
2. Once bottled - patience. I drank my first few batches before they had a chance to cold condition. I still really enjoyed them, but patience makes it even better.
3. The first few extract brews I made were pretty solid - much better entry to brewing than kits. I made 1 kit, the one that came with my fermenter. I don't think I would have stuck with the hobby if kits were the only option.
4. Sanitation - be thorough, be consistent, try not to worry too much. I did have two batches that went bad - which seemed to be caused by a new fermenter, first batch caused bombs, the second was just off flavoured. Stopped using that fermenter and all other batches have been consistent.

Things I am curious about:

1. Does dry hopping make a big difference - have been too chicken to try it given infection risks?
2. Is a metal fermenter worth it - I use plastic carboys?
3. Anyone who moved from bottling, did you find it reduced oxidation/flavour significantly to keg, particularly under a CO2 blanket?
4. When am I going to start messing with water chemistry, air of inevitability. It seems to make a difference for some styles - bit of a rabbit hole here I know.
5. Are kegs worth the expense?

Anyway - those are a few things for me. Would be interested to hear what advice others would send back in time!
 

clayts

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Good post, thanks.

I've only got around 10 brews under the belt. A kit and kilo, a pimped up kits, some extracts and a couple AG BIAB (11L batches in my 19L BIG W pot).

I think I get what you are saying with trying to kinda buy right the first thing but what do you mean by converting your pot to a kettle?

Also, with regard to siphoning (which I also think is kinda painful and sometimes hard to get right without making a mess), couldn't you use a fermenter bucket as opposed to a carboy and just pour the wort without the trub in?
 

Narapoia

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Good post, thanks.

I've only got around 10 brews under the belt. A kit and kilo, a pimped up kits, some extracts and a couple AG BIAB (11L batches in my 19L BIG W pot).

I think I get what you are saying with trying to kinda buy right the first thing but what do you mean by converting your pot to a kettle?

Also, with regard to siphoning (which I also think is kinda painful and sometimes hard to get right without making a mess), couldn't you use a fermenter bucket as opposed to a carboy and just pour the wort without the trub in?

So my understanding is that once you drill a hole in your pot and install a ball valve tap it is then referred to as a kettle. That's basically what I did and set the intake for the tap at or just above the level that the trub usually settles to. The appeal of this is that you chill your wort post boil, give it 30 minutes to settle while you start cleaning and then you can just open the tap and transfer the cool wort to your fermenter. No trub, siphon, or mess and also save yourself some time as the tube/tap diameter is larger than the siphon.

The pot my GF bought me to start off with is 50L so can do larger batches and waiting around for the siphon is painful. Before I started with the siphon even being careful I found I couldn't pour the clear wort into the fermenter without either a lot of trub following it, or a really low yield.
 

jgriffin

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5. Are kegs worth the expense?
The shift from bottles to kegs is expensive yes, but is probably the one single thing that improved enjoyment of the hobby for me the absolute most. Plus.. being able to cold crash a beer, force carbonate it, and be drinking it a couple of hours later...
 

peteru

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In my opinion, the next stage is moving to a pressure capable fermenter and switching packaging from bottles to kegs. Not only is it more convenient, but it will improve the quality of your beer as it will be possible to do oxygen free transfers. I have a stainless steel kegmenter because that was the only reasonably priced option at the time, but I don't see any issues with choosing one of the Kegland plastic pressure fermenters.

Dry hopping - yes it does make a BIG difference. You can test it yourself by adding a hop pellet to a long neck, next time you bottle. Shake/invert that bottle every now and then as it carbonates and conditions, then let it sit undisturbed in the fridge for at least a couple of days before serving. Pour carefully to minimise the amount of hop material that ends up in the glass.

The most important part of water chemistry is de-chlorinating ALL your water used in brewing. This is relatively quick and easy. You can use either sodium metabisulphite (Campden tablets) or ascorbic acid (pure Vitamin C). That may be enough to take your brews up another notch. The next level would be probably getting a pH meter and getting into mineral and acid additions.
 

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