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.
 

Narapoia

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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.
I've been looking at the PET plastic pressure fermenters with some interest but held off as it appears they really work best when paired with a keg as per your advice. There are some plastic PET kegs as well available from iKegger that looked like they might be ok to start with as well - though thinking about my experience with equipment so far I do wonder if just paying more for the metal kegs from the beginning is the way to go when I take this step. I've read some mixed advice around beer not lasting as long in kegs as it does in bottles - has anyone noticed this in practice and why is it the case? If your seals are good it's still a sealed container with no oxygen and under CO2 pressure so seems like it should keep to the same extent. Once you tap the keg I guess it's a different story - more opportunity for air to get into the system.

Thanks for the tip on dry hopping - will 100% give that a go as de-risks the whole thing and get to test the results!

I de-chlorinate using Campden tabs - so next step is definitely going into the pH and mineral compositions. Seems to matter more for some styles more than others - so will maybe leave this till after doing kegs.

Thanks for the advice!
 

peteru

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If you use low O2 packaging techniques kegged beer can last a long time. To give you an example, I had a keg of Belgian Quad and was serving it over a period of about 14 months. It kept on maturing and getting better until it run out. I think the reason that kegged beer doesn't last as long is because it is so easy to walk past the tap and "Get just a bit in the glass". Combine that with the fact that it's not very obvious how much is left, so when you run out it tends to be a bit of a suprise and perhaps harder to accept. 😉
 

peteru

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As of today, good quality 19L stainless steel kegs are the way to go. That may change in the future if the plastic keg idea takes off and matures, but we are not there yet as of today.

Don't bother spending up on pressurised growlers or minikegs, it's a money pit and an exercise in frustration when compared to normal kegs.
 

jgriffin

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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 do O2 free transfers without getting into pressure fermenting.
 

peternew_za

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Single best thing I ever changed which had the highest impact to my beer quality and constancy was a beer fermentation fridge. Cheap or free fridge with a cheap temperature control was all I needed. I ferment most ales at 18c.
Kegs make life a lot easier.
 

Paddy Melon

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My two cents, 4 major noticeable improvements were, (1). Under sink water filtration system. (2). Temperature control ferment fridge. (3). Increased yeast additions (packets provided were usually under optimum so I always now make 2litre starters), (4). I bottle so I now purge with CO2 before capping, I did a test by setting aside 2 bottles that had not been purged with CO2 and compared them with purged bottles. Two people tested and both agreed there was a discernible difference with the purged bottles having a better aftertaste.
 

mynameisrodney

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The first 3 I did quite early:
1. Move to Starsan instead of sanitiser from LHBS
2. Get fermentation fridge for temp control
3. Dechlorinate my water

The 4th which I didn't start concentrating on for a few years was paying more attention to yeast pitch rates and health. It really wasnt on my radar for whatever reason. Once I started increasing my pitch rates, adding nutrient, and aerating/oxygenating my bigger beers I got a noticeable improvement and its super easy and cheap to do compared to other improvements. So looking back I wish I had started looking at that from the start.

Adjusting water chemistry for styles has also had a big improvement, but I don't regret leaving that for later on, as it's a bit more involved and it may have lead me to say "It's all too hard" and give up. This was ~18 years ago so there weren't as many simple to use resources at the time.
 

Narapoia

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Single best thing I ever changed which had the highest impact to my beer quality and constancy was a beer fermentation fridge. Cheap or free fridge with a cheap temperature control was all I needed. I ferment most ales at 18c.
Kegs make life a lot easier.
I was lucky enough to pick up a free fridge early on and got a cheap Inkbird temp controller to go with it. Recently it has started recording weird jumps and turning the compressor on momentarily which is not good for it so might get a more expensive unit. There are multiple threads on this defect on the internet and Inkbird do not care.
 

yankinoz

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My two cents, 4 major noticeable improvements were, (1). Under sink water filtration system. (2). Temperature control ferment fridge. (3). Increased yeast additions (packets provided were usually under optimum so I always now make 2litre starters), (4). I bottle so I now purge with CO2 before capping, I did a test by setting aside 2 bottles that had not been purged with CO2 and compared them with purged bottles. Two people tested and both agreed there was a discernible difference with the purged bottles having a better aftertaste.
In your experiment, what was the beer?
 

Paddy Melon

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In your experiment, what was the beer?
It was a blond lager. They were both nice but the purged bottles tasted fuller/rounder (Best way I can describe it) but it was immediately noticeable.
 

yankinoz

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It was a blond lager. They were both nice but the purged bottles tasted fuller/rounder (Best way I can describe it) but it was immediately noticeable.
Good choice for that test because subtle malt flavours should shine through. You could try the same experiment with a beer that has strong hop aroma, if you brew them.
 

GregTheBrewer

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Awesome post Narapola. I wish I had discovered this forum before I did my first brew! I could have seriously reduced my learning curve! In response to your questions:
1: Confirmed: dry hopping makes a BIG difference, and as long as you exercise normal care when you make your addition, there is no problem with infection. Sanitise anything that comes into contact with the hops before you add them, and you'll be good.
2: Metal fermenters are great: I have one and use it a lot. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with the old plastic ones...I still use them too, and provided your cleaning and sanitation technique is good, there is no reason to stop using them
3: No one could dispute that reducing oxygen exposure is beneficial for beer, and you will improve the flavour with CO2 purging. Once again though, careful bottling techniques can still result in an excellent product.
4: I would say to any new brewer...get a few brews under your belt and once you are confident with your techniques, definitely pull the trigger on water chemistry. I use Bru'n water...it is excellent, and if you fling Martin a donation he will give you free lifetime updates as he improves the program bit by bit. It makes it easy to figure out your mineral additions for different styles and grain bills. When you do this, buy one of those cheap little digital scales off Fleabay that measure up to 500g...you want sensitivity down to .01g for your measurements
5: Are kegs worth the expense? Yes. Get stainless steel kegs and look after them, and they will look after you for many years.

A few other things I would add...
  1. Dechlorination is paramount for extract brewing. The demon with chlorine is chlorophenols, which form during fermentation. You need to check with your local water authority to find out which chlorination method they use. If it is hypochlorite/chlorine itself, it will dissipate if you leave your water in an open container overnight. (If you are all grain brewing or BIAB, it won't matter, as boiling the wort will drive it off). If they use chloramine, you will still have to use campden tabs or similar as chloramine is not volatile. I was not aware of this with my first few extract brews...once you have tasted the "band-aid" off flavour resulting from chlorophenols, you will never forget it!
  2. Temperature control....cannot stress its importance enough. Get yourself a cheap second hand chest freezer and an STC-1000 controller (or a pre-made one if you don't want to wire it up) plus a heating belt. I use a thermowell inserted into the beer and put the temp probe in that, but you can just sit the probe in a good spot in the freezer. With this setup, you can dial in the temperature you want and just forget it, no matter what the outside temperature is. Temperature control is critical.
  3. Look after your yeast. Calculate yeast pitch rates using an online calculator to make sure you don't over or under pitch. Making a yeast starter is almost mandatory for liquid yeasts unless you don't mind the expense of multiple pouches. Dry yeast is pretty cheap, so I generally buy as many packets as needed...starters are generally not necessary for dry yeast.
  4. Be SUPER careful how long you leave your wort after it has chilled. As soon as the temperature of the wort drops below 100C, it is vulnerable to contamination. As a general rule, once it has cooled to pitching temp, the sooner it is in the fermenter and the yeast pitched, the better. If you whirlpool your wort during cooling, it will help concentrate the trub in the centre of the kettle to minimise transfer. As a general rule, the maximum I allow the wort to sit is 10 minutes for a hop stand if I have added flameout hops.
This is my two bobs worth, and I'm sure there are many other people out there with great advice to give. Above all, enjoy...it's a great hobby!
 

raybies

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With regard to equipment the only thing I regret is, using bottles, they all ended up in the recycling bin. And maybe the Fermzilla, as I've never used the bottom chamber and it adds height which means it doesn't fit in my fridge.

Good buy were those metal ball lock disconnects. I've got 4 kegs and 2 fermenters with ball locks and just 1 pluto gun. The plastic ones would get stuck sometimes, whereas the metal ones have been perfect.

Be SUPER careful how long you leave your wort after it has chilled.
I don't bother chilling to pitch temp now, I transfer to ss fermenter @ ~60c then put it in the fridge until perfect...24~30hrs later.
 
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yankinoz

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Re dechlorination, you wrote "If it is hypochlorite/chlorine itself, it will dissipate if you leave your water in an open container overnight. (If you are all grain brewing or BIAB, it won't matter, as boiling the wort will drive it off)."

[/QUOTE]

I've seen the overnight part in many places, but other sources say 24 hours may not be enough. Actual experiments with quantitative analyses are lacking, but it's likely that loss of chlorine would follow a levelling curve and vary with starting concentration, temperature and aeration (if any).

Re boiling the wort, don't count on it, anyone. Free chlorine is highly reactive and presumably combines very quickly with unsaturated organic compounds in grain or wort. None would be left to boil off. That AG brewers have reported the telltale off-flavours indicates that the resulting compounds survive boiling and react with phenols to form chlorophenols.

Myself, I BIAB, aerate some at the start and go with up to a 2 day stand in cold weather before mashing..
 

The Mack

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-Keep detailed notes about the brewery/ recipe/ fermentation: In hindsight you will understand what may have gone wrong with recipes/ ferments etc- the converse is also true and work out what is working well.
-Wish I'd no-chilled from the get go, still bring out the chiller- particularly in winter where tap water temp makes it quick and efficient, but I also like not having to be 100% ready with fermenter sanitation, yeast, fridge space etc.
-Research your yeast before it's time to pitch, know how much you are going to need, is it appropriate, what temps does it like to ferment at, will it flocc?, attenuation?
-Plan how you are going to control the ferment temp, fridge and temp controller being the obvious best choice.
-Buy once, cry once. You can get away doing things cheaply I.e BIAB with some cheap stockpots is great, knock out good beer, good to test the waters of if you will stick with the hobby for a bit. Things like the Brewzilla/Guten etc weren't around when I started but absolutely a game changer in terms of repeatability and being a lot more hands off on a brew day- if you have a young family this is worth the money you are spending several times over, and I 100% would have saved several hundred dollars for the various setups I built/cobbled together myself.
-Calibrate everything, get a decent thermometer to test temps against, measure and mark volumes, scales ETC., after half a dozen batches you will know your equipment and repeatability comes into play again.
-Kegging is so much easier, still bottle condition some English beers and usually the big ones (Belgian Tripels, Imperial stouts etc) but again buy once, cry once.
-The obvious one but triple sanitise everything.
 

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