Friday, July 20, 2012

Advice for a more efficient brew day and (possibly) better homebrew

When I was first introduced to homebrewing, my Dad used a soup pot for his lauter tun, mash tun and  boiling kettle. He never made a yeast starter, and he let his beer ferment in the basement (an area whose temperature fluctuated depending on the number of heat sources that were in use or present). The brewing sessions were often long and laborious. In addition, we left a lot if things up to chance such as whether or not we pitched enough yeast, the temperature of the environment were the wort fermented was never monitored, and we guessed when a beer should be transferred to a secondary fermenter. This is not to say that my Dad's brewing habits always resulted in beer that was not enjoyable. Rather, his beer would turn out good, and it continues to do so, but I always thought it could be better.

These days, I am brewing on my own. I use a few different pots for my 'tuns' and boil kettle, I use a wort chiller, I make yeast starters, and I keep my fermenting wort in a closet. My beer turns out alright (some turn out really well), but the brew sessions are often long. 

With the aspirations of a more efficient brew day and better beer driving me, I recently sought out the council of a homebrewer that is far more experienced and knowledgeable than I - Michael Tonsmeire (aka @MadFermentation).

Specifically, I asked him what he would recommend a homebrewer add to their homebrewing setup if they want to improve their homebrewing experience. I also asked him what he thinks  is the most important addition a homebrewer can make to their brewing setup.

Michael responded with the following info:

I think early on the most important things to acquire is temperature controlled fermentation. Fermentation is much more important than wort production until you are making very good beers. 
Wort chillers fall into the same category since they allow you to pitch at the right temperature. 

Mills are a real cost saver if you don't mind buying malt in bulk. Same deal with a vacuum sealer (Food Saver) if you want to buy hops in bulk.

A few things that I put off until recently that have made my brewing life much easier:refractometer (quick easy gravity readings on brew day), and Erlenmeyer flask (quick starters). Not necessary for making good beer, but nice to have.

The advanced stuff (conical fermentor, plate chiller, hop-back, automated mash contols etc.) are fun, but they really aren't necessary to make terrific beer.

After reading Michael's response, I realized that besides a wort chiller, I do not have/utilize temperature controls beyond the thermostat in my home. With this realization in mind, I began searching the internet for a few things I could make/acquire to help control the fermentation temperature of my fermenting wort. It seems that those most surefire way to control your wort is to have a dedicated fridge to which you can add/install a temperature controller (example 1, example 2).

If you do not have a fridge dedicated for fermenting wort, allow me to recommend the a Brew Your Own article on this very subject. Said article can be found here. It covers the a few DIY options as well as some pricey options. It is a good read with some good suggestions.

Also, should you prefer receiving your knowledge via video, Northern Brewer made the video below on controlling fermentation temperature.

NOTE. Mr. Tonsmeire's website is listed below: It contains a lot of great reads and after enjoying a few posts you will want to stop reading and start brewing beer. So, get to his website and start reading!

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