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Advancing Homebrewing

Upgrading Equipment, Recipe Development, and Moving on with Homebrewing

Once the basics of brewing have been mastered, the sky is the limit for how you want to continue with brewing. Homebrewing has a wide variety of available equipment and ingredient options, allowing you to brew in any kind of specific setup desired.

For example, some brewers, through preference or lack of excess space, will brew in their kitchen using kits. They may decide to brew smaller-sized (1 or 2 gallon), full-volume boil all-grain batches, or they may brew 5 gallon, partial-boil, extract batches. Others, with more available space, may brew outside, making 5 or 10 gallon batches, using either all-grain or extract, depending on preference.

When choosing how to upgrade equipment, keep in mind ideal batch sizes you’d prefer, your available brewing space, and preferred method of brewing. Additionally, many equipment upgrades are mostly tailored around convenience of use, and (provided you have good processes), won’t necessarily make or break your brews. For example, large kettles with valves towards the bottom allow you to easily empty the kettle after the boil into a fermentation vessel. Fermentation vessels with valves towards the bottom allow you to easily move the beer into your bottling bucket or keg without siphoning. 

Upgrading Equipment – Size, Space, and Method

With regards to batch size, keep in mind common beer styles you enjoy the most, as well as the typical amount of beer consumed at home. For example, if you love hoppy beers, and prefer to brew and drink mainly IPAs, but don’t think you can drink 5 gallons of IPA before hops aromas and flavors fade, you may consider opting into 2 ½ gallon or smaller sized batches. Conversely, if you prefer malt-oriented beers, you may consider brewing 5 gallon batches, as these beers will typically become more complex as they age.

Many brewers prefer to brew in smaller batch sizes, as the equipment needed is minimal, and they can brew more often allowing for a larger variety of beers to made and easy experimentation of new ingredients.

Available space will also help inform your typical batch size. For example, if you tend to have friends over often, and have a large amount of space to work with, you may consider brewing outside, with a propane burner, and brew larger sized batches. Typical sizes for outdoor setups are 5 or 10 gallons, but can get up to 25 or 30 gallons.

The method of brewing you prefer will have an impact on batch size and brewing space. Typically, all-grain batches will take up more space, while extract batches will take up less space. They may not always be the case, however. All-grain, if done using a Brew-in-a-bag (or BIAB) method, takes up about as much space in the kitchen as extract would. In this method, a large grain bag is used to hold all the grains. The grains are mashed in this bag in a large kettle. The bag and kettle both act as mash and lauter tuns.

Keep in mind, no matter which specific method you choose, good beer can be brewed provided you have good process control. Extract, partial mash, and all grain all have their positive and negative attributes.

Extract brewing is convenient, as brews can be completed in only a couple hours. Equipment required is minimal, and the brewer still has good control over how the beer will turn out. On the other hand, using specific base malts or special grains is not possible with extract, unless that type of extract exists. For example, making a Vienna lager using Vienna malt as the base grain is not possible, as Vienna extract does not currently exist.

All grain brewing allows complete control over the beer, and gives the brewer to fine-tune many different minute aspects of their beer. For example, using different base malts, mashing in different ways, and using different minerals for the beer will all have pronounced effects on the finished brew.

The downside of all-grain brewing is twofold; with the ability to have full control over the brew comes a much larger chance for errors to occur on brewday. Also, additional equipment is needed, based on the specific method of all-grain brewing. At least, a large enough kettle for a full-volume boil is needed, as well as a burner with enough heat output to boil the wort. As mentioned previously, brew-in-a-bag brewing is a convenient way to being all-grain brewing, as the required equipment is minimal.

Partial mash brewing offers the brewer the ease of extract brewing, with the expandability of all-grain brewing. Additionally, the “challenge” of the brew can be impacted by the proportion of extract to grains. Extract brewers can easily mash a pound or two of grain to accentuate a specific malt flavor. All-grain brewers may, for high-alcohol brews that require more space for grains than their system can handle, use a percentage of gravity to top up to the needed original gravity.

Also, to keep in mind with method, is the amount of time your brew day will require. Extract batches can be brewed in 2-3 hours, while all grain can take upwards of 6 hours, depending on the specific equipment and methods being used.

Partial boils are a great way to easily increase batch size without investing in larger equipment. A concentrated wort is made, then diluted to the intended volume. Be careful with this method, however. You want to avoid over-diluting your wort, otherwise you may end up with diluted flavor. Typically, for 5 ¼ gallons of wort in the fermenter, 3 – 3 ½ gallons of wort is boiled.

With partial-boils, also keep in mind hop utilization will be lower. Utilization refers to the actual amount of isomerization of alpha acids during the length of the boil. Generally, the higher the gravity of the wort, the less isomerization will occur, leading to less utilization of hops. Therefore, partial-boil beers may end up being less bitter then the same recipe brewed as a full-volume boil. This will usually only have a large impact on high-gravity beers. For this reason, barley wines, imperial stouts, and double IPAs are best brewed with a full-volume boil.

Recipe Development

The process of developing your own recipes can be complicated for the beginner, as it takes a firm understanding of ingredients, with regards to flavors, dosage, and appropriateness. Developing a “gut instinct” will help in the long run. Developing this is best done by consulting tried-and-true sources, and as well as a bit of trial-and-error. A good key to keep in mind when starting out is balance; try to keep malts and hops balanced, not letting the beer be too bitter or too sweet. As you get more experience with recipe development, you’ll learn what you prefer, and can tune your recipes more for your own tastes.

For starting off, How to Brew and Designing Great Beers both provide good, solid information to work off. The former will give some basic information on what a recipe will look like; and it has very detailed ingredient information. The latter is much more tailored to perfecting recipes, and looks at the recipes of award-winning beers on a style-by-style basis.

For building recipes, Beersmith 2 is widely seen as the most accurate brewing program available. Ingredients can be added and played with, and direct results are seen immediately. Once your equipment setup has been put into the system, accurate results can be attained. Keep in mind this program, and any other calculator out there, will never be completely, 100% accurate. There are an incredible number of variables that all control how the beer will turn out. Make sure you keep good, detailed notes on your beers, so you can account for variance when building recipes, and on brew days.

 Finally, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) lists all beer styles, and gives detailed information with regards to OG, FG, ABV, IBUs, SRM, as well as how the beer should smell, taste, and feel on the palate. This is an excellent resource for making sure the recipe being put together falls within ideal guidelines. For beginning brewers, sticking to these guidelines will help prevent errors. As you become more familiar with what works and what doesn’t, you can begin to veer away from specific styles and begin formulating the next big beer craze in the beer community!