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I made this wiki to allow folks to post what upgrades in process or equipement really take one's beer brewing to the next level. The bottle-necks to better and better brewing if you will. (This was inspired be a couple comments on another post).

Where have you experienced large leaps in your beer's quality?

This is a community wiki post. Anyone with 100 or more reputation may edit the question and any answer. Editors get no reputation points for votes.

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Can you list suggestions for how to control fermentation temperature? I pitched the yeast into my current batch at 69F and once the fermentation reached the violent stage, the LCD thermometer read 75F. This was in a 69F closet. –  JackSmith Feb 25 '10 at 14:27
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I've significantly revised the question and moved the suggestions you provided to individual answers. This way voting can bubble up the most popular steps and people will feel more like they can add their own suggestions. –  Dean Brundage Feb 25 '10 at 14:41
    
Looks good and good reasoning, thanks Dean –  brewchez Feb 25 '10 at 14:45
    
This is a great post, and thanks for making it a community wiki. –  Dean Brundage Feb 25 '10 at 14:45
    
I'm a huge fan of this question. –  hookedonwinter Feb 25 '10 at 16:38

16 Answers 16

Temp Control for fermentation

Hitting the happy-yeast zone prevents high-temperature off-flavors like phenolics and low-temperature under attenuation.

There is a separate community wiki post on this subject.

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This is on my short list of must-haves for getting good, consistent beer. Can't vote for my own posts, so consider this my upvote. –  Dean Brundage Feb 25 '10 at 14:45
    
weird. that link doesn't go where it looks like it should. –  baka Dec 15 '10 at 13:56
    
I think I've corrected the link, looks like it was broken in merging brewadvice into homebrew –  STW Dec 15 '10 at 19:50

Patience

For me, this mostly applies to fermentation. Allow it to complete then wait a few more days. After packaging chill undisturbed for at least two weeks so suspended particles fall to the bottom. Like a good soup or pasta sauce, give the flavors a chance to mingle and mellow.

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I really like this one. –  brewchez Feb 25 '10 at 16:22
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This is one of the hardest to learn when you have gallons of delicious homebrew waiting to be drunk. –  Dean Brundage Feb 25 '10 at 17:10
    
This is one of the hardest "techniques" to learn when you have gallons of delicious homebrew waiting to be drunk. –  Dean Brundage Feb 25 '10 at 17:11
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get more equipment and brew again a couple of times, and it's less of an issue. :) –  baka Dec 15 '10 at 13:55
    
This one is really hard to learn! –  Poshpaws Jul 1 '11 at 9:54

Yeast Managment

Yeast produce different flavors during the phases in their lifecycle. Pitching the right quantity of healthy yeast is in the top two most important things you can do to control fermentation

  • Ester production occurs most strongly during the growth phase, when you first pitch.
  • Yeast uses oxygen to bud (grow). Insufficient aeration leads to incomplete fermentation.
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voted up for the aeration comment....v important –  Arlo427 Feb 25 '10 at 20:41

Using a Wort Chiller

This has a few advantages:

  • Better cold break
  • Less chance for unwanted organisms to get a foothold
  • Minimizes the time wort is in the DMS-precursor-producing temperature range
  • Better retention of Hop aromatics and flavor
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This was one of the points where my homebrews took a noticeable leap in quality. –  Dean Brundage Feb 25 '10 at 14:48
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If you're still at the stage where you're doing partial boils of extract recipes, this isn't quite so necessary. I've got my cooling-method down pretty good where I fill my sink with ice-cold water, set the brew pot into it, and gently stir the wort while the faucet tricles into the sink, allowing the water to stay cold. The sink overflows into the other sink. My 3 gallon boils cool down to 75F in about 20 minutes and I get decent cold break, even from extract. –  JackSmith Feb 25 '10 at 15:37
    
+1 JackSmith's comment about the relative ease of cooling partial boils. –  Dustin Rasener Dec 21 '11 at 22:51
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I have a hard time getting over the water waste created here. In my city, dumping ~15 minutes of water flow is pretty much illegal. Any suggestions? –  Michael Mus Jun 19 '13 at 19:26

Reading How to Brew

By John Palmer. It's available to read online for free, or you can buy a hard copy. How to Brew is an amazing book for beginners to read and experts to reference. No brewer should go without reading it.

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Buy a copy! The third edition has updated and additional data not on the website. Also, John is a huge part of moving homebrew forward, and buying 10$ book to support him supports us all. –  dana Dec 21 '11 at 21:45
    
It's worth noting, his online version is not the latest edition. I think it's the first edition, and not nearly as comprehensive. I believe as of this comment, his book is on its third edition, and he's currently working on a 4th edition. –  Scott Jun 17 '13 at 16:18

Full Wort Boils

Boiling your full volume of wort — as opposed to boiling a concentrated portion of your wort and then adding water to the fermenter to reach your full volume — will significantly increase your hop utilization rates. Your hops simply cannot perform to their full potential in the high sugar concentration of a partial boil. Your IBUs will much better match the recipe's predictions if you perform a full-volume boil.

Full wort boils also helps prevent darkening of wort color. Full wort boils help keep your blonde ales from being golden ales and your pales from being ambers. Concentrated boils tend to promote more Maillard reactions within the wort, thus darkening the final beer slightly.

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Most of the disadvantages of a partial boil are mitigated by adding much of the malt extract at the end of the boil. –  Dustin Rasener Dec 21 '11 at 22:49
    
also, it is now widely debated how much utilization differs between extract, PM, and all-grain brewing. This podcast has some of the best palettes in the beer world and they detected more hop flavor, aroma, and bitterness (with the same additions, time and weight) in brews other than the all-grain - beersmith.com/blog/2011/02/10/… –  Pietro Mar 8 '12 at 14:46

Reading Designing Great Beers

By Ray Daniels. It's packed full of principles and practicalities.

Buy it on Amazon

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Could we change this to just "Reading respected brewing books?" How to Brew is an amazing book for beginners to read and experts to reference. We could then list books by name underneath the heading. I don't want to just make this change unless it's appreciated. –  JackSmith Feb 25 '10 at 15:44
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I think I'd actually rather see books listed seperatly just to see how they are valued. Actually, maybe a new question about books for voting each one would be cool... but its probably redundant with this thread now. –  brewchez Feb 25 '10 at 16:26
    
Fair enough. I'll add it as an answer. We can delete these comments. –  JackSmith Feb 25 '10 at 16:34
    
Homebrewing Meta I might link all those books to our amazon account. just FYI. –  hookedonwinter Feb 25 '10 at 16:38
    
Of all the brewing books I have read, this one really stands out to me. That's why I listed it individually. Homebrewing Meta I didn't link to their Amazon pages because I figured people could find it at their favor bookstore & I didn't want to play favorites. [/meta] –  Dean Brundage Feb 25 '10 at 16:52

Write down everything you do. Don't kid yourself into thinking "I don't have to write this down, I'll remember", because you won't remember. The better you are about this, the easier it will be to do things repeatably. What temperature did you mash at? (not what temperature did the recipe say to mash at). What was the {pre,post} boil gravity, What was the {pre,post} boil volume. When did the hops go in. How long did chilling the wort take. What was the gravity after X days of fermentation...

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I started taking pictures of EVERYTHING during my brew days. It was much easier for me to keep track of everything, and I can put the pics on the computer in a folder organized by date of all my brew days. I take pics of my hydrometer, thermometer, mash, boil, etc. This, coupled with writing things down really helps you find ways to improve your process, and maintain consistency between brews. –  jsmith Dec 11 '12 at 13:25
    
Photos are a great idea. –  Paolo Jan 22 '13 at 15:38

Repitition, Repitition, Repitition

The biggest leap in quality and consistency for myself was setting up an area where the brewing process becomes routine. This has many benifits, the biggest of which is an increase on success rate for a clean, uninfected home brew.

Think of it as almost a production line. I'm lucky enough to have a room i can dedicate exclusivly to brewing.

  • Starting off with a sanitization area where all my equipment can be cleaned and preped for use. This surface is the height of my "Strike zone" (the area at which tasks are carried out with the least amount of strain on the body). The advantage here is a relativly effortless cleaning process that cuts down cleaning time, but most of all makes it easier to fight the urge to cut corners which could lead to ruining my brew.
  • Next to this is a shelf where my tray of sanitized equipment, wort, yeast and any other ingredients can lay as I start the primary. which is already at the level (Strike Zone) required for racking into the carboy later.
  • Underneith this station hides said carboy which was cleaned with the other equipment at the start of fermentation and sealed. Now when the primary is finished I sanitize, rinse and rack. When in the carboy, the primary and all used equipment have been cleaned and stored underneith, where the carboy once sat.
  • Finally we have our cabinet of clean bottles waiting to be filled. They're pre-cleaned and ready for sanitation. Grolsch bottles of course, so no caps or machine required for capping.

Perhaps this sounds extensive? The scale of this 'massive' production line is a whopping 8" at most. It may sound silly to have such a setup but...

  • im never out of arms reach from anything I need for each process. So there is no searching for that elusive bottle of Diversol or running off because I forgot something.
  • Eliminates transporting my freshly sanitized equipment from my bathroom/kitchen to my brew station and collecting any nasties along the way.
  • All of the work becomes much easier, so starting a batch requires about as much thought as cracking a bottle from the last brew.
  • Last but not least: Ive increased my seccess rate and consistency
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Going All-Grain

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I know AG lets you make a wider variety of beers and gives you a greater control of the process. But I wouldn't say it's a step that immediately leads to higher quality beer. There's a learning curve with AG. At the end of it you might be making better beer, but for a while you may struggle. –  Hopwise Dec 16 '10 at 15:56
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I think going all grain has a much lower impact than proper fermentation, knowledge, sanitation, and pretty much everything else. You can get away with DME and a partial mash for many beers, leaving you time and money to focus on more important parameters. –  dana Dec 21 '11 at 21:43
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Frankly, to tell a new brewer (since almost all brewers start as extract or partial-mash) that they will be brewing inferior beers so long as they don't do all-grain is as misleading as it is flat out untrue. There's been a lot of award winning extract beers. I'd be discouraged if an all-grain brewer told me I'll never amount to good beer if I don't drop all the cash necessary to go all-grain. That kind of misguided perception needs to stop. –  Scott Jun 17 '13 at 16:16

Sourcing the freshest ingredients (especially extracts)

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This isn't quite as important to me. I've made some good beer with stale malt. With the possibly exception of really old hops, the difference between fresh & stale ingredients is small. Can't vote for my own posts, so this is my down-vote. –  Dean Brundage Feb 25 '10 at 14:47
    
I used to have trouble with poor quality LME (meaning old). I switched to DME because of better shelf life properties. So this one is important to me. –  brewchez Mar 5 '10 at 16:08

Good Vorlauf

Once you've gone all-grain improving your recirculation will leave proteins in the mash. This increases beer clarity.

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Getting a nice clear sweet wort is a point of pride for me. –  Dean Brundage Feb 25 '10 at 14:52
    
I like a nice clear pint as well. Does recirc really clean up proteins in particular? I thought it was just solids in general. –  brewchez Feb 25 '10 at 16:27
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When I have collected all the sweet wort there is always a grey, scummy protein layer on the top of my grainbed. This forms during vorlauf because the grainbed is fine enough to capture large protein clumps. –  Dean Brundage Feb 25 '10 at 16:54
    
I've always thought that grey layer on top of the grainbed was grain dust. –  Jeff Roe May 17 '13 at 4:07
    
Vorlauf improves your efficiency (maybe) but not necessarily the quality of your beer. BIAB requires no vorlauf (and no sparge) and can result in excellent beer. And if you have a enough water and a fine crush you can easily get efficiency over 75%. –  paul Jul 10 '13 at 20:03

Know your water report & filter/treat your water to style

There's a good reason Ireland is known for their stouts and the Czech Republic is known for their Pils. They brew beers best suited for their water based on the minerals in them. At the very least, owe it to your beer to filter it through a charcoal filter, or add campden tablets to clear up chlorine if your water is treated. The largest ingredient in your beer is water. Treating it to get rid of chlorine or whatever well-water bugs exist and treating it to get the right pH and alkalinity is what separates good beers from great beers. Get a copy of your water report, know how to read it, and if you want to brew to style, make adjustments using various salts.

If you're doing an all-grain mash, use 5.2 pH stabilizer. Some brewers contest that 5.2 will add a salty flavor to the beer, while other proponents of 5.2 defend that it does not. The alternative is to add comparable salts to bring the pH down. Believe it or not, you'll get more tannins out of your grains from a higher than normal pH than what you'll typically get out of boiling your grains or squeezing the grain bag during a BIAB or partial-mash. Classic decoction mashing would involve brewers separating out a portion of the mash into a separate kettle, bring it to a boil, then add it back in to the main mash tun to bring the mash temperature up to the next decoction.

For all-grain brewing, knowing your water and filtering/treating it appropriately is an absolute must in order to brew excellent beers.

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Good answer, but pH 5.2 is pretty rank stuff. Used in the quantity needed to bring hard water into line it will make the beer taste salty. –  mdma Jun 17 '13 at 15:28
    
Oddly enough, I never had that problem, and I've been consistently using it. Maybe my quantities are off? –  Scott Jun 17 '13 at 15:42

Using a glass carboy for fermentation instead of plastic pail

Especially necessary for long-term secondary fermentations/maturing of beer in order to prevent oxidation since glass is not permeable by oxygen, whereas plastic is.

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Oxygenating the Wort and use of Yeast (Micro)Nutrients

This made a noticeable difference to my beers, especially those over 1.070.

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Replaced mash tun washer hose with stainless false bottom

I took the stainless water hose out of my 10 gallon Rubbermaid mash tun and upgraded with a stainless steel false bottom. With the washer hose, there was channeling when fly sparging, but now it works great, and it increased my efficiency greatly. I also noticed that the vorlauf goes much faster with minimal loss in temperature over the washer hose. This might not have much of an effect on the end product, but saved me a lot of time an money due to a better method and resulting increase in efficiency.

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