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Help me improve my process (Pictures!)

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Hello all,

I wanted to create a thread detailing my entire process so I could hopefully improve it. I feel like 70% of my beers come out okay, 25% bad or flawed. And about 5% great. I want to increase the greatness! I also really want to simplify my process. Please feel free to add any questions, comments, or suggestions.

I have been brewing beer for almost 2 years with a 1 year hiatus in between. I have brewed approximately 35 batches of beer. Many have been on an ever changing system as I have re bought and re done my system. I currently do 2.5 or 3 gallon batches, and I am thinking of trying no chill. This is about my 4th brew on this exact set up. I had a lot of hiccups today which I will add. I took pictures to show, but I had to do them from my phone in one hand and brewing in the other. Today's Batch took about 5-6 hours to brew/clean.

Okay my recipe today is based off of NB's Oatmeal cookie BIAB.

Recipe: BIAB Oatmeal cookie

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 4.40 gal
Post Boil Volume: 3.65 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 3.00 gal   
Bottling Volume: 2.78 gal
Estimated OG: 1.067 SG
Estimated Color: 35.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 36.4 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 76.0 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt                   Name                                     Type          #        %/IBU         
5 lbs                 Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (3.0 SRM)           Grain         1        56.6 %       
1 lbs                 Munich Malt (9.0 SRM)                    Grain         2        11.3 %       
1 lbs                 Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM)                   Grain         3        11.3 %       
1 lbs                 Special B Malt (180.0 SRM)               Grain         4        11.3 %       
8.0 oz                Brown Malt (65.0 SRM)                    Grain         5        5.7 %         
5.3 oz                Pale Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM)               Grain         6        3.7 %         
1.00 oz               Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] - Boil 60.0 Hop           7        26.2 IBUs     
1.00 oz               Styrian Goldings [5.40 %] - Boil 10.0 mi Hop           8        10.3 IBUs     
0.06 oz               Cinnamon Stick (Boil 5.0 mins)           Spice         9        -             

Mash Schedule: BIAB mash at 154
Total Grain Weight: 8 lbs 13.3 oz

Okay to start. I used RO water and added 1 tsp of Calcium chloride to 5 gallons.

This is my 6 gallon stainless steel kettle and Banjo Burner. Once I added the tinfoil it helped the burner really work. Without the foil it would take twice as long to heat water.

Added what beer smith calculated to the kettle used a paint stir stick to measure. I start the banjo burner to get the water warming to mash temp.

Here is my grain storage, getting ready to measure my recipe and  mill.

I use this large kitchen bowl on top of my scale and measure my grain.

grains in the mill.

grinding at half speed.

Here is my crush I leave it at stock setting.

add the oats un milled

Now, I though I had enough grains for this recipe but I found out as I was measuring I did not and this is what my recipe turned into. This usually doesn’t happen but I bought these ingredients about 4 batches ago. Only a month or two ago tho.

Amt                   Name                                             
5 lbs                 Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (3.0 SRM)                   
9.7oz                 Munich Malt (9.0 SRM)                           
1 lbs                 Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM)                           
14.2oz                 Special B Malt (180.0 SRM)                     
8.0 oz                Brown Malt (65.0 SRM)                     
5 oz                Pale Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM)   

I checked my water temp and saw it was too hot when I was finished milling. This happens a lot I need to really lower my heat.

add some ice to cool it down.

grab my bag to line the kettle

add some 5.2 stabilizer to the grains prior to mashing in.

Ok I usually average about 1 degree loss per pound of grain. I am shooting for 154, but this is the temp I got to before I mashed in.

Mash in

stir well for any doughballs. I love how creamy this is looking. I hope the beer comes out creamy.

okay when I first mashed in I was around 156 so I needed to cool it down, I added some more ice and unfortunately got half a degree too low. I decided to let it sit here because I dont want to add heat to the bottom because im scared of melting the bag. I have a veggie steamer to put in the bottom. but im still scared of melting the bag so I dont use it.

I drape a snowboarding jacket over the top to help insulate.

I usually mash for 1 hour but I ended up letting this one go for 75 mins. Here is the ending temp.

pull out the bag. I will squeeze the bag try and get more out and I think this makes a difference. If I don’t squeeze it there is like 1/3 a gallon left in that sucker plus i'm sure lots of sugar. This is hot and sticky but it works.

heres the wort. Start the heat and get ready to test our pre boil gravity

Drop a bit onto the refractometer.

So the refractometer shows around 15 Brix which = 1.061

got the wort boiling. Sprayed with water to prevent boil over. Now time for our 60 min hops.

add them in

now about 30 minutes into the boil my propane tank runs out. I go ahead and switch the tanks and get it going again. In the mean time I took a refactometer sample to see how my boil off was effecting it. It came out to 17 Brix = 1.069. I was aiming for an OG of about 1.066 so I added some water (about 1/3  of a gallon) to compensate with the boil off. I know this could effect hop utilization but I wasn’t too worried.

20 minutes left add the wort chiller, no wirlfloc needed seeing as this is a dark beer.

I tasted the wort and it tasted pretty bitter so I waited to add my second hop addition at 5 minutes instead of 10. added in these.

I also added in a bit of nutrient

flame out dropped in 2 cinnamon sticks. They were a little old so I went with 2 instead of 1.

now my tap water dosent really get below 68 so I have added a pond pump the this bucket to suck water into the intercooler and then I can add ice near the end to get it down.

I stir the wort really good to get it moving around the intercooler and then spray some tin foil with starsand and cover up. I not worried about any DMS, plus its not completely tight.

get my carboy with sanitizer going.

I saved this ice packs from when I get shipped my yeast.

throw them into bucket to chill the wort down even more. At this point worts been chillen for about 25 mins.

while im waiting I went online to check my efficiency, and it came out good 74%. I average between 70-80%

I dump the water out of the carboy into this tub to sanitize my other stuff. O2 injector and funnel and airlock. The wort cooled to 68 and I dumped it into the carboy with the funnel.

one of the cinnamon sticks got stuck in the funnel. Kinda like a hop back but for cinnamon lol.

there she is.

check out mr malty pitching rate calculator. Now. Seeing as I usually only make half batches 2.5 I dont use a starter I just use one tube of liquid yeast. I like not having to make starter as it saves time. I also usually make worts around 1.040-1.50 so it seems okay to me. Seeing as I do this, I decided to use 2 tubes of Cal Ale. I didnt have Nottingham or NB's neobritania.

I know im over pitching here a bit.

I use whats left at the bottom of the kettle to take a hydro reading. To my surprise it was lower than I expected! Dont know what happened there, bummer. Oh well 1.062 will do. Also the sample did not taste at all like cinnamon so I will probably add some to the keg.

add about a minute of O2 and slosh it around.

put it in the ferm fridge with the johnson controller set to 67 and let it sit.

I checked the beer about 12 hours later and didnt notice sings of fermentation. I checked again 24 hours after pitching and I had a nice layer of brown bubbles on the top.

I plan to let it go for a full 2 weeks and then see if its dropped clear. Then keg it up.

Ok and that's all folks!


Looks like fun! And like you have your system down well.

BTW the 5.2 stabilizer isn't really necessary. The experts don't seem to think it's worth much in regards to effectiveness. 

You have some good things going in your set up and procedures.

I like the foil on the kettle idea - might try that.

Measuring the mash pH would be a good step.

I agree with Euge on the 5.2. Read what the local expert has to say, Special Note in section 2.1.

Edit - you really did a fine job with the pictures and laying out the process for us, along with a recipe that had targets. Thanks for that.

Wow, super detailed! If your process is getting you consistent results, I say stick with it. Maybe too much water was added dropping the gravity to 1.062, but that isn't so bad. The only thing there I would say is to make more preboil wort, although it looks like you are maxing out your kettle volume...

As far as process simplicity, you seem to be all over it!

When you say 25% of your batches are lack luster, what makes them seem that way? Are there noticeable flaws? I am WAY more critical of my own beer than any other. I tend to beat myself up over nothing :)

My only comment is on squeezing the grain bag... I don't BIAB, but my understanding is that you could get some tannins from squeezing the grains. Otherwise, your process looks very similar to mine.


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