Author Topic: Honing Your Skills  (Read 2433 times)

Offline lizaambler

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Honing Your Skills
« on: January 16, 2017, 01:47:58 PM »
While I do have three all grain batches that are decent (one is quite good IMHO,) I am wondering how to improve. I'm not much for joining homebrew groups or clubs. I think I need to get more precise. So far, my attitude has been one of "well cavemen brewed beer so it's actually pretty hard to mess it up." So, my first question is, how do you folks measure your volume of wort accurately to figure brewhouse efficiency? How do you carefully measure volumes of water? And secondly, is there a sort of written program or class that you can follow to get better? For example, try making X first. If you can do that, try making Y, which will help you with these particular skills. Etc. etc. I hope that makes sense. Thanks all!

Offline GS

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2017, 02:20:17 PM »
A few things you can do...

Use brewing software such as Brewers Friend or Brewsmith. I use Brewer's Friend myself, and it gives me my water calculations based on water to grist ratio, length of boil, and system losses.

Read John Palmer's How to Brew. Great step by step information.

As far as what style to start with, make a few SMaSh beers at session strength. From there you can work your way up to more "complicated" recipes with 7 different grains and multiple hops additions.

And sanitation, of course.

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Offline el_capitan

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2017, 02:34:47 PM »
Congrats on getting started with the hobby - it sounds like you're interested in the continuous learning aspect of brewing, as well as the historical and experimental sides.  Cool!

As for measuring water, I picked up a metal yardstick.  It's aluminum, I'm pretty sure.  I measure the volume and gravity of my wort pre-boil.  I had to add water to my kettle a gallon at a time and measure the height change.  With my kettle, it turns out that each gallon add 1.5" of height (I'm lucky it came out so even).  So now I can just dip in my yardstick and divide the measurement by 1.5 to get volume.  Keep in mind that boiling wort expands about 4% from a cool state, so I also tend to multiply that result by .96 to get a true volume. 

Then it's just a matter of  Volume x Gravity = total points extracted.  Compare your extraction to total points of gravity added through grains and adjuncts, and you'll get your efficiency. 

I carefully measure water volumes in a similar way:  First I had to add carefully measured volumes to a plastic water cooler carboy (aka Culligan jug).  Then I marked the level at each gallon with a Sharpie.  I divided out the distance between the full gallon and made incremental markings at each 1/4 gallon.  So I can either pour or rack from those jugs and know how much water I'm adding. 

One great resource for getting started is "Brewing Classic Styles" by John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff.  I have brewed about 20 of the recipes and have enjoyed all of the beers.  This will help you hone your technique while brewing proven recipes.  You should also download the free version of Bru'nWater, which will get you started on water chemistry in an easy way.

I learned a lot (and still do) from spending time on forums like this one.  The Northern Brewer forum used to be really great, but with recent website reboots and shake-ups, a lot of the more knowledgeable folks have migrated over here.  I think the NB forum focuses more on beginning brewers, so you might find that really helpful.  I think this forum tends to push the edge of brewing a bit more, and has a focus on higher-level brewing topics which may not be as useful and accessible for newer brewers.  Still, you won't be ridiculed for asking questions here, so ask away and then get ready for a flood of advice.

Finally, depending on where you live, you might have the opportunity to meet up with other brewers and learn from them.  Northern Brewer has lots of free class options, and they're a good source of info.  You can't always count on the info you get from your local homebrew shops. 

I guess that's enough to get you started.  Again, welcome!  Good luck.

Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2017, 02:41:22 PM »
So, my first question is, how do you folks measure your volume of wort accurately to figure brewhouse efficiency? How do you carefully measure volumes of water?


Aside from the good advice, being able to hit water and wort volumes pretty accurately is important to being able to get the beer you're after.

1/  As for measuring water volumes accurately, I use a plastic pitcher with graduated increments to hit the odd amounts. For example, if I want to mash with 5.1 gallons I add the 5 gallons (filled in jugs from a store's reverse osmosis water machine) and measure out around 12 oz of additional water in the pitcher (128 oz in a gallon X .1).

2/ Enter your water and batch volumes in software accurately, to ensure that you're using the correct amount of grain to hit your target OG. Once you've brewed a batch you'll need to figure your efficiency so that you can account for future batches.

3/  To measure your mash and sparge runoffs, it's easy to take a piece of wooden dowel rod and add increments of 1/2 gallon at a time to your kettle and make marks on the rod with a sharpie. If you're consistently collecting too much or not enough wort in your kettle, adjust water volumes accordingly.

4/  Account for grain absorption and dead space in your mash tun. Take your total lbs of grain for the batch and multiply by .12. This is the amount of water in gallons to be absorbed by your grain (and lost forever). As for dead space, it's the amount of wort that cannot be drained out of your mash tun and is lost. You'll need to add the exact amount of water to your target mash runoff to account for absorption and dead space. This will help you hit your volumes accurately.


It takes some practice but master these skills and you'll be able to control your volumes (and therefore your process) better. Good luck!
« Last Edit: January 16, 2017, 02:55:30 PM by HoosierBrew »
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Offline lizaambler

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2017, 02:45:07 PM »
How would brewing with a single malt and a single hops help me? I have already brewed a few all grain batches. Is it that you have to be more precise with SMASH because there's only one malt and one hops? That there are fewer malts in which to hide any errors? I do use Beersmith; I've got John Palmer's book, too. The styles I've made so far in whole grain are (in order) Black IPA, an Imperial Stout (with peppers and chocolate,) and an American Barleywine (that is hopefully a clone of Backwoods Bastard.)

Offline el_capitan

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2017, 02:50:07 PM »
Brewing bigger beers like RIS and barleywine are challenging and probably not representative of how your system works in a regular setting.  I always have low and fairly unpredictable efficiencies with bigger beers.  A simpler beer like a SMASH might help you get to know your system better.  I have really enjoyed a SMASH with Vienna malt and Centennial hops. 

Offline lizaambler

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2017, 02:54:07 PM »
That makes sense. I do have Jamil's book "Brewing Classic Styles," so maybe I'll pick a beer with fewer malts and hops that's also a session beer. Unfortunately, that's not a style I like that much. Is it at least a good sign that I've hit my target OG on the beers I've made so far? Or did I just get lucky? :)

Offline el_capitan

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2017, 03:55:08 PM »
Nice job on hitting those high OG's.  I always have some light DME on hand in case I need to boost gravity on those big beers.  Did you hit your intended volume as well as your OG?  I guess that's the true test, eh?  Knowing preboil gravity will allow you to adjust your boil intensity or add gravity points as needed to hit your intended OG. 

Offline kgs

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2017, 04:25:02 PM »
That makes sense. I do have Jamil's book "Brewing Classic Styles," so maybe I'll pick a beer with fewer malts and hops that's also a session beer. Unfortunately, that's not a style I like that much. Is it at least a good sign that I've hit my target OG on the beers I've made so far? Or did I just get lucky? :)

I have kettles, one for water and one for wort, and I have wooden spoons "calibrated" to their volume in gallon markings. From my own experience, I suggest brewing styles you like, and re-brewing a recipe you like repeatedly, which is where I pinned down some areas to focus on. Only introduce one process change at a time (I was terrible at that for years, and I'm still bad about documenting when I make a change). Use decent tools, and test and calibrate them (I just calibrated my hydrometer for the first time in years, and it's at 1.001, close enough.) Gently stir your wort before measuring your preboil gravity. And even if you aren't a joiner, going to  local club talks and tastings could introduce you the "visuals" of a process you have only read about.
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Offline JJeffers09

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2017, 04:28:08 PM »
Picking beer styles that are difficult because of their simplicity.  Something that does not hide fermentation flaws, or clarity, head retention etc.  I am sure Helles is good style to find your flaws so to speak.

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Offline lizaambler

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2017, 04:48:59 PM »
I didn't measure my volume, so there's no way to know how close I got. I would expect I was way off because when I measured my preboil gravity before adding my third sparge, it was a little light. Because of that, I didn't add the last bit of sparge water. In my past three all grain beers, the chocolate pepper stout was the only one that got close to the 5 gallon mark on my carboy. Coincidentally or not, it's also my best beer. Do any of you weigh your water or wort to try to estimate volume?

Offline Visor

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2017, 06:33:47 PM »
   If your boil kettle doesn't have a site-glass or internal markings then some sort of storey pole is probably your best bet, whether it's a measuring stick or a spoon with markings. One thing I found that has turned out to be way handy is a 4 liter polycarbonate measuring pitcher that is available from several of the online outfits. Turns out that the factory gradations on my BK's site-glass were off by more than half a gallon.
   As for using SMaSH beers for your experimenting, the advantage is that with only one malt and one kind of hops, when you substitute one or the other for a different grain or hop the difference in flavor is more pronounced.
   I have a lot of experimenting I want/need to do and am going to shift to small batches [1 or 2 gallons] for a while so I can run test and control batches at the same time. I currently am restricted from any heavy lifting, and more importantly I'd rather not invest 20 pounds of grain and a ton of hops in each experiment. I suspect that smaller batches will also go a bit quicker than 5 to 8 gallon ones.
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Offline lizaambler

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2017, 06:51:48 PM »
Yeah - I'm pretty sure I'm going to switch to 3 gallon batches myself. I doubt I'll go to BIAB, but if I royally screw up, 3 gallons is better than 5. Not to mention the heavy lifting! I imagine I'll still use my outdoor burner and keep everything else equal to get a good idea of efficiency. Now I just need to find a Helles/Maibock that I will like. Think I would get something out of the experience if I added some peach or some other fruit? Or should I just keep it simple?

Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2017, 06:56:55 PM »
Think I would get something out of the experience if I added some peach or some other fruit? Or should I just keep it simple?


Personally, I would never add fruit to a German beer. You can use a simple base of American 2 row and a neutral yeast strain like 1056 as a base for a fruit beer. German ingredients would be wasted there.
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Re: Honing Your Skills
« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2017, 07:42:42 PM »
How would brewing with a single malt and a single hops help me? I have already brewed a few all grain batches. Is it that you have to be more precise with SMASH because there's only one malt and one hops? That there are fewer malts in which to hide any errors? I do use Beersmith; I've got John Palmer's book, too. The styles I've made so far in whole grain are (in order) Black IPA, an Imperial Stout (with peppers and chocolate,) and an American Barleywine (that is hopefully a clone of Backwoods Bastard.)

The best way to improve your brewing is to pick one recipe and brew it over and over.

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