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Best Upgrade for Newbie Brewer

I just bottled my first batch on Saturday and I’m dying to start another. I’m wondering what the best ‘bang for your buck’ upgrade would be for a newbie like me. Right now I’ve got the Deluxe Starter Kit plus the Mad Brewer Upgrade kit and a couple of brew haulers. That’s it. What would really increase final beer quality without getting too crazy on the spending?

A wort chiller and/or a yeast starter kit.

  1. Loks like the deluxe kit already has this, but if not an Auto Siphon is basically, IMO, a MUST HAVE. But again i think your kit has that

  2. Next thing I might suggest is a Wort chiller. I went 2-3 years without one, just did huge ice baths in a a utility sink I have. My utility sink was huge so I was able to get wort down to ~ 80 degrees in about 20 min, not bad, BUT the chiller is so much easier. I used to ‘collect’ ice for 5-6 days straight (dump ice maker ice into a big thing in freezer) or go that morning and buy a bag of ice. it was a pain. AND if you have a smaller sink then this could be a huge improvement in chill time for you.

COST: About $70 for the basic one on NB, or you can make your own

  1. third you could look into yeast starters. this can be done for kind of cheap or you can get a bit more fancy. Cheapest would be a 1 gal jug, some light DME and you can be done. OR you can get a more expensive flask (2000 Ml minimum) and either buy or build a stir plate. For flask I recommend $25 pyrex one from Amazon. Tons of DIY on home made stir plates or you can buy one for about $50 or so I think (or $100 on NB, which seems high)

Cost - range from $10 or so up to mabye $75 if you bought a stir plate and flask

  1. Aeration - some type of aeiration stone or pump

Cost - $35 or so if you by the basic pump from NB, I am not sure if you couldn’t get a much cheaper matching solution from a pet store though

I have to agree with the other two with getting a wort chiller. That was my first upgrade and it makes a night and day difference. Next I would do either a yeast starter kit or bigger kettle to do full boils which also makes a step towards all grain if you would want to do that in the future.

$$Keezer and Corny’s$$ big bang for your patience and time :slight_smile:

Bottling gets old quick.

Full boil/wort chiller.

Temp control fermentation. See my signature line for ideas from a basic swamp cooler all the way up to a fridge/freezer.

Auto siphon? To many stories of broken ones. I broke 2 plastic siphons before buying a SS cane.

Yeast starter. Not much of a cost upgrade. $3 for a 1 gallon jug and DME. DIY a stir plate for $20 and some stir bars on Ebay for $3.

I disagree with the ‘bottling sucks’ sentiment. Kegging is great, and has its advantages, but in moving from solely bottling to solely kegging, you replace the minutia of cleaning bottles with the insanity of assembling/disassembling keg parts, checking for and locating leaks, and, oh by the way, blowing a minimum of a few hundred clams on gear.

Anyway, to your question, if you already have the ability to make good starters with a stir plate:

1.) Full volume boil (bigger brew kettle)
2.) Chest freezer for fermentation and temp controller*
3.) Wort chiller

*The reason I put 2 before 3 is that (2) can do the work of (3) for you and more. Google ‘no chill’ brewing. I do something similar, but I partially chill after the boil, then stick the sealed, sanitized fermenter in my chest freezer, and set the controller to my desired pitch temp. A few hours later, I can vigorously pour the wort into a new sanitized fermenter (bucket or carboy), pitch my yeast (at the exact temperature) and control my ferment. I do have an immersion/coil wort chiller, but you could easily partially chill enough in an ice bath, then place the fermenter in your chest freezer and chill the rest of the way.

Controlling fermentation temps will improve your beer far more dramatically than chilling quickly, or even going all grain.

One man’s opinion. Brewers make wort, yeast make beer. Happy yeast make better beer. Yeast at the right temperature make the best beer.

Can you explain this? I just started doing all grain sans chiller, the second step isn’t something I’ve been doing. Is the intent of moving from sanitized fermenter #1 to sanitized fermenter #2 to aerate? Any advantage to that over a healthy shake?

Can you explain this? I just started doing all grain sans chiller, the second step isn’t something I’ve been doing. Is the intent of moving from sanitized fermenter #1 to sanitized fermenter #2 to aerate? Any advantage to that over a healthy shake?[/quote]

I started doing it for beers that I wanted to be really clear and clean, as you can essentially decant it off the trub. Bear in mind, I have lost up to a gallon of volume in a 5-ish gallon batch to trub. This also allows you to harvest almost pure yeast off of your batch, since there is a ton of hop/protein matter mixed in once your yeast drops.

And yes, the splashiness does help add some oxygen.

[quote=“Nighthawk”]Full boil/wort chiller.

Temp control fermentation. See my signature line for ideas from a basic swamp cooler all the way up to a fridge/freezer.

Auto siphon? To many stories of broken ones. I broke 2 plastic siphons before buying a SS cane.

Yeast starter. Not much of a cost upgrade. $3 for a 1 gallon jug and DME. DIY a stir plate for $20 and some stir bars on Ebay for $3.[/quote]

I would totally agree with this post. Exactly in this order.

No one is going to mention an Oxygenation Kit

?

So the thing is basically a regulator that you put on a Home Depot ($9.99) O2 tank. – it’s meant for welding. I’ve had one for the past 6 batches and I’m still on my first tank. $48.99 seems a but much for a regulator, “stone”, and tubing, but it get’s the job done.

I’m still looking for a good way to force that stone to sink though…

I’m highly disappointed that no one thus far has mentioned the obvious… Additional CARBOYS to brew MORE BEER! :smiley:

After that, I would definitely agree that a wort chiller is your best first “step-up” investment. I made my own in 45 minutes for $52.00 that will chill a 10 gallon batch in 20 minutes. I still use it to this day, it will last you forever, and it is full of awesomeness, saving me a ton of time and ice on brewing day.

But I believe your original post was actually asking what would improve the “quality” of your beer the most. I would say a chest freezer or upright freezer (50-100 bucks on Craig’s list) and a digital temperature controller ($80 for a really good Johnson Controls model) to control your fermentation temperatures as was already mentioned above. This was probably one of my investments that improved my beer the most, hands down. Not to mention, it also will allow you to make beautiful, smooth and delicious lagers instead of just ales.

:cheers:

[quote=“JMcK”]No one is going to mention an Oxygenation Kit

?

So the thing is basically a regulator that you put on a Home Depot ($9.99) O2 tank. – it’s meant for welding. I’ve had one for the past 6 batches and I’m still on my first tank. $48.99 seems a but much for a regulator, “stone”, and tubing, but it get’s the job done.

I’m still looking for a good way to force that stone to sink though…[/quote]

Looks like there is a bit of a premium for it being put together over buying the parts from NB. Though Williams brewing has the pieces for a lot less.

To get the stone to sink, add some SS washers or nuts over the tubing. Probably will need to use nuts if you use a carboy.

As you can probably tell from the response, we all have different ideas on what’s a the next step up. For me the three essentials to making good beer are sanitation, pitching enough yeast, and fermentation temperature control. Sanitation is a no brainer and you should have all you need for that now. You can make effective starters without a big investment. As some said, all you need is a one gallon jug and some DME. You can read up on yeast starters at http://www.mrmalty.com/ I’ve found that daily vigorous shaking is sufficient to oxygenate my starters, no stirplate or other fancy equipment necessary.

For temperature control, I have it easy. During the fall-winter-spring, my breakfast nook stays at a perfect 60F. In the summer, my basement stays the same steady temperature. For those not so blessed there are low tech solutions like swamp coolers, or high tech like freezers/refrigerators with an installed temperature control. Lots of advice on how to do both on this site which you can find with the search engine.

After that, I would go with full wort boils and a wort chiller. To do full wort boils, you will need at least a 10 gallon pot (got my aluminum pot at a restaurant supply store for about $50) and propane burner, which I think are about $40 on Amazon. Wort chillers will be in the same price range.

The next step from there, if you so desire, is all-grain brewing, which, if you have all the above, is a pretty cheap move. You can convert a cooler into a mash/lauter tun for less than $20.

I wouldn’t worry about fancy oxygenation systems to promote fermentation. I’ve found that with a paint stir paddle available at your local big box home improvement store for $10 or less, and a drill, you can more than adequately oxygenate your beer after you pour it into your fermenter, and then forget about it.

I agree with all of the above! Temp. control(freezer w/digital controller), ic chiller, big kettle(i got a 10, should’ve went 15), burner, aeration kit, etc… all made a big difference for my brews. Spent a few bucks, but i’ve spent more on worse things!! The more equipment you accumulate, the more fun & addicting it becomes! :smiley:

[quote=“JMcK”]No one is going to mention an Oxygenation Kit

?

So the thing is basically a regulator that you put on a Home Depot ($9.99) O2 tank. – it’s meant for welding. I’ve had one for the past 6 batches and I’m still on my first tank. $48.99 seems a but much for a regulator, “stone”, and tubing, but it get’s the job done.

I’m still looking for a good way to force that stone to sink though…[/quote]

I used a couple cable ties and attached the tube to a 2’ stainless rod to put the stone where i want it. works great and easy to sanitize. :cheers:

[quote=“Nighthawk”]Full boil/wort chiller…
[/quote]

BIG +1 on that. Going to full boil and a wort chiller was one of the biggest improvements to my beers until I went all grain (back when Lincoln was president :shock: ). Liquid yeast was just coming available and given the quality of dried yeast back then, it also made a huge improvement.
These days, some dried yeasts are as good as the liquid.

Going full boil will bring you a step closer to going all grain yourself (which I suspect you’ll eventually want to do).
You won’t regret it.

Professor, that is why I agree about going full wort and IC first. Get those techniques down first then worry about the intricate details. If you went temp control first that’s cool but follow that up quickly with a full wort boil.

Just my $.02.

One thing not mentioned - while it may not change the actual quality dramatically, if you are using a electric stove that it is hard to get a good boil going (at least for me that was the case) that $39.99 NB burner sure looks nice.

will it change the quality as much as some of these other comments. maybe not. unless you can then step to the full boil. BUT it might make the brew day more enjoyable. I got a cheap turkey fryer burner and love using it versus the stove

[quote=“fullhousebrew”]One thing not mentioned - while it may not change the actual quality dramatically, if you are using a electric stove that it is hard to get a good boil going (at least for me that was the case) that $39.99 NB burner sure looks nice.

will it change the quality as much as some of these other comments. maybe not. unless you can then step to the full boil. BUT it might make the brew day more enjoyable. I got a cheap turkey fryer burner and love using it versus the stove[/quote]

+1. my first brew was a full boil on an electric stove it took so long to get to a boil and hold it there, I had to leave the lid on 1/2 way just to keep it boiling. I got a turkey fryer before I did my second batch. It was well worth the 40 bucks and it came with a large pot that is now my hlt.

I agree getting off the stove top and buying a propane burner is a good step to take. I did about 8 batches on the stove with a 5gal kettle and it was a pain. Plus I like brewing outside anyways.

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