Upgrade Your Homebrew Equipment
Homebrewing can be quite an expensive hobby with a never-ending list of upgrades. You can make really tasty beer with a basic setup but you’ll gain an advantage with the right upgrades. If you have an unlimited bankroll then order doesn’t matter but if you’re like me then you’ll be upgrading one piece at a time. After a few years of homebrewing I feel I can point you in the right direction of what to upgrade and when.
An upgraded heat source can bring a whole range of improvements to your brewing. It should lower your heating times and hopefully increase your potential batch size. If you upgrade smartly you could even save a bunch of money on fuel costs. Standard turkey fryers are quite terrible on fuel and stoves rarely can boil a big enough batch. A nice electric system, natural gas burner, or a brewing focused propane burner will serve you well.
Upgrade that kettle next if you’re still using an old kitchen pot. A bigger size will give you the option to do bigger batches and helps prevent the dreaded boil-over. Valves, ports, spigots, sight glasses, and other features can really make things easier on brew day too. If your pot is the right size already then at least consider adding some of the above upgrades but make sure to be careful drilling your pot.
If you need a new pot and heat source then consider one of the electric BIAB systems. They are especially helpful when space is limited. I’m currently playing around with the Brewer’s Edge Mash and Boil. Here’s a comparison of the popular electric BIAB if you’re going that route.
The three most important measuring tools for brewing are a thermometer, scale, and a hydrometer. A thermometer is definitely the most important as it will tell you if you’re properly mashing and pitching yeast. The scale is a must if you want to accurately be able to reproduce your recipes along with properly priming for carbonation. Finally, a hydrometer will tell you when your beer is done along with helping you figure out your gravities. In all honesty, you’ll want all three!
Some form of wort chiller really will save you a lot of time and reduces infection risk greatly. Counterflow, immersion, and plate chillers will all get the job done. A counterflow chiller probably has the best balance between cooling speed and cleaning ease. An immersion chiller is the cheapest option and cleans up easily but is the slowest option. Plate chillers are the fastest but are also the most expensive and hardest to clean.
Temperature control is what you’ll want to focus on if you’ve got the right pot, heat source, and a chiller. You really can’t guarantee the best results without proper fermentation temperature. This can be accomplished with everything from an old fridge up to a full glycol system. If you’re feeling like Macguyver you can always try the fan and wet t-shirt cooling method.
Mash Tun or BIAB Bag
A mash tun or BIAB bag is the only thing you’ll really need to go from extract brewing to all grain. A BIAB bag is really just a giant heat-resistant nylon bag. Mash tuns can be anything from a cooler with a false bottom or one of the more fancy stainless versions. Both work equally well but a mash tun will get you better efficiencies while the bag will save you space.
The next step in improving your all grain equipment would be a grain mill. It’s unlikely your homebrew store will get the perfect crush for your setup so being able to crush your own grain is very important. You’ll also save money since you can now buy grain in bulk and mill as needed.
There’s something amazing about being able to pour a pint of your homebrew. At this point, you should have everything to make great beer. It’s time to upgrade your packaging by stepping up to kegging. Kegging is expensive to set up but reduces packaging down to twenty minutes or less. It can also greatly increases your carbonation speed. Finally, you can still bottle from the kegs when you need something portable or a few bottles for a competition.
Beyond these, you could go for anything from a ph meter to a unitank but make sure to buy based on what will help you and not based on what would be cool to have. Cheers and brew on!