When I began homebrewing I started pretty basic. I had a 3 gallon stockpot, a kitchen stove and one 5 gallon glass carboy. I think I had a racking cane and some pvc tubing as well. My first batch was an extract pale ale kit from my local homebrew shop. I followed the instructions and the beer turned out pretty good. Since then I’ve had a few batches that were less than stellar, and at least one that I had to dump down the toilet. I’ve also upgraded my equipment and my process a bit since that first batch. My first upgrade was to a larger boil kettle, it was a 7 gallon turkey fryer that could barely contain a full 6-6.5 gallon boil without boiling over. I quickly realized how much I needed a wort chiller at that point and purchased a copper immersion chiller soon after. I have also acquired an outdoor propane burner, Erlenmyer flask, stir plate, another carboy, a chest freezer for fermentation, built a mash tun out of an igloo cooler, kegerator out of a mini fridge, and most recently upgraded to a converted keg for my boil kettle.
This journey has been great and, for the most part, I love the beer I make now. Unfortunately, I have terrible palate memory, and my palate wasn’t nearly as developed several years ago when I was making a lot of these changes to my brewing process. I want to know if these “upgrades” are truly worth the extra money and time. To learn this I will be brewing the the same extract recipe many many times making one “upgrade” to my process at every brew session. Each one of these beers will, of course, be tasted and evaluated by me, but I will also send each batch to at least one brewing competition in order to receive unbiased feedback from trained judges about the beers.
I will start as basic as I can. I will brew a partial boil extract batch on my stove top, top it up with cold water in the fermenter, pitch rehydrated dry yeast and ferment it using no temperature control on my counter top or in a closet somewhere in my house.
My tentative schedule of “upgrades”:
1. Partial boil using late extract addition
2. Do a full boil outside on the propane burner
3. Use an immersion chiller
4. Use liquid yeast instead of dry yeast
5. Make a yeast starter
6. Ferment the beer in a temperature controlled environment
One part of the process I will not be testing are the effects of cleaning and sanitation. Everybody should know how important it is to keep equipment clean and sanitized, and I don’t want to brew five gallons of infected beer in order to prove it. Please make suggestions about any process upgrades I have forgotten or that you would like to see tested in the comments below.