1. Full Boils
Moving to full boils will not only help you become familiar and comfortable with what the boiling process is like when all-grain brewing, it can also affect quality. Many homebrewers find a decrease in the homebrew “twang” that some experience when brewing with extract after moving from partial to full boils. And, you don’t have to feel like you are watering down your beer!
2. Specialty Grains
Steeping specialty grains before adding extract is a great way to about raw brewing ingredients, and gain some hands-on experience brewing with grains. Utilizing specialty grains also gives brewers more options for creating different flavor/aroma profiles outside of the liquid or dry malt extract options.
For detailed information on specialty grains, read How-To: Brewing with Specialty Grains.
3. Partial Mash
Like specialty grains, trying a partial mash is a good way to become familiar with raw brewing ingredients. It also allows you to try your hand at mashing while having the security of malt extract to make up for any possible shortcomings with conversions.
Partial mashes, sometimes referred to as mini mashes, also allow brewers to use some grains that have to be mashed (and thus can’t be used in all-extract or extract with specialty grains brewing).
For detailed information on how to convert recipes and conduct a partial mash, read How-To: Partial Mash.
4. Wort Chiller
Cooling wort below 80°F (26.7°C) quickly is essential to preventing oxidation and contamination of the batch of beer you just brewed. An ice water batch can cool wort down to the needed temperatures, but not usually in a timely manner.
Wort chillers speed up the process significantly, which will reduce any off-flavors or contamination that may occur during a slower, ice-bath chill.
A large part of brewing delicious beer is knowing your equipment and what to expect. This can be a hard thing to do as a new brewer, since you likely haven’t brewed enough to master your equipment and process.
Take diligent notes on everything from the recipe to how much water evaporated over the course of the boil. This information can be applied to future batches and will allow you to more accurately plan brew days, and have a better idea of what to expect.
Note taking becomes particularly important when moving to all-grain, so starting early is good practice!
6. Filtered Water
As brewers get more involved with their hobby/obsession, the need to control as many variables in brewing usually becomes a key component in producing repeatable batches.
Using filtered water is usually a good (and easy) place to start. For instance, if you buy local bottled water, you know it will be the exact same water in every bottle, whereas tap water can change from one month to the next.
Water is also a huge part of producing quality beer, so you want to make sure that you aren’t including any chemicals “nasties” that may be present in non-filtered water. Most water reports for bottled water can be accessed from the manufacturer’s website.
7. Fermentation Temperatures
As a newer homebrewer, you likely don’t have a fridge or something similar to use as a fermentation chamber, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss fermentation temperatures all together.
Get a thermometer and try to find a spot in your home that has a consistent temperature (ideally in the temperature range the yeast calls for). Basements and closets are often good places to ferment, as temperatures tend to fluctuate less.
Some people even put their carboy in a bucket of water and use a cheap fish tank heater to warm it up, or frozen soda bottles to cool it down.
Whatever you choose to do, try and keep your fermentation temperatures consistent and within the parameters for the yeast you are using.
While a hydrometer is not necessary when extract brewing, it is a key instrument in tracking the progress of fermentation. Measuring the gravity before processes like racking to secondary or bottling will ensure you are doing what you are supposed to at the right time.
When conducting partial or full mashes, the hydrometer is the instrument used to determine how much of the grain starches were converted to fermentable sugars, also known as efficiency.
9. Rehydrated Yeast | Yeast Starter
Yeast is a heavy lifter in the brewing process, so you want to give it the best possible living conditions in your beer to ensure clean fermentation.
You can absolutely produce fermented beer by adding (pitching) a dry yeast pack directly into your carboy, but it is not ideal.
Directly adding dry yeast is said to 1) kill a lot of the yeast and 2) put the rest in a state of stress, which can produce off-flavors.
To ensure a smooth transition from dry to liquid, it is a good idea to rehydrate the yeast. Most dry yeast packs should have directions on how to do this. Rehydrating will prevent any “shock” yeast experience from being directly pitched.
Proper pitching rate is also crucial to the healthy, stress-free life of your yeast. If you don’t have enough yeast, the little guys will go into overdrive and create some funky off-flavors from being over worked.
Creating an appropriate yeast starter ensures you are pitching the right amount, which will produce cleaner-fermenting beer. Happy yeast = happy beer.