There are many tips and tricks that allow us as homebrewers to make the brewing process easier and cheaper. Great beer has been brewed in coolers and old lobster pots and bad beer has been brewed on a Brutus 10. Good equipment doesn’t necessarily make good beer, it is the process and attention to details that allows a brewer to produce a worthy batch.
What good beer generally boils down to (haha?) is the brewer knowing his system and how to efficiently produce a tasty product. If you can control mash temperatures, boil times and transfer your product in sanitary conditions then you’re on the right path. However, there is a lot of equipment out there that makes all of these processes easier. Some equipment will complete the entire brew for you – just add malt, hops and yeast! Others will require you to manually control the temperatures and times you desire. What matter is that you have control over the variables you want.
There are several instruments/methods which I have referred to as “the little guys” that make my brew process just a tad bit easier, for a very small price point. Here they are, in no particular order:
The Siphon Sprayer
The first, and most versatile bang for buck, savings inducer is the Siphon Sprayer. This little guy is probably the cheapest sparger and aerator you can get for your money while still having solid performance. What I find works best is to position a bottling bucket above my mash tun. I connect the siphon sprayer to a tube coming out of the bucket. I then put my ThermoWorks Probe in the bucket so I can easily monitor the temperature of the water going into the mash tun. Realizing the water will cool as it falls, I shoot for about 180F in the bucket. Below is the a shot from Ed’s mash tun of Ales of the Riverwards.
On the finished side, before I use a diffusion stone and an oxygen tank, I connect the siphon sprayer to the tubing going into my fermenter. This splashes the wort around and helps oxygenate it. Pretty much it is the cheapest thing you can get that does the most. An easy setup is shown below from Jacob Davis.
The Wash Bottle
The latest addition to my equipment stash is a Tattoo Wash Bottle. Seems odd, but it has been helpful for putting sanitizer easily in odd places. We’re all familiar with using sanitizer in a spray bottle, but this little guy helps you get more sanitizer in hard to reach spots. I use it for refilling carboy airlocks on the top shelf, between barrels, and even ones just laying around. Since it’s squeeze activated, you can put in precisely how much you want without worrying about overflow. I also use it to put a little sanitizer in bottles for bottling day when I’m doing less than a half rack. Its quick, clean, and easy to use – but best of all, cheap. When needing to fill more than ten airlocks or so, this can be a time saver.
Note! If you get this, I recommend trimming off the bottom 1mm of the firm straw in the bottle at a diagonal. I initially had issues with it touching the bottom and not releasing sanitizer properly.
Easy Bottle Labels
I hate labeling. However, on occasion it is fun to bring a bottle somewhere with nice presentation. Everyone has tricks to bottle labels, both DIY as well as online vendors. I like to reuse my bottles, so I look for something easy. I use old typewriter paper and milk. If I’m only bottling 2-3 bottles, I like to type out the labels on an old typewriter I found at a rummage sale. Then, mix milk and water 50/50 and place in a dish (or spray bottle), lightly wet the edges of the label in the mix, and put on the bottle. It may take a little getting used to, but this works great and best of all – it comes off easily! For added flair, burn the edges of the label, it looks great!
Most people know of and talk about rice hulls, but when I have spoken recently to homebrewers, few admit to actually taking the time to buy them or toss them in. I find they are great for reducing the chances of a stuck sparge. When brewing with large quantities of pumpkin or wheat (or both!) I toss in several pounds as insurance. Prior to using rice hulls, I found myself scooping out several mashes of pumpkin and other fun stuff while improving my creative vocabulary. I recommend ordering them in a 50lb sack and sharing with a friend, or just toss them on the shelf.
The Thief is a quick way to get a sample from any beer. If you’re not using a barrel or other fermenter with a spout, this is a quick way to get something to the hydrometer or palate. I highly recommend getting one if you don’t have it already. It’s more of a commonly known tool, but one I felt worth mentioning. All 3 pieces connect and you can draw out a sample right quick.
Of course, other toys include refractometers, pH meter, themoprobe – all things I love and enjoy – but the point is for this to be a post on the simple things.