This is sort of a photo journal entry of what a good brew day looks like for me. It actually starts about 12-18 hours before the brew day, since I do 2 things before I can get the wheels in motion. "Pre-Brew Day" includes collecting the water for the boil and sparge, making a yeast starter, and possibly crushing the grain the night before. Usually, crushing the grain is the first thing I do in the morning of the Brew Day, but since I had a friend come over to get his grain crushed, he suggested that since I had the 1/2-inch drill and grain mill set up, I go ahead and do mine. It was a pretty good suggestion.
The Yeast Starter
Unless I'm using dry yeast, I like to make a yeast starter. You can use the Mr. Malty Pitching Calculator to help you out, but I've done enough starters to know what works for me. I use 6 oz of dry malt extract for each 1000 ml of water. So if it's 2000 ml, 12 oz, 3000 ml, 18 oz, etc. If the base malt is 2-row, I'll want to use "Gold" DME, if it's Pilsner malt, I try to use "Pilsner" DME. However, I'm cheap, so I tend to use what I have on hand. I also add a teaspoon of yeast nutrient to each starter. 1 tsp is usually what is called for per gallon, so I guess I could use less, but what does it hurt?
I have a 5000 ml flask I bought from an online brewing store, so I can put the DME, yeast nutrient and water all in the same thing, bring it to a boil for 5 minutes, chill and pitch the yeast. I am working on building my own stir plate, but I need to get a rheostat for it. Until then, I leave the flask on the kitchen counter and swirl it often. For 1000-2000 ml starters, I will do those 12-24 hours in advance of pitching. For anything bigger, 3 or 4 days seem to yield more yeast. So you have to plan. Below are my guidelines.
For Ale Yeast (including Belgian strains):
OG is 1.060 or below: 1000 ml starter
OG is 1.060 - 1.075: 2000 ml starter
OG is 1.075 - 1.090: 3000 ml starter
OG > 1.090: 4000 ml starter
For Lager Yeast, I don't usually make a lager over 1.066, so I usually make a gallon starter and actually chill the wort and decant into a better bottle, though I suppose using the 5000 ml flask would work. It's just easier to use the brew kettle and run it through the chiller. I have had success using only one packet of fresh Wyeast and a gallon starter, but I think I will start using 2 packs of yeast in the future. Maybe. A 4-day yeast starter for lager at room temperature has yielded at least 4 good lagers for me (that's 4 for 4, in case you were wondering, 100% success, although one of those was actually yeast cake from another...)
Yeah, and I just use foil over the top, although I don't think a stopper and ferment lock would hurt. This is more of a "a lot of people use foil, so I decided to use foil" thing.
I like to start my Brew Day early. Like when I get up, I make some coffee, and start setting things up. I use ProMash to figure out the strike temperatures, and so I take my pre-measured water and start warming up the water on the stove. I bought a hard copper pipe, and used a measuring cup to determine what the certain amounts of water looked like in my boil kettle. So I put a gallon of water in, put the pipe in, marked it with a pencil, then used a hack saw to score the mark permanently. I did this in increments of gallons up to 7, since it's a 9-gallon kettle. I batch-sparge, so I have a 4.5-gallon kettle I use to heat up the sparge water. However, I measure this water out first in the 9-gallon boil kettle because I don't have another pipe for the 4.5-gallon pot, and transfer it. Then I measure out water for the initial mash in. I leave both these pots on the stove the night before the boil to let any chlorine evaporate. I have friends who bought a Britta filter that they can put on the end of a hose, and can go to town right away. I do this more out of superstition than actual flavor tastings.
This is my mash tun, a Coleman cooler I've had since 1992 that I put a stainless steel valve on, some washers and o-ring/gaskets, a small amount of copper tubing, and a big stainless steel braid that Jon Duder gave me. I used a worm clamp to fasten the hose to the copper tube, then folded and crimped the loose end. It works well.
I have a grain mill that I set on a bucket I bought at the hardware store that I use strictly for grain capture. Grain mills are nice if you're doing all grain, because you can buy grain in bulk (cheaper) and un-crushed, so you can crush it fresh, and don't have to feel pressured to brew if something comes up because your grain is losing freshness (and thus, efficiency).
Once the temperature of the water is right, I pour it into the mash tun first, then pour my grain into the mash tun and stir it with my big spoon. Check that the temperature is right, close the mash tun, and carry it outside to a table where I've got it set up to be wrapped in two big wool blankets. I usually set the sparge water kettle on top to hold the mash tun down. I let the grain set for 30 minutes, open, stir, check the temperature, and if I need to, I'll boil a gallon and pour it in and stir it up. Usually, it only drops 1 or 2 degrees over 90 minutes. I tend to mash for 75-90 minutes, as this has seemed to improve my efficiency.
I use a 2 quart pan for vorlauf, also pictured above is a scale for measureing hops, a small bowl with yeast starter and whirlfloc tablet for an addition at 15 minutes (you can use Irish Moss in lieu of whirlfloc).
With about 30 minutes left in the mash, I start heating the sparge water. I will bring this to a boil. This will go in after I vorlauf the first runnings
"Vorlauf" is a German word that means to recirculate the beer. I guess I could say "recirculate", but I like German words. Once the mash has reached 75 or 90 minutes, it's time to start filling the boil kettle. I attach a hose to the mash tun and start running liquid into the 2-quart pan. The photo above was shot during the vorlauf after I added the sparge water, so that's why you see wort in the kettle. You want to make sure you don't have any grain (or too much grain) in the boil, which will give you tannin flavors, so you run the wort into the pan until it looks clear. This usually takes me 2 or 3 fills. I fill the pan, then return it to the mash tun. Once it runs clear, I open the valve and let the wort run into the kettle. When it runs dry, I close the mash tun valve, measure the amount in the kettle to let me know if I have enough sparge water, then I adjust the sparge water, and dump it into the mash tun. Stir it in to get even temperatures, and then I go get a drink of water or take care of some minor things to let it set in there for 5 or so minutes (totally unnecessary, but again, some superstition), then vorlauf again. I then run off the wort until I have the pre-boil amount I want (usually 1.5 gallons more than I intend to ferment, so 7.5 for 6 gallons, 7 gallons for 5.5 gallons of wort).
Next comes the boil. If I'm not using Pilsner malt, it's usually a 60-minute boil. For fun this time, I actually did a 70-minute boil. I was shooting for a gravity of 1.050 and hit 1.051. So I probably would've been good with a 60-minute boil. Note that if you have hop additions at the beginning of the boil (for example, 1 oz @ 60 min) do not change that. Still drop it in with 60 minutes left in the boil. This will prevent it from having more bitterness. I add other hop additions as necessary, and then throw my yeast nutrient and whirlfloc in with 15 minutes left in the boil.
I didn't take any photos of my counterflow chiller. Chill the wort down to the temperature you want - I usually shoot below 70, around 65*F, if possible. This was a Koelsch, and at the time, my root cellar floor was 58*F, so it was perfect. Fermentation temps are becoming more important to me. I think a lot of mine have been too low, and my finishing gravities end up higher than I'd like. For ale yeasts, I think 68*F is a good temp. For Belgians, I like to start at 62*F, and once fermentation takes off, I want to start increasing the temps about 2*F per day, and end up around 70*F if possible.
Leave a message if you have any questions. And don't forget to enjoy the brew day. Hopefully they will all be awesome days.