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Hello Keith.  My name is Russell Gibbon.  Im doing some homework to get my startup homebrew kit together.  Its my birthday in a few weeks and Ive persuaded The Holder Of The Pursestrings, my wife, to shell out for my first kit.  Forgive me, but there are a few questions that Im looking for answers to:

1 Do I get a fermenting bucket WITH a tap fitted to the bottom, or not?  Seems to me that itd be better without a tap.
2 get TWO fermenting buckets - cos Ill need a second for secondary fermentation / I can use it to hold sanitizer while Im starting the brew?
3 Malt-dextrose powder packets - Ive read that this helps improve the body and mouthfeel.  Ive also got some pretty straightforward instructions for making cider.  But, there are a lot of comments about such cider coming out "thin" - so, I was thinking of getting the malt dextrose product to try to prevent this - whaddayathink?
4 A Thief - do I need one?
5 Best sanitizer?
6 Do you use Campden tablets?
7 Do you use Whorfloc tablets?
8 Best to buy hop PELLETS or FLOUR?
9 Can regular plastic PET bottles with screw tops be used for beer?
10 Can large plastic water bottles (here they are called garrafones) that are equivalent to a carboy, be used as a fermenter?

Better stop!

Thanks for whatever tips you can share.

Russell

Answer
Russell:

1) Correct.  The bucket with a tap comes in handy for use as your priming bucket.  You can then rack the fermented beer to that bucket, add in the priming sugar, mix and then attach your tube to the tap and fill your bottles.

2) yes.  If you are going the bucket route.  I use the glass carboys.  They are only $20-25 bucks.  I got a number of them surplus in San Antonio they were used to hold acid used to clean aircraft parts and originated in Mexico.  Check around with any companies that might produce hydrocloric acid for industrial use.  They look like big glass water cooler bottles.  They are easier to clean and sanitize than plastic.  Also, keep your buckets out of the sun since UV will make them brittle and shorten their life span considerably.

Any food grade bucket with a snap lid will do, just drill a hole in the center of the lid to take the air lock.

All my buckets do duty as sanitizer recepticles or for mixing.  If you are doing ales, and you have a cool place to ferment, moving to a secondary is not all that critical.  Every time you move your beer you increase the chances of infection.  Unless the beer is standing on a thick beed of trub and yeast and will be for a long while, don't move it.  Autolysis is the breakdown of the yeast proteins that can give funky flavors to beer and can come from being in contact too long with the yeast bed.  To minimize that yes do rack it to a secondary.

3) Yes, malto dextrose will add body and mouthfeel, I have used it on a number of occasions.

Not sure it is appropriate for cider.  I make a lot of cider, making some now.  Are you using whole apples or starting with juice?  Some commercial ciders use both.  That is the route I take.  I start with bottled whole apple juice and then adde crushed apples after the fermentation starts.  I use buckets for this instead of glass since its too hard to clean out the apple from the small neck of the carboy.  The apple addition gives it the aroma that the juice does not.  I scald the apple in hot juice let it cool before adding to the fermenting juice.  

About thinness...it should not be like beer.  It should be more like champagne, light refreshing with a bit of carbonation.  If you really want more body, why not try using some light crystal malt or honey malt.  It will add a bit of body and sweetness.  A little cinnamon and you'll have an apple pie cider.

4) a Thief is nice makes it easier to sample and take gravity readings.  Using a siphon for that is a pain and increases the chances of infection.

5)Starsan in a good choice, no rinse.  I use Iodophor a lot since it mixes instantly.  I use it for santizing my carboys and kegs mainly.  You do need to rince it.

6)No campden for me, they are sulfites.  I can't tolerate them due to allergies.  Give me a killer hangover, avoid wines with them too.  You really don't need them.  They are used primarily to kill wild yeasts on the wine skins in beer and in honey when making mead.  They can be used if making a sour beer to kill the Brett and then you can add in another yeast prime and bottle.

7)I use irish moss in my boil.  I don't do a whirl in my boil do to my setup.  I use a false bottom in my boil tun to catch my trub and hops.  If you plan to do a whirl then it is probably a good idea if it will help.

8) Never used hop flour, I use pellets.  I would think from what I have read that the pulverizing of the hops to make flour might have even more detrimetnal effects on the hops than crushing does for pellets.  Can't say since I have no knowledge on it.  Flour might increase hop utilization, but that would throw off my brewing spreadsheet since it is set up only for whole or pellets.  Do a search online for LeMieux brew...a free excel spreadsheet that is great for formulation and saving of recipes.  you can get it here:

http://brewery.org/brewery/Software.html

9)I have never used plastic bottles for my beer, screw cap or otherwise.  UV can ruin your beer in clear bottles even green is bad, Corona is proof of that..lol. If you do place it in those bottles, be sure to store it in boxes or inside a refrigerator where light cannot get to it.  It reacts badly with the hop oils in the beer and gives it a funky, not skunky flavor. Just an aftertaste that makes you want to scrape your tongue.

10)  Yes, those bottles or someting similar are being marketed as "better bottles" for formenters.  Just remember plastic scratches easily and the older the bottle the better you need to sanitize it to get any bugs that might be down in the scratches.

Feel free to contact me at keithhpatton at hotmail if you like, or via experts if you have more questions.

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Keith Patton

Expertise

I have been home brewing 21 years. I followed the traditional path from kit to extract to all grain and undoubtably experience all the typical problems. I can answer questions on home Brewing Techniques, all grain, partial mash and extract brews, formulating recipes, cloning commercial beers, kegging, bottling, home brew equipment, clarifying, trouble shooting beer and conducting tastings. I have brewed just about every style imaginable.

Experience

I have home brewed for 21 years. I owned my own beer pub for 5 years. I lived in Munich, Germany for 3 years. I host a brew club at work with 10 member brewers as well a participate in another club with over 50 members. I have a all stainless steel single tier 15 gallon RIMS system.

Organizations
American Home Brewer's Association Cane Island Alers home brew club Seismic Micro Brewers home brew club

Education/Credentials
MS in geology with experience in water chemistry. I have lived abroad and have been exposed to a number of beer drinking cultures.

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