Its been a while!
A quick round up of what has occurred, hopefully in an attempt to spur me in to start updating this again.
When shopping the post-Christmas sales with George, i picked up small book and began to make detailed notes on all my recipes for 2013. This has unfortunately caused the destruction of my attempts to catalogue things on here. This said it works a little better for me, as it has allowed me to make clear notes of exactly what i actually DID, including all my (in hindsight) totally stupid mistakes. Not that anyones reading this, but the idea of putting my failures and misunderstandings on display (combined with the lag time between brewing and writing causing some confusion over what actually occurred) was the source of some potential embarrassment. At least this way mistakes can be recorded and rectified off the record.
Since last writing i have acquired some new equipment; 2 x Lidl Jam Makers. I happily stumbled across them one Sunday afternoon at 30% off on clearance in Lidl - Initially seeing it as a cheap way to obtain a larger boiler than my current 13L stock pot, its actually proved invaluable as an HLT - water heated to surprisingly accurate temperature and held there for a period of time has been perfect for hands-off mash preparation as well as far more accurate sparging, and contributed significantly to the overall quality of my beers as well as a more relaxed overall brewday - an absolutely excellent purchase. Although the provided plastic taps are next to useless and i recommend changing to a 15mm tank connector, which required some careful filing (so as not to chip the enamel) with a very fine file.
Sadly it doesnt fare so well as a boiler as its appears to stop-start on the power to maintain an overall temperature means it doesnt presently hold a decent rolling boil which has given me a couple of issues with both lack of boiloff making the result less concentrated/lower gravity than expected and in one case involving a hopbag, not enough vigorous boiling to break them up and release the oils, winding up with a basically un-hopped stout.
In addition to this i've set up and put in to use my temp controlled brewing fridge. A simple set up of a small fridge with a tube heater in the bottom, temperature controlled by a stc1000.
I'll admit to being skeptical as to how much difference this was going to make, which is probably why i dragged my heels setting it up. I can now comfortably say that i'm an idiot, and the temp control has not only eliminated problems experienced with fusel alcohols and slight off flavours, but meant i can actually ferment things out cleaner and quicker and experiment with the difference in outcome at different temps - accentuating fruitness in bitter by fermenting high, and going as clean as possible fermenting low. Not only is this evident in the beer but in the fermentation itself - relatively low resulting in a much more....gluey krausen and high giving nice thick cap of bubbles.
As a superbonus being a fridge freezer its allowed me to crash cool which settles out the yeast and trub in to really solid cake resulting in cleaner beer & quicker turn around times.
This is starting to sound like an advert.... not the intention but if you're reading this and havent got it set up yet, i'd say this is the next BIG step to take in taking your beers from awesome to 'proper class' as the head brewer of a local brewery was kind enough to describe my Altbier.