This year seems no different, I started out with a brown ale kit I picked up a month or so ago at my local homebrewing store, The Grape & Granary. Up till now, I had mostly brewed all-extract brews of this type and have always been happy with the results. This kit included some specialty grains for steeping--which added another extra step to the process, but one which I hope will make a notable improvement.
I had anticipated a long time getting the kettle up to boil; it was easy enough to get the water up to 150 degrees or so for steeping the grain. But even on my commercial-grade range, it seemed to take forever when it came time to get the wort up to a rolling boil after adding the extract and bittering hops. I rigged up a colander and some coffee filter paper in an attempt to strain out most of the solids from the wart--but the results were mixed, due to the added grain. As I wait out the primary fermentation, I'll have to consider a more reliable method to remove the remaining "silt."
For now, the wort is working in the basement...the yeast is really cranking and you can see the rolling action as fermentation builds inside the 5 gallon acrylic fermenter. It's always fun to watch, but I'm already planning my next batch; something more of a "Christmas Style" ale.
To that end, I'm looking at adding a couple of smaller fermenters; the 2-gallon BrewDemon Conical models have caught my eye, and they might just be the ticket. A recent issue of Brew Your Own magazine had an interesting article about the advantages of brewing smaller batches--there's the matter of convenience, time savings, and less investment lost if a batch doesn't turn out "as expected." It's a little easier to experiment with new ideas and flavors, too.
I bottle-condition most of my beers and make labels for them, which is almost as much fun as drinking the beer. While I often have a name and type in mind, I usually wait until tasting a sample to make my final decision on this, since the final taste and flavor characteristics will often influence the choice of name and label graphics.
Thus, if you ever see a bottle of Bedpan Brown Ale in my refrigerator, you'll know the final results were probably less than expected.