Ever since I started, I've been doing this at the beginner-level. I boil three gallons in my kitchen and later add two gallons of water for a five-gallon batch of beer. However, it's time to kick it up a notch, and that's where those birthday gift cards came in. While I expect to get some more gift cards for Christmas, I couldn't pass up Beer, Beer, and More Beer's big sale yesterday. Everything was 15% off, so I went ahead and bought everything I need to start boiling a full five gallons at once. Why would I want to do this? Two reasons: 1. Supposedly, the quality of the beer improves quite a bit if you do it this way, and 2. Kirsti can't stand it when the whole house smells when I'm boiling the beer, and five gallons is too much to continue doing inside. (Personally, I love the way it smells - but it certainly is overwhelming at times.)
So, I hooked myself up with a gas-powered burner for boiling the wort (that's the unfermented beer) outside. To go along with that, I got a large, eight-gallon kettle. It's nice because it has a spigot at the bottom for getting it all out and into the fermenter - no more lifting and pouring. Lastly, I got something called a "wort chiller". Basically, it's a device that you put in the wort that cools it down to a level where I can safely add the yeast for the fermentation process. Before, I would have to submerge my kettle in ice water, and that was a bit of a pain in the ass. Supposedly, this is more efficient. (Oh, and the kettle was 30% off - sweet!)
Even though I saved a lot of money, and I got $100 off from the gift cards, it was as big of an investment for me as the initial setup. I figure that if I brew as many batches this way, then it should be well worth it. What's the first beer to undergo the upgraded process? An English IPA - which is supposedly more mellow than its American cousin.
Perhaps in a year or two I'll take this up another step - using all grains instead of extract kits. Or perhaps I'll start kegging it - which makes it more difficult to share unless I want to start hanging out with people - and who wants that?