Experienced home brewers want to keep the most control over the final product. One of the best methods to control flavor is by all-grain brewing.
Many believe that this method is the best way to go while others don’t believe it is worth the effort to do all grain brewing, and would rather just do extract brewing.
I can assure you that with patience and the right equipment, the process is simpler than it looks, and it is something that any homebrewer can successfully do.
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How Is All-Grain Brewing Different From Extract?
With a few exceptions, all beer is made from the following ingredients: water, grains, yeast and hops. And there are essentially two different styles of brewing: extract brewing and all-grain.
The big difference between the two styles is the amount of time it takes during brew day. Extract brewing involves the extra steps of crushing malted grains (if you have your own grain mill) and mashing them to convert the starches into fermentable sugars, which can add an additional 8 or 9 hours to your brewing schedule.
With extract brewing, you purchase the concentrated sugars in either a syrup or dry powder form, that will eliminate the extra steps, which can save quite a few hours of time in the process.
Is All-Grain Brewing Cheaper Than Extract Brewing?
Taking on the all-grain brewing method is more expensive to set up, but once you have all of your equipment, the ingredients themselves can be much cheaper than buying liquid malt extract or a beer ingredient kit.
The cost of the ingredients is cheaper for all grain, which is roughly around $15 for a five-gallon batch.
As an example, a beer ingredient kit that makes a five-gallon batch comes with a can of liquid malt extract and can range between $30-$50. So you can estimate a cost savings of 50% or more when you go all-grain compared to extract.
Reasons All-Grain Brewing
Passionate home brewers know the benefits of utilizing the all grain process. You have better control during the complete brewing process. By personally selecting the grains, yeast, and hops, you can decide on the overall flavor, color, aroma, and the alcohol content of the finished beer.
Also, since all professional micro-breweries use the all grain process then this allows the home brewer to be more in touch and a better understanding with the professional process.
Standard Equipment For All-Grain Brewing
Your all grain brewing setup needs three vessels. First, a hot liquor tank for holding the water for sparging. Second, a mash/lauter tun for mashing and lautering the grains. Finally, a vessel for boiling wort, known as a kettle. You will also need a large paddle or spoon to stir.
You will also likely want to invest in a wort chiller to bring the boiling wort down to an acceptable yeast pitching temperature as quickly as possible. And of course, your kitchen stove might not be able heat 6 or 7 gallons of water efficiently, so you will probably need to get a brewing burner.
Extra Equipment Needed For All-Grain Brewing
If you already have been using the homebrewing equipment that came in your complete beer kit, you will still be using most of that equipment when switching over to all-grain brewing.
In addition to your standard brewing supplies (fermenting bucket, carboys, airlocks, transfer tubing, etc.) the following equipment will also be needed.
- Larger boil kettle (8 to 10 gallon)
- Mash tun (with a false bottom)
- Hot liquor tank
- High temp tubing for transfers
- Propane burner or some other heat source
Calibration and Calculations
Prior to your first time brewing you need to make a dipstick to measure the volume of liquid in both your HLT and kettle. Make sure your thermometers are calibrated as well.
You will need to figure out the amount you need of both strike water, which you will mix with the crushed grains, and sparge water, which rinses the grain bed.
Crushing The Grains
This phase is about breaking the malt kernels open so that the starchy endosperm can be dissolved by the hot strike water into the malt. They don’t need to be perfectly crushed but you should see almost no whole kernels. Most of the kernels should be broken into two to four pieces.
You can crush the malt yourself with a grain mill, or you can take your malt to a home-brew shop and they will do it for you. If you have a grain mill you can tinker with the setting to get the best crush, but for your first time use the default setting if the mill has one.
Make sure you examine your crushed grains every time you brew. It helps to take notes on how each crush looks because this will definitely affect your final product in very subtle ways.
First you need to heat your strike water. To figure out the amount of water you need, take the weight of the grains and multiply by a number between 1.25 and 1.375. The lower numbers will give a thicker mash. So the amount of water will vary between 0.95 and 2.4 quarts of water per pound of grain.
If you are working with a false bottom on your mash vessel then you need to take into account the volume under that bottom. So, if there is a gallon of space you need to add a gallon to your strike water. This process may take some time.
Next, mash in your mix of crushed grains and hot strike water. You want the grain bed to settle at the target temperature. Keep in mind it is best if the temperature is uniform throughout the grain bed. Keep in mind that you don’t want any heat loss when you transfer your water to your mash tun.
Once your water reaches the appropriate temperature and you’ve transferred it to your mash vessel, stir in your crushed grains to the strike water. Don’t just pour it in; add a pound or so, then stir it until it dissolves, then repeat until it is all stirred in. Continue to stir for another 30 seconds to break up any remaining clumps of dry malt that are sticking together. Take the temperature and put your lid on the mash vessel.
Make sure you write down the volume of the strike water, but prior to mashing and once you have mixed up your mash completely.
Saccharification Rest and Starch Conversion
Time to rest! You and your mash both deserve it. Your recipe will specify how long your mash (and you) rests. Generally, it’s about an hour. The goal is to maintain a constant temperature, so make sure the temperature doesn’t drop too much or if the temperature in the center is considerably warmer than the edges. The sides will cool faster than the center. A small change won’t make a difference but it’s worth observing closely.
If the temperature drops more than two degrees Fahrenheit or the difference from the sides and the middle is more than four degrees Fahrenheit you need to insulate you mash vessel by using towels or blankets. You can also use a very low heat if your vessel allows for that. If you want to get even fancier than you can use a recirculating system to hold and heat the mash.
You can stir during the mash but every time you open the vessel you will release heat. It is probably better to leave your vessel alone during the mash process. Also, your mash paddle will affect the temperature if it is significantly colder than the mash.
Calculate Sparge Water
During the mash rest heat the water for rinsing the grain bed, a.k.a. the sparge water. A good gauge for the amount of water needed at this step is to take the amount of your pre-boil wort volume and add 20%. It is better to have too much water than too little. Running out of water will make your job very difficult, but you can use leftover water to help clean your equipment for all grain brewing. You want the sparge water to be at the appropriate temperature when the mash is finished.
Now it is time to move on to lautering.
This optional step makes the wort easier to collect because it is less viscous. This step involves raising the temperature of the grain bed to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. You can either apply direct heat or stir in boiling water. Keep in mind that your mash tun might not hold enough added water to bring the temperature up so figure out which method is better for your equipment. Make sure you record the final temp and volume of water added (if you choose that method) as a reference for your next batch.
Recirculation draws some wort from the bottom of the grain bed and returns it to the top, which helps clear it up. You can do this by collect wort in the beer pitcher and slowly pouring it back on top. This can also be done with a pump if you have the right equipment.
Sparging (Wort Collection)
Slowly open your valve and let the wort collect in your vessel. When I say slowly I mean exactly that: it should take 60-90 minutes. As it drips out you will need to replenish the top with water, aiming to keep the level consistent.
All grain brewing from home is definitely possible, and with a little practice even a novice brewer can successfully create a batch. If you have the time, discipline and the proper all grain brewing system at your disposal, you can curate a more specific flavor profile.