OK, I am not going to get into a lot of depth in this post, just the basics to help push you in the direction of all grain brewing, if that is something you are interested in. All-Grain Brewing can be as difficult and technical as you want it to be, or it can be just as simple as extract brewing….with some additional time. This post is not a complete instructional post on all things all-grain. This post skips any technical data or brewing science and just shows you the process…..the bare basics of the process. If you read this and find you want to learn just a little bit more than I provide here, check out John Palmer’s Website “How To Brew”, here is a direct link to the All-Grain Brewing chapter.
So why go all grain if you can make perfectly good beer with extract, and extract takes less time? Well, the simplest answer is that you have more control over the brewing process and you can more accurately brew styles that are very difficult to master with extract. The reason is because when you brew all-grain, you are mashing whatever grains you want or need for that beer. If you use extract, the bulk of the grain bill is decided by whomever produced your extract. Even using light or extra light extract, you have not control over what brand of grains or the mashing temperature. In all grain, you are creating your own extract, just not concentrating it. This gives you more control, more room to be creative, and you can create styles using grains that require mashing. Also, lets be honest. There is a a step up in the pride factor as well for brewing a beer you created 100% from scratch. I want to stress this, all grain brewing does not produce better beer. If you are having a hard time making good beer with extract, you will not make good beer all-grain. You will read all over the net, several homebrewers stating that all-grain makes better beer, or once they switched to all grain their beer got better. This is all bunk. If that were true, all-grain beers would be winning all the 1st place, gold medals, and best of show in competition. What it does do is produce a wider range of styles more accurately than extract, and many times ferments out a bit more than extract. The “All Grain=better beer” mentality comes from a combination of more brewing experience, “I did this all myself” pride, and the control over ingredients. Not many brewers start out with all grain, and when they make the jump to all grain they know that they love the hobby enough to stick with it so are committed to brewing quality beer, and have learned to pay attention to sanitation and brewing practices. There is also a mental sense of pride when you do something all by yourself from scratch, that makes the product seem….well, better. We already covered the range of ingredients that all grain covers, and that is every single grain available. If you use fresh malt extract (the age of the extract does make a big difference in extract brewing), and pay attention to cleanliness and sanitation, you can make beer that is almost indistinguishable from an all-grain beer. I promise you. The part most often ignored is finding extract that is as fresh as possible, most imported extracts are not good in my opinion just because of this factor.
There is a few downfalls to all grain brewing. The first is you are probably going to add a few hours to your brew day. You have more water to heat, the mash takes 60 extra minutes, you have the sparge (even batch sparging will add a few minutes), and most of the time the wort takes longer to get to boil if you are not already doing full boils. There are also a few more technical details that can go wrong. I am not going to cover them in detail, but you need to be aware of them in case you need to troubleshoot your beer. You may need to do water adjustments if you have problems with your PH in your mash, you will need to monitor the crush you get from your grains, and water temperature is crucial in all grain brewing (this I will explain later).
So to show you how easy all-grain brewing can be, I am going to show you how to make a simple Nut Brown recipe, without making any water adjustment or using any complicated equipment. All you need is a mash tun (home-made is just fine and cheap), a good thermometer (preferably a digital one where you can set an alarm when it reaches a specific temp) a boil kettle big enough to hold 7 gallons, and a smaller pot to use as a hot liquor tank, and a fermentation bucket or carboy with an airlock (I personally like buckets. I used glass carboys for years but like the bucket for easy cleaning, will not shatter, and they are cheap to replace). That is about it. Optionally you can use hop bags, stainless mesh balls, and either an O2 or aquarium pump with aeration stone, hydrometer with test cylinder, and PH meters . But those are not required to make good beer, but having them will help make consistently good beer.
Jaba’s Busted Nut Brown
(download the recipe below if you want to brew this, it is basically Northern Brewer’s Nut Brown Ale Recipe)
The first thing you need to do is determine your water volume. By far the easiest way is to use brewing software. What this does is take into account the amount of grains (because the grains will retain water after the mash), the evaporation loss, and loss to trub and transfers. Next the software will ask what temperature you want to mash at. I wanted to do this at 154, so with adjustments made (by the software) for grain and mash tun temperature, I need to bring my water to 169 degrees to have my mash equalize at 154 degrees.
……and now it equalizes at…….
Now you wait 60 minutes after the temps equalize. Halfway through the process you want to start heating your sparge water. I do batch sparging because it is both faster and easier to do than fly sparging. But you can choose whatever method you wish. You want to heat your sparge water to above 180 degrees, but I like to avoid boiling. Too hot and too long of a sparge can extract tannins from the grain husks. So I heat my sparge water to between 180 and 185.
Once your mash is done and the sparge water is heated. You want to get your boil kettle ready to catch the first runnings of wort. If you have only 1 pot, you can run your beer into a plastic fermentation bucket until you are into your final round of sparging. I do 2 to 3 rounds of sparging, depending on what I need for a final water volume (which again is determined by the software). In this case I needed 5.75 gallons of sparge water. Below are some pictures of the first runnings and sparging.
Now I did two rounds of sparging here. Below I am showing you three pictures, all of the same beer. What this will show is the amount of sugars and other goodies you are extracting from the grains. The first picture is from the 1st runnings, look how dark the wort is. This is the highest concentration of malt sugars, then compare that to the second and third runnings. This is normal.
From here on out is the same as any extract batch. But for fun, here are some more pics of my all grain process.
That’s about it. I would like to give a quick shout out to Mike and his buddy who did not participate in this blog entry, but a good time was had none-the-less.