• All Grain Brewing - Is It That Much Better and Can I Do It Without Spending Too Much?

  • This article goes over some of the advantages of all grain brewing, most brewers can tell you that going all grain is a great choice in home brewing. It’s a good way to test your skills and try new things beyond liquid malt extract. All grain brews are more difficult and require more steps and measurements. This article will cover some of the basics on how to pull it off.

    All Grain Brewing – Is It That Much Better and Can I Do It Without Spending Too Much?

    All Grain Brewing – Is It That Much Better and Can I Do It Without Spending Too Much?
    By Jared Birbeck

    There are two recurring questions that come up in respect of all-grain home brewing. The first is whether the product is that much better. The second is whether there is a way to do it without spending too much. The answer to both questions is a resounding yes.

    There is no doubt that the beer that is produced using all grain is better than an extract or kit beer. Yes you can make good beer using extract and kits. You may even make a great beer. But, the proof is in the tasting. Get a beer brewed using extract and compare it to one brewed using all grain and you will immediately tell the difference. All grain beer is fresher and fuller in flavour. Extract has a tendency to have a twang regardless of how well the other important factors of yeast use and temperature control are managed.

    Is all grain that much better to justify the expense of going all grain, both in dollars spent as well as time spent? For some it is, and for others it isn’t. It comes down to why you brew and how much you enjoy the act of brewing itself. If you are not sure there is that middle ground of partial brewing. All grain brewing to comprise half the final volume and topping up with extract. For a lot of people this is the start of the slippery slope. People buy equipment to do partials, mashing say 2-3 kg of grain and topping up with a kit to make 23 litres. Then within a couple of months more money has been spent and it’s all grain brewing from then on.

    So how can we bypass that partial stage and start on the full mash brewing straight away to decide whether the expense is worth it? It is quite easy. There is a good chance the equipment you need is already in your house and if not it could be pretty easily purchased for very little.

    So what are our steps broadly? Firstly the mash. This is where we add water to the grain at a specified temp (usually around 66 degrees) to convert the starch in the grain to sugar. Secondly, drain or sparge. This is to separate the liquid from the solids. Thirdly, the boil. We boil the liquid for at least an hour. It is at this stage we add the hops which add bitterness and flavour to the beer. Finally we chill, ferment and wait patiently to bottle it and drink it.

    The first step of mashing requires something to mash in. For some this is an old esky (or a new one) and for others it is a large pot. The size of this ‘mash tun’ needs to be at least the size of your desired final volume of beer but it may need to be bigger if you are doing full volume mashing discussed below.

    For a lot of people the size of a batch would be the standard kit size of around 23 litres. For those using kegs it might be 19 litres. But, all grain brewing is not limited by the size of the can of extract. You can make the brew size anything you want. If you have a 20 litre pot, perhaps do 16 litre batches. It’s still a good quantity of beer and if you enjoy it you can brew more often. So, if you have an esky and a larger pot you can trial all-grain using those two pieces of equipment and adjust your brew size to suit what you have. Do a couple and then buy what you want, if you want, to make bigger batches or to set up you set up a little better.

    Now, once we have worked out our batch size and our base equipment we need to look at the different ways we can go about brewing and work out which equipment we need from there. The choice is entirely up to you, and may be dependent on what you have around the house or what you are prepared to buy. But remember, if you are trialling all grain, it is better to try it without buying anything so that you can save you money for when you decide all grain is for you. If its not, then you have not spent a cent. There are two broad categories of brewing for the beginner, full volume and simple sparging. I’ll explain both below.

    Full Volume

    This is the easiest method possible. Get your mash tun and mix up the crushed grain with warm water. The amount of water needed here will be the final volume desired plus a litre for each kilogram of grain in the mash. Leave it for an hour to convert the starch to sugar and either drain off the liquid or take out the solids (grain). How you do this depends on your equipment.

    If you are mashing in an esky it should be easy enough to drain the liquid off into a big pot. If you are mashing in an esky and draining to a pot, some of the simple sparging methods may be better, but full volume is very easy.

    If you are mashing in your big pot, which may be your boiling pot it can be a bit more difficult. However, there is a nice little way of doing this easily, it is know as brewing in a bag and it may be a worthwhile purchase. Simply you buy or make a bag out of a material that allows liquid to easily pass through and the crushed grain remain in the bag. The bag goes in the pot of water and you add the grain to the bag. When the mash is done, give it a vigorous stir and take the bag out, give it a squeeze and you are done. So what material is best? Sheer curtain material made of polyester works a treat. Muslin could also work but because this tends to be cotton it will easily rot over time if you are not careful.

    The benefit of full volume is you don’t need any other equipment.

    Simple sparging

    There are of course a few options here. Firstly, there is the batch sparge and secondly the simple sparge.

    If you are using an esky and big pot for your brewing you can batch sparge. Drain off the liquid from your mash to your big pot. Then add hot water (say 80 degrees) to the grains, stir, leave it for ten minutes and drain off. This can be done once twice or three times. Twice is probably best. But you’ll need to have other pots to heat the water for sparging up. It can get a little tricky.

    If you are using a big pot as your mash tun you need to be able to separate the liquids from the solids. If you don’t want to use the brew in a bag option it can become a little bit of a juggling act. You’ll need other pots and containers and you’ll need colanders and strainers. Sit a colander on top of another container and ladle out the grains and liquid into the container. You may need a lot of pots and containers depending on your volume. Then run the sparge water over the drained grains to ‘wash’ off more of the sugars. This works and has been done by many a new brewer but there are easier ways.

    If you have an esky and you have a larger pot you can start brewing all grain today for free. Otherwise you can start brewing all grain for very little. There is no need to buy masses of equipment. Best to leave that until you have decided it is for you.

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