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> All-Grain Brewing, by Schneider_Artois and Typhoon Brewer
cj in j
post May 8 2005, 02:15 AM
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Going All-Grain
contributed by Schneider_Artois and Typhoon Brewer

Q: I already make good beer using extract. Why would I want to move to all-grain brewing?
A: The answer is you control every aspect of the brewing process, which results in increased creativity, saves money, gives you the freshest flavor and provides complete control. Extract brewing leaves part of the process in the hands maltster and limits what you can do with some grains. All-grain brewing leaves all the decisions up to you.

Q: Ok, so you have me interested. What can I do with this new found control?
A: This control enables you to use any malted grain, especially the less-converted German malts, cara-pils, flaked barley, wheat, and rye to name a few. Here is a link for grain descriptions: BYO Grain Chart. These ingredients, which for the most part can't be used in extract brewing, allow you to create a specific texture, body, flavour and head retention of the beer. This means you can get that much closer to brewing the perfect Oktoberfest, that spicy rye IPA or the Belgian wit you've longed to have.

Q: That sounds interesting, but it also sounds complicated . . .
A: While all-grain (AG) brewing does require some additional and specialized equipment it is only as complicated as you make it. The process is actually quite simple and goes something like this:
1) Heat water in your boil kettle
2) Transfer hot water to your mash tun and add grain
3) Ensure grain and water (mash) are thoroughly mixed and let it all sit for an hour
4) While you are mashing heat another 5 gallons of water
5) Transfer the hot water to your bottling bucket or, if you bought one, your hot liquor tank
6) Elevate the hot water so that it is above your mash tun and begin the sparge process
7) Collect your sweet wort in your boil kettle
8) Once that is done, follow your usual extract brewing procedures

Q: That does sound simple. Ok, you convinced me! I'm ready to move to the dark side, but before I do what equipment will I need?
A: Here's a list of the major pieces you'll need.

Grain Mill If you're making a decent-sized batch, you're going to be putting a few pounds of grain in -- and all this grain needs to be cracked! While a number of brewers construct their own mills (single roller, double roller, adjustable) it's quite feasible to just buy a simple two roller -- such as the CGM-2S from Crankandstein. This will set you back about $70 -- and a short while to build a nice custom hopper and base!

Mash Tun/Sparging Setup The big one! Many brewers convert a standard 10-gallon Rubbermaid/Coleman water cooler into a mash tun. Its insulated walls and convenient volume make it the perfect mash tun. The critical part of the mash tun is a filtering/manifold system at the bottom of it, to draw the wort out cleanly, and at an appropriate flow rate. A complete setup from HBA, for example, will cost you around $150 (highly recommended – includes cooler, false bottom, and sparging setup): HBA AG System* or you can use one of your own coolers if you wish, make your own manifold out of copper tubing, and use some hose for sparging. Or, you can purchase a conversion kit from HBA. This will cost you closer to $50. Here's the link for individual pieces of mashing/sparging equipment you may want: HBA AG Parts.

Boiler/kettle For a 5-gallon batch, you will generally need a boiler of about 7-10 gallons, and one of similar size for use as a hot water tank. Hopefully, if you've come along in extract brewing, you will already have one! A very sexy stainless steel kettle can cost you from $100 up to around $200 or even more, but a common solution is to convert a keg -- significantly cheaper and does the job just as well (just not as sexy)! The keg conversion method can be found in the Keggle Conversion 101 FAQ, and is your best bet, especially if you can get two for a good deal. This is a low-budget, but highly-effective solution.

Heating Heating that boiler of yours will require an investment of between $30 and $120. If you are restricted to indoor brewing, a heat stick (or two) is a good idea. Instructions for building can be found here (thanks Werper! ). A turkey fryer will be about half way along this price range and will obviously require connections and a source of propane/LPG and brewing outdoors. Big jet burners can run up to $100.

Cooling You need to cool your wort after you boil it, and when we're talking about 5 gallons, you can't just get away with putting it in a sink full of ice! The most common solution is bending between 15 and 40ft of 3/8" or 1/2" copper tube around a paint can or similar solid object so that a coil, chiller, is produced that will fit in your boiler. This will cost around $10-40, depending on sources, length and choice of fittings. The link for HBA's chiller is found here. You can run tap water through the chiller and, depending on the temp of your tap water, around half an hour later your wort is at pitching temp. Remember that the coil must go into the boiling wort with at least 15 minuets remaining in the boil to prevent bacterial infections. If you want to bring your cooling time down by about 30-50%, you can make another identical chiller to use as a pre-chiller. It's the same concept, but you put this pre-chiller in a bucket of ice/water to get the temperature right down –- very effective!

Brew Stand This is the final piece of equipment, and is optional if you brew indoors, that offers a chance for the brewer to get even more creative! I've seen everything from custom-made 3-tier stands, to shelving systems adapted to brewing, to just brewing on the kitchen table. The sky and your imagination are the limit! Brew stands can cost you next to nothing, up to thousands of dollars. I'll leave this one up to you!

Q: I think I can handle that. Now, please, break the process down for me.
A: For your first AG brew I would suggest doing a single infusion mash. In other words after dough-in, your grains will rest at around 150-158F for an hour, followed by a sparge. From there, it's just like doing extract -- boil, add your hops, additives, cool it down, transfer to your fermentation vessel, pitch your yeast . . . and wait in anticipation!

Once you get your process down and decide you want to go that one step (or three steps) further, you can add rests (to acidify the mash, or to break down proteins in the mash) before your main rest. Or, to produce that authentic German beer, you can combine these rests with a special wort heating regime, called decoctions. These involve drawing off specified volumes of the mash, resting, and boiling at each stage . . . not for the amateur brewer! But, the prospect of an authentic Oktoberfest in your stein at the end of a hard days work is often too hard to resist for some!

Q: Sparging . . . you've thrown that word around a lot. What does it mean?
A: From the Jan-Feb 2004 issue of BYO sparging is "rinsing the grain bed with water to extract as much of the sugar as possible." This step occurs when satisfactory starch conversion has taken place (usually 60-90 minutes). Sparging can be done one of two ways, batch of fly.

Batch sparging involves drawing out all of the wort into your kettle, then filling the mash tun up with hot water (about 170F) and doing the same again . . . quite easy!

Fly, or continuous sparging, involves hot water flowing into the mash tun, while drawing out wort at the same rate. It can involve some fiddling, but you can generally leave the sparging setup alone once you're satisfied that the flow rates are matched.

Q: Ok, so that covers those things. What else do I need to know to help me achieve that complete control you spoke of earlier?
A: A few things, one of which is water/grain ratio. A thick/stiff mash (1-1.5 qts/lb grain) will promote protein breakdown and quick conversion, but produces a sweeter, less fermentable beer. On the other hand, a thin mash (2-2.5 qts/lb grain) will produce very fermentable wort, but takes longer to fully convert. Most brewers choose a ratio of about 1.5 qts/lb.

Next would be mash pH. Ideally you want your mash pH between 5.5 and 5.2. Paraphrasing from Vol 1 of De Clerck's A Text Book of Brewing, "...extraction of undesirable substances from the husks is reduced to a minimum and acidification should be carried out in the mash tun in such a manner as to facilitate the flow of wort and spargings." Some brewers achieve optimal mash pH by using pH Stabilizer from Five Star. Others do it by adding minerals such as gypsum, calcium chloride or chalk to the mash. Still others are lucky enough to have great brewing water and don't need to do anything!

Another point to put forward is clearing of the wort of grain and husk residue. This must be done prior to sparging, to ensure no husks get into the boil -- this would create a very astringent beer! Recirculating usually involves taking off a quart or so at a time in a saucepan, and dribbling it over the mash again until it clears. Recirculation normally takes 10-15 minutes.

Q: Great, that all sounds logical. So how do I take the step to all grain?
A: This is often a difficult decision for brewers. Depending on how you decide to proceed, how resourceful you are and how deep your pockets are it can cost hundreds of dollars and take up quite a lot of space in the shed/kitchen/bedroom.

Q: Wow, that was big. So, any closing comments?
A: Yes. When people move to all grain, they generally notice their beers improve significantly. Many brewers have been extract brewers using a 2.5-gallon pot on their stove. Most people agree that the most important step to making better extract beer (other than ingredients) is doing full-size boils. This prevents caramelisation and allows for better hop utilization.

While all-grain brewing may seem a daunting task, this is generally not the case. Most brewers find that when brew day comes, it was a lot easier than they first thought. Financially, the equipment costs can be spread out over time. A boiler, chiller, and heater will all be required/desired and should be among for first purchases if you decide to switch to AG.

Remember that while there is a lot of talk on all grain vs. extract, don't be pressured into either method. The decision should be your own. Research both methods, look at your financial/residential situation and decide which is the most feasible method, and then make your decision. If possible, offer to assist an AG brewer to get a first hand look at the equipment in operation and to view the process. This board contains a wealth of information, and the FAQ section will give you some more specifics.

Also, I strongly suggest you look into a number of books, including John Palmer's "How To Brew" (also found on the web: How to Brew). Happy brewing!

* Note: For more information on brewing with the HBA All-Grain setup, check out Mashing with HBA's Cooler System.
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