When I was first contemplating the jump from extract brewing to all grain, I hesitated for a long time out of fear. The mystique around all grain brewing and the unfamiliar terms were intimidating. Protein rests, decoction mashes, enzymes, saccharification rests, Ph, water chemistry, stuck mashes, temperature control, starch conversion ... I’d sit up at night reading about all this stuff and wonder how in the world someone like me could ever brew this way. Finally, in the company of another novice brewer, I just closed my eyes and jumped in. I found out how easy all grain brewing can be, and we made some fantastic, award winning beers. If you have an interest in trying all grain brewing, I’ll bet you can do it, too.
Like so many other things of course, all grain brewing can be as complicated as you’d like it to be. But you can start out simple with great results. Once you’ve gotten the basic moves down, you can begin to grow into the more complicated areas of this brewing technique. But for the first several batches it simply is not necessary to understand all the confusing things like protein rests and decoction mashes.
The purpose of this outline is to show you, clearly and simply, how you can build a simple all grain brewing setup and how to use that to brew some tasty beer. You will not find detailed charts and information here about the chemistry of brewing. There are plenty of books out there with tons of that kind of detail, and I encourage you to read them. They are easy to find and have some invaluable information in them. But for now, lets concentrate on the most basic part of all grain brewing ... making a fermentable wort from malted grain. That’s really what the “all grain” part of brewing is.
In its most basic form, all grain brewing is a very simple technique. Take some cracked malted grain, soak it in some water to allow sugars to form, boil the runoff to sanitize it, and introduce the yeast of your choice to ferment it. The more control you have over the brewing components and the process, the better you will be able to manipulate the process to produce the type and quality of beer you’re looking for. As you continue to brew, you will become familiar with many of these and you can use your knowledge to go as far as you’d like, but for now, let’s look at a basic all grain setup and run through the process of brewing some beer. I know it works, because we do it all the time.
Yes, you will need some equipment. Go ahead and drool over those stainless steel brew sculptrures and RIMS systems in the catalogs. I know I do. But for our purposes, we’ll start off a little simpler and a lot cheaper. The system we use is capable of brewing a 10-gallon batch of beer, and I would suggest you try for that, too. We can, and often do, brew 5-gallon batches, but it’s really great to be able to do 10-gallons at a time when you want to. And no, this is not necessarily the cheapest system you could possibly devise ... that’s not the purpose of this book. The system I use is an average system that is reasonably easy and affordable to put together, and it produces good results for us. We spent some time slowly accumulating the parts of this system before we ever tried to use it, because we couldn’t afford to go out and buy everything all at once. Here’s our basic setup.
Computer Program - This is optional but there are some very good ones out there and they really can make brewing a lot earier. Many are even freeware or shareware ... look around and find something you like.
Grain Mill - We purchased a mill that is powered by an electric drill. This was one of the biggest expenses in setting up our all grain brewery, but we knew we’d be running through many pounds of grain and we wanted something we could get consistently good results with quickly.
Water Filter - Most likely you’ll be using a garden hose to supply water to your brewery. Make sure the hose is in good condition, and always run the water through a good filter. Yes, this is another item you’ll have to buy, but they’re not all that expensive and it would be foolish to try brewing without one.
Mash Tun - This is the place where the cracked grain gets soaked in warm water to produce the sugars. It is a large cooler with a cpvc underdrain and a spigot. We chose a rectangular one because it was cheap, easy to find, and we could easily make an underdrain system for it out of CPVC pipe.
Lauter Tun - This is a tank to hold hot water used in rinsing the sugars out of the soaked grains. This hot water is dripped onto the grains in the mash tun after the grains have soaked long enough.
Boil Kettle - This is another item we purchased, and was another of our largest expenditures. It is a converted stainless steel 15.5 gallon beer keg. For those who are sufficiently mechanically inclined, there are numerous instructions out there telling how to do this conversion yourself. Maybe you could save a few bucks. We have not regreted this purchase in the least, though. Whatever you eventually get, do use stainless steel. Although I have read that some folks use aluminum boil kettles with good result, I would shy away from them.
Propane Burner - Buy a good burner and make sure it will support your brew kettle. Some of the "Turkey Friers" youcommonly see for sale have a reaised band that fits the pot that comes with the burner. These pots are aluminum and you do not want to brew beer in them.
Hydrometer - You don't absolutely have to have one of these, but they are extremely useful.
Chiller - A chiller is a coil of copper piping that you put into the boiling wort. A water hose connects to each end and cool water is circulated through it to help cool the hot liquid rapidly. You will need one of these. They are fairly simple to make, and they are also available commercially.
We’ll assume you already have your recipe worked out and you have purchased your grain, yeast and hops, and will be brewing a 10-gallon batch of finished beer.
The first step in brewing is to make a yeast starter. The popular liquid yeasts on the market say they are capable of fermenting a 5-gallon batch of brew, and they are. But a nice, big, active starter get’s the fermentation processes going faster and results in a better beer. We always make a yeast starter the night before brew day, buying two packages of the yeast of our choice so we can make a separate starter from each. Making a starter is not an absolute necessity, though, and if you are just starting out with all grain you might want to skip making a starter the first few times, just to keep the process as simple as possible until you get more familiar with it.
Assuming you decide to make a starter, you’ll need to have two 32 ounce glass jugs handy, cleaned and sanitized. We like to spray a small piece of aluminium foil with sanitizer and place it over the top of the sanitized jug while we make up the wort for the starters. We use iodophor as a sanitizing agent.
Mix 1 1/3 cups of light DME (Dry malt Extract) with 4 cups boiling water. Throw in a few hop pellets (variety doesn’t really matter) and boil for 15 minutes. Use a fairly cheap pot to boil starters in, because they generally have relatively poor heat retention and can cool the mixture to pitching temperature more quickly. Place a thermometer in the pot ... a clip-on one that came with a yogurt making kit works great. Be VERY ATTENTIVE at the initial boil stage, as the wort will foam up a great deal and will boil over if you’re not careful. Keep a spray bottle of water handy and spray the foam to keep it down. Once past this stage you’ll be alright. (You probably already know this from brewing your extract batches, but I thought I’d mention it just the same). Transfer the pot carefully to a sink full of cold water and swirl it around until the wort cools to around 80º F. Now, using a sanitized funnel, pour roughly half the wort into each jug, introduce one packet of yeast into each jug, and install an airlock. (You already know about keeping everything sanitary, so I won’t go into that). Now sit the jugs in a relatively warm area, where they’ll stay till your ready to use them the following day.
Start boiling some water in your kettle. Weigh out your grains and mill them. Check to make sure your underdrain piping is all connected in your mash tun, and pour the grain in.
Our Mash Tun
Our mash tun is just a large plastic cooler we bought at one of those large warehouse discount places. It says it will hold 96 quarts and it has performed very well for us thus far. You’ll need to remove the spigot that came with it and put on a stainless steel valve and a couple of washers. See the photos for pictures of all this stuff. Here’s a parts list of what you’ll need:
1 - Stainless Ball Valve
2 - Rubber Tap Gaskets
1 - 1 1/2” Stainless Nipple, 1/2” Diameter
1 - 1/2” x 3/8”Bib
1 - 1/2” CPVC Threaded Adapter
6 Feet of 1/2” CPVC Piping
4 - 1/2” CPVC Elbows
1 - 1/2” CPVC “T”s
1 - 1/2” CPVC Cross
The CPVC underdrain can be modified to best fit the cooler you use. Drill some small holes all along it using a 3/32” bit or something similar. Just drill the straight sections, not the elbows and other connectors. Everything will just press fit together. Don’t glue them, because you’ll want to be able to take them apart for cleaning.
Our Lauter Tun
The lauter is just a cooler used to hold hot water. It, too, has a stainless steel valve. We bought two smaller coolers, each sized to hold 48 quarts. This way, we can stack one on the other so gravity will cause the hot water to flow through the tubing to the mash tun. The lower cooler is a great place to stash miscellaneous equipment, too.
To make the lauter tun, you’ll need to remove the spigot that came with it and put on a stainless steel valve and a couple of washers. See the photos for pictures of all this stuff. Here’s a parts list of what you’ll need:
1 - Stainless Ball Valve
2 - Rubber Tap Gaskets
1 - 1 1/2” Stainless Nipple, 1/2” Diameter
1 - 1/2” x 3/8”Bib
We use a piece of drilled CPVC, similar to the mash tun underdrain piping, to disperse the flow of hot water across the top of the grain bed when we rinse the sugars our of the grains. You can easily make something similar to what we show in the picture.
HEAT THE STRIKE WATER (The water that goes into the dry, crushed grains)
You’ll need to decide how hot you want your mash to be while it sits and soaks. It should be somewhere between about 140ºF and 155ºF. Lower temperatures will produce a more fermentable wort and a drier beer. Higher tempertures produce a less fermentable wort, so the finished beer will have more mouth feel. Above 168ºF the enzymes in the mash are destroyed and you won’t get good conversion of starch to sugars. For our Oatmeal Stout we chose to mash at 154ºF. Because the water will cool down when it hits the grain bed, your strike temperature needs to be higher than your target. A good rule of thumb is that the strike temperature will drop about 13ºF when it hits the grain. Don’t worry too much about it! If you wind up with a few degrees above or below your target, you’ll still be fine.
You will also need to decide how much water to add to the grains. Most recipes will specify this and most computer programs will calculate it for you.
Pour the heated water into the mash tun and use a big spoon to stir it in, being careful not to dislodge your underdrain piping. Stirring makes sure you don’t have any dry spots within the grain bed ... you’ll see what we mean when you do it. After the mash is nice and stirred, close the top of the cooler and wait 45 minutes.
While you wait, start heating up your sparge water. and have a beer or two. After the 45 minutes are up, you’ll want to have this heated water in your lauter tun so you can begin to rinse the sugars from the grain bed into your brew kettle. We like to have the rinse water at around 180ºF or so ... it’ll lose heat as it’s transfered and mixes with the mash. You want it hot enough to keep the sugars flowing out of the grain bed. If the water isn't ready after the 45 minutes of mash time are up, that's OK. A little extra time won't matter.
SPARGING THE GRAIN
Now the magic begins. Place your kettle below the mash tun, attach a length of hose that reaches from the bib to the bottom of the pot, and after making sure your kettle valve is closed, slowly open the valve to allow the sugary mixture to slowly begin draining into the kettle. You’ve just made malt extract! Isn’t the color incredible? Taste it! This is my favorite part of the process.
Once you've collected about 12 gallons in your kettle, you'll have to move it to the burner. This is a two person job! If you don't have a second person handy who can help you, it is possible to leave the empty kettle on the burner and collect the runoff in a fermentation bucket. As the bucket gets full, transfer the wort to the kettle.
Ignite the burner under the kettle and get the wort up to a good rolling boil. This will take some time, and we like to wash out the mash tun while we wait for this. Be very attentive as the fluid begins to reach boiling temperature, because it may foam up violently and overflow the kettle. To avoid a boilover you can stir the wort. We have also found that spraying a mist of water from a spray bottle helps keep the foaming down. This potential for boilover doesn't last long, and once it calms down you can relax a little bit.
Now follow your recipe, adding the amounts and types of hops and other ingredients called for and boiling for the length of time specified in your recipe. The boil will sanitize the wort and it will also reduce the volume of it through evaporation.
When there is about 15 minutes left in the boil, go ahead and immerce your chiller in the boiling liquid. This will be time enough for it to become sanitized.
Once the boil is finished, it is important to cool down the wort as quickly as you can. This causes hops and junk to settle out of suspension, and you also want to be able to innocculate your wort with years as soon as it is cool enough. You want your good stuff to colonize the sterile wort before other, potentially yucky things can get a foothold.