All Grain Brewing: The Ultimate Guide

All-grain brewing is the pinnacle for the home brewer. It is the pure form of brewing, and the goal of anyone who gets in to brewing as a hobby. While it is labor intensive, it offers the brewer the most control over the final product, and it is the method that allows the brewer to brag that the beer is 100% theirs. Every ingredient that will go in to the mix will be determined by the brewer’s hand, guided by their intuition. This total control requires a lot of thinking and planning, but the outcome will more than make up for the time and expense that will be needed.

All-grain brewing is not to be taken lightly, and a brewer will find that practicing the necessary skills and theories in extract batches will pay off. That practice will help in the long run and help build a platform for all-grain brewing for the brewer to build from. Getting to all-grain allows for incredible flexibility in the brew, allowing the brewer to clone any beer they like or create new flavors. In the end, your first all-grain batch will be a memorable moment in brewing for you, and the enjoyment you’ll get from the first batch that is all of your own making is hard to match.

Before the Brew

Required Equipment

  • Brew Pot (50 liters /13 gallons or more)
  • Brew Pot (30 liters / 8 gallons or more)
  • 2 Propane Burners or a gas stove
  • Mash / Lauter Tun (2 if doing continuous sparge)
  • Metal Stirring Spoon
  • Mash Paddle
  • Iodine
  • 2 Floating Thermometers
  • Hydrometer and test tube
  • Plastic tubing
  • Plastic Funnel
  • Strainer
  • Hop Bags (optional)
  • Grain Bags
  • Wort Chiller or a big tub of ice
  • Primary fermenter (secondary fermenter optional)

Recipe

Your best option for your first all-grain batch is to pick a recipe from one of the many online databases that is a clone of a beer you enjoy. This will allow you to get the process down and you’ll have something to compare the final product against. By keeping thorough notes, you can see if you deviate from the recipe at all, and try and determine what effect your deviation may have on the finished product. Beyond the first batch, taking hints from other brewers, using online sources.

Ingredients

Grains – Two types of grains are used in doing all-grain brewing, the base malt and the specialty grains. You will use anywhere from 3.5kg/8lbs to 6.5/15lbs of base malt per 19 liters/5 gallons of brew, depending on the types of base malts your using and the type of beer you’re trying to make. The specialty grains will be somewhere between .45kg/1lb to .9kg/2lbs, and these will provide the main flavors, ranging from sweetness to toasty. Get the grains cracked at a homebrew shop beforehand.

Hops – Available as pellets or whole hops flowers, these will add notes such as floral, citrus, spice, and pine. Whole hops are more flavorful, but pellet hops are more stable and can be bought in bulk and stored for later use, great if you are planning to use the same types of hops in different batches. Hops will add bitterness, flavors, and aromas to the brew, and are often the most noticed part of the beer.

Water – Often the cause of a beer that tastes a bit off, it is important to make sure that the water being used is as neutral as possible. If your tap water has chemicals added, they will throw off the taste. Brewing is one of the few times when buying bottled water is encouraged.

Flavorings – Best used once you have the basics down, flavorings come as powders, extracts, or whole ingredients can be used to infuse flavors beyond hops and malts. Extracts are the easiest way to go when you first try to add flavor, as 50-100 milliliters/2-4 ounces can flavor an entire batch. They should be used sparingly, as they can be sweeter than expected. Purees and whole foods can be added in advanced brews, but doing so is a complex process and best left until the brewer has a thorough grasp of other processes.

Yeast starter or incubator pack – If you are using yeast, make sure to have a starter going before you start the boil. If you are using an incubator pack, break open the nutrient pack and let it develop while working. Re-hydrated yeast cultures from packets of dry yeast can be used, but are not recommended. With ready-to-pitch packs of high cell-count yeasts readily available, being both simple and stable, they are the best way to go.

Sterilization

Please see our previous entry on proper cleaning and sterilization of your brewing gear. If you’re not sure if you have thoroughly sterilized your gear, do it again. Even if you’re brewing a bacteria-dependent style such as a lambic or Flanders red ale, you still want only the right bacteria to be part of the brew.

Brewing

Mashing

There are a number of ways to mash, but we will be using the basic single-temperature infusion method, as it is the simplest and most versatile of all mash methods.

1. Per .45kg/1lb of grain you will be using, heat .95 liters/1 quart of water to 76.7 Celsius/170 Fahrenheit

2. Slowly pour the water and grains into the mash tun, and stir every 10 minutes or so.

3. Check the temperature often, insuring it stays between 64.4-70 Celsius/148-158 Fahrenheit. The best ways to make sure it stays at this temperature are to use a thoroughly insulated mash tun, generally one built from a picnic cooler. Wrapping it in blankets can help keep the temperature up, but should not be necessary if using a picnic cooler version.

4. While the mash is going, heat up 1.9 liters/2 quarts of water per .45kg/1lb of grain, to 82.2-87.8 Celsius/180-190 Fahrenheit.

5. After an hour, test to see if the starch conversion is complete by putting a dropper of wort on a white plate, then adding iodine. If there is no change in color, starch conversion is complete. If it turns black, it needs to sit longer.

6. When the starch conversion is complete, proceed with sparging the grain bed. This is done either as a two-step or continuous process. The two-step method is the easiest, while the continuous method is the most efficient

  • Two-step sparge: Add roughly 3.8 liters/1 gallon of heated water from Step 4, then drain. This will be cloudy, and will need to be run over the grain bed again, along with half of the remaining heated water. Let sit for 20 minutes, then drain. Add remaining heated water, let sit for 20 minutes, then drain again.
  • Continuous sparge: Using flow clips and tubing, run a length of plastic tubing from an empty mash tun to the full mash tun. Constrict the tubing with a clip for a slow but steady flow. Pour the heated water from Step 4 into the empty mash tun, then open the valve to allow it to pour onto the tun with the grain in it. Open the valve on the tun with grain in it to drain as the hot water runs through. As with the two-step method, the first 3.8 liters/1 gallons will need to be run through the grain bed at least a second time.

7. Once roughly 22.7 liters/6 gallons have been collected, you have your wort. Transfer to your brew pot for the boil.

The Boil

1. Bring your wort to a boil.

2. Start timing your 60-minute boil when you add your first bag of hops. This first hop addition provides the bittering. During the hour, you will need to make sure that boil-overs do not occur. It will be tempting to walk away at times, but the boil will need intermittent stirring. If a boil-over looks imminent, try spraying

3. Continue the boil, stirring as needed, and add the remaining hops per your hop schedule. If you are making your own recipe, you’ll add the flavoring and aroma hops with roughly 10-15 minutes left, and then the finishing hops with 5 minutes left.

4. After 60 minutes, turn the flame off and remove the pot from the burner.

Cooling

You’ll need to get the wort down to 23-24 degrees Celsius/70-75 degrees Fahrenheit before pitching the yeast, and there are a number of ways to do it. The reliable and quick, but expensive, method is a wort chiller, a coil that goes in the beer and circulates cold water through the center of the hot wort. A cold water bath with lots of ice is cheaper and avoids the risk of contamination, but will require stirring to evenly and quickly cool the wort. If you’re lucky enough to live in a cold part of the country and its winter, just seal the brew pot and stick it outside for a bit.

Straining and Transferring

1. Pour 7.5 liters/2 gallons of cool water into the fermenter.

2. Pour in the cooled wort. This can be done through siphoning, or pouring the wort through a strainer. However you choose to do it, insure that any sludge or particles remain in the brew kettle.

3. Add enough cool water to bring the total volume of your fermenter to 18.9 liters/5 gallons.

4. Seal the fermenter tightly, then rock it around to aerate and fully mix the wort and water.

5. Measure the brew’s specific gravity with a hydrometer, and record for later reference.

Pitching the Yeast and Fermentation

Pitching the yeast is just the brewing term for adding the yeast in to the wort. If you use scissors to open the yeast packet, make sure they are sterilized – they can add bacteria that can be picked up by the yeast. After adding the yeast, seal the lid of your fermentation vessel, then shake it around a bit to aerate the wort. Add some of your sanitizer solution to the airlock, then move the brew to a storage area. The best storage area will be dark, rarely trafficked, easy to clean, and able to be kept at a steady temperature in the range of 18.5-23.5 degrees Celsius/65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.

The fermenting beer will need to be checked a number of times daily to ensure the airlock stays clear. A clogged airlock will lead to an explosion, which is a mess to clean up. After roughly two weeks in the primary fermenter, you will notice that bubbles stop appearing in the airlock. When this happens, there are two options. The first is to proceed with bottling. The second is to transfer to a secondary vessel for more conditioning, as well for extra opportunity to clear the beer of particulates.

The steps presented here are the minimal steps in creating your first all-grain batch. Getting these procedures down will allow you to develop your own recipes and create a beer that is exactly what you have been seeking. Successfully brewing an all-grain batch is a serious accomplishment that the brewer should be proud of, as it is a milestone that many home brewers still aspire to.

Have you brewed an all-grain batch before? Feel free to share your first brewing experience and any tips you might have for the perfect batch!

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