So you have made kits, made some partial brews with your own ingredients, maybe made a mini mash and are now wondering about all grain. I’m not saying that you cannot go straight to all grain but I personally would recommend that you do try kit brewing and partial before you go to all grain. The reason? Well, once you have mastered sanitation, fermentation, temps, bottling and kegging, then its a smaller step to all grain. Equipment wise, you will only have to add a few items rather than start from scratch. Brewing is like anything else, you start with the basics, get confident with it and with experience advance in the craft. Would you drive a Ferrari on your driving lessons? (I wish).
Why all grain?
I have been a kit brewer for many years and slowly advanced to partial extract. All grain brewing seemed a bit too complicated and time consuming to me as I can make a great tasting beer in an hour or more with a good kit or partial brew. I was also put off by the cost of the equipment for all grain because I started home brewing to save money. Looking at the various brewers on the internet and YouTube I wondered where I could buy a turkey fryer and propane burner as used by our American cousins.
You will have your own reasons for wanting to brew an all grain beer, for me I wanted to reach the pinnacle , the holy grail of home brewing and experiment with my own recipes and I am glad I did. I am not a snobby brewer and sometimes make kits when time and my beer supplies are short, but all grain does produce some fantastic beers. A good way to explain it would be to compare a pot noodle with a meal cooked by a great chef, both will fill you up, both will be tasty and both have their place but they are in a different league.
All Grain Brewing.
All grain brewing, as the name suggests, uses different grains to produce a beer in the same way but on a smaller scale than a brewery. There are several steps to making beer with grain which require different equipment.
what is grain?
The grain used by brewers is malted barley and depending on the beer being brewed, unmalted barley and a number of other ingredients. Barley seeds are taken when they are about to germinate and are kiln dried (malted). This process stops the germination and seals in the enzymes that the seed uses to convert starch reserves into sugars for the growing plant. When the brewer then crushes and heats the grain with water in the mash tun this process starts again and the sugars produced are then fermented to make beer.
The first step to making beer from grains is called the mash.This is where the crushed grain is added to heated water and left to “mash” for a period of time (60 to 90 mins). During this period the starch in the grain is converted into fermentable sugars by enzyme activity. The sugary water (wort) is then drained out of the mash tun into the boiler. More of the sugars are then washed out of the grain by a process called the sparge. Although this sounds quite simple there are a number of complicated processes going on in the mash tun. Different tastes, flavours, mouthfeel, and types of sugars can be produced by changing the temperature, timings and method of mash.
This next step is where the grain in the mash tun is washed with water to remove as much sugar as possible. There are two main methods used, fly sparge and batch sparge. When you fly sparge a shower of water is gently sprinkled onto the top of the grain and washes through the grain bed and drained out of the bottom. Batch sparging involves refilling the mash tun with water, letting it sit for a short time and then drain the sugary from the bottom.
Once sparged the wort is collected in the boiler ready for the next step.
The wort collected is then heated up to a boil and hops are added at various times. The boil enables the beer to be pasteurised and the hops to release their bitter taste into the wort. The longer the hops are boiled the more bitterness is imparted into the beer, the shorter time the hops are boiled more hop aroma is produced by the finished beer. Usually there are two or three hop additions during the boil. The bittering addition is usually added at the start of the boil, the flavour addition mid boil and the aroma addition is at the end of the boil. The amounts of hops used and times added to the wort gives the finished beer it’s character and varies from one recipe to another.
There are other ingredients added during the boil such as Irish moss which is a fining agent to help clear the finished beer.
After the boil has finished the wort is rapidly cooled using a wort chiller or ice bath to the correct temperature so the yeast can be pitched.
The beer is then left to ferment and is bottled or kegged as usual.