All Grain Brewing
This is what a full mash tun looks like!
What is All Grain Brewing?
All grain brewing is making wort (unfermented beer) from grain without the use of extracts. It’s the way the pros do it and beer has been made from all grain for many centuries.
What are the Pros and Cons of All Grain Brewing?
- Total control over the fermentability of the wort. We will go over why later in this article.
- Wide range of choices for base malts giving you more control over the desired outcome.
- More consistent color.
- Ability to brew any style of beer especially pale beers which come out too dark using malt extract.
- Less expensive ingredients. Grain is considerably less expensive than malt extracts.
- Allows you to be more creative. It’s like baking a cake from scratch vs baking a cake from a box. The box is good but made from scratch is better!
- Even more control over the finished product by adjusting your water chemistry.
- Higher starting equipment costs compared to extract.
- More equipment, more stuff to clean.
- It’s a longer brew day. The average extract brew day is around 2.5 hours and for all grain brewing it’s around 4 to 5 hours.
All Grain Brewing Equipment
- Hot Liquor Tank or HLT. Usually a kettle where brewing water is heated to a strike temperature. Sometimes the HLT is a cooler and water is heated and then stored in a cooler to keep it hot and ready for the brew.
- Mash Lauter Tun or MLT. The MLT is where the mash happens. Water is fed into the MLT from the HLT and then the crushed grain is stirred into the mash water and then held at a specific temperature for a specific amount of time. The bottom of the MLT is fitted with some sort of false bottom or manifold to allow the brewer to separate the wort from the grain at the end of the mash. The MLT is usually a kettle or a cooler fitted with a false bottom.
- Boil Kettle. The boil kettle should be large enough to hold the full volume of wort for the batch size you are brewing.
- Mash Paddle. You need a paddle or spoon with a little backbone to thoroughly stir your mash.
- Brew in a Bag. Brew in a Bag is a method of all grain brewing that uses a large nylon bag in place of a false bottom to separate the wort from the grain.
- Grain Mill. Most homebrew stores will mill your grain for you but experienced brewers prefer to mill their own grain so they can get it crushed just right for their brewing system. If you are serious about all grain brewing buy a good grain mill!
Methods of All Grain Brewing
3 Vessel All Grain Brewing. This is an all grain brewing system that requires an HLT, MLT, and a Boil Kettle. Most professional brewers and many homebrewers use this type of system. The benefit of this type of system is it is extremely efficient. Hot water is fed into the MLT for the mash, and then again for the sparge. The sparge, or rinsing of the grain bed helps increase the amount of sugar extracted from your grain improving efficiency. The wort is then drained into the BK for the boil.
Brew in a Bag. Being an old school brewer, I learned how to brew on the above 3 vessel system. Then the brew in a bag method started gaining in popularity. The more I learned about Brew in a Bag or BIAB for short, the more it flew in the face of everything I knew about all grain brewing.
Finally, I gave in and decided I needed to try it, just so I could talk competently to brewers about the process. I had no hopes of brewing a good beer with this method. I brewed a beer that I had brewed many times on my 3 vessel system, and I hated to admit it but the Brew in a Bag beer was every bit as good as the same beer brewed on a 3 vessel system.
So why is BIAB so popular? It’s a simple process, and it requires much less equipment and greatly lowers your cost to start brewing all grain. It does not require a sparge, so it shortens your brew day and there is less equipment to clean.
To use the BIAB method of all grain brewing all you need is a kettle large enough to hold all of your water and all of your grain. You need a bag, and you need a heat source, gas or electric. Simple as that!
Let’s talk about the mash. The mash is where all that chemistry stuff happens that allows you to make delicious beer! Because I am not a chemistry wiz I will not go into a lot of detail about the enzymatic process that goes on during the mash. If you are into that sort of info there are numerous scholarly papers on the subject that you will not find here.
Very simply, the temperature of your mash will determine how fermentable your wort will be. I am only going to talk about single infusion mashes. A mash where you hold at one single temperature. The temperature range for this type of mash is between 146° and 158° F. A mash at 146° will create a highly fermentable wort which will result in a very dry, light bodied beer. A mash at 158° will create a lot more unfermentable sugars making the beer sweeter and full bodied. Mash somewhere around 152° for a medium body beer.
Mash times are generally longer for lower temperatures and shorter for higher temperatures. If I am mashing at 146 to 150 I will hold that temperature for 75 to 90 minutes. If I am mashing between 151 and 154 I will hold it at that temperature for 60 minutes. Between 155 and 158 I will hold it at that temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. The time is to allow the conversion of all the starches in the grain to sugar. It takes more time at the lower temperatures and less time at the higher temperatures.
Now you can see the level of control you will have over the finished beer.
Now that you know why you would want to do all grain brewing, and what kind of equipment you will need, you need to know how to do it. For that I have put together several videos that will detail the entire process for you. Cheers and happy brewing!
3 Vessel All Grain Brewing Video
Brew in a Bag All Grain Brewing Video
Here is a video of all grain brewing using the very popular Robobrew All In One Electric Brewing System.
One of the more complex All Grain Brewing issues is water chemistry. I have detailed exactly how to do it in this video.