Brewing Your First All Grain Batch
For many new brewers, starting their first all grain batch can be very intimidating. Although it sounds complicated, the basic concept of all grain brewing is actually quite simple. All grain brewing is just the process of using all malted grains instead of extract; so in a nutshell we are making our own extract.
Now you may be asking, if all grain is just making extract, why not just use extract? This is a very valid question; as brewers can make amazing beer using extracts. The benefits of all grain brewing is that it gives the brewer complete control over their beer. They have the opportunity to determine every grain that is going to be used, as well as the ability to control the body and alcohol content of the final product. Basically, we are brewing beer following the same process that just about every brewery in the world uses. For this article we are going to go through a very basic all grain brew to show how simple it can be.
To get started, there is some equipment that will be needed in addition to a standard extract kit. You will find that there are many different ways to brew all grain and that many people have new and creative equipment setups, which may be different than the equipment listed.
- Brew Kettle 7.5 gallons or larger
- Mash Tun with false bottom or braid
- Long Spoon to stir mash
- Hot liquor tank – This is a vessel used to hold and often heat hot water that will be dispensed into the mash
- Wort Chiller – Is used to cool the wort to temperatures suitable for pitching yeast
The basis of all grain brewing is what is called mashing. Mashing is the process of taking your grains and soaking them in hot water at temperatures between 148° and 158°F for approximately 45-60 minutes; this is called a Saccharification Rest. During this time, enzymes will break down the starches that are inside the grains into both fermentable and non-fermentable sugars.
To start our brew, the first thing that we need to determine is how much water we will need for our mash. Like all things in life, there are many opinions on what is the perfect amount of water for a mash. This can range anywhere from 1 to 1.50 quarts per pound of grain. For most beers, I usually recommend using 1.25 quarts per pound of grain. This is called strike water and will be used to soak the grains within the Mash Tun.
The next thing that we need to decide is what temperature we want our mash to be. Different temperatures of mash will have a dramatic effect on the final product, so you will want to give it some thought based on the type of beer that you are making.
Medium Body Beer
Mash temperatures of 153-156° will leave a moderate balance of both fermentable and non-fermentable sugars resulting in a medium body beer.
Mashing at temperatures of 148-152°F will create more fermentable sugars resulting in slightly higher alcohol and a drier beer.
Full Body Beer
Mashing at temperatures of 155-158°F will create more non-fermentable sugars resulting in a beer with more malt character and body.
At this point we are going to heat our water in the Hot Liquor Tank so that we can add it to the Mash Tun. Keep in mind that as you add your water and grains, the water temperature is going to drop. There are many online tools that you can use to help you calculate the exact temperature to heat your strike water.
Expert Tip: It is always a good idea to pre-warm your Mash Tun prior to adding your strike water so that the temperature does not drop when you add it to a cold Mash Tun.
Once the strike water has reached the determined temperature, it’s time to Dough In. This is the process of adding water and grain to the Mash Tun and stirring it up to make sure that all of the clumps are broken up. Now we just let the magic happen as the enzymes convert all of those starches into sugars.
Vorlauf and Lauter:
After the mash has sat for about an hour, the next steps are Vorlaufing and Lautering. You may be noticing by now that brewers like to use very fancy German words to describe the most basic of activities. I personally believe that this is done to confuse non-brewers and to make the process sound much more awesome and complex than it truly is.
Let’s start with the Vorlauf, this is just a term for draining out wort until it begins to run clear and no longer has any residual grains in it. This can be accomplished by recirculating or draining out a couple of quarts of the wort and slowly dumping it back into the top Mash Tun. Next we are going to Lauter the wort; basically draining the wort from the Mash Tun, separating it from the grains. This is reason why the Mash Tun has a false bottom or braid in it. Opening the valve to the Mash Tun will run the nice clear wort out, leaving all of the grains behind.
Sparging is the simple process of running water through the grain bed to extract any residual sugars that may still be left behind within the grains. But before we begin, we need to determine how much water we will need. There are many different formulas out there to calculate strike and Sparge water amounts.
Simply the amount of Sparge water will be equal to the amount it will take for you to rinse out the grains and bring your total kettle volume to approximately 6.5 gallons. This will give us enough extra water in the kettle to account for evaporation during our boil.
There are a few different ways to complete a Sparge, but for the purpose of this article we will use a simple batch Sparge method. In batch Sparging, we will add pre-heated water to bring the total temperature of the mash up to 168-170°F. This will help to dissolve any sugars left within the grain bed so that we can drain them out.
Expert Tip: It is important not to increase the temperature to over 170°F, as this will begin to extract tannins from the husks of the grain, causing the beer to pick up some astringent flavors.
After adding the Sparge water, I like to stir the mash and let it sit and settle for about 10 minutes. Now you will once again need to Vorlauf and then drain the remaining wort from the Mash Tun into the boil kettle and prepare to boil.
Once the wort is in the kettle, you can begin to raise the temperature of your wort to a boil. Start adding your hops based on your recipe just as you did when extract brewing.
You have just completed your first all grain brew. As you begin to dive into this new way of brewing, you will find that there are many different ways to complete an all grain brew as well as some very advanced techniques. Although all grain brewing may have some additional steps and take more time out of your brew day, I think you will find that it brings a whole new perspective to brewing and offers you control over every aspect of your beer.
If you have any questions about all grain brewing, please reach out to us at The Brew Hut and we will be happy to walk you through the process.