Brewing Your First All Grain Beer


Planning and Acquisition

Brewing your first all grain beer is a bit more complex process than brewing an extract beer and you will need more equipment than what you use for extract brewing. Instead of using malt extract, you are going to make your own extract. What are the advantages of this? For one thing, it gives you more control over the malt profile of your beer. When you use an extract, most all of the malt profile and taste is derived from that extract. When I brewed extract beers, I started to notice a common characteristic in all my beers whether they were a Pilsner or a Nut Brown Ale. You can brew great extract beers, but if you want full control over the malt profile of your beer, and you should, then all grain brewing is the way to achieve that.
 
Before we go over the basic list of equipment that you will need to do an all grain batch of beer, lets go over the process of brewing an all grain beer. Essentially, you are going to make your own malt extract except you are not going to condense it down to the thick syrup that you buy at the brewshop. To do this, you need to decide on a grain bill for your beer, and then either have this grain weighed out and milled at the shop or at home, that is, if you have a mill. You are then going to introduce the grain to a certain quantity of water at specific temperature levels in order to convert the starches in the grain to sugars. This is possible due to an enzymic process that takes place when you introduce the grains to the water. Once this conversion has taken place, you are going to "sparge" hot water over this bed of wet grains in order to collect the sugars into a runoff, called "wort". When you are done sparging, the boiling, hop additions, and cooling part of the brewing process are very similar to that of extract brew but you will most likely have much more hot wort to cool.
 
The following list of equipment is what I use to brew an all grain batch of beer. There are many different setups that you can use to brew all grain batches and some of them are getting pretty sophisticated. Some brewers are pretty resourceful with their brewing gadgets and have built custom systems from scratch. There are also an increasing variety of turnkey brewing systems available on the market ranging anywhere from 800 to 4000 dollars. My setup is pretty simple and low budget in comparison to these systems so it should be in line with what the beginning all grain brewer would need. So, lets go over the list of equipment.
 
Brew Pot ( 13 gallon )
Brew Pot ( 5-8 gallon )
Propane Burner, maybe 2
Lauter Tun
Metal Stirring Spoon
Mash Paddle
2 Floating Dairy Thermometers
Hydrometer and test tube
Plastic Funnel
Strainer
Hop Bags(optional)
Grain Bags
Wort Chiller or a big tub of ice
 

Once again, this is a list of the bare essentials that you will need. You will need a bigger brewpot since you will be collecting about 7 gallons or so of wort for the boil. You may also need a bigger spoon. I use a 24" metal spoon for stirring the wort and a wooden mash paddle to stir the grains when "mashing". The lauter tun is where you are going to pour the sparge water over the grains to collect the wort. If you can get a brewpot where you can mash and sparge without having to transfer the grains, then this is best. The wort chiller is a copper tubing device that you place into your beer and run cold water through to cool the beer down at the end of the boil. Here is a list of ingredients for an all grain version of the Pale Ale recipe that was used in the extract howto.
 
10 lbs 2-row Pale Malt
.5 lb 60L Crystal Malt
1 ounce of Centennial Hops
3 ounces of Cascade Hops
10 gallons of the best water you can find
American Ale Yeast
 

Brew Prep

Brewing an all grain batch takes more time than an extract batch. I usually reserve about 8 hours for the entire process, but I am never an in a hurry when I brew either. So, to get started, you want to make sure that all of your brewing equipment has been cleaned and sanitized.
 

Mashing

 
The first step in brewing an all grain batch is to give your beer either a sachrification rest, or a protein rest. This is where the debate begins. Depending on the type of malt used and the beer that you brew, you will either give, or not give, the grain a protein rest. One side of the debate says that for ales, you only need to perform the sach rest, mash out, then sparge. This is what most homebrewers probably do for ales. The other side says you should give all your beers a "protein rest". I give all of my beers a protein rest. This may be unecessary for ales, but I do a protein rest on all of my beers anyways. For the recipe above, you would need approximately 3 gallons of water for 10.5 lbs of grains. The rule of thumb is a quart and a cup for each pound of grain. The protein rest takes place when you introduce the grains to the water and "hold" the temperature between 118 - 122 degrees for 15-30 minutes. To get your grains at this temperature, you will need to heat the water slightly higher than the range you are wanting to rest at, say like 127. Carefully heat the 3 gallons to 127 and then dump the grains in which of course have been milled at this point. Then take the mash paddle and stir up the grains so that there are no dry pockets of grain anywhere in the mash. Put your thermometer in the mash and check/record the temp readings every 5 minutes or so. I find that 127 degree water will give me a temp right at 122 for the protein rest and I hold the grains in this temp range for about 20 minutes.
 
After the protein rest, it is time for the sachrification rest which is where the conversion of starches to sugars takes place. If you had skipped the protein rest, then you need to heat up the water to about 160 degrees and then add your grains, once again using the mash paddle to stir up the mixture. For the sach rest, you are going to want to maintain the temperature right around 150 degrees for ales, maybe a little higher, like 153, and 155-160 for lagers. For my batches, I turn on the flame to the propane burner, a small flame to start with, and slowly heat up the mash to 155 where it will slowly cool back down to around 150. I may have to repeat this "heating back up" process a time or two depending on how cold it is, etc. The goal is to try and keep the mash at a constant temp through the sach rest period.
 
After the sach rest is complete, it is time to "mash out". When you introduce the grains to the water, enzymes are released and these enzymes are what convert the starches to sugars. But after the enzymes have done their job during the conversion process, they must be "killed off" since they are undesireable throughout the rest of the brewing process. To do this, you "mash out". Mashing out is nothing more than another staged temperature rest, this time up at 170 degrees. You do not want to go over 172 degrees when mashing out as this could have an adverse effect on the grains and the resulting beer. So slowly, and carefully, bring your beer up to 170 degrees, stirring the mash the whole time so that you get accurate readings from your thermometer. It is not uncommon, especially with large mashes, to have a higher temp down at the bottom of the mash vessel than at the top. You will want to hold the 170 degree temp for 5 minutes, and then it is time to sparge.
 

Sparging

If you are mashing and sparging in the same vessel, that is great. For my limited equipment, I need to transfer the grains to my "lauter tun". A lauter tun is a device with a false, screened bottom that allows you to collect a runoff of wort, which is created by pouring the sparge water over the grains. Before you can start the sparging process, you need to heat up 5-7 gallons of water to 170 degrees. I do this in another brewpot while the grains are undergoing the sach rest. To begin sparging, gently sprinkle the sparge water over the grains, leaving about a 1 inch covering of water on the top of the grain bed. When you first start to sparge, your "wort" will be cloudy and full of little pieces of grain. You will want to collect this unclear wort and then pour it back over the grain bed. I usually collect about a gallon or so of this unclear wort before it clears. If you are using plastic tubing out from the lauter tun like I do, then you will also need some sort of clip device to regulate the flow of the wort. When I am sparging the first half gallon or so of unclear runoff, I set this clip at the first click which results in a fairly rapid sparge pace. This is usually sufficient to get most of the chunks and then I set the clip to 2 clicks, which slows down the flow and clears up the wort too. When the wort is clear, it is time to start collecting the wort for the boil.
 
Collecting the wort for the boil should not be a quick process. Normally, I take about an hour to sparge approximately 7 gallons of wort. You want to slowly collect the wort and pour the sparge water over the grains so as to collect as much of the sugars from the grains as possible. When I first start sparging, I set my clip to 2 clicks, which slows down the wort flow. I normally collect about 2 gallons of wort and then set my clip to 1 click for a little faster flow. I will alternate between 1 and 2 clicks throughout the sparging process, collecting about 4 gallons at 2 clicks and the other 3 at one click. The entire sparging process usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour. So how much do you need to collect? Anywhere from 6-7.5 gallons. I tend to boil a little longer so I usually will collect closer to 7.5 gallons. Most of my recipes are formulated for 5.5 - 6 gallon batches so this is factored in also. Once you have collected the desired amount of wort, it is time to boil!
 

The Boil

Once the sparging process has been completed, things are very similar to how you would brew an extract beer with the exception that you will have much more wort to deal with. You are going to have a hop schedule during the boil and then you will cool the wort down and pitch the yeast. Much like the extract brew, you will need to constantly stir the wort and watch out for boil overs. So, as soon as you turn on the flame to the burner and start the boil, record the time. It is always a good idea to keep a good detailed record of your brewing process for several reasons. One good reason is if something should happen to go wrong with the beer, you can go back to your records and try and figure out why. Another good reason is that you will need to know the time you added the first hop addition as the following hop additions may key off of this time key off of this one.
 
For the Pale Ale recipe included as part of this howto, you should add the 1 ounce of Centennial hops at the beginning of the boil, maybe sooner. I have gotten into the habit of adding my boiling hops to my sparged wort before I even turn on the burner. The first addition of hops will serve as the "bittering addition". Hops contain a resiny substance which in turn contains "alpha acids". The alpha acid content is one of the ways that hops are measured and rated. The more alpha acids in a hop, the more hop characteristic will be introduced in the beer. The recipe that I have outlined for this HowTo calls for more hops than the typical beer, but that is chracteristic of a Pale Ale. So, for the bittering hop addition, you are going to throw 1 ounce of Centennial hops into your beer at the start of the boil, or earlier. The longer the hops are boiled, the more bittering characteristic is introduced to the beer and that is why the hops are added to the beer in stages. Most beers usually have a bittering addition, a flavor addition, and then an aroma addition at the very end. Most hop oils are completely "isomerized" by a 60 minute boil and that is why most recipes call for a 60 minute boil. The purpose of boiling the wort is to extract the hop oils from the hops and also to "sanitize" the wort. You are also going to want to make a note of the time when you add your hops as the other hop additions will key off of this time.
 
Continue to monitor the boil as wort has a tendency to "foam up" into a raging boil. You also want to stir the wort every few minutes or so. When you are about 15 minutes until the end of the boil, throw 1 ounce of the Cascade hops into the wort. Continue to stir the wort until you have 3 minutes left to go in your boil. Throw the other 2 ounces of Cascade Hops into the wort. Stir for another few minutes then turn off the heat.
 

Cooling the Wort

If you are using a wort chiller, you will want to place the device in your boiling wort a few minutes before the end of the boil in order to sanitize it. There are other ways to cool down the wort, like putting your brew kettle in a big tub of ice, but you will need a lot of ice to cool down 5-6 gallons of hot wort. Using a wort chiller is by far the easiest way for the homebrewer to cool down the wort. You still may have problems getting the beer down to 75 degrees using a wort chiller depending on the temperature of your tap water. This can be a major challenge if you are brewing somewhere warm, like Phoenix in July. If this is the case, you may have to get a "double wort chiller". I use one of these devices since I do brew in Phoenix in July. Basically, a double wort chiller has 2 seperate coils of copper tubing, one for the brew kettle and then another for a plastic bucket which contains ice. To use the double wort chiller, run tap water through both chillers until you have cooled the beer down as much as you can by just using tap water, then turn down the flow of water and throw a bag or two of ice in the bucket with the copper coils.
 
Once the wort has been cooled down to the desired pitching temperature, it is time to rack the beer into the primary fermenter and pitch the yeast. I like to use a strainer and funnel for this purpose for 2 reasons. It strains the wort of any riffraff and it also aireates the wort as it is transferred from the brew kettle to the fermenter. I transfer about the first half gallon or so, then stop and take a hydrometer reading, pitch the yeast into the fermenter, then transfer the remaining wort into the fermentor. From here on out, the fermentation and bottling are the same as they would be for an extract beer.