Welcome to the world of all grain homebrewing. In this article I am going to give you the high elevated overview of how to brew all grain beer. Like anything else worthwhile, getting good at it does take time and practice.
The great news is that making beer is not really that hard and even if you mess up it will still turn out to be, well beer. So relax, take your time, give yourself a break and above all else have fun. It is beer after all!
Now you could spend days or even weeks studying and reading all of the how to brew material you can find or you can jump right in and give it a go. I recommend the latter.
What I share with you today and the other posts I link to in this article will provide you with more than enough information to be up and brewing in no time.
How It Is Different Then Extract Brewing
So probably the majority of you reading this article have tried your hand at making beer from an extract beer kit or possibly you have even done some partial mash brewing where you add some especially grains into the mix to help add some more flavor to your extract brew kit.
I do actually recommend that anyone new to brewing does start with an extract beer kit such as a coopers or mr beer kit. By doing so you learn the basics of how homebrewing works.
I then recommend that you try your hand at partial mash brewing with kits like Brewer’s Best as this will teach you even more skills that you will later use when you move to making all grain beer.
How all grain brewing differs from both of those methods is when brewing with extract the majority of your wort (unfermented beer) comes from dissolving the malt extract from your kit into warm water.
Whereas with all grain brewing you make the wort directly from the grains.
The basics of how you do this is you mix warm water with crushed grains that have been malted. This results in you converting the starch from the grain into sugar.
You then remove the grains from the remaining liquid. The remaining liquid is very sweet and surgery and it becomes your wort. Just like the stuff in the extract kit once you add water to it.
Outside of that the process is pretty much the same as the other two brewing methods, except you have to do a full boil of the wort. Which I am going to walk you through, but first let’s take a look at the equipment you need.
All Grain Brewing Equipment
One of the main reasons I recommend that people start out brewing with extract kits is that the majority of the equipment you will use can also be used for your all grain brewing. The biggest pieces of equipment that you will continue to use are your fermenter and bottles or kegs.
So by starting out with extract brewing you can slowly add pieces of equipment. Which helps if you are on a budget.
Now here is where it gets a wee bit complicated.
There are actually 3 different brewing set ups you could choose to brew with.
Tradicational all grain brewing was done with 3 vessels, you can also choose to use a 2 vessel set up which I actually used in my brew pub, and then my all time favorite method is a 1 vessel set up which is referred to as BIAB or its close cousin which is an all in one electric system.
See told you a wee bit complicated. But once you dive into it the process is actually very straight forward and not complicated at all.
For this example even though my favorite method is brewing on a 1 vessel set up, I am going to actually walk you through a 3 vessel set up. The reason being is once you understand how it works it is a simple thing to dial back to one of the other two set ups.
You can check out how to brew on my favourite set up on this post.
The Traditional 3 Vessel Set Up
Clearly 3 separate vessels are required for this set up, let’s look briefly at what each one is for:
#1 Hot Liquor Tank – Brewing water is often referred to as liquor. This tank is where you will heat up the water you will use for brewing. Hence the name Hot Liquor Tank.
#2 Mash Tun – This can also be referred to as the lauter tun. This kettle or pot is where you will mix the grains with warm water and let them soak in order to remove the starches from them.
Another term you will become familiar with is false bottom. Mash tuns have a false bottom which allows the liquid or wort to drain out of the vessel leaving the used (spent) grains behind.
You will also need to pick up a large brewing spoon which is called mash paddle. You need to stir the grains as you are pouring them into the mash tun (doughing in) and also you will want to stir the liquid a few times during the actual mash itself (more on that later).
#3 Boil Kettle – The last vessel is basically a big pot where you will boil the wort you have created. It needs to be large enough to do a full volume boil.
Typically for home brewing, if you are brewing up 19 liters (5 gallons) so the vessels/kettles you use need to be able to hold 38 – 40 liters (10 gallons). I actually use a 15 gallon boil kettle just to be on the safe side. Boil over is a term you will become very familiar with, and they really suck.
Additional Brewing Equipment Required
#1 – A Wort Chiller – Most extract and partial mash brewers typically cool their wort down after boiling by putting the kettle into a sink filled with ice water (ice bath).
This is not possible when brewing this size batches of all grain beer. The kettle is much too big. As such you require a wort chiller. There are many different options available to you, you can read about them here: (LINK)
#2 – A Heat Source – You need to be able to heat up the water for mashing in, sparging and boiling your wort. Most basic traditional systems use a propane burner, basically a turkey burner.
I started using propane, but as I got more into the hobby I upgraded to an electric system. This allows me to brew inside. Although from time to time if it is nice out I do enjoy firing up the ol propane burner and making a day of it outside with some wobbly pops!
Alright you now have your equipment, it is time to get into the actual brew day…
If you need to pick up some equipment I recommend you go here: Home Brewing Supplies Online
Step #1 – Crush The Grains
Alright remember the name of my website, Make Beer Easy. When I was making beer at my pub I crushed my grains. When I am homebrewing I do not. I buy them pre crushed.
It costs something like an extra dollar to have the supply store do it for you and it saves a heck of a lot of time and frustration.
If you want to crush your own have at it, you can pick up a mill at any homebrew store. Most mills have a default setting on them which is typically about .11cm or .045 inches.
Again this is make beer easy so I recommend when starting out that you stick with the default setting as it will work just fine to crush your grains appropriately. As you get more experience you can play around with this setting, but I do not really see the point myself.
The whole point of crushing your grains is to break open the grain kernels enough so that the water will be able to dissolve the endosperm and create the surgery liquid. So just make sure you check your grain before you start the mash and make sure it is broken open.
Step #2 – Time to do The Mash
Ok first step of brew day once your equipment is set up it is to get ready for mashing in. This involves starting to bring the water in your kettle up to the mash temperature. This initial amount of water is referred to as your strike water.
First you need to figure out how much water you need for the mash.
For the majority of your homebrews the amount of water will be between 2.5 – 3 liters per Kg of grains (1.25-1.375 qts per pound of grains). So simply take the amount of grain and multiple it by a number somewhere in that range.
The higher the number you use the thinner your mash thickness. I tend to go with a higher number but anywhere within this range will do just fine and as you start brewing more and getting a feel for it you will determine what you like best.
An important thing to keep in mind is if your mash tun has a false bottom you are going to need to add more strike water in addition to the amount you just calculated. This amount should be the same amount of liquid that would fit under the false bottom.
So prior to your brew day find out how much water would be stored under your false bottom. Pour water into the kettle until you can see it start to rise over your false bottom. Record that amount and then on brew day add that amount to your strike water calculations.
Step #3 – Mashing In
Mashing in is also referred to as doughing in. The basics of it are that you are adding the crushed grains to the strike water. After you have added the grains to the strike water your goal is to have the mash reach the temperature your recipe called for.
You accomplish this by heating your original strike water up higher than the target mash temperature. As you add the grains to the water and stir them in it will lower the temperature of the water. This is why you can not simply heat the water up to the mash temperature that the recipe calls for, because after you add the grains and stir them in your temperature will be too low.
So you heat the original strike water higher. Most people recommend that you start by heating your strike water 11 degrees Fahrenheit or 6 Degrees Celsius higher than your target mash temperature.
After you add your grains your temperature should have dropped down near your target mash temperature.
As you get used to your system you will be able to dial this in and determine the exact temperature you should be heating your strike water to in order to reach your exact mash temperature after grains are added.
Once the temperature of your strike water has been reached it is time to transfer the water to your mash tun and slowly add your crushed grains. You want to take your time doing this, so slowly add the grains to the water and make sure you are stirring them well as you do so.
Step #4 – Let The Mash Rest
Now you leave your mash alone, you literally let it rest. Your recipe will tell you how long you are to let it rest. Typically this is around one hour.
This part is very much like making tea. You put the tea bag into the warm water and let it sit, the warm water removes the “goodness” from the tea bag and creates the tea. When brewing all grain beer the warm water removes the starches from the grains while soaking in this warm water and makes the wort (unfermented beer).
Now with the basic 3 vessel system we are describing in this article, the mash will typically lose some heat over the course of the mash. Remember this is Make Beer Easy so do not worry about this too much.
The goal is to try and keep the mash at a steady temperature, but the majority of the conversion occurs in the first 20 minutes of your mash so again do not overthink this. You can however insulate your mash tun by wrapping it in blankets and sleeping bags. I used to put a pillow over top of the lid.
Some mash tuns will have a heat source which you can fire back up to add some heat. Be careful doing this, do not overshoot your temperature and do not scourch your grains. New systems, like the all in one systems have a temperature control feature which will keep the mash within the correct temperature range. My favorite all in one systems I list here.
Should You Stir the Mash
While stirring does allow for a better mixture of the grains with the liquid in the kettle as well as helping to keep the temperatures even throughout it can cause heat loss. When you open the kettle you are going to lose some heat and when you stir you are also going to lose some heat.
So if you are using the basic type system I would not recommend that you stir. Just leave the mash covered and insulated and allow it to do its thing.
If you have an electric system that keeps the temperature within the proper mash range then yes I would recommend stirring. You can also get systems that recirculate the liquid throughout the grain bill, which can also help improve your efficiency.
Step #5 – Moving Onto the Sparge
First, what is sparging?
In basic terms it is the rinsing off of the sugars from the grain bed as you are draining the wort into the boil kettle. The purpose is to make sure you are getting as much of the sugar off/out of the grain bed and into your wort as possible.
While you are mashing it is time to start heating up your sparge water. Which then leads to the question of how much actual sparge water you need? Heating more than you require is better than not heating enough and running out.
So to be on the safe side and to keep this easy simply heat up an amount equivalent to what you want your wort’s pre boil volume to be. So depending on your system and it’s boil off rate; if you are brewing a 19 liter or a 5 gallon batch you may need 6.5 – 7 gallons (24 – 26 liters) of water
Step #6 – Mash Out
So once the mash is over some people do what is called a mash out. I actually do not do this very often. The reason I don’t is because I do not notice any difference in the quality of my homebrew and since mashing out adds more time to your brew day I don’t bother doing so that often.
However many really good homebrewers swear by it, so do not take my word for it, try it yourself and see what you think.
The mash out is a simple thing to do, all we do is raise the temperature in the kettle to 77 degrees celsius or 170 degrees fahrenheit and let it sit at that temperature for approximately 5 minutes before moving onto the next step which is recirculation.
Clearly if you have a system that has a burner or electrical element you can heat the mash with them. Make sure you are stirring as you do so in order to keep the temperature even throughout the kettle.
If you do not have a system with a heat source you would add boiling water to the kettle until the temperature is met. This will be approximately 40% of the amount of strike water you used. If your kettle can not hold that much water do not worry about it and skip this step.,
Step #7 – Recirculation
This is a simple step that will drastically improve the clarity of your beer. All we are doing here is removing the wort from the bottom of the kettle and returning it to the top of the grain bed. This allows us to get rid of any grain matter that may have made its way under our false bottom.
All you do is take a pot or a pitcher, place it under the spigot in your mash tun, open the spigot up, fill the pot or pitcher, and once full carefully pour the liquid back over the top of the grain bed (top of your kettle).
You will continue to do this until the wort coming out of the spigot is clear. It will be very obvious to you when this happens, the first few times you fill up your pot or pitcher the liquid is going to be very cloudy.
Some systems have a built-in recirculation pump that will do this for you.
Step #8 – Move Onto Sparging
It is time to start transferring your wort to the boil kettle and away from the grains in the mash tun. However you do not want to simply drain the wort to the boil kettle. Instead you want to engage in what is referred to as sparging.
Sparge is apparently a Latin term that means to sprinkle. Which really means nothing to us but I thought that might be a nice little piece of trivia information for you.
What it means to us brewers is that it is the practice of sprinkling water over the grain bed in order to rinse all of the sugars away from the grains and into our boil kettle. By doing so you ensure you reach your efficiency.
There are two methods that are typically used to do this:
Method #1: Fly Sparge
With this method you use a sparge arm. Which is a fancy term for any apparatus you build yourself or buy that directs the sparge water to sprinkle (like a shower) over the grains.
You want to use a sparge arm so that the water is evenly sprinkled across the grain bed instead of being poured in the same spot and channeling a tunnel so to speak through your grains. The sparge arm allows all of the grains to get wet and more of the sugars to be rinsed off.
Your goal is to make sure that the amount of wort leaving your kettle is equivalent to the amount of water coming in. You want the whole process to take 60 – 90 minutes. So do not open your spigots wide open. Adjust the flow rates as you go.
This can be a tricky thing to accomplish and I do not fly sparge myself.
Nowadays I brew on a BIAB system or an electric all-in-one system. But if I were using a 3 vessel system I would most definitely sparge with the next method we will look at.
Method #2: Batch Sparge
This method not only works just as well as fly sparging (in my opinion) but it fits right in with our theme of Making Beer Easy. It is a much easier method to use.
It is similar to fly sparging, but to start you do not need the sparge arm.
In this case you open up your spigot and drain all of the wort out into your boil kettle. This is called your first runnings (another fancy brewing term).
Next you add new warm water back into the mash tun and give it a good stir. You can let the water soak in the grains for another 30 minutes if you like, sometimes I do sometimes I don’t. I do not find it makes a big difference so it depends on how fired up I am to get the boil on the go.
After the 30 minutes is up you drain the water into the boil kettle and move onto the boil stage of your brew day.
How Much Water For Batch Sparging?
You’ve probably guessed it by now, I keep things really easy including this. I am not one for crazy mathematical calculations. So all I do is after I drain the first runnings into the boil kettle I measure how much wort is now in the boil kettle. Let’s say it is 3 gallons.
I then subtract that from my pre boil total. The pre boil total is the amount of water you need in your boil kettle before you start the boil.
Water will evaporate during the boil. So your pre boil amount is going to be higher than the amount you want left over after the boil.
Let’s say you want a final volume amount of 6 gallons. Your system boils off 1 gallon an hour. If your recipe calls for a 60 minute boil you would then clearly need to start with 7 gallons before you start boiling. The 7 gallons is your pre boil volume.
Each system is different when it comes to how much they will boil off in an hour. The only way to know your “boil off rate” is to fire it up and find out. So do a test run with water and see how much you boil off in an hour. For most typical homebrew setups that produce a 5 – 6 gallon finished batches the boil off rate will typically be between 1-2 gallons.
Ok back to how much water you need for batch sparging. We decided we need 7 gallons pre boil.
We drained 3 gallong into the boil kettle from the first runnings. That means we need to put 4 gallons into the mash kettle to do our batch sparge. 7gallons – 3gallong = 4 gallons.
Now some people will do 2 batch sparges instead of 1. If you decide to do that simply divide that number by 2. So if you need 4 gallons if you are doing one batch sparge, you would need 2 gallons if you are doing two batch sparges.
Again surprise surprise I usually just do 1 batch sparge.
You also do not have to worry about factoring in grain absorption calculations as the grain is already saturated and will not absorb hardly any more liquid.
And lastly for both methods of sparging you want the water temperature to be between 168 – 170 degrees fahrenheit.
Step #9 – Time to Boil
If you are an extract or partial mash brewer the boil is pretty much the same when it comes to making all grain beer.
If you have never brewed a beer before or did so with a kit that did not require you boil I will run through this very quickly and point you to other posts to give you more details.
Follow your recipe. It will tell you how long to boil for and at what point during the boil to add your hops.
Once the boil is over you want to chill the wort down to yeast pitching temperature. This is because really hot water can kill your yeast. Your yeast package will tell you the proper pitching temperature.
Pitching just means adding the yeast to the wort in your fermenter (another fancy brewing term).
In most cases the pitching temperature will be between 60 – 70 degrees fahrenheit. Make sure you do not pitch too soon when the wort is too hot, but do not worry if the wort is too cold, as this will simply put the yeast to sleep and they will wake up when you put your fermenter in a room temp area.
The only other thing is to make sure you get your wort chilled as quickly as you can because wort is susceptible to bacteria so you want to get it in your fermenter as soon as possible and let our little yeast buddies go to work.
Here is a post to get all of the equipment you need to get started.
You can learn how to chill your wort on this post.
Here is a post to show you how to ferment your homebrew if you never have done so before.
If you like a really clear all grain beer you can learn how to do that on this post/
On a side note when you brew up your first few batches of all grain beer I recommend you pick up an all grain kit. These kits provide you with all of the grains, hops, yeast, recipe and instructions to make it a very straight forward process. Adventures in Homebrewing and More Beer have some great kits.
And there you have it my friend you now know how to brew all grain beer. Enjoy the process, cut yourself some slack and above all have fun, it is beer after all.
Now go get your brew awwnnn…
Big Robb is out!