All-Grain Brewing 101: The Basics

Welcome to all-grain brewing. In this article, we will give you a crash course of everything you need to know to get started. We will talk about what things you need. What those things are called and especially how those things work.

When starting with all-grain brewing maybe you want to check out How to Brew in a Bag: Beginners Guide

Equipment

You don’t have to replace most of your equipment from your old extract brewing days. Carboys, buckets, and siphons. All of that will continue to serve you well in all-grain brewing endeavors. The first thing you need to ask yourself is what size batch you want to brew. Some people stick with 5-gallon batches that they are used to in extracts. But many come to realize that with minimal extra time and effort they can double their output to 10 gallons. To accomplish this you are going to need:

  • 15-gallon boil kettle
  • external propane burner
  • mash/lauter tun with a false bottom
  • hot liquor tank

All grain brewing requires new equipment. The mash tun is where we mix hot water and grain to convert starches to sugars. It comes with a perforated stainless steel dome called a false bottom. This helps lauter, or separate the liquid from the grain when we rinse it with water from the hot liquor tank.

Equipment for all grain brewing
Credit: https://www.brewcabin.com/all-grain-brewing/

In brewing, liquor refers to the water that’s been treated for brewing. Coolers are great for all-grain brewing for several reasons.

They are well insulated, which means you’ll be able to hit your target mash and hot liquor temperatures and keep them there for hours.

Coolers are engineered to be larger.

Very easy to transfer liquid from vessel to vessel because they often come with valves. Just open a valve and let gravity do your work for you.

Single-step Infusion Mash

In this article, we are going to hold the mash at one temperature the entire time to convert the starches to sugars. There are more advanced schedules out there where you hold different temperatures for different amounts of time. You can learn about those as you become more experienced.

Heat your strike water. This is the water that will bring your mash to the correct temperature. You’ll need 1.33 quarts of water for every pound of grain. But this amount will vary from recipe to recipe. The general rule of thumb is that your strike water should be 10 to 15 degrees hotter than your target mash temperature. Once it’s heated move your strike water to mash tun and then slowly add grains.

Grains in a mash tun for brewing beer
Credit: https://www.freshwatersystems.com/blogs/blog/water-filtration-for-beer-brewing-water

You will have to stir well to avoid clumping and get an even temperature throughout. The ideal range for mashing is between 148 to 158 degrees. Whatever you do, do not exceed 168 degrees in the mash during this step. You may destroy the enzymes needed for starch conversion. Let the mash sit for 60 minutes while science. works its magic. Inside the cooler, the hot water is activating enzymes in the grains that are converting the stored starches into fermentable brewing sugars.

Mash Out

While this is happening start collecting the hot liquor for the sparge. Heat the sparge water to 175 degrees and transfer it to the hot liquor tank. After the mash has sat for 60 minutes it’s time to mash out. This means we will raise the temperature of the mash to roughly 170 degrees by adding near-boiling water and stirring well. This step helps prevent the mash from becoming too cold and gummy. Also, it denatures the enzymes to ensure that no more starch conversion takes place. Leas the mash at this temperature for about 10 minutes.

Open the valve on the mash tun slightly and collect the runoff in some intermediate vessel. The initial runoff from the mash tun is cloudy and filled with solid grain particles.

Recirculating helps clean the runoff. When the first vessel is near full, switch it with another vessel. Pour the contents of the first vessel gently down the side of the mash tun to avoid tunneling a hole into the mash. Continue switching back and forth, filling and pouring until the wort appears clear.

Sparging

Pouring hot water into a beer wort
Credit: https://www.brewcabin.com/batch-sparge/

Sparging is the act of rinsing the mash with hot water to rinse all the residual sugars completely. The easiest way is to let gravity do the work is to place your three brewing vessels in a three-tiered setup.

Place the hot liquor tank towards the top. The mash tun in the middle and the boil kettle on the bottom. The secret to getting all this to work is to make sure that the rate of water going into the mash is equal to the rate of wort coming out of the mash tun. The ideal rate for optimum sugar extraction is one quart per minute.

Sparging a 10-gallon batch will take up to 45 minutes. During this time you want to keep an eye on everything to make sure the grain bed doesn’t go dry, or that you get a stuck sparge.

You can stop sparging once you have collected an adequate amount of wort. For a 10 gallon batch this will be around 12-13 gallons in the boil kettle, or when the runoff reaches a specific gravity of between 1.008 to 1.012.

The Boil and Adding Hops

Now you can proceed with your homebrewing as in any other style of brewing. Boil the wort. Add the hops. Pitch your yeast. But there is one big thing you have to keep in mind and that is your boil volume. With all grain brewing, you generally dont add water after chilling. So you have to boil the entire volume, and then make sure you can chill it all.

This means you are doubling the thermal mass in your kettle that you have to chill. Counter flow chiller will help you chill your wort quickly while you transfer it.

As you become a more experienced brewer, you will surely find new products and techniques that might make your brewing day easier and faster. But the most important thing to remember is never stop brewing. Cheers.

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