How to Brew your first All-Grain Beer!

Becoming an All-Grain Brewer


Of course in order to brew well at home, you will need some experience. You will only get this experience by actually brewing on your equipment, and with your water.  Getting to know the Mechanics of brewing,(including the quirks of your brewing equipment) is just as important as knowing some of the more advanced academic ideas, in terms of beer quality.  In this post, we will cover the minimum amount of technical information you need to get started All-Grain brewing, and give you a guide to successfully brewing your first All-Grain beer!

Learning The Basics


All-Grain brewing is different than extract brewing mainly in the stage of producing wort.  When you brewed with extracts, you made the wort by dissolving malt extract into water, and most likely steeping in some specialty grains to add some more flavors.  Being an All-Grain brewer, your wort will be made with malted grains and water.  The basic idea behind All-Grain wort production is that you : soak crushed, malted grains in hot water to convert their starch into sugar, then drain away the resulting sugary liquid, which is your wort.  Your can then handle the rest of the beer brewing process the same as if you were making an extract beer, except you must do full volume boils and don’t have the ability to opt for partial boils.  This sometimes poses a few challenges which are overcome with some extra pieces of equipment.

All-Grain Equipment


Traditionally All-Grain setups include 3 vessels.  A more recent trend has sent a lot of homebrewers towards using a more simple Brew-in-a-bag(BIAB) system which only uses one vessel.  In this post we will go over the more traditional 3 vessel system, but if you are more interested in using the BIAB system view this post.

For a 3 vessel system, the first vessel is used for heating all the water used in your brewing session.  The name of this vessel is the Hot Liquor Tank or HLT.  Second, you need a vessel used for both mashing(soaking the crushed grains) and lautering(separating the wort from the spent grains). This is called a Mash/Lauter tun. (In commercial brewing, these are often separate vessels).  This needs to have a false bottom of some sort in order to let the wort pass through and block the spent grains from following.  You will also need a large paddle to stir the mash (Mash Paddle).  Lastly you need a vessel to boil the wort in called a kettle.

A 5 gallon brewing setup will usually consist of 3, 10 gallon vessels.  systems like this work well for most average sized brews.

If you don’t already have a wort chiller, we recommend either buying one or building one.  Being able to cool your wort quickly will greatly improve the quality of your beer, and help shorten the time spent on making it.

Lastly, you will need a heat source capable of boiling your entire pre-boil volume of wort vigorously. for 5 gallon batches, you will need to be able to boil at least 6 gallons, more if you want to make high gravity beers.  For many homebrewers, the choice heat source happens to be a propane burner.  Brewing electric is becoming more and more popular among those who would prefer to brew indoors.

There are too many options when it comes to all-grain equipment to list here.  keep in mind that great homebrew beers can be made on most setups.

Calibration and Calculations


Before your first brew day, you should make a dipstick (or calibrate you sight glasses, if you have those) so that you can measure the volume of liquid in your HLT and kettle.  Also, calibrate any thermometers that you will be using.

Before starting any brew day, there are 2 easy calculations you should make – the amount of strike water (water to mix with the crushed grains) and the amount of sparge water (water to rinse the grain bed) you will need.  These are explained later in the “Mashing In” and “Calculate Sparge Water” Sections.

Crushing the Grains


For your first all-grain brews, you will probably buy crushed malt or get the malt crushed at your local homebrew store. When you’re going to start brewing, take a small amount of malt in your hand and look at it.  If the grain has a good crush, you should not see many whole kernels.  Most of the kernels should be broken into 2 – 4 pieces.

If you own, or have access to a grain mill, you will gain experience over time adjusting it to get the best crush for you application. For your first crush, however, if you mill has a default setting, use that. This is usually 0.045 inches(0.11 cm). This should give you a good enough crush and you can start manipulating the mill gap when you get more experience.

The reason we crush the grain, is to break the malt kernels open so that the hot strike water can dissolve the starchy endosperm in the malt.  You don’t need perfectly crushed grain to have a successful first all-grain brew day, so don’t worry about this too much. Do, however, examine your crushed grains every time you brew. When the time comes to really start fine tuning your brewing procedures, this will be valuable to you.  Make a note in your brewing notes about how the crush looked to you.

Mashing In


Once your equipment is set up, you will need to start heating your strike water(the water you’re adding initially to the mash).  The amount of strike water required varies between 0.95 and 2.4 quarts of water per pound of grain, and a good consistency – or mash thickness – for most beers is between 1.25 and 1.375 quarts/lb.  So, to figure out how much water you need, take the weight of you grains and multiply by some number between 1.25 and 1.375. The lower numbers will give you a slightly thicker mash than the higher numbers, although the specified range is all in the “moderate” range of mash thickness.

If your mash vessel has a false bottom, add the volume under your false bottom to the amount of strike water you need to heat. For example, if there is 1 gallon of space between the bottom of you vessel and its false bottom, add this extra 1 gallon of water to your strike water.  All-Grain brews require heating larger volumes of water than most extract brews, so be prepared for this step to take longer than you might think. If you have a metal mash paddle, set in the HLT while the strike water is heating.

Mixing the crushed grains and hot strike water is called mashing in. The goal is to mix the crushed malt and water so that the grain bed settles in at your target temperature(which will be provided in your recipe) and that this temperature is as uniform as possible throughout the grain bed.  The initial temperature after mash in depends mostly on the temperature of the strike water, the temperature of the crushed malt and the temperature of your mash vessel.  There are equations that can help you calculate the temperature of your strike water, but most home brewers “solve” this problem by using a generic recommendation and refining it with trial and error. One generic recommendation works fairly well if your grain and equipment are “room temperature”, and you use a mash thickness between 1.25 and 1.375 qts./lb. This is to heat your strike water to 11°F(6°C) above your target mash temperature. This assumes little to no heat loss when transferring you water to your mash tun.

Once you’ve heated the measured amount of strike water you need and transferred it to the mash vessel, check again to see that it’s in the the right range (9-10°F/5-5.5°C above your target). Then, stir you crushed grains into the strike water. In order to do this, just add a pound or so of grain to the water, give a quick stir with your mash paddle until it dissolves, and repeat until all the grain is stirred in. Stir the grain for 2o-30 seconds, trying to even out the temperature differences and break up any clumps of dry malt that might have appeared. Then, record the temperature and place the lid on your mash tun to conserve heat. You should record the volume of the strike water, and its temperature in  your mash tun just prior to mashing- in, and the initial mash temperature. After several attempts, you will find an average temperature difference between the strike water temperature and the mash-in temperature for your system.

Saccharification Rest / Starch Conversion


Now, you let the mash sit(or rest) for awhile. (The recipe should specify the length of this rest; often, its 1 hour.)  During the mash rest, your goal is to hold the grain bed and a constant uniform temperature. Odds are, however, you wont be able to do this. At a homebrew scale, the mash will lose heat over the time of the rest. And, the sides of the grain bed will cool off faster than the center.  Fortunately, a small change in temperature is not going to hurt the quality of your beer. After your first mash, quickly take the temperature near the side of the mash vessel, and then near the center.  Stir the mash to even out any temperature differences and take the temperature again. record all three temperatures in your brewing notes.

If your overall mash temperature drops more than 2°F(1°C), or the temperature difference within the mash is greater than 4°F(2°C), you should insulate your mash tun better the next time you brew.  You can use towels, sleeping bags, or blankets for this. If your mash vessel can be heated, you can also add heat directly during the mash. If you do, stir the mash and do not heat too quickly. More advanced all-grain systems often utilize a recirculated method of holding of heating the mash.

During the rest, you have the option of stirring.  Stirring ensures a more even mixture of grain and liquid and evens out temperature differences across the grain bed. Unfortunately, Opening the mash vessel releases heat to the environment.  Likewise, using a “cold” mash paddle absorbs more heat from the mash.  As such, most homebrewers simply leave their mash undisturbed during this rest. (If your overshot your mash temperature by a few degrees, stirring a couple times is a great way to gradually bring the temperature down.)

Most homebrew recipes specify a one-hour rest for single infusion mashes.

Calculate Sparge Water


While the mash is resting, begin heating the water you will use to rinse the grain bed(the sparge water).  How much sparge water will you need?  We recommend heating an amount equal to the target pre-boil volume of your wort, plus about 20%. This might seem like a huge amount, but this will allow you to collect your full pre-boil kettle volume, keep the grain be in the mash/lauter vessel submerged throughout the wort collection process and have some extra water that servers as a buffer against water in the “dead spaces” (tubing, etc.) , loss to evaporation, or small amounts of spillage.  Running out of sparge water is a pain, whereas leftover hot water can be used for cleaning equipment.  So, it’s better to err on the side of too much sparge water.

Your goal should be for the sparge water to be at the correct temperature when the mash is over and the wort has been recirculated. Use the length of time it took to heat the strike water to estimate how long it will take to heat the sparge water.



Step 1 : Mash Out(Optional Step)


At the end of the mash, you have the option to mash out. To mash out, you raise the temperature of the grain bed to 170°F(77°C). Mashing out makes the wort less viscous, and easier to collect,  This can done by either applying direct heat or by stirring in boiling water.  If you heat the mash, be sure to stir as you do. If you add boiling water, you will need a volume that is approximately 40% of the volume of your strike water. Sometimes, your mash tun will be too small to add enough water to reach 170°F(77°C). This is fine as you can simply rinse with hotter sparge water to compensate for this. Once you arrive at 170°F(77°C), or have added all the water your mash/lauter tun will hold, let the grain bed rest for 5 minutes and then you are ready to recirculate. Record the details of you mash out – final temperature and volume of boiling water added(if any).

Step 2 : Recirculation (Vorlauf)


The aim of recirculation is to draw some wort off from the bottom of the grain bed and return it to the top. Once enough wort has been recirculated in this way, the wort clears up substantially. To recirculate manually, open the spigot to the mash/lauter tun slightly and slowly collect wort in a beer pitcher or similar vessel. Keep a timer running and collect wort at a rate that would fill the pitcher in about 5 minutes. Once full, gently pour the pitcher back on top of the grain bed. Repeat this until the wort looks clearer or 20 minutes have passed. Some homebrew setups allow you to recirculate using a pump.

Step 3 : Sparging (Wort Collection)

Once recirculation is finished, it’s time to start collecting wort. In this article we cover the traditional continuous or fly-sparging technique.

To start your continuous sparge, slowly open the valve on your mash/lauter tun and let the wort start trickling in to the kettle. If your lauter tun is not positioned above the kettle, you can let the wort flow into a pitcher and then pour wort into the kettle. Collect the wort at a rate so that it takes about 60–90 minutes to collect the entire volume. To do this, keep the dip stick in the kettle and check on it every few minutes. Write down the time you start collecting wort and the time you cross the 1-gallon mark, 2-gallon mark, 3-gallon mark, etc.

The basic idea with continuous sparging is to apply water to the top of the grain bed at the same rate as it drains from the lauter tun. In theory, that should be simple. In practice it can be hard to match the flow rates. A simple way around this problem is to focus on getting the flow rate from the mash/tun to the kettle correct, then apply sparge water at a faster rate in intermittent bursts.  an example of this, is to pour a couple pitchers of water on top of the grain bed, then, about 10 minutes later — right before the grain bed is exposed — add another two pitchers. During this time, wort should be flowing from the lauter tun to the kettle at a steady rate. Now you can essentially do the same thing with a pump by turning it on and off. Adding your sparge water in “pulses,” rather than trying to get the flow rate to match the outflow from your mash/lauter tun is simple and lets you focus how fast your kettle is filling. Some more savy homebrewers set up a float switch, similar to those found in your toilet. The float switch will add water at the appropriate level to keep the flow from the hot liquor tank even with flow to the kettle.

You should heat your sparge water to the point that, as you sparge, the temperature of the grain bed approaches 170 °F (77 °C). If you mashed out to 170 °F (77 °C), and your lauter tun was well insulated, your sparge water should be 170 °F (77 °C) at the point that it is added. In this case, it may have to be hotter than 170 °F (77 °C) in the HLT if it travels through tubing (where it will lose temperature) on the way to your lauter tun. If your grain bed is cooler than this, then sparging with water at 190 °F (88 °C) or higher is appropriate until the grain bed reaches 170 °F (77 °C). Write down the details of your sparging in your brewing notes.

When to stop Sparging


There are a few ways to determine when to stop collecting your wort. For average-strength beers, the easiest way is just to quit collecting when you’ve got the full pre-boil wort volume in your kettle. With a propane burner, on homebrew-sized batches you can expect to boil off about a gallon an hour with a full rolling boil. So, for a 5-gallon (19 L) batch, you could collect 6 gallons for a one-hour boil or 6.5 gallons for a 90-minute boil.

A better way to know when to stop collecting wort is to monitor when you’ve gotten everything you reasonably can from the grain bed. The easiest way to do this is to take the specific gravity of your late runnings (the stream of wort you are collecting from the grain bed) and wait until they fall to about 1.008-1.010. In doing this, you may end up with more or less wort than your planned pre-boil wort volume. If you are low, as happens on many low-gravity brews, just add water. If you have collected more wort than you planned, you can extend the length of your boil. When you are done collecting wort, record the volume of wort in your kettle, the time you quit collecting and the original gravity of the wort. Also record if you needed to add any water to reach your target pre-boil volume.

Boiling the Wort


For extract brewers who do full wort boils, the res of your brew day is identical to what you’re used to.  You might want to either build, or buy a wort chiller.  If you don’t have one, just expect that heating and cooling a larger volume of wort will take longer.

Now you’ve got your first all-grain brew day under you belt.  You also have a record of all the relevant volumes, temperatures and times of your first all-grain batch.  Write down any other observations that you feel may help you with future brews.  Later, before your second brew, review you notes and determine what aspects of your brew day you wan to improve upon.  Make sure to write everything down for your first sever all-grain beers to help you with the learning process.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of all-grain brewing, you should have the information you need to find a recipe, and start brewing!




Source : “All-Grain Brewing”

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