Yes, the time has come. After about 18 months of extract brewing, I decided to take the leap into the realm all-grain. It sort of feels like you just hunted your first big game (that’s if I hunted). Whatever, it feels damn good. Making an all-grain beer is definitely a more hands-on and involved process, but it doesn’t matter when it’s that much more fun. Making this affirmed everything up to this point about how much I enjoy brewing. When I first learned the difference between extract brewing and all-grain brewing, I said to myself, “really? why go through all that?” But, it was great. I did a lot of prep work before starting this beer (besides making a crap-ton of extract-based batches). Here’s a overview.
Why all-grain over extract?
The main difference between extract and all-grain brewing is the mashing process. Extract batches skip the mashing by using a canned form of condensed base malt extract which comes in standard flavors of light, dark, wheat, amber, etc. Going all-grain gives you finer control over which malts you want to use. By selected different temperatures of the mash, you can better dial into what the final flavor of the beer – lower mash temps will leave a drier, more alcoholic beer, and higher temps will yield a sweeter beer with more body and less alcohol. So, the main reason for the switch is control. This beer could absolutely be done with extract, but, there are some styles which are near impossible to replicate color and flavor wise with extract (like a really light colored Belgian Wit – this will be my next batch!). Enough about mashing, since this is basically all I know about it at this point.
You’ll need a much bigger pot when you switch to all-grain. Rather than boiling the +/- 3 gallons of wort, you’ll be doing a “full-boil” of the entire +5 gallons. I have a 6.5 gal pot and a turkey frier + propane tank to do this. This really comes in handy to bring all that liquid to a boil quickly (you could do it on a stove, but it would take much, much longer. I strongly recommend the frier). The other two critical components you’ll need are a wort chiller and mash tun, both of which I built. You definitely don’t have to build your own equipment, but c’mon, what’s the fun in just buying everything pre-built?
There’s an excellent article by John Palmer on how to design a mash tun, and the effects of designing it various ways. Definitely check this out before buying parts and building from scratch. I bought a 38qt rectangular cooler from Wal-Mart for $25, and the other hardware for about $50. I tested mine out by filling it up with 5 gallons of hot (150 degrees) water, closing it off and letting it sit outside for an hour. This was to make sure 1) there are no leaks at the faucet, and 2) it can *hopefully* maintain that temperature for the entire hour, which is what we want. After an hour the temp dropped about 3 degrees. Not bad (I guess?)! So the mash tun’s ready to go.
This actually took me two iterations to get right. First, I made a wort chiller from parts at Lowes with copper tubing, and barbed hose fittings which connected to the copper via some plastic tubing and hose clamps. Looked fantastic in principle, but the hose clamps didn’t secure a tight enough fit between the plastic and copper (which was actually a pretty dump design on my part, trying to crimp plastic onto a hollow, bendable metal pipe. Whatever.). Just running cold water through it by itself worked great, but when I tried actually cooling a pot of boiling water with it, I turned on the hose to let the cold water flow through and the “hot-side” of the wort chiller shot off like a rocket from the water pressure and heat, and sent water spraying everywhere. AWESOME. The plastic hose clearly needed to go. I bought some compression fittings for the copper to attach the garden hose directly to the copper, so that I didn’t have to solder anything. This went muuuuch better and worked like a champion. All-in-all I probably spent $75 bucks on the two iterations. My local homebrew store sells cheap ones for $80, and large ones for $120; so I think I did OK here.
When you switch to all-grain brewing, you have to start thinking about what’s called “efficiency” when you mash the grains. The best way to think about this is “how well did I do in terms of extracting as much sugars from the grains as a I could?” Every fermentable ingredient in your mash has a maximum potential amount of sugars (which is measured in gravity points, and you can look up online the amount for each type of grain) that it can contribute to your wort. Before you brew, you can sum up all the grains in your mash and calculate what gravity would equate to an efficiency of 100%. Volume matters too! Using the same grain bill for a larger mash will obvious yield a lower amount of sugar and produce a thinner wort. So, after you mash and collect enough wort before the boil, take a gravity reading. It will be lower than the 100% value, but that will tell your percentage of efficiency. Obviously, the higher the better because that means you’re not leaving behind any more substance that could have been BEER!
So, what are the take-aways from this? Test out ALL your equipment beforehand. Had I not, I would have had serious meltdowns and a really long exhausting brew day.
The original recipe is here. I don’t know why I chose it, honestly. I looked at a ton of different recipes and this one just looked right. A few alterations: I increased the about of 2-row by a pound to account for a probably low efficient on my first try, and also took out the roasted barley completely. I also only use 1 oz of cascade to start (and mine were 6% aa pellets, not 8.6% whole leaf). The process went really smooth, though I missed my mash temperature by about 5 degrees too cold due to a stupid error on my part. I would up with around 65% efficiency. After the mash I collected 5.5 gallons of wort, but only wound up with 4.5 gallons after the boil. So, definitely start with 6 gallons of wort next time to account for that. O.G. = 1.052, and F.G. = 1.01. Four and a half days in the primary, one week in the secondary.
malt & fermentables
The Finished Beer
I’m a realist, so I wasn’t expecting this beer to be the best thing I’ve ever made. All bias aside though, this came out really good! Rather than a stout, I’d say it tastes more of an English style porter, or a brown ale. It has a great mahogany / light brown / dark reddish color and the taste is fairly mild, but very satisfying. Very smooth mouthfeel, and light toasted malt flavor. It also has really great clarity – I’d say almost all of the yeast settled out of this one. I can envision this beer being served on the warmer side, with very light carbonation (like a hand-pumped cask style). The lower mash temp probably left this beer a little more drier than intended, but hell, I like it. I’ll give it a week in the keg with light CO2, then this bad boy will be ready for St. Patty’s day!