Brewing my First All-Grain Beer

I figured I should step my beer making up a notch, especially since I work in a Homebrew supply store, and I really should know my shit.  The next step up from extract brewing, which is what I was doing in my older posts, is partial mash brewing, or mini-mash.

But, while pondering what I would have to do to make a mini-mash, and knowing my real goal was to step into all-grain, I figured I’d just skip the middle step and go for it.  The differences between these three types of beer making I often equate in difficulty to baking.  Extract brewing is like buying one of those pre-made logs of cookie dough, cutting it up and baking it.  Pretty damn simple and hard to fuck up.

Partial mashing is a bit more difficult.  It’s like buying a box of brownie mix, adding the egg and water to the premixed batch, then baking the resulting glop.  Still pretty hard to ruin, but you might actually have to know complex things like how to crack an egg and use a measuring cup and whisk.

All grain is the most difficult.  That’s like taking you grandmother’s 100 year old recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies ever and making them from scratch.  You measuring out everything yourself.  You need to find the right ingredients and know that baking soda is not baking powder.  2 tsps of salt is definitely not the same as 2 tbsp of salt.  Folding is not mixing, sifting flour is not sprinkling it in.  There is more than 1 type of sugar and confectioners is not raw is not white is not brown.  There are actually vast differences in dark and milk chocolate, and it can be chipped, morsels, shaved or grated.

Yeah, cookies can be that complex, and I’m just scratching the surface.  All-grain beer is like that.  Instead of using pre-measured amounts of grain, hops and yeast, you’re actually crafting beer from it’s raw ingredients completely.  It’s the closest thing to actually brewing like a real brewery a home zymurist can get (unless you live on a farm, grow your own barley and hops, have an oast house and know how to malt grains)

Fist thing I needed to make was a mash tun.  When you make extract beer, all the fermentable sugars are in a can or in powder form, and you simple add them to water.  All-grain requires a brewer to get all those sugars out of the grain themselves, and that is called mashing.  You must add very precise amounts of your grain bill to very specifically amounts of water which have been heated to very specific temperatures.

Luckily, for about 45 bucks, you can get one of these from Home depot. They're big, they hold a lot of hot water, and they keep the temperature fairly constant over a period of time, which is critical in mashing. And, it's exceptionally easy to take off the stock nozzle and replace it with a kettle valve.

on the inside of the kettle valve, you need to install some sort of screen. This one screws into the valve and fits so perfectly into the cooler that it's clear the manufacturers specifically made it for a Home Depot cooler. Amazing!

After mashing grain in the cooler, you need a way to slowly add water as you drain water out. This serves to wash the sugars out of the grain bed, which sounds simple, but can be a disaster under certain circumstances. I decided to get my buddy at work, the machinist, to help me fabricate a "rotating sparge arm" from scratch.

We have a ton of cool toys at the Lab and can pretty much build anything from scratch. Hugh, the guy on the right here, like to make things. If it can be done simply...it's not getting done that way! He like to make things really fancy.

building this thing required some actual precision for it to work properly. I even had to calculate the area of a circle, and got to use Pi for the first time in years.

well, here it is...kind of. this is the sparge arm mounted on the mash tun (removable,and height adjustable, of course). It has yet to be hooked up to the hose and pump.

this is the whole setup. I actually don't have any pictures of it working, because at that time I was not in any position to be taking pictures.

When you step it up into all-grain brews, it really helps to make a "yeast starter." In extract, you go for simplicity and just toss a dry packet of yeast in your beer to start making alcohol. A yeast starter you make the day before. It's like a little tiny batch of beer that gets the yeast multiplying, that way when you pitch it into your all-grain, it's nice and hungry and gets to work quickly and efficiently.

well, here it is. this is during the mash part of brewing. Basically, a waiting period of about an hour. After this part, I really don't have any photos because 1. I was busy brewing and 2. I was busy drinking.

here's the whole scene, complete with my patio heater. Came in handy, it was pretty damn cold out there. The whole things took way longer than we expected. But, that's what all grain-brewers tell newbies like me. We didn't have any huge disasters, but it certainly didn't go perfect. Nevertheless, I about to rack the beer into a secondary fermenter tonight, and will be drinking the beer in a few weeks. Oh, and one more thing. This particular beer is a clone of Fat Tire Ale, and you welcome to come try one at my house in February! Cheers!

One Response to “Brewing my First All-Grain Beer”

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