All Grain Brewing

So as of 10 minutes ago, I have made 4 all grain batches: “Weekday Wheat” “The brown ale that I put in a keg” “Chamomile Saison” and “2-Row Cascade SMaSH”. Pretty much all of these I have spearheaded and loved every minute of. I just finished the SMaSH, which is a Single Malt and Single Hop beer. I tend to get so excited about interesting blends of flavors, I thought it might be good to just go with one hop profile and one malt profile to see what I could get from it. This will also help really identify what these ingredients do to a beer, what qualities they add, etc. Hopefully this will expand my knowledge of brewing ingredients and help me make better decisions in the future when it comes to recipe compilation.

This all comes after my foray into all grain brewing. I am a real do-it-yourselfer. I love anything that can be made from scratch and have a much stronger appreciation for those products (vegetables, breads, beers, yogurts) that I have created on my own. It gives me some buy in to the whole thing. I really hated tomatoes until I grew my own. Probably because the tomatoes I had eaten had been bad grocery store tomatoes in December… how little I knew then. So here I am, with an “economy mash tun” (read: bucket with mesh thing at the bottom), a 5 gallon brew pot that really only holds 4 gallons and my fancy new auto-siphon (that thing is amazing, I LOVE it). I did decide to document my process on the Weekday Wheat that I did (first all grain batch). So here goes nothing.

1. Get water hot

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We have this lame-o electric stove that takes forever to heat anything, particularly something this large. Add anywhere from 1-2 quarts of water per pound of grain (again depends on the recipe). From what I have read, you need to get the water to around 160 degrees, but that really depends on what temperature you want to mash at. I usually get it to 160, then when I put the grains in, the temperature goes down and I can’t really keep it regulated… electric stove is the bane of my brewing existence…

2. Add grains

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We have this amazing organic home-brew shop, Seven Bridges Cooperative. They sell only organic ingredients, including all these wonderful kits with pre-approved recipes. If you’re making your own recipe, just tell them what kind of grains you want and they will get most of it ready for you in bulk, crushed and all. You can also order giant bags of it, uncrushed so that you can have a supply. Once the water is to the desired temperature (roughly 160), add in the grains.

3. Pull it off the heat and let it sit a while (aka mash)

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I usually (because of lame-o electric stove) end up getting this thing to hover around 150, which is about the lowest you want it to go. Each recipe so far, I’ve let sit for 1 hour. In the last 2 recipes I learned how to test to see if the mash is done converting to wort (is the tea ready?) – put some of the liquid on a white plate and add iodine, or we also have this sanitizing solution made of idophor, that works too. If it stays reddish, it’s done, if it turns black/purple, it needs more time.

4. Put it in your “mash/lauder tun” (I still really don’t know the difference)

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What I do is stick all the stuff from the brew pot into this bucket with the mesh bottom, then rinse out the brew pot, then put the brew pot on the floor. It’s got a spigot with a tube that goes from this bucket to the pot on the floor to get all the wort (tea) out. There are all these different methods to “sparge” the beer (rinse it), and I’m still not sure what I’m doing, but here’s what I’ve done: let it drain until not much comes out. Meanwhile, heat some more water to about 170-180 degrees then pour it into another bucket that sits on the counter (this is a gravity system working for me here). That bucket has another tube with a little sprinkler head thing that sprinkles the water out (think emergency indoor fire sprinklers) onto the grains. Open each spigot the same amount so there’s the same amount of water coming out as there is coming in.

Recent thing I learned: vorlaufing. Awesome new vocab word – the internet spell checker doesn’t thing it exists. Apparently when you get all the grain and water into the mash tun, you drain off a few quarts into a pitcher, then pour it back (carefully) onto the top of the grain bed. This helps the grains act as  a better filter and allows less crud to go into your wort. I did this on the beer I made today, let’s see if it makes a difference (it might just be an extra pain in the butt step), but who knows.

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Also something I learned today: use about 1.5 times the amount of water to sparge as you did to mash with. So today, I used 9 quarts to mash, so I used about 15 quarts to sparge. That got me exactly 5 gallons of wort. It ended up being just under 4 with the boil off factor, and filtering it into the fermenting bucket. We really need a bigger brewing system. An outdoor brewing system. I found one online for $60… this might need to happen (it’s actually a turkey fryer setup, but totally usable as a brew system).

Let this water drain until there’s no more. I usually fill up the brew pot then fill up my stock pot as well.

5. Boil your wort!

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Get all that tasty grain tea and boil it! Then add hops! Then cool it down! I didn’t get pictures of those other steps… that’s okay, not too exciting. Just make sure to stir so it doesn’t boil over. Not much risk of that here, since it’s barely at a boil anyway, but that’s okay. I also boil the wort left in the stock pot to kill any bacteria or gross things, then add it to the fermenter at the end to get as close to 5 gallons as possible.

6. Sanitize everything

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Seriously – this is where it can go wrong. We’ve never had anything go wrong at this point, but we’re super careful about sanitizing things. Probably not even as careful as we should be. But sanitize anything that will be touching the beer after it is boiled – the wort chiller, the fermenter, the auto siphon, the spoon, anything. This helps keep the bacteria/yeast in your fermenter just to the ones you want to be there. It’s like a weed, it’s only bad if you didn’t plant it. No weeds.

7. Wait.

This is the hard part. All the waiting. Put the bucket (or carboy if you’re fancy… I want to be fancy again. Rest in peace beautiful shattered glass carboy) in a darkish coolish place. For us, that’s our office/guestroom/library/brewery. It doesn’t get too warm and is certainly dark in here. Watch the little airlock thing bubble for a week… then wait a bit more. Possibly transfer it to a secondary fermenter, or a terciary (my own made up word… does it exist?). Add things to dry hop (or dry add) and make it more aromatic. Check the gravity with crazy amounts of obsessiveness – I’m not there yet. Then bottle it. Then wait some more. 2 weeks probably. I just bottled my Chamomile Saison today – that’s going to be pretty good! I can’t really taste the chamomile yet, but hopefully some time in the bottle will do it.

I did a lot of reading with this last one. I read the “How to Brew” book by John J. Palmer. It’s awesome. There’s some good information in there (it’s all good). Get this book and read it if you’re going to be brewing with any regularity. I’m a fan. I’ve also been watching my class videos on the iPad while I’m in the kitchen. And an episode of House of Cards. And an episode of Burn Notice. This takes a while…

In other words, I’m a fan of all grain brewing. I want to become a better brewer, a more professional brewer, and possibly, someday, make a living of this. Oh, I can dream, can’t I?

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2 thoughts on “All Grain Brewing

  1. Love the step by step pictures. 🙂 Been wanting to get into brewing myself, but was too afraid to. Now that I see it, I feel a little bit more brave to try it out.

    • It’s not scary at all! Get the book “How to Brew” and look it over. It’s got everything you need. And if you need a source for organic ingredients, go to the Seven Bridges Cooperative website, http://www.breworganic.com. I don’t know if your area has an organic home brew store, but this one is great. I would start with extract beers then move up to partial mash then to all grain – it’s way easier to do an extract beer to start, until you get the hang of what you’re doing. You should try it, I highly encourage it!

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