Brew in a Bag Review

Brew in a bag (BIAB) is an unstoppable force. What started out as a technique that was scoffed at and criticized has become a legitimate homebrewing movement.

This post won’t go into detail on the background or how-to portion of BIAB. For that I recommend you check out BIABBrewer.

Instead I’ll tell you about my first experience using the BIAB method and review the bag that I used.

Here’s the gist of it:

  • Everything is done in one vessel. You mash and boil in the same kettle and there is no sparge (at least traditionally).
  • You mash in your pre-boil volume of water, taking into account evaporation and grain loss.
  • When you’re done mashing, you remove the bag, let it drip for a few minutes, then set it aside and bring the wort to a boil.

Pretty simple, eh? That’s the idea.

My BIAB Batches

The first question that pops up for anyone who wants to try out BIAB is, “Where do I get a bag?”

As you can guess, the bag is important. It’s got to be big enough to handle all of your grain and support its weight when wet. You really don’t want your bag ripping during the mash and having your grains empty into the kettle.

A lot of brewers use paint strainer bags. Those have mixed reviews, but what everyone agrees on is that voile is a great material to use. You can sew them yourself, but that wasn’t a project I was up to. Instead, I went Googling and came across Jeff Omundson who sews and sells them at his online BIAB bag store.

The bags are $35, which I figured was worth it since with BIAB you’re replacing potentially hundreds of dollars worth of equipment. Might as well make sure you have a good bag, right?

Turns out Jeff was kind enough to hook me up with one for review. Thanks buddy. He even customizes the bags for keggle brewers like me by adding a tapered bottom. It makes getting the bag out of the keggle easier.

How did the bag do?

Beautifully.

I brewed two beers with it, my Brett beer and winter warmer. The winter warmer had the larger grain bill at 14 lbs. This was no problem for the bag. It’s seriously heavy duty and the handles make lifting it no problem.

Some pictures from that brew day are below.

BIAB Bag in keggle during mashing

Mashing 14 pounds of grain in a keggle


BIAB bag in mash tun with lid

BIAB mashing with the lid on


Holding up the BIAB bag

The bag easily holds 14 pounds of grain

You can see how large the bag actually is. I’m sure I could have handled 20 lbs of grain.

The way it fit around the keggle was very nice. I didn’t ever worry about it slipping into the wort.

The bag is awesome, and if you want to try out BIAB then I highly recommend you order one from Jeff.

Do I recommend BIAB?

So far so good.

Two batches isn’t much, and the Brett beer is still getting funky in the basement, but the winter warmer turned out good. At least there was nothing negative I could point to that was the result of doing a BIAB vs traditional brewing.

It’s said that efficiency suffers but I was able to get 74% with no sparge on the first batch and 76% with a dunk sparge on the second batch.

There are some drawbacks though. Lifting a waterlogged bag out of hot wort ain’t easy and it takes so serious shoulder muscles (which I lack) to hold it there while it drips. If I stayed with this method I would use some sort of rope and pulley system like some BIAB brewers use. If you have a really large grain bill, managing the bag manually will be a PITA.

Overall I think BIAB is a great thing for people getting into all-grain and even experienced brewers who want to cut down on the amount of equipment they own.

Personally I’m happy with my set up and will be sticking with it, although I’m taking on a fun new project in the spring (more to come on that).

Finally, Jeff provided some more information on himself and his bag business.

Jeff and his BIAB background in his own words

I read about BIAB on one of the beer forums a little over a year ago and what I learned piqued my interest. I had been using a cooler with a stainless tube to do the Denny Conn batch sparge method and had great results, but because of my schedule, it was hard to find time to brew. I am a stay at home dad and my son goes to preschool until 12:30 three times a week, so if the claims BIABers made about time savings were true, I would be able to get in a brew while he was away. It worked and BIAB has become my main brewing method, although I still do batch sparges once in a while.

I owe what I know mostly to aussiehomebrewer.com, which has a ton of information about the process. The Aussies are the ones who invented BIAB and they have ironed out the details. biabrewer.info/ is a newer site and has a lot of good stuff for someone getting started.

One of my other favorite brewing forums, homebrewtalk.com, has a lot of members interested in BIAB. When I was reading up on it, I was interested by how much skepticism I found on the site. My experience with BIAB has been really positive — it works great! I’ve read a lot that a person won’t get clear beers with BIAB, but I am surprised by how clear my wort is. It’s true that more break material finds it’s way into the fermenter, but it settles out quickly and my beer still tastes great. I live in Portland, Oregon, where we have incredibly soft water, so I add about a gram of calcium chloride per gallon of my water to bring my calcium content and hardness up a bit. This made a dramatic difference in how break formed and my wort cleared. I also briefly stir in a crushed whirlfloc tablet to my wort five to ten minutes before the end of the boil. I do a one minute stir after flame-out to create a whirlpool and help break material settle in a cone in the middle of my keggle, away from my pick up tube.

I started sewing the bags to sell because I was surprised to learn after searching that there was no where to get a bag made for BIAB in the states. Griffin Brewing in Australia sells a nice bag but the shipping here would make it prohibitively expensive, and it seems to be out of stock a lot. Here is a link: http://www.gryphonbrewing.com.au/store/product_info.php?cPath=61&products_id=341

A lot of people seem to use paint strainer bags, which is fine if they fit your pot. The weave of the material is bigger and more porous than what I use. For those with big pots the only option is to sew one yourself or have it sewn. If a person knows how, then it’s not difficult to sew a bag, but for others who don’t or don’t want to spend the time stitching up a bag, I thought I could offer to do so myself. I came up with a strong design and put together a web site to sell my bags. One of the things that I believe sets my bags apart is that they are not a one size fits all bag. A person sends me the height and width of their kettle, and I make a bag to fit its unique dimension.

All my bags are double stitched. I roll webbing into the top seam so the handles are attached to something really strong and then I double stitch it. I sew on four handles on most bags, unless someone orders a relatively small bag, where four handles seems unnecessary and crowded, although I give the buyer the option to go with four anyway. The handles are stitched on with an ‘x’ pattern which is a strong and durable way to attach webbing often seen on back packs and other items with straps that have to endure heavy use. For straight sided pots I sew a pillow-case design. I started sewing bags to fit keggles a little differently, tapering from mid bag to a width of twelve inches at the bottom which makes removing the bag from the narrower opening of a converted keg easier when doing a large grain bill.

I have never had a bag returned and all of the feedback I’ve received has been positive. I rely almost entirely on word of mouth and people stumbling onto a link to sell my bags, so I really make an effort to provide a 100% positive experience for the buyer. For a site like mine, which exists a little like an island on the web and isn’t affiliated with a known brand, I try make the buyer comfortable by getting in touch with them quickly after the order is placed to let them know that I’ve received their order and when I plan to have it finished. I send another email when I ship it to let them know the expected delivery date.

I’ve sold my bags to brewers all over the US and have even sold a few to Canadian brewers.

About Billy Broas


He is the founder of The Homebrew Academy, a BJCP beer judge, and the homebrewing expert on the Rocky Mountain PBS television show Colorado Brews. He lives in the fine beer town of Denver, Colorado.

Comments

  1. What percentage of your all grain brews do you anticipate using this technique moving forward? It would be interesting if someone did a side by side comparison using this method compared to standard equipment using more or less the same recipe.

    • Hard to say. I think it will continue to grow but doubt it will ever be a majority. A lot of homebrewers want to replicate the way the pros brew as closely as possible and will continue to brew the traditional way. Personally I think all that extra stuff is fun, even if it does complicate things.

      That would be really interesting if someone did a side by side. I’m sure it’s been done, it’s just a matter of finding it. I’ll let you know if I come across anything along those lines.

  2. When I started all-grain, I went with a 5 gallon gott cooler with a stainless steel braid. After awhile I found the 5 gallon cooler was not big enough for all my batches and decided to try BIAB.

    I didn’t really notice a big difference in efficiency and the final beers were wonderful. The thing that drove me crazy was (like you mentioned) I never really felt comfortable with what to do with the bag while draining.

    I ended up just making a bigger mash tun because of this awkwardness, and decided to drop the BIAB. I’m sure there are things I could do to improve this, but the “traditional” mash tun just seems easier to me.

    • Thanks for sharing that. Interesting you went from mash tun to BIAB to mash tun. The bag handling part was awkward. I mentioned to Jeff that I might try the technique using Alton Brown’s Turkey Derrick: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZE51ynJkLk

      That would make things a helluva lot easier, although I couldn’t use it on my three tier because of the top shelf.

      • Well, that pulley system is a cool way to solve the main issue that I had. I always had my brew pot’s top on during the mash, so I’d have to have a quicker disconnect (and reconnect) between the bag and the pulley. I’m sure that would not be hard to figure out.

        If the idea behind BIAB is simplicity and less cost, though … I don’t think the simplest implementation of Denny’s mash tun is considerably more expensive or more complicated.

        Personally, I’m sticking with my 10 gallon gott cooler with batch sparge. I know lots of people love the BIAB. I just feel more comfortable with the way I am doing it now.

        • I think that brings up a good point. If you start adding complexity to BIAB, eventually it defeats the purpose. For the same effort you could build a standard mash tun. I know a lot of guys do keep it simple and are happy that way, it’s just in my nature to try and improve things. Either way I think it’s a great thing to try because there is such a small investment involved.

        • Paul Wiegardt says:

          Sheppy,

          I wanted to try BIAB so I bought a bag from Jeff. I’m brewing in my basement where it was easy to attach a pulley to the ceiling above my kettle. I don’t have a lot of clearance, but Jeff was kind enough to sew on four small loops in addition to the large handles. When I’m done mashing I just loop a carabiner through the small loops and hoist it up. I can let it sit there and drip for as long as I want while my wort is boiling. Works great!

  3. I was just imagining the three to one pulley system i could mount to the rafters to make the bag brew tech pretty easy. just get some fiddle block setup :) pull it up, lock it with a jam cleat or cleat your rope to the wall then you can to a manual sprinkle sparge. maybe a possible longer boil to concentrate you batch a little do to the slight loss in efficiency?

  4. Jeff Prish says:

    Jeff makes great bags. Been a BIAB brewer for about a year and used paint strainer bags until I found Jeff’s name on homebrewtalk. Used his bag on the last three brews and had nothing but great experiences. If you are using paint strainer bags stop and send Jeff an email to make you a custom bag you will not be sorry.
    Cheers,
    USAFbeerlover

    • I agree! Jeff’s bags are well made. Without his bags, I wouldn’t stick with BIAB method. I use a large, heavy duty, strainer – the rectangular ones with retractable arms to rest my bag. I just put it over the mouth of the pot and place the grain bag on top.

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