All-Grain Brewing: How-to Guide + Tips & Tricks

by Karl | Last Updated: November 19, 2020

Grain gives beer its flavor, texture, and appearance [R]. But how you use these grains spell the difference between brewing techniques.

Below, we’ll show you the different ways to brew and why you might want to try out all-grain brewing.

The Rundown on All Grain Brewing

The First Step In Your Brewing Process

Beer requires a few simple ingredients [R]: grains, hops, yeast, and water. Now, these ingredients go through a few steps before it becomes the drink you know and love.

The brewing process usually begins with malting [R], which converts grains into simple sugars and enzymes for brewing beer.

To malt, you first soak grains in water. You can then spread out the grains to begin germination.

In the germination process, the complex carbohydrates in grains break down into simple sugars and enzymes called protease and amylase.

In the end, you have what we call the “malt.” After drying the malt, you crack the gains open and dissolve the malt in warm water around 145° and 155° F. We call this process “mashing.” When mixed with water, you have what we call the “wort.”

In mashing, protease and amylase convert the leftover complex carbohydrates in your wort to simple sugars.

All-Grain vs. Extract Brewing

But you don’t have to worry about the malting and mashing process in beginner recipes. That’s because in beginner recipes, you have what we call extract brewing.

Extract brewing is the most common brewing process and the easiest to follow for newbie homebrewers. In extract brewing, you use malt extract for fermentable sugars. Sure, you can use grains for this process, too, but you only do that for flavor.

In partial mash brewing, you use a little grain mash, but you still use malt extract for your fermentable sugars.

Now, we go to all-grain brewing. In all-grain brewing, you only use grains in your brewing process. This means you have to do the malting and mashing process yourself because you can’t take the shortcut of using malt extract.

In all-grain brewing, you make the wort from malt you made yourself. In extract brewing, you use store-bought malt extract and make the wort from that.

But if all-grain brewing means extra steps in your brew day, why go for all-grain brewing?

Benefits of All Grain Brewing

More Control

In all-grain brewing, you have more control over the final product because only you can dictate how your beer will taste.

Remember how we said that grains give your beer its flavor and texture?

With all-grain brewing, you get to choose the grains that go into your wort. Unlike store-bought malt extract, you can choose how your drink will taste based on the grains you choose.

There’s nothing wrong with store-bought condensed malt extract, but you lose out on the complex flavor qualities of making ales from scratch. Beers made with extract are sweeter, denser, and darker because there are less fermentable sugars in malt extract.

Savings

Malt extract is two to three times more expensive than just buying grains. That’s enough of a reason to want to go with all-grain brewing.

With the savings you get from all-grain brewing, you can make even more batches to practice or experiment with! We think that alone outweighs the time-consuming downside of all-grain brewing.

Better, Fresher Flavor

Let’s face it: pre-made malt extracts could be staler than making malt yourself. You’re just never sure when your extract was malted. You could end up with malt extract more than a year old, and you’ll never know.

Stale malt extract is a bad idea because it can give your brew a blunt and even soapy flavor [R].

Freshness is another advantage of all-grain brewing. With all-grain brewing, you get to brew from fresh malt because you did the process yourself.

All-grain beer just tastes better and more complex. That alone is enough of a reason why all-grain brewing is worth it.

What You’ll Need For All-Grain Brewing

The Equipment

To get your feet wet with all-grain brewing, you’ll need the following equipment besides your usual brewing set-up:

Mash or Lauter Tun

A mash or lauter tun is a vessel you use to mix your ground malt with temperature-controlled water. This is where you mix and make your mash.

You could use something as simple as a 10-gallon picnic cooler as a mash tun. You can even use a smaller 5-gallon cooler for smaller batches of beer.

Or, if you think you’ll be brewing all-grain from now on, you can buy a specialized mash tun instead. A mash tun has a false bottom that separates your grains from your wort while you let your wort escape to your brew kettle.

A Larger Brew Pot or Kettle

If you already brew on the regular, you probably already have a brew kettle or brew pot. If you want to make the same batch size of beer as you always have with extract brewing, you might need a bigger brew kettle.

You’ll use that stock pot or brew/boil kettle as your hot liquor tank. “Hot liquor tanks” don’t actually hold any liquor. This is where you’ll heat your sparge water.

When you sparge or rinse your mash grain, you’ll need 1.5 times the water you use for mashing. You’ll find out why it’s important to sparge your mash later on when we jump to the recipe, but let’s just say you’ll want the extra allowance in your brew kettle.

We suggest that you purchase at least an 8-gallon brew kettle to get the job done. Or, if you want specialized equipment, you can try getting a hot liquor tank for heating your water.

The Ingredients

Your Desired Grains

The Base Malts

Base malts make up at least 60% [R] of your brew overall, so you have to be careful when choosing your base malts.

Base malts are the source of your brewing starches. These enzymes, which break down your complex carbohydrates into simple sugars, also come from base malts.

In case you’re just starting out with all-grain brewing, we recommend you try barley malts, such as pale malt or pilsner malt for your base.

Crystal Malts

Crystal malts are used to change your brew’s color and impart sweet, caramel flavors to your beer. Darker crystal malts will give you a richer, roastier flavor, while lighter crystal malts will give you sweeter flavors.

Roasted Grains

To give your brew roasty flavors, you could use some dark roasted grains. If you’re going for a chocolatey or roasty beer in the porter or stout styles [R], using roasted grains is better.

Other Grains

Other grains, like oats, barley, or wheat, can contribute to the mouthfeel of your beer. They don’t have the enzymes that malted grains, like crystal malts and base malts have, so you must mash them with the base malt to extract sugars from them.

Other Ingredients

Of course, you’ll need your other ingredients, like your hops, water, and yeast.

Make sure you use clean water because water affects how your brew will taste in the end.

The All-Grain Brewing Process

For our simple all-grain brewing process, we’ll only be using a single-infusion mash.

A single-infusion mash only requires holding your mash at temperatures from 148 to 158 F for around one hour. This is the easier all-grain process.

Step 1: The Strike Water

Strike water is the water used to soak your grain during the mash [R]. You’ll “strike” your mash with this first batch of water, so you hit your mash with the correct temperature (the “strike temperature”).

Strike water temperature is critical. Your mash temperature should be anywhere from 148 to 158 F, so we suggest higher temperatures for your strike water, anywhere from 158 to 169 F.

We suggest going for a mash temperature of 152 F, so heat your strike water to 163 F.

Heat 1.5 times the weight of your grains inside your stock pot or brew kettle. So if you have 13 lbs. of grain, you’ll want to heat around 20 quarts or 5 gallons of water. Heat your water carefully, measuring its temperature with a thermometer.

Step 2: Preparing Your Tun

You want your mash or lauter tun to be in optimal temperatures, so you don’t decrease your mash temperature when you place it inside the tun.

To prepare your mash tun, you’ll want to put your strike water inside the tun, then hold that temperature for 5 minutes.

A pre-heated mash tun is essential for consistent results. Make sure you don’t skip this step, or you’ll end up compromising your mash temperature.

Step 3: Mashing In

To mash in, add your ground grains or grist to your mash tun.

Stirring is important in this step. Stirring will keep an even mash temperature and prevent your grains from clumping together. A uniform mash temperature is important for consistent results.

Step 4: Wait.

This might be the most painful step if you are impatient and want to be as hands-on with the process as possible.

This waiting step is essential because this step is when your mash converts complex carbohydrates and starches into simple sugars.

This waiting process, the “saccharification rest,” usually requires a one-hour wait, depending on your recipe.

Something great is happening inside the mash tun: the hot water will activate the enzymes in your grain and convert the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars that your yeast can ferment.

If you’re extra careful and want the best results, you’ll want to record the temperature in your mash, so you’re sure the temperature doesn’t drop out.

If the mash temperature drops more than 2o F, you might want to insulate your mash tun with a kitchen towel.

Step 5: Lautering and Sparging

Sparging is the process of spraying hot liquor onto a mash to rinse out residual sugars [R]. You’ll want out to rinse out as many sugars from your grains as possible.

Step 5.1: Prepare Sparge Water

Heat the water you’ll use to sparge with inside a boil kettle or your hot liquor tank. Ideally, your sparge water should be at temperatures of around 168 to 170F, but you should also account for temperature loss when you start sparging.

When it comes to the volume of your hot water, you’ll want to heat more sparge water than less. Heat at least 1.5 times the volume of your mash as your sparge water.

This means you should heat around 7.5 gallons of water for a 5-gallon batch.

After heating your sparge water, transfer it to your hot liquor tank to retain your hot water temperature.

Step 5.2: The Mash-Out

The mash-out is the process of raising your mash temperature to 170o F before lautering.

This is important, so your enzymes stop their chemical interactions with the grain bed. This has the effect of preserving the sugar profile you want and also makes your wort easier to work with.

For the mash-out, you can either heat the tun directly or add near-boiling water into your mash.

We suggest the boiling water technique because it’s easier to control.

To mash out, add near-boiling water that you’ve heated using another boil kettle, and not from your sparge water. Sparging water temperatures are lower and won’t serve your purpose for this step.

Keep adding near-boiling water until your grain bed reaches 170o F, then let the grain bed rest for 5 minutes.

Step 5.3: Recirculating

In recirculation, you draw out a few quarts of wort and pour it back (“recirculate” the wort) to the top of the grain bed. This accomplishes a few things: it clarifies your wort and prevents grain runoff from appearing in your drained-off wort.

To recirculate, open the spigot in your mash tun and collect the wort. Whenever the wort appears cloudy, just add the wort back into your grain bed. Keep repeating this step until your wort looks clearer.

You’ll usually find proteins and grain debris in cloudy wort. You don’t want those in your fermentation process. Because these are not simple sugars, yeast cannot ferment them.

Step 5.4: Sparging

In sparging, you rinse off the grain bed to extract as many sugars as possible for more efficient fermentation. We’ll use the continuous sparging process in this step.

To sparge, open the valve in your mash or lauter tun and let the wort come out of the spigot. Make sure you have a container, another brew kettle, or pitcher to catch the wort near your spigot.

While you’re collecting the wort, start adding your sparging water to the top of the grain bed, and make sure that the flow of your sparging water is as fast as the wort flowing out of your mash tun.

If it’s hard to match the flow rate of your sparging water and your wort, you can try adding water in smaller bursts instead.

Stop sparging when you collect enough wort to make up your pre-boil wort volume. That usually means you’ll have to collect at least 1 gallon more than your batch size if you’re doing a one-hour wort boil.

Step 6: Proceed With the Rest of Your Brewing

The brew process is the same with both all-grain and extract after the malting and mashing steps. You’ll be boiling your wort, then finally, fermenting for your beer.

Just so you’re sure that you don’t lose sleep over your all-grain experiments, we suggest dedicating a few extra hours to your brew day.

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Conclusion

If you’re already a beer brewing veteran, then the all-grain process is just another way to express your creativity and have more control during your brew day.

We hope you found this guide helpful and let us know how you brew using the all-grain process in our vibrant facebook group.

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