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You’ve finally decided after a slew of extract brewing that now is the time—the moment to level up your grain game. You think you’re ready for all grain brewing? It’s a big step, but we believe in you. Home brewers around the world have been where you are now plenty of times. But the good news is that you can learn all the tips and tricks of all grain brewing right here.
One thing we would like to preface before getting into the meat of this article: although all grain brewing is generally considered a brew method for more advanced home brewers, anyone can try it. Even if you haven’t been brewing beer for a particularly long time, you are still free to experiment.
Homebrewing is a journey, and we all have to start somewhere! So, with that out of the way, let’s get into this guide on homebrewing all grain beer.
What is All Grain Brewing?
When we say “all grain,” we mean that brewing process where the sugars from malt are extracted through mashing. An all grain brewing approach is divided up into crushing the grains, adding water, and making wort. Then you add your hops to the wort before moving onto fermentation.
All Grain Brewing vs. Extract Brewing
How is extract brewing different from all grain brewing, you ask? What sets the two apart is how you go about getting those fermentable sugars.
With malt extracts, the malted barley has already been mashed by someone else (or a machine). To start extract brewing, you don’t need any specialized equipment. Simply go online, search for your favorite beer recipe or brew kit, click, and you will have the extracts on your doorstep in no time.
Grain mashing is a bit more complicated. You don’t simply pour extracts into hot water. Mashing means that you will be mixing crushed malted barley or another grain with adjuncts (other starches, sugars, fruits, or add-ins meant to alter the beer’s flavor, mouthfeel, and depth) into hot water.
You need to watch the temperature and time carefully throughout the whole process, because the enzymes and starches in mash can be temperamental.
Is There a Difference in Flavor with All Grain and Extract Brewing?
The process required to make the concentrated wort that goes into an extract will affect the taste of the beer. Malt extracts tend to make beers that have sweeter, sugared flavor and higher final gravity than all grain beers. Additionally, extract beers are darker. If the malt extract has aged a little, you may notice some oxidation.
All grain brewing, on the other hand, produces a crisp, dry beer with a malty flavor.
What Does Mashing Mean?
When you see the word mash, you might think about mashed potatoes. Beer mash is a bit different.
Mashing is generally defined by brewmasters as a hot water steeping method that hydrates barely or other grains to activate malt enzymes, in turn converting starches into fermentable sugars.
Mashing can be done a couple of ways: single-step infusion or multi-step infusion. You may also hear “single infusion” and “two step infusion” used.
Most home brewers begin all grain brewing with a single step infusion. In other words, you keep the mash at a consistent temperature, known as “saccharification rest,” to turn starches into sugar. The saccharification rest is set for 30-60 minutes at 62.7-71.1°C (145-160°F).
You can choose the lower end of the rest range for highly fermentable sugars, producing a dry beer, like a Belgian Saison. If you aim for the higher side of the saccharification rest range, the beer will be sweeter.
You can also play around with the temperatures before and after the saccharification rest. The way you manage temperature depends on the mash tun you have. A direct fired mash tun has a temperature control, while hot or cold water will need to be added to passive mash tuns to alter the temperature.
Here are common rest temperatures during all grain brewing:
|Mash Rest Type
|Time and Temperature
|15 minutes at 35-45°C (95-113°F)
|Lowers pH in the mash and stops mash from sticking together.
|20 minutes at 45-59°C (113-138°F)
|Proteolytic enzymes are activated and metabolize proteins
|30-60 minutes at 62.7-71.1°C (145-160°F)
|Converts starches into sugars
|10 minutes at 76.6°C (170°F)
|Halts starch conversion
When some of the mash is removed from the mixture, boiled, then added back into the mash to raise the resting temperature, we call that decoction.
A triple decoction mash is a traditional route and involves performing a decoction three times. Double and single decoctions are also common.
When you perform a decoction, melanoidins are released. Melanoidins add to the fullness and maltiness of the beer. Tannins are also increased, giving the beer a better mouthfeel.
All About Those Enzymes
So, we keep talking about enzymes in mashing. Before you start all grain brewing, you need to be introduced to two kinds of enzymes—proteolytic and diastatic.
Also known as protease enzymes, these proteins are activated between 45-59°C (113-138°F) during protein rest. Throughout that range, you can also activate various kinds of proteolytic enzymes. For example, between 45-50°C (113-122°F), proteins are broken down by enzymes and turned into amino acids. The yeast uses those amino acids for energy during fermentation.
Proteolytic enzymes are also responsible for head retention, enhancing flavor, and reducing haze.
If you plan on doing a single step infusion mash, then you need to acquaint yourself with the all-important diastatic enzyme. These are special proteins that convert starch into sugar during protein rest—45-59°C (113-138°F)—and saccharification rest—62.7-71.1°C (145-160°F)—temperatures. Home brewers encounter two types of diastatic enzymes: alpha- and beta-amylase.
With alpha-amylase, starches are turned into a type of carbohydrate, known as a dextrin. These carbs do not ferment, because they are technically not a sugar. Instead, they contribute to the body and mouthfeel of the final product. The dextrinization process happens between 65°C and 67°C (149°F and 153°F).
This is the all star of all grain brewing. Beta-amylase is the enzyme responsible for turning grain starches into fermentable sugars in a process known as saccharification. You’ve heard that word before! If you want to active beta-amylase proteins, get the temperature of your mash between 52-62°C (126-144°F).
Gather Your Homebrewing Equipment
Homebrewing requires a number of specialized equipment, particularly when you are trying out all grain brewing. The procedure is the same as it would be in a commercial industry, just on a tinier scale. Brewing all grain uses a trio of vessels—the mash tun, liquor tank, and boil kettle. You can either DIY some of the pieces or purchase the equipment from your local brewing supply store.
You will also need other homebrewing equipment essentials, like siphoning tubes, a grain mill, and a primary fermenter.
For now, let’s focus on the three main vessels.
The mash tun is the alchemical device where grains become mash and, later, wort. In the mash tun, ground grains are mixed with water. The temperature is kept even so that complex sugars and starches can be broken down. The sweet wort is filtered through the crushed malt with a bazooka screen or false bottom.
The most popular mash tun used by home brewers is a converted cooler. The equipment is inexpensive, but it is not ideal for step mashing. Plus, most coolers are plastic, which is a turn off for some brewers. It is a budget-friendly option for beginner all grain brewers, though. Otherwise, a stainless steel mash tun is the best.
Make sure you choose a mash tun that is a similar size to your boil kettle.
For brewers, “liquor” refers to water. So, a hot liquor tank is going to contain the hot water for mashing and sparging. There are two kinds of hot liquor tanks:
- Insulated: A container with insulation that seals in heat. You can pour heated water straight from your boil kettle into an insulated tank.
- Direct Fire: The same size as a boil kettle and fixed with a heat source.
Both kinds of liquor tanks work well for home brewers. If you choose an insulated hot liquor tank, check that it can maintain the water temperature for an hour, at least.
To successfully all grain homebrew beer, you will need a boil kettle that is slightly larger in volume than your primary fermenter. You want to account for boil off and also headspace between the rim of the kettle and the bubbling wort. No one wants to have to deal with the sticky mess of boiled over wort.
You can find hundreds of styles of boil kettles, but our favorite kind is the stainless steel kettle. For most brewers, an 8- to 10-gallon brew kettle is ideal. Remember, if you want about 5-gallons of beer at the end, you are going to need about 6-7 gallons of wort after sparging. That drops to about 5 gallons after 60-90 minutes of boiling and adding hops.
The All Grain Brewing Process
As mentioned earlier, there are a couple of ways to go about all grain brewing. We are going to first introduce the single infusion method, since it is the easiest process.
Prior to starting in on the mashing, you will have to prepare the grain. If you don’t own a malt mill, you can always visit a local homebrew shop. Most will crush grains for a small fee.
Properly milled malt will still have some of its husk. It should never be pulverized. Grain husks are needed during the sparging process to filter out the wort. If you crush the malt into oblivion (read: flour), it’ll be far too fine and form dough instead of a grain bed in the mash tun. And that means fruitless sparging.
Single Step Infusion
Gather your ingredients—grains, hops (if desired), yeast, and water—and clean and sanitize your equipment. That should always be the preliminary step you take when prepping to brew up beer. Never underestimate the power of a good scrubbing in homebrewing! It will save your beer from any unsavory off-flavors.
Step 1: Striking The Water
Strike water is what you use to soak the grains for the mash. You “strike” the mash with this first round of water so that it reaches the correct temperature.
As you may imagine, the correct strike water temperature is crucial to the outcome of your mash. The mash temperature should be anywhere between 64-70°C (148-158°F). Put the strike water at 70-76°C (158-169°F).
For example, if you aim for a mash temperature of 66°C (152°F), the strike water should be around 72°C (163°F).
You will need about 1.5 times the amount of grains you have in your brew kettle. So, if you have about 12 or 13 pounds of grain, you will need 4-5 gallons of water.
Step 2: Prep Your Mash Tun
Next, you put the strike water in the mash tun then maintain the strike water’s temperature for about 5 minutes. That will help keep the mash tun at an optimal temperature.
If you skip this step, you run the risk of compromising the quality of the mash.
Step 3: Mash In
Add the ground malt into the mash tun. Have a spoon handy so that you can stir the mash, evening out the temperature and stopping clumps. Consistency comes from a uniformly heated mash.
Step 4: Waiting
Now, you sit back and let the metamorphosis of starches happen. This is one of the most important steps, and you definitely don’t want to rush it. But it can also be frustrating, because you’ll want to be as hands on as possible.
In order for the saccharification to happen, you need to wait about 60 minutes. During that hour, the heated water inside the tun will activate the enzymes within the grains.
Keep an eye on your mash’s temperature. Don’t let it drop. If the mash temperature starts to drop, grab a kitchen towel and wrap it around the tun to insulate it.
Step 5: Lautering and Sparging
Good job with waiting! Now, you must spray hot liquor (water) into the mash to rid it of any excess sugars. This is called lautering and sparging. Lautering refers to separating the malts in the mash from the wort. You do that by filtering out the wort.
Have the sparging water prepared before the saccharification rest finishes. Sparging water is best at 75-76°C (168-170°F). To be safe, heat more water than you would think necessary—at least 1.5 times more volume than the mash.
With the sparging water prepared, you can begin mashing out. During this period, you increase the temperature of the mash to 76°C (170°F). You have to do this to stop the saccharification of the grains. Mashing out is done by taking near boiling water (not the sparge water) and adding it to the mash tun. Wait until the mash temperature rises to 76°C (170°F) before letting it rest for about 5 minutes.
After the rest period, you recirculate. This requires you to draw some wort from the mash tun then pour it back on the mash. Doing so will clarify the wort and prevent run-off. You can collect wort by opening the spigot on the mash tun and pouring wort into the grain bed. Then recollect the wort. Check to see if it’s cloudy. Repeat the process until the wort comes out clear.
Now, you are ready to sparge. Grab another kettle or bucket and open the spigot on the mash tun. Catch the wort. While you are gathering the wort from the mash tun, start pouring some of the sparging water into the grain bed. Be sure to pour the sparging water at the same speed the wort is coming out of the spigot. If that is too difficult, pour the water in short bursts.
Once you have enough wort, stop sparging. You should have at least 1 gallon more than the desired batch size.
Step 6: Continue With The Brewing
If you have done extract brewing or partial mashing, you will know what comes next. From here on out, extract and all grain brewing are exactly the same. You will now move on to boiling your wot, adding the hops (if you want), and then putting the wort into a fermenter.
When boiling an all grain brew, you will need a full volume boil. The boil does not have to be aggressive—just rolling.
An all grain brew will take between 4-6 hours to complete. Make sure you have set aside enough hours in the day to get through the malt crushing, lautering and sparging, boiling, chilling, and yeast pitching.
Two-Step Infusion Mashing
If you want to try two-step infusion mashing, there are only a couple of steps to add to the single step infusion procedure. The easiest way to do this is to split the mash time.
To start, bringing the temperature of the mash up to 54.0-61.7°C (130-143°F). Use the protein rest temperature to figure out the exact temperature. It will be specified in the recipe.
After that, add water to your mash tun. You need about 1 quart for every pound of grain. Your mash will drop to a temperature between 44.4°C and 52.8°F (112°F and 127°F). Maintain that temperature for 20-30 minutes, unless the recipes says otherwise.
With the protein rest finished, you can then raise the temperature. Add boiling water to the mash tun in short bursts, about ½ quart (0.47L) each time. That will elevate the temperature to about 65-70°C (150-158°F). From there, you follow the same route as a single-step infusion.
All Grain Brewing Tips and Tricks
Here are some additional tips to help your transition over to all grain brewing all the more smooth:
- Use plenty of water. Because all grain brewing requires mashing, lautering, and sparging, you want to make sure you have enough water close by. For instance, a 5-gallon batch of beer might take about 10 gallons of water. You should also plan ahead and check the minerals in the water. Having trouble calculating how much water you need? There’s a calculator for that.
- Tryout brew-in-a-bag. This is one of the best ways to graduate from working with partial mashes to mastering all grain brewing. Instead of using a mash tun, you can grab a mesh grain bag. Then, you boil up some water and toss in your bagged grains. Once the grains have been boiled enough, you just pull the bag out, leaving pristine wort behind. You don’t even have to sparge.
- Be patient. Relax. You might feel a bit in over your head in the beginning, but just sit back and let the beer brew. Even if you make mistakes, you can walk away from the procedures more experienced. Eventually, you will make something incredible. And remember, don’t rush and skip steps, like cleaning and sanitizing.
- Take notes. Homebrewing is a learning process, and everyone has a different way of going about it. Some people will set up their home brewery differently. Watch videos, read books and blogs, and become familiar with the equipment, terminology, and methods. Write down your favorite tips and keep them handy while you work.
Homebrewing veterans are going to love the all grain brewing process. But even if you are absolutely new to brewing, you can venture into all grain brewing and see incredible results. You can express yourself a little more than with extract brewing, and you have far more control of the outcome. That means you will be tasting a whole new rainbow of flavors from here on out.
We hope that this guide has been helpful to you. Happy brewing!
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