All grain brewing is the process of making beer from malted barley, hops, water and yeast. There are many technical tricks and calculations brewers use to increase the efficiency of the process, or make particularly tricky styles of beer. This article will cover none of these, as it is designed to teach you how to make your first all grain beer. If, once you have mastered this process, you want to look into what is happening in a little more detail, go for it. But for now, lets just get the basics down.
I will cover the mashing and boiling process only. I will not cover fermentation and bottling/kegging, as all grain brewing is no different from extract or kit brewing when it comes to fermentation, packaging and maturation. Hence, I will assume that you already have a fermentor of some sort, as well as a hydrometer, sanitising solution, syphoning tube, crown capper and bottles, or keg, etc.
You should be aware that all grain brewing takes time. There is a lot of waiting around while water heats or enzymes do their thing. Expect to need a full 8 hours from start to finish. This time will come down with practice (I do a simple infusion mash in 5 hours now) but buget for 8 hours for your first brew day.
All grain brewing does require a little bit of initial investment when it comes to equipment:
Boiler, with hop strainer;
Paddle or large spoon;
A mash tun is a vessel for steeping the grains at a certain temperature so that the enzymes from the barley can turn the starches into sugars. There are various different designs and systems for facilitating it, but the one I will be describing is the insulated mash/lauter tun, which is cheap and effective, so it's probably the best option for the beginner.
Basically, this is a large picnic cooler, with a slotted manifold inside attached to a tap. The idea is that when the tap is opened the manifold allows the liquid to drain out, but leaves the grain where it is.
Instructions on how to make your own picnic cooler mash tun can be found here: Building a Coolerbox Mashtun with a Copper Manifold or you can buy one ready made from many homebrew suppliers.
The boiler is, quite simply, a way of getting 25l of wort (unfermented beer) to a good rolling boil and keeping it there for over an hour. If you have a good cooker a very large pot would do the trick, but the boiler I use, and would recommend, is a large plastic bucket with a kettle element inside. The advantage of this is that I can use it out in the back yard, that way I don't steam up the kitchen or cover the cooker in sticky mess if it boils over.
The hop strainer is just a copper pipe with small slots or holes cut in it, attached to the inside of the tap on the boiler. It is designed to let liquid out while keeping the hops in the boiler.
Again, you could make one of these yourself, or you could buy a purpose made one from a homebrew supplier.
Some people will tell you that you don't really need this item, but they lie. A wort chiller is a heat exchanger. It is designed to chill the wort down from boiling to the correct temperature for the yeast to get to work on it, in as little time as possible. Some people use ice baths and other methods, but you would need a lot of ice. Save yourself time and frustration and get a wort chiller.
The most common type of wort chiller is an immersion chiller. This is just a copper coil that you stick into the wort and run cold water through. You can build one yourself , from copper pipe and hose, or you can buy a purpose made one from one from one of the better homebrew suppliers.
This is a large container for hot water, which will be used to rinse the sugars out of the grains. It can be a large pot, or another boiler. Mine is a 15 litre stock pot which I use to heat water on the cooker.
Paddle or large spoon
This is just something to stir the mash with.
This is just a large jug with a handle, used for moving small amounts of liquid around the place. I use a 3 litre plastic measuring jug.
You will need an immersion thermometer, capable of accurately measuring temperatures from 0C to 100C. Digital or glass, it makes no difference. Get this from your homebrew shop, if you don't already have one.
Any reasonably accurate scales will do here. You will need to be able to weigh out hops in increments of about five grams, so bear that in mind if you are purchasing one.
The following ingredients will yield about 23 litres of ale. I have chosen ale because it is the broadest beer style and the process is quite forgiving.
4Kg Pale Malt (crushed)
500g Crystal Malt (crushed)
100g Bag of Hops
Make sure you by your malt pre crushed. Whole malt is no good to you, unless you have a grain mill, set to give the rough crush necessary for all grain brewing.
The hop choice is up to you. I would recommend, First Gold, Goldings or Fuggles for this beer. They are commonly used Ale hops and can be obtained in any homebrew store.
Use some king of ale yeast. If you are familiar with ale yeasts already, use whatever you fancy. If you are not, then I would recommend a reliable dry yeast like, Danstar Nottingham, Gevin English Ale yeast, Safale S-04, or Safale US-05 (AKA US56).
Heat the water
Put 12 (approximately 2.5 litres per kilo of grain) litres of water into the boiler and start it heating. You want to get this water to 76C.
Preheat the mash tun
Make sure the mash tun is clean and the tap is closed. It doesn't need to be sanitised, just visually clean.
Pour a couple of litres of boiling water into it, (whatever the kitchen kettle holds) close it and slosh it around a bit.
Leave it for a few minutes, while you boil another kettle full of water. Run the water out of the mash tun through the tap and repeat the heating procedure with the second kettle of water.
Put the strike water into the mash tun
Run the preheat water out of the mash tun, close the tap and fill it with the 12 litres of water you heated to 76C.
It will probably drop to 75C in the process. This is what we want, so if it is still at 76C, just wait a few minutes, with the lid off the mash tun, until it drops to 75C.
Add the grain
Pour all of the grain into the mash tun and stir well. Make sure you make a good loose porridge, mixing the grain and water well and breaking up and lumps.
Check the temperature
Take the temperature of the mash in several places and get an average. It should be at about 67C but anywhere from about 63 to 70 is fine. If it is over 70, carefully add cold water, a bit at a time, to bring it down the temperature down. If it is under 63, you can do the same with hot water from the kettle.
Wait for conversion
Once you have the temperature right, close the mash tun and let it sit, for at least an hour. The cooler should keep the temperature, more or less where it is for the duration. If the insulation on your mash tun is a bit poor, you could wrap it in old blankets, to compensate.
Heat sparge water
You will need 20 litres of water at 80C to rinse the grains out (in two batches of 10 litres), once the mash is finished. Heat this now, in your sparge vessel.
Recirculate the first runnings
After the mash has been sitting for at least an hour, remove the lid from the mash tun. Place the boiler under the tap jutting out of the mash tun and draw off a few litres of wort, into the jug. Pour the wort back into the top of the mash tun. Do it gently, so as not to disturb the grain bed too much. The idea of this is to remove any grain dust, or bits of husk from the wort by filtering it through the grain bed. Doing this with the first four or five litres should be enough.
Empty the mash tun
Now run all of the wort out of the mash tun and into the boiler. You should end up with a few litres of fairly dark looking wort at the bottom of the boiler and lots of grain left in the mash tun.
Try to keep splashing to a minimum. Aerating your wort when it is hot can cause oxidation flavours in the finished beer. I use a plastic hose attached to the mash tun tap to gently run the wort into the boiler.
Remashing, or batch sparging
Close the tap on the mash tun and pour your 10 litres of 80C water into the mash tun. Stir well, to create a thin porridge again. Close the lid and leave it to settle for a few minutes, while you heat another 10 litres of water to 80C.
Empty mash tun again
After about 10 minutes, repeat the process of recirculation and drainage into the boiler that you did the first time. Just put this thinner wort in on top of the darker earlier runnings. They will all be boiled together later.
Remashing and emptying again
Close the tap on the mash tun again and pour your 10 litres of 80C sparge water into the mash tun. Stir well, to create a thin porridge. Close the lid and leave it to settle for a few minutes, before recirculating and emptying the mash tun into the boiler, for the last time.
You should have about 27 litres of wort in your boiler, at this time. If you do not, estimate how much you are missing and repeat the remashing procedure with that amount of water at 80C.
Bring the wort to the boil. This may take some time, depending on how powerful your boiler element is. As the wort approaches boiling point, you will notice that it forms a foam on top. This is normal and it will subside to a couple of minor clumps a few minutes into a vigorous boil. This is known as the hot break.
Once the hot break has been achieved, it's time to start adding hops.
There are ways of working out the bittering of hops, using the percentage alpha acid content, printed on the pack. If you are comfortable with doing this, great. Play around with the hop additions all you want. If not, I have provided two hop schedules, one for a hoppy, bitter style beer, the other for a maltier ale, which should still retain some bite from the hops.
Premium Bitter Summer Ale
1st Hop Addition: 40g for 60 minutes. 25g for 60 minutes
2nd Hop Addition: 30g for 15 minutes. 20g for 15 minutes.
3rd Hop Addition: 30g for 5 minutes. 20g for 5 minutes.
If you are familiar with International bittering units, the above recipes assume Goldings hops of 4.75%AA and yield bittering of 33 IBU and 20 IBU respectively.
1st Hop Addition:
Start with the hops listed above as “1st Hop Addition”, for the beer you want to make. These hops will have to boil for a full 60 minutes, to extract the bittering element from them. They are know as the bittering hops.
Sanitise your fermentor and your wort chiller
You have 45 minutes to kill here, so it's a good time to sanitise your fermentor and your wort chiller. I usually fill my fermentation bucket with a sanitising solution and let my wort chiller soak in it at the same time.
2nd Hop Addition:
These hops have to boil for 15 minutes to allow the flavour of the hops and some of the bittering compounds to get into the beer, so throw them into the boiler 45 minutes after you threw the bittering hops in. These hops are know as the flavouring hops.
3rd Hop Addition:
These hops have to boil for 5 minutes, to allow the delicate aroma and some of the flavour of the hops to infuse so put them into the boiler 10 minutes after the flavouring hops. These hops are know as the aroma hops.
60 Minutes after the first hops when into the boiler, knock off the power. Rinse any sanitising solution from the wort chiller and put it into the boiler. Let the wort rest like that for 10 minutes, or so.
Chill the wort
After the wort has rested, attach the wort chiller to the cold tap and direct the outflow to a drain. Run cold water through the chiller until the wort is down to about 20C. This will take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how good your chiller is and how cold your tap water is.
Rehydrate the yeast
If you are using dry yeast, rehydrate it with a little warm water, while the wort is chilling.
Empty the boiler
Rinse the sanitiser off your fermentor and run the wort into it, from the boiler, once it is down to 20C. The hop strainer will keep the hops from clogging the tap and the hop bed will form a natural filter, for the break material, which coagulated during the boil. You will see this as a greyish coating on top of the hops, once the boiler is empty.
This is the one part of the process where oxygen pick-up is beneficial to your beer. Getting dissolved oxygen into the cooled beer gives your yeast what it needs to grow.
Ferment and package as you would an extract beer
From here on, the process is no different than if you had made the beer from an extract kit. Fermentation and bottling/kegging are the exact same. If you need instructions from here on, please see Getting started: Brewing beer, with beer kits as the process is identical for kits, extract and all grain beers.