All Grain Brewing Simplified Pt 1: Process
It can be argued that moving to all grain brewing can be the best thing you can do for the quality of your beer (pre-flameout). This being due to even more creative freedom, freshness of ingredients, and is a more engaging hands on process.
It can also be argued that it can be an intimidating, confusing, and expensive step to take for your hobby. However, none of these things need to be true. It’s all a matter of preference after you decide to try all grain. I’m here to simplify the equipment needed for all grain as well as the process. I’ll start with the process and move to equipment later on. With this, I hope everyone can feel more confident about taking the next step in their brewing process.
Most of the change from extract to all grain lies right here as far as recipe creation goes. Grain is primarily broken up into;
Base malt: (2 row, Pale Ale malt, Maris Otter, Vienna malt, for example)
Specialty malt: (crystal malts, roasted malts, chocolate malt etc.) and,
Adjuncts: (additions that aren’t barley, like sugar, corn, or oats).
Base grain should contribute at least 80% or more of your recipe. This is because the base grains have the most enzymes to convert your starches into fermentable sugar. It will also help your malt bill remain balanced. This power is known as diastatic power (DP). You use diastatic power to determine if your malt bill can convert the starch into sugar. You want to hit over 30 overall DP (but the higher the better). Grain is sometimes listed in degrees Lintner (not to be confused with a malts Lovibond #). The Lintner values are what you want to plug into your equation. Here is the formula.
(All of the Malt’s Diastatic power added together) / The total pounds of grain = Your converting power
Let’s look at an example grain bill:
8 Lbs of Vienna Malt (DP of 50)
2 Lbs Dark Munich (DP of 25)
1 Lb Crystal 80 (DP of 0)
So your equation would look like this (8 X 50) + (2 X 25) + (1 X 0) = 450.
Next Divide the total by the pounds of grain. 450/11 = 40.90 This is your overall DP.
Ok, so you now know all the raw basics of grain and grain bills. It’s time to move to:
Mashing is where your beer turns starches into fermentable sugars. It’s the biggest step in separating all grain brewing from extract brewing. It can have a lot of complicated steps and names like saccharification rest, protein rest, beta glucan rest, turbid mash, decoction mash, lauter tun, mash tun, sparging, hot liquor tank, mash out, and the list goes on. Reading all or some of those terms in a single tutorial article can just turn you off to the idea, or simply overload your brain. That’s why I’m just going to take 2 of those words to describe mashing in a way that you can complete a successful mash and make your first all grain beer. The main bit of mashing is your saccharification rest. That is just holding the temperature for an amount of time so the starch converts to sugar. There is a wide range of error in mashing, and you don’t need to hold it at exactly 152.3 F.
In fact those enzymes work from as low as 145 to 160, however there is a reason behind picking a number in the middle. There are two different enzymes at work when you are mashing. One works better at the low end, and the other at the high end. Steeping crushed grain in that temperature range will create brewable wort. Higher temps are converted faster, but your wort will be less fermentable. And on the other end, a lower mash temp will take longer, but me much more fermentable. You can use this to your advantage in recipe creation.
Want more body / malt sweetness? Mash higher. Dryer beer? Mash lower.
Long story short, it’s just like steeping crushed grains, but for an hour and the temperature will affect the fermentable sugar and body.
Now that you’ve mashed for an hour, you need to sparge (rinse) the sugars from your grain. There are several practices that you can employ to achieve a successful sparge. Grain will always hold the same amount of liquid. What you are doing here is releasing the sugar rich wort from the grain. To do this you need to replace the liquid the grain wants to absorb. And that’s what sparging is all about. Or as H&R Block would say. GET YOUR SUGARS BACK AMERICA!
The ease of your sparge will depend on the crush of your grain. The finer the crush, the higher the risk of having a slow or stuck sparge, (but a finer mash means faster and more efficient conversion). It’s important to find a balance between the two. Rye, wheat, and some other adjuncts can get gummy, which can further hinder an effective smooth sparging effort. Rice hulls are used in instances where higher amounts of those grains are used.
*In Brew in a Bag setups, you can crush your grain much finer than any other method will allow.
Dunk / Batch Sparging:
The easy way I like to call it. All you’re doing is adding more water
to your grain, whether this happens in a BIAB bag or a traditional mash
If in a mash tun: Run off (Drain) all your wort into
your boil kettle from your mash tun. Then add more strike water. Let it
soak for 10 minutes and drain it off again until you reach your desired
If doing BIAB: As the Brew in a Bag rules go,
there is “no sparge”. I find however, that I can get better efficiency
over just letting the bag drain back into the kettle. All you need to do
is put your grain in a common brew bucket, and add another few gallons
(for five gallon batches) to that bucket. This way, the total gravity
per gallon of wort trapped in your grain will be reduced by diffusion!
Fly Sparging: The fancy way I like to call it. Instead of adding and draining your wort all at once, a fly sparge slowly adds water over the top of the grain, while it slowly drains wort into your boil kettle. This requires some more equipment as you need to distribute the water equally over the grain bed at the proper pace. This prevents channeling (where water takes the easiest route to the bottom without actually rinsing your grain.
Thanks for reading up on making the jump to all grain. Next time I’ll wrap things up by going over some of the basic equipment profiles and you can make the leap to All Grain without worry! You won’t regret it.