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Monday, May 5, 2014

Going All Grain...

Alright, so going all grain. Why? Well, here are a few things.

Pros of all grain:
1: Cost. If you do it right, ingredient costs are far lower doing all grain. Setup costs however...

2: Control. It's easier to control every aspect of your brew. If you want to really get into it, you can control your mash pH and everything to really optimize things.

3: Ultimately for me, a sense of satisfaction.

More on the cost aspect.
First of all, yes, buying grain does cost less than buying extract. But the problem here is that the cost of the equipment can easily skyrocket up to the point where you won't realize any actual savings for years to come. The good news is it doesn't have to be that way if you plan carefully.

After a couple weeks of searching and reading everything I could that was brew related, I stumbled upon this link regarding Brew In A Bag, or BIAB. As soon as I read that, I knew what I was going to do, and how I'd be able to save some money in the initial setup for brewing with all grain.

I may replace this bag soon, but so far it's served me well and the only reason I'm going to replace it eventually is to get one that lines the side of my kettle better. This one doesn't at all, but it serves its purpose so I'm keeping it for the time being. Nylon straining bag 12" x 32".

I also heard that doing BIAB, I might scorch the bag if I didn't utilize some sort of false bottom during the Mash Out phase. So I picked up this no post vegetable steamer. Works great. Also works as a steamer, which is cool too.

Voila. That covers my transition to all grain. Below is a list of my complete setup (including those two above), as those two things only cover the jump from extract to grain.

Kettle.
Knowing what I do now, I wish I had gone with the 62QT version. But this does work, you just have to sparge to make it work. I'll cover that later when I cover my process.

Bigass Spoon.
I'll likely be replacing this with a paddle sooner or later, but it certainly works for the time being.

Hydrometer.
Don't need it, can certainly brew without it. But I'd rather know what I'm doing and be able to note things like specific gravity and ABV, so I use it. I may look into using a refractometer in the future, but pretty happy with this for the time being.

Hydrometer sample tube.
I broke mine. Ordering a new one soon. Kinda need it to use with the hydrometer, 'cept for at the end of the boil when you can use it in the wort directly.

Nylon straining bag 12" x 32"
For the grainses.
Update 8/8/14: I have since switched to a purpose built, custom bag. I reviewed it here.

No post vegetable steamer.
For the false bottom/steaming of things.
Update 8/8/14: I no longer use this, as I mash in a cooler now. Reviewed that one here.

Northern Brewer Essential Starter Kit.
Most of what you need. Couple buckets (one with a spigot and valve for bottling, very important) a capper, caps, and an auto-siphon. I replaced the siphon with a bigger one, because the small one just took too long and I'm impatient. But if you're more patient than I am when it comes to transferring your wort/beer, then that one will serve just fine.

I did manage to break the capper that comes with that kit. So I replaced it with Agata Bench Bottle Capper. It's a lovely piece of hardware that makes capping (an already easy process) even easier.

It isn't a cheap hobby. But if you get into a three vessel all grain system with a cooler mash tun for example, you'd be hard pressed to spend less than $300, and that's just for the vessels and burners. Then you'd either need a pump for a single tier, or to have multiple tiers to work with, which adds even more cost to it, on top of buckets/carboys for fermenting, etc. Also you'd have more cleanup at the end of the brew day. No thanks!

Control:
For me, it's more about variability in recipe design and creation. I do plan eventually to get into my water report and figure out how to optimize for certain styles using a pH meter and whatnot, but for the time being that is beyond the scope of my current abilities and equipment, so I don't worry about that at the moment.

It is very nice being able to (fairly accurately) predict the color of your finished beer though, and it's easier to do this with grain than extract, because with extract you have to consider a few things. With extract, if you add it all at the start of the boil you get better hop utilization. You also get a darker beer. If you do a late addition, you can get a lighter color but lower hop utilization. With grain, you simply select the type of grain you want and there are plenty of online calculators (like brewersfriend.com) that can tell you roughly what kind of color you'll end up with. I like that a lot, because like it or not the first thing anyone will judge your beer on is appearance.

A sense of satisfaction:
I like to make things. I like to do things and see the results. It's just a very satisfying thing, and I just didn't really get that from dumping the extract into the kettle and adding hops.

I do get that when I go and create a recipe, select the grain bill that I like, hops to compliment it and yeast to make it more than just wort.

I love the process of mashing in. Heat the strike water, make sure the temperature reading is stable, and then pour the grain into the bag. Stir it like it owes you money, get a temp reading and cover it up for an hour. Not a lot to it really, but it's a satisfying thing seeing the grain go in, and then after that hour pulling the grain bag out and seeing/smelling/tasting the beautiful wort left behind before you sparge (or start boiling, depending on mash volume).

To me, it's a therapeutic experience. To take the grains and turn them into wort for the yeast to turn into beer, the entire process is very relaxing.

To each their own imo, I have no problem with extract brewers. Any all grain method will  take longer than extract, but this is my own opinion on it and my sense of satisfaction. If you're happy with the way you do it, more power to you. But I really enjoy my brew days.

This turned out a tad longer than I had anticipated. I could probably make it even longer, but I'll leave it at this for now.