Let’s Talk All-Grain
Okay, we’ve covered equipment, cleaning and sanitation, and you have a couple of extract/partial mashes under your belt. You’re feeling confident and are ready to take the next step in brewing. That step will be an all-grain recipe.
Before we get into the equipment you might need to brew your first all-grain beer, let’s talk why you’d want to take this step. The only additional step to an all-grain brew is the mash. It’s funny, we get people in Southern Hills Homebrew Supply that want to go to all-grain but seem to be intimidated by it. Just as in the extract/partial mash kits, if you can boil water and make tea, you can brew all-grain.
The next reason for going to all-grain recipe is the grain itself. You pick your grain bill to match your taste. In a kit you have dry malt extract and liquid malt extract, they are what some company, somewhere, thinks is the best grain combination for what you will be making. The draw for me was getting to the point where I can make my own recipes. All-grain will give you that opportunity. In my mind making a kit beer is no different than making a cake from a box. Yes, the cake is delicious. It’s fresh, homemade, and I’ve ate more than my fair share of them. A beer from a kit is an excellent homemade beer (drank more than my fair share of them, too) but it’s still someone else’s recipe. I wanted my own.
Finally, there is cost. Buying grains for an all-grain brew is less than the extract in the kits. Depending on the beer, you could see savings of up to 30%. Let’s look at my first recipe I ever put together; Sweet Xheni (pronounced “Jenny”). This is a Tropical Stout that has a higher starting gravity than most stouts. It will finish sweeter and have a higher ABV (about 7%) than a regular stout.
Sweet Xheni Extract
- 2 Crisp Crystal 60L - $4.78
- 1 lbs. Crisp Chocolate malt - $2.39
- 8 oz. Crisp Roasted Barley - $1.20
- 4 lbs Pale Ale DME – $21.98
- 3 lbs. Pale Ale LME - $13.99
- 6 oz. Molasses - @ $1.50
- 1 oz. Magnum hops- $3.59
- 2 pkg Saflager Lager 34/70 yeast- $15.98
This comes out to $65.41 at 2022 pricing. If your efficiency is there and you get 48 bottles of beer it will come to approximately $1.36 a bottle.
Sweet Xheni All Grain
- 11 lbs. Crisp Best Ale - $24.09
- 2 lbs. Crisp Crystal 60L - $4.78
- 1 lbs. Crisp Chocolate - $2.39
- 8 oz. Crisp Roasted Barley - $1.20
- 6 oz. Molasses - @ $1.50
- 8 oz Rice Hulls - $1.00 (these will eliminate a stuck sparge)
- 1 oz. Magnum - $3.59
- 1 Whirlfloc Tablet - .30¢
- 2 pkg Saflager Lager 34/70 yeast - $15.98
This works out to $54.83 at 2022 pricing. Again, if your efficiency is there and you get 48 bottles of beer it will come to approximately $1.14 a bottle. That’s a savings of $10.58 or about 17%. If you make beer as often as I do those savings really add up. That’s almost the price of a case of bottles!
Now if I really want to shave my cost, I can consider grains from other regions. When I build my beer recipes I tend to use the grains from that region. In this case I’m using Crisp Grains which are an English grain. If I used the American equivalent from Briess my total cost would drop to $42.13, about .88¢ a bottle. That’s a savings of $24.58 over extract (37%), and $12.70 (23%) savings over the English grains. Now, I’ve never done a side-by-side comparison between the 2 grains, but it may become a subject for a future blog.
Now let’s talk the equipment to make the move from kits to all-grain. Most homebrewers go one of 3 ways: 3 vessel, Brew in a Bag (BIAG) or all in one. Briefly the 3 vessel set-up is a kettle to heat water, an insulated vessel for mashing and a boil kettle. BIAG uses elements of the other 2 by using a bag to contain the grains during mashing. The all in one is that; one vessel to do all but heat sparge water. I chose the all in one system and am very happy with it! Here at Southern Hills Homebrew Supply we carry the Brewzilla. Since this is what I use, I will stick to this when I talk equipment.
The easiest way to explain the Brewzilla is to just walk you through my typical brew day. There is a formula for strike water to grain ratio for starting a brew day; 1 ½ quarts of water to 1 pound of grain. I found 4 gallons to work for me so I place 4 gallons of water in my Brewzilla and set the temp for 158. Once it reaches strike temp of 158 I turn it down to 154 and I start adding my grains little by little as I stir it to eliminate dough balls. I also turn on the recirculating pump to help make sure all grain is wet. One thing of note; the Brewzilla has 2 heating elements on it. When I’m moving from one temp to another I use both the 1000 and 500 watt elements. When I want to hold at a temp, I use only the 500 watt element. While the grain is mashing I heat about 5 gallons of water to 170 degrees in the pot that came with my Brewer’s Best Beast kit. Once the 60 minute mash is over I raise the temperature on the Brewzilla to 170 degrees for “Mash out”. I then raise my grain basket and start sparging (rinsing) my grain with the 170 degree sparge water, slowly, until I reach a volume of 6.25 gallons. You can remove the grain basket and set aside; it’s done for this brew day (the spent grains go into my wife’s composter. We tried to make granola bars out of it, once. They were tasty but there is a reason we called them “dynamite”. They came out faster than they went in.) I now raise the temp to boiling and add my hops according to their schedule. Ten minutes before the end of boil I drop 1 tablet of “Whirlfloc” in my wort. After the boil I insert the cooling coil and run hose water through it while running the recirculation pump until my wort is down to 70 degrees. I then pump it into a sanitized fermentation bucket, pitch yeast, cover and airlock. That’s it. My dog Casey could do it! (One word of note about Miss Casey; God made her the most beautiful of dogs! She is so full of love and absolutely beautiful to behold. There was a trade off; she ain’t too bright! I’m talking; “Bless her heart” kind of bright).
Now it’s time to clean our Brewzilla. I fill about 3 gallons of water, set the temp for about 110 degrees, put the appropriate about of PBW in it, turn on the recirculating pump and go take the dogs for a walk. When I return, about 30 minutes later, I wipe away what ever didn’t “clean in place”, rinse and put it away. It’s that easy!
One last thing to cover: Justifying the cost of a Brewzilla to your spouse. Back when I first started brewing someone told my wife it was cheaper to buy beer than make beer. What I did was see how much a commercial beer would cost compared to my home brew. Now keep in mind I will walk away stiff legged from an “American Lite Lager”. So, she was well aware of what I was spending on my taste in beer. But I still had to show her on paper. Let’s look at the Tropical Stout here. I found a commercial beer, locally, for $11.99 for 6 ten-ounce bottles. So 48 bottles would run $95.92 for 480 ounces. I can make my “Sweet Xheni” for $54.83 and get 576 ounces in 48 bottles. I have more than paid for all my brewing equipment with the beer I have made from home.
As always; let me know your reading this by leaving a post. If you have a question you want answered don’t be shy either.
- John Thompson