The decision for a homebrewer to go from extract brewing to All-Grain brewing can be a difficult one. As you start to brew, all of these things you are learning seem very daunting. There many things to consider and learn. A milestone for many brewers is all grain brewing. But getting there seems expensive and difficult. There are many ways you can go about learning all grain and keeping the costs down. In the end you may find all grain brewing is not for you, your time constraints, or other reasons. At Anarchy Lane, we are confident that once you start all grain brewing, you will never want to go back to extract! Below we will highlight two different methods you can use to try your hand at all grain brewing without a lot of added equipment or expense: Brew In A Bag, and Batch Sparging in a cooler.
BREW IN A BAG – BIAB
One of the newest rages in all grain brewing is called “brew-in-a-bag” I start with this method because it is by far the easiest to learn, and costs the least to get going. This is basically a procedure where you use a grain sack, similar to one an extract brewer might use to steep grains in, and use this in conjunction with your brewpot to become a hybrid mash tun. The procedure is simple:
- Make or buy a mesh sack large enough to fit your brewpot inside. That way the grain has full contact with the water.
- Add all of your mash water to your brewpot. Heat to your mash temperature. (150-154 F )
- Put mesh bag in pot, and then add crushed grain & stir, raise temp if needed back to your mash temp (150-154 F)
- Let sit for 1 hour
- Pull grain sack out of pot – draining the newly created wort from the sack.
- you are done, and ready to boil!
Here are some links that go into greater detail:
1 Gal Batches – Try 1 gallon at a time to start. This is so easy and fast!
Basic Brewing has several Podcasts on the topic I highly recommend.
I personally have used the 1 gallon method and have to say this is the easiest, cheapest, fastest way to try your hand at all grain brewing. Had I tried this method when I first started all grain brewing, I may never had gone with the additional expense of making a Batch Sparge cooler, which we will discuss next. Some points to note about BIAB:
- GOOD: easiest to learn, lowest cost to try, least amount of equipment to have & clean. Easiest to control mash temps, especially on a small scale ( 1 gal )
- BAD: brew size limited to pot size. To brew a 5 gal batch you need a large enough pot to add ALL of your Grain, and ALL of your water. For a Barleywine you are going to need a BIG pot and a BIG bag. (15 gal recommended )
Batch Sparging Part 1: Using a modified cooler
This is the all grain method JMan and I both started with, and in fact built almost identical setups. The Batch Sparging method is a procedure that is a bit simpler to learn than the more traditional Fly Sparging method. It utilizes a modified cooler as a mash tun, which is obviously insulated – helping you keep your mash temperature constant without additional heat once your hot water / grain is added. It also acts as a lauter tun, helping separate the spent grain from the newly created sweet wort. To batch sparge, the brewer uses the modified cooler, into which about 1/2 of your heated mash water is added. The crushed grain is added and allowed to stand at your desired mash temp for 1 hour. The wort is then drained out into your brewpot. Then, the second half of your heated mash water is added to the already wet grain in the mash tun, stirred and allowed to drain into your brewpot. There is some really good published info about this subject in great detail, so I’ll let you sort of do some research on your own: Some links include Denny Conn’s great write-up. Also check out Basic Brewing’s Stepping into All Grain DVDs – they do an awesome job of explaining how its done! I have this DVD and its great. Look up Batch Sparging on the web and you will find lots of info…… I’ll Wait….. OK – now that you have decided to maybe go this approach, or after trying Brew in a Bag you want to get more advanced have a look below on how to assemble your own Mash / Lauter Tun. Before we get that far let me give you the good & bad of this method.
- GOOD: Easier, faster and less equipment needed than compared to traditional Fly Sparging, or larger HERMS dedicated systems. No need to be worried about run-off rates, gravity readings while sparging / draining the mash cooler. With 5 gal batches you can get away with a slightly smaller brewpot than a full 5 Gal Brew in a Bag – I have an 8 gal pot that works ( 10 recommended )
- BAD: Costs more to do than Brew in a Bag – more equipment needed. Harder to do than Brew in a Bag – You will need to do calculations for water temps. No good way to add additional heat to the mash once you start. Step mashes or protein rests not easily done with this system.
Batch Sparging Part 2: Building a Mash / Lauter Tun From an Insulated Cooler
The hardest and most expensive part of this method requires you to make or buy a mash / lauter tun from a cooler. You can buy one already made. You can also buy the fittings we show below as a kit. There are many sources out there on the web on how to build one of these, but we wanted to show you how we did it. This setup is probably going to cost around $50 – 70 to make depending on the parts you use, and what you have lying around. OK, lets go, here’s the parts list!
- Rubbermaid 48 qt cooler – ( made in USA sweet! ) $16
- 1/2″ brass ball valve $5.97
- 1/2″ brass barb female $3.36
- 1/2″ brass barb male $2.75
- 1/2″ x 2″ brass “nipple” ( small pipe to connect inside to outside ) $4.21 – 2″ worked for me – but you might be able to find one just a tad shorter if you find things are a bit too loose.
- #15 o-rings 10 pack $1.97 I would use flat rubber washers if you can, the o-rings tend to squish out and not work well if you are not careful about keeping them centered while tightening everything down.
- 3/4″ pvc plugs drilled out & cut to make washer $0.99 each – On that day I could not find plastic or brass washers or nuts to fit onto the 2″ “nipple” pipe section. If you can find the nut / washers – thats what I would use. JMan was able to find them – his pic is below.
50 year clear silicone caulk FDA approved $4.29
stainless steel clamps $6.60 for 10 pack
- 10 ft high temp tubing: $11.49 – this you may already have but will allow you to drain the wort from the ball valve into the boil kettle.
- Stainless Steel Braided Hose ( approx $6 )
To assemble, remove the plastic plug inside the cooler. This thing is threaded on most, and the two halves should just screw apart, leaving you with a cooler that has a gigantic hole in one side. This is good!
You should now be able to assemble the fittings into the cooler. Use some teflon tape on all fittings. I siliconed the hole in the cooler before assembling everything. I then siliconed the inside of the cooler over everything just to be on the safe side. After a few brews this silicone came off on the inside of the cooler – so I would skip it. Just silicone the hole around where the foam is in the cooler walls.
OK, now take your stainless steel braided line and cut the ends off. I recommend using a side cutter as shown in the pic below. I found it the easiest to put the hose in the side cutter, and bash with a hammer – it makes a nice clean cut.
Once its cut, pull out that center rubber hose and throw it away ( or save in your parts bin ) Now assemble your braided hose manifold. Take one end of the braided hose and roll it over on it self a few times crimping with some pliers. You can kind of see how I assembled mine. I ended up doing a T shape in the bottom since I knew I had 2 hoses on hand and needed to connect them anyway I figured I ‘d do something fancy just to make it look more complex.
Three points of note. If you put the stainless braid on any type of barb to connect it… its NEVER coming off! Its like a chinese finger trap. Its on there for good. If you want to take the braid out and use your cooler for something like cooling beer ( whatever for?) I would use a short piece of high temp hose to connect between the braid and the barb. This way you can take it off easily. And wear gloves after you cut that braided hose, all those things poke into you and you bleed your own blood. Here is the assembled Mash / Lauter Tun:
Once built, you’ll want to brew right away, but wait for that silicone to dry!
After quite a few brews, Brew Your Own Magazine had an article about making a copper pipe manifold for a cooler. (Build a Copper Manifold: Projects (Jul/Aug 2008) At that time I was experiencing some pretty low efficiency in my brews, and also noted that the stainless steel braided hose sometimes would bunch up or not sit at the bottom of the cooler. I felt this was effecting how the wort was draining from the cooler and decided to make a copper manifold. This was an easy project to complete as well (PICS LATER) Just remove the braid / barb from the inside, and thread a copper coupler onto your “nipple” then attach the copper pipe. I’ll try and get pics later of the details. I think that it ended up helping my efficiency just a tiny bit – but because you are Batch sparging it probably won’t be that noticeable. JMan also made a copper manifold for his cooler, and I think he is happy with it as well.
All grain brewing is fun and rewarding. But its not for everyone. And that’s OK. Brewing beer is brewing beer.
Hope this helps you! Next stop all grain city!!!