I stepped into Maryland Homebrew a few weeks ago with a focused mind. I had a recipe. I had a goal. A singular idea dominated my mind, and my will was committed to pursing it even if it meant my ruin.
I wanted to move from extract brewing to all grain brewing.
To anyone not familiar with homebrewing, this doesn’t sound like such a big deal. It sounds sort of like going from Shake N’ Bake to homemade seasoned breadcrumbs. A little extra preparation work, but similar end product: breaded chicken.
But to a beersmith it’s so much more than that. It’s a right of passage that we must face armed only with a couple of buckets and our wort stirring spoon. It marks the transition from brewboy to brewman. It’s a bubbling, boiling, fermenting, Bar Mitzvah.
When I told the staff at MD:HB I wanted to do my first batch of all grain beer, they all jumped to attention, quick to help me load up heavy bags of grain and answer any questions I had knocking around in my beer-addled brain. One staff member showed me how to best use the mill to crack my grain. Another talked to me about temperatures for strike water and mashing. Yet another guy called to another, across the warehouse area in the back, “hey, this guy is doing his first all grain!”
I was part of a club of people who did things by scratch, with purpose, with art and flourish and drunken enthusiasm. I was now on the all-grain inside. And it felt good.
I went home all blissfully happy, grinning like a little kid who had just eaten the slice of his birthday cake that had his name written on it in icing. I set to mashing and brewing, a new man in a new world.
Of course, I couldn’t be simple (or practical). I decided not only to do my first all-grain brew, but my first lager as well.
Things You’ll Need
- 9.50 lbs of pilsner malt (this is the good stuff, it smells like sweet bread)
- .5 lb Cara-Pils (as a supplement to your main malt to add some color)
- 1 oz Tettnang hops (Noble hop 1 of 5)
- .75 oz of Spalt hops (Noble hop 2 of 5)
- 1 oz Hersbrucker hops (Noble hop 3 of 5)
- 1 oz Hallertau hops (Noble hop 4 of 5)
- 2 oz Saaz hops (Noble hop 5 of 5)
- Czech Budejovice Lager Yeast (I used Whitelabs liquid WLP802, for anyone wanting the specifics)
You’ll also need the full brewer’s regalia and accoutrement (I like to say, “ackoo-tray-mon” all fancy and French-like):
- A mash tun (good job I already showed you guys how to make one, right? guys?)
- A brew kettle (that will hold all of your final volume – 5 gallons for me)
- A big spoon (Yup.)
- Some oven mitts (if you use the nice matching ones your wife has in the kitchen, try not to spill sticky wort all over them)
- Ice bath or wort chiller (I still don’t have a wort chiller, because I’m cheap and cooper is expensive)
- Thermometer (if you don’t have a laser gun thermometer by now, I can’t help you)
- A hydrometer (for measuring the beeryness of your beer)
- Bucket or carboy (unless you want to ferment it in something weird, like 8 two-liter soda bottles)
Step 1: Monster Mash
Malt extract is basically just pre-made (and condensed) grain extract. You’re going backwards one step in the process by doing all grain. It’s up to you and your cleverness to extract all that delicious sugar from that massive pile of grain.
Heat up five gallons of water plus a little bit extra to make up for the volume lost during boiling. Since it takes approximately one epoch to heat up five gallons in one container on an electric stove, I recommend splitting it out into several different containers. If you have a gas oven or a patio stove, feel free to use that, but don’t bring the water to boil.
You want to get your water hot, but not so hot that it scorches the grain. The temperature of the strike water (or the first water you add to the mash tun before the grain takes a nice bath) will vary based on your recipe. For this one, I kept the temperature around 160 degrees. Despite being an efficient holder-o-heat, your mash tun will likely lose a few degrees over the hour you let the grain settle, so heat it up just past your target heat to compensate.
Once you’ve added your water to the mash tun, you want to quickly add your grain. This is sort of like adding hot chocolate mix to a mug of hot water: a bunch of grain will sit on top and not get wet. Like a viking manning a long ship, use your big spoon to stir the grain until it has all been thoroughly wetified.
Step 2: Wait an hour
You’ll need to wait while the hot water sucks all of the sugar out of the grain like a diabetic vampire. To prevent excessive heat loss, wrap your mash tun in some blankets. No, not that one. Or that one. Go get the ones on the guest room that no one ever uses. Deny knowledge if your wife asks why they smell like a brewery.
This is a good time to chill out and drink a beer that is like the beer you’re making. Notice the flavors, appreciate the craft. Sam Adams Noble Pils or Victory Prima Pils were my models. Now is also a good time to stir the grain, but don’t leave the top of the mash tun open for too long while you’re stirring.
One episode of Law and Order SVU later (dun-dun) your wort should be ready for the primary boil.
Step 3: Drain the mash tun into your mash pot
Hopefully you put your mash tun on a kitchen counter or something at hip-height, otherwise, have fun lifting 40 lbs of really hot water plus ten pounds of soaking mash up onto something high. Remind me to go back in time to remind you to put it on the counter, not the floor. You’ll need gravity’s help to drain all of the wort out o the tun.
Position your mash pot on a chair below the spigot coming out of your mash tun. Before you start filling the pot with the precious brown liquid, you’ll want to collect about a liter of wort in another container. This prevents any loose grain husks from getting into the wort.
When the pitcher is full, start filling the pot. Pour the contents of the pitcher back into the mash tun as to not lose all of that sugary goodness. If you used exactly 5 gallons, you’ll need to tilt your mash tun slightly to get all of the liquid out.
(Note: Up until this point, sanitizing your equipment isn’t super important. Everything should be clean and free of anything loose or gross, but since you’re about to boil the stuff for ~60-90 minutes, not everything has to be perfectly sterilized before coming in contact with your wort. After the boil though, make sure everything is clean as bleach. But don’t actually use bleach.)
Step 4: Boil ’em cabbage down
Now you’re back to where you would be with an extract beer. Get the wort to a rolling boil and add your hops as called for by your recipe (for this pilsner, I did Spalter and Tettnang at 60 mins, Hersbrucker and Hallertau at 15 mins, then Saaz at knockout). You don’t have to worry about steeping any grain or anything like you normally would with an extract, as you’ve already done that hard work in the mash tun!
Now you just need to cool and pitch your yeast. If you need help with that part, see my Homebrew 101 post.
Step 5: Make a pizza
There is one slight drawback to moving to all grain brewing. When you’re finished, you still have ~10 lbs of wet, sugarless grain sitting in your mash tun. There are a few options of what you can do with all this perfectly edible grain. Some people like to donate it to local farms (apparently horses and cows quite literally eat this shit up). Others like to make dog treats with it (apparently dogs have similar palettes to horses and cows).
I decided to make a pizza.
These grains are very similar to bread grains, so the crust I formed tasted sort of like multi-grain bread (chunks of grain and hard bits and all). I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I just combined flour, water, baking yeast, some olive oil, and the left over beer grain until I had something that was pretty dough-like.
I thought it tasted pretty good. Not sure my wife was a huge fan.