How do I get into all-grain brewing?

Back to Ask the Brewmaster.

Answer: All-grain brewing may seem like a pretty big step. After all, the starch conversion process is pretty close to magic, right? Once you've done it a few times, however, you'll be glad you did. It affords complete control over the brewing process. All-grain takes longer, but it's worth it. Why? Because it gives you more time to drink beer while brewing!
The easiest way to start is to take advantage of the club system. That way you don't have to buy any expensive equipment up front. Also, you can make up to 10 gallons at once. The system is available just about any weekend. Make sure you also grab an experienced brewer. Most of the all-grain brewers in the club will be happy to help out. In order to make it easy, we're holding a class on March 24 so you can see how it all works. Here are the basic steps:

1) Work up a recipe. Start with a style you know from extract brewing. Replace the malt extract with pale malt and add 40%. For example, if your extract recipe calls for 6 pounds of extract, you want to use 8 ½ pounds of pale malt. Keep your usual amounts of specialty grains. The hop schedule will remain the same too. After you've weighed out the grain, run it through the grain mill.

2) Set up the brew stand. Wheel it out back along with the kettles. The kettle with just a feedthough inside is the hot water tank. Put it on the top platform. The insulated plastic container (the mash tun) goes on the middle platform. Make sure the EZ-Masher is securely attached to the inner part of the spigot at the bottom. The boiling kettle goes on a hook just above the burner. Lift up the sliding gizmo on the central post and hook it over the top lip of the kettle. Make sure the stainless false bottom is secure inside. Hook up the propane tank using a wrench. Make sure both burner valves are closed before opening the tank valve.

3) Heat water for mash-in. Fill the top kettle about half full with water. Start the upper burner and heat to about 172°F. Check the temperature carefully, since this will affect the temperature of the mash. Once it is hot, dump in 1½ quarts for each pound of grain into the mash-tun. For example, if your recipe has 8 ½ lbs of pale malt and 1 ½ lb of crystal, (10 pounds total) add 15 quarts. Check the temperature again once it is in the mash-tun. If it reads 170°F, you're ready for the next step.

4) Mash-in. Dump the grain into the mash-tun and stir. Try to keep the spoon away from the EZ-masher. Check the temperature once again. Now it should read 155°F. Temperature is the key to making the enzyme magic work, so pay close attention to it. If the temperature is above 160°F, add a bit of cold water. If it is below 150°F, add a bit more hot water. Once the temperature has stabilized between 150°F and 155°F, put on the lid and let it sit. Keep in mind that the temperature will drop with time, so aim for the high end.

5) Heat sparge water. Fill the sparge water tank and start the heat. Aim for 170°F again. Heat up a half-gallon for each pound of grain. If your recipe calls for gypsum, add that too. Once it is heating, check the mash again. Stir once, and then sit back and have a beer.

6) Start the runoff and sparge flow.
After an hour of mash time, open up the spigot on the mash-tun and collect the runoff. The first gallon or so will have bits of grain. Pour this back in the mash-tun, being careful to not disturb the grain bed. Once the flow has cleared, collect the runoff in the boiling kettle. When the top of the grain bed appears, start adding water from the sparge tank. Throttle back the flow rates (both in and out), and keep the top just barely covered with fresh sparge water. Ideally, the sparge should take about an hour. Stop when you have about a gallon more than your final wort volume.

7) Start the boil. When the boiling kettle is nearly up to volume, start the heat. Once you've finished collecting the runoff, the process goes just like an extract batch. Make sure you time the hop additions as usual, and make sure your fermenters are sterile. You'll find that all-grain beer is more precious to you, so the last thing you want to have happen is for it to get infected!