The Thirsty Beagle: Homebrewers' Corner with the Red Earth Brewers -- Part 2

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Homebrewers' Corner with the Red Earth Brewers -- Part 2

I'm turning the blog back over to Red Earth Brewers member Sean McCanne today for part two of his guest post covering an introduction to homebrewing.

If you missed part one, you can read it here.

Now let's pick up where we left off. Take it away Sean!

4. All-grain brewing 


-Liquor: Not the type you drink in this case, liquor refers to the water used for brewing. It can be hot for the mash or cold for chilling.

-Mash tun: The cooler or other vessel that you soak your grain in for the mash

-Vorlauf: Draining liquor off the mash, then adding it back in to the mash at the top -- this helps clarify the wort and set the grain bed

-Sparge: Draining hot wort off the mash into your pot for boiling

-Efficiency: The amount of sugar you extract from the grain during the mash as a percentage of how much sugar is actually available. Higher efficiency means more sugar in the wort from the same amount of grain in the mash.

-Fly Sparge: Draining hot wort off the mash while also running fresh hot liquor on the top of the mash. This rinses the sugars out of the barley and in to the wort.

-Batch sparge: Draining the hot wort off the mash completely, then add the fresh hot liquor to the now dry mash, stirring, and draining it off again to create your wort.

-Brew-in-a-bag (BIAB): Putting all of your grain in a mesh bag (like partial mash) for the mash. You don’t have to sparge with this method. You squeeze out the bag or rinse with a small amount of hot liquor to create your wort. More below.

-Full volume boil: In extract brewing we generally boil about 3 gallons of wort then top off with water to reach 5 gallons in the fermenter. In all-grain brewing we generally boil 6 gallons or more to make a final volume of 5 gallons into the fermenter.

-Brew kettle: What we call a large pot.

Let’s be honest here; you can go crazy with all-grain brewing. You need more specialty equipment, more space, more money, more time. But … you may not need as much as you think. It can sound intense but you can make much better beer, and it's completely customizable to your tastes.

Pros: More customizable, ingredients are cheaper overall, better beer. Do you need any other pros?

Cons: More stuff, more room, more money for equipment, more time, more details (like better temperature control, volume control, sometimes math).

There are some different ways to make your wort with all-grain (and more ways than I’ll detail here).

You can fly sparge, batch sparge, or BIAB. Each requires a little different gear.

We’ll start with the extra equipment required. This is dependent on the type of all-grain you choose to do. You may need a larger pot depending on what you bought in the first place. You may need a mash tun and a hot liquor tun. If you’re doing full volume boils you need a larger pot. You may need a propane burner if you do a full volume boil because that electric stove will have an issue with 6½ gallons of wort.

Believe me.

Let's start with how Step 1 (make wort) works with all-grain in general.

You get a larger amount of grain and you soak it in more hot liquor (mash). You drain the wort created during the mash in to your pot. That’s the simple definition. Now let’s get specific on how to accomplish this.

Step 1 with the different all-grain methods.

Fly Sparging

When you mash to fly sparge you need a mash tun. Most people start with a 5-10 gallon cooler. That cooler will have a filtering device in it, like a false bottom or braided stainless hose to keep the large grain particles out of the final wort. You will also need another cooler or pot to hold additional hot liquor for the sparging process.

Process: Heat your liquor to the required temperature then add it to the mash tun. Stir in your grain. Let that rest for up to an hour or so. Don’t drink beer while you do this, at least the first time. It can make the rest of the brew interesting, to say the least.

After the mash is complete, you drain a little of your newly created wort off in to a pitcher or container, then add it back into the top of the mash tun, gently. You’ll want to do this until your wort has started to clear up. It’s generally 1-2 gallons of wort. This is the vorlauf. You don’t have to do it, but it is recommended.

Once your wort has cleared you can start draining the wort out of the mash tun in to your brew kettle.

At this point you also start adding more hot liquor into the top of the mash tun, gently. You don’t want to pour it straight in and create a hole in the top of the mash. That would cause problems because the water will drain through the hole preferentially and you won’t get an even sparge. You want to make sure that the water filters through the grain bed evenly, just like hot water through a coffee filter.

After you have drained off the amount of wort into your brew kettle that you need for your batch (6-6½ gallons for a 5 gallon batch), you’re done with Step 1. You may now continue on with the remaining steps.

Pros: In general you get better efficiency fly sparging than other all-grain methods.

Cons: Takes longer and can require more specialized equipment than other all-grain methods. If not properly done can result in off flavors in your beer. Temperature control is important.

Batch Sparging

For batch sparging you also need a mash tun, just like fly sparging. It will require a filtering device as above. You’ll need that additional cooler or pot for the hot liquor. You mash the same way as fly sparging. The real difference is how you drain the mash tun.

Process: When you batch sparge you drain the mash tun completely into the brew kettle. No vorlauf, no gentle running of hot liquor into the tun. You drain it as fast as you can. Then you add more hot liquor to the mash tun and stir it in. Wait another few minutes and drain it again. Now you have 6-6½ gallons of wort. Step 1 is completed.

Pros: Faster. Less concern about even draining.

Cons: Generally lower efficiency than fly sparging. You may get more grain particles in the wort, but they will normally settle out.

Brew In A Bag

BIAB is a newer method than the other two I’ve detailed here. But it has some distinct advantages. You don’t need a new pot or cooler to do the mash. You don’t have to sparge like you do with the other methods.

You can BIAB mash in the same kettle you would use for an extract brew on your stove doing a 3 gallon boil and using top-up water. Or you can get a larger 7-9 gallon kettle and do full volume boils with a BIAB mash. I’d recommend a propane burner for the larger boil though. Really the only additional equipment you need is a large colander or mesh strainer that hangs inside the top of your kettle and a 5 gallon nylon paint strainer bag from the hardware store, although you can get brewing-specific bags from most LHBS and online stores.

As an aside, I recommend this type of brewing to everyone who is starting out. It has the equipment bill of extract brewing and the customization and potential results of all-grain. It is the best of both worlds.

Process: The paint strainer bag will generally have elastic at the top and that will stretch over your kettle with the bag inside. Add the required amount of liquor and heat it. Slowly pour the grain into the paint strainer bag in your kettle, stirring constantly. When the grain is mixed in and your temperature is right, put the lid on the kettle. Turn off the heat for now; you don’t want to burn the bag.

Every 10 minutes of the mash, check the temperature and stir the mash. If the temperature is lower than your desired mash temp, turn the heat on LOW and stir constantly until the temp is back where you want it. When you have about 15 minutes left in the mash, heat about a gallon of water in a separate pot.

Once your mash is done, pick the bag up out of the kettle (carefully! It’s hot!), slide the colander under it and set it down so it can drain into the kettle. When the mash has drained, slowly pour the additional water through the bag and grain and let it drain. This is as close as you get to a sparge.

Once that’s done, you’ll have 3-4 gallons of wort and will be finished with Step 1. Continue on with remaining steps.

Pros: Requires much less specialty equipment than other all-grain brewing methods but is just as customizable. Takes less time than other all-grain methods because of the lack of sparging. Can be done on the stovetop if doing a partial volume boil.

Cons: If you have a 5 gallon pot you can only get about 10lbs of grain in the bag, meaning a 4.5-5% finished beer. Lower efficiency than sparge methods.

Tech Support and the Homebrewing Community

As I said before, there’s a huge amount of information out there. Books, forums, websites, you name it.

But there are also some really good people running homebrew stores like The Brew Shop and Learn to Brew in OKC and Moore, and High Gravity in Tulsa. There are also some great Oklahoma-centric resources on Facebook like the OK+ Homebrewing Society group. All would be willing to help out.

Past that, there are several homebrew clubs in Oklahoma, like the Fellowship of Oklahoma Ale Makers (FOAM) in Tulsa; Stillwater Brewers League; Beer Mafia; the High Plains Draughters, Yeastie Boys, and (my club) the Red Earth Brewers in Oklahoma City; and the Impact Zone Homebrew Club in Lawton. All of the clubs are very welcoming, have a lot of experienced (and novice) brewers and there are some great resources available. Plus, it’s a great time getting together and drinking homebrew!

So check out one of your local clubs and get ready to take the plunge into homebrewing. It’s nowhere near as difficult as it seems.

Nick here. Thanks, Sean, for that great post. It seems like a lot of information to digest, and it is, but you really shouldn't be intimidated about making the dive into homebrewing. We were all novices once, and it does come easier with time and practice.

Plus, the worst case is you have a batch of not-perfect beer. You'll more than likely still be able to enjoy it as long as you roughly followed the basic steps involved.

Pints and Pins

-Beer from Here Week continues at The Patriarch with a Mustang sixth anniversary celebration tonight; Iron Monk and Marshall on Thursday; Black Mesa and COOP on Friday; and a surprise "Ex-Beer-ience" on Saturday.

-Belgian Beer Week continues at TapWerks. It'll be a lot easier for me to just post this photo:

-I scored a couple cans of Roughtail's new rotating IPA, Adaptation Ale. This beer scores high marks from me. I'm a fan of the black IPA style, and this one hits all the high points. Only 80 cases were produced, so you may have to scrounge around to find any by now, but it will be worth it.

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