Our Full Guide to All-Grain Brewing (+ Method)

Welcome to the exciting world of all-grain brewing! If you’re ready to take your homebrewing to the next level and create beers with greater complexity and flavor, all-grain brewing is the way to go.

All-grain brewing can be quite daunting at first, especially if you’ve had your hand held by one of those brewery-in-a-box kits many of us start out with.

What equipment do you need? Where do you buy your grains? Malted or unmalted grains? What about hops? These are all questions you may be asking yourself.

But don’t worry, because we are now here to hold your hand and guide you through the next logical step in your brewing career.

1919 Columbia Brewing Co Lab Room Marvin D Boland Collection
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

What Is All-Grain Brewing?

All-grain brewing is a method of brewing beer that involves using malted grains, water, hops, and yeast to create a fermentable wort—the liquid base of beer—from scratch.

Unlike extract brewing, where pre-processed malt extracts are used, all-grain brewing allows grain brewers to have complete control over the brewing process and the flavors they can achieve.

The all-grain process offers more flexibility in recipe formulation and the ability to fine-tune each aspect of the brewing process.

What Equipment Will I Need for All-Grain Brewing?

To get started with all-grain brewing, you’ll need some additional equipment compared to extract brews. The following equipment is essential for a successful all-grain brewing setup:

  1. Mash Tun: A mash tun is a vessel where the mashing process takes place. It can be an insulated 10-gallon picnic cooler or a purpose-built vessel designed specifically for mashing. The mash tun should have a built-in temperature gauge or a thermometer installed to monitor and maintain the mash temperature.
  2. Brew Kettle: A brew kettle is a large pot used for boiling the wort. It should have a capacity that allows for the boiling of the full batch size of your beer recipe. Stainless steel or enamel-coated 10-gallon kettles are popular choices due to their durability and ease of cleaning.
GasOne BS-40 10 Gallon Stainless Steel Kettle Pot Pre Drilled 4 PC Set 40 Quart Tri Ply Bottom for Beer Includes Lid, Thermometer, Ball Valve Spigot-Home Brewing Supplies, QT
  • HIGH QUALITY STAINLESS STEEL- Very easy to clean, Long lasting, Safe and durable, Good heat conduction, Sleek look
  • TRI-PLY - Extremely strong, Fast and even heat distribution, dependable and well-constructed Will last for a very long time
  • Scale Markings - Keep track of your measurements and brewing process with the scale markings that are read inside the Kettle Pot
  1. Heat Source: You’ll need a heat source to bring the hot water to the desired temperatures during mashing and boiling. Common options include propane burners, electric heat elements, or stovetops, depending on the volume of your brew and the availability of suitable heat sources.
  2. Fermentation Vessel: A fermentation vessel is where the yeast works its magic, converting the sugars in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide. It can be a glass carboy, a plastic bucket, or a stainless steel conical fermenter. Make sure the vessel has an airtight seal and an airlock to allow carbon dioxide to escape while preventing oxygen or contaminants from entering.
FastTrack Fermentation Bucket ,Home Brewing Wine Fermenter ,6.5 Gallon Fermenting Bucket with Lid ,100% Food Grade-BPA Free Fermenting Bucket for your Beer, Wine or any other Fermented Beverage
  • SAFE FOR FERMENTATION: FastRack 6.5 gallon beer fermenter made from food grade HDPE with a 6.5 Gallon Capacity 100% BPA free, safe for beer fermentation. Comes complete with drilled lid grommet for an airlock. Very popular with brewers to be used as a bottling bucket as well. FastTrack fermenting buckets are very easy to clean and sanitize.
  • HEAVY DUTY PLASTIC: This heavy-duty plastic fermenting bucket is our standard fermenting bucket that comes in most of our kits. This is a low cost, quality food grade beer fermenter for your beer, wine, mead, cider, or any other fermented beverage. Especially for beers with high krausen because these fermentation buckets offer lots of room for krausen during primary fermentation.
  • LIGHTWEIGHT & EASY TO HANDLE: Lightweight and easy to carry, the FastRack Plastic fermenting bucket is much easier to get rid of sediment from the bottom. With our simple cover, just open the lid to pull your hydrometer samples or add dry hops and flavorings into the primary fermenting bucket. No need to struggle with the narrow neck of a glass carboy.
Big Mouth Bubbler® EVO - 5 Gallon Wide Mouth Glass Carboy Fermentor
  • Wide Mouth for easy cleaning, dry hopping, or other ingredient additions
  • Smooth glass interior will not scratch and is ready to sanitize
  • Gallon Graduations molded into the walls of the glass carboy
Fermentation tank for home brewing 35liters Stainless steel conical fermenter Storage keg, Polished Silver, 43*43*75cm, DM-32F
  • Easy and Convenient for home beer and wine and milk,The first and second steps fermentation. All major parts are made of SUS304 Stainless steel material.
  • Stainless steel cover with seal ring and Airlock ; 1mm thickness liquid tank of full 35 liters capacity (Usaged liquid volume is 30 liters .)
  • 0-50C removeable thermometer ;At least 5 locks on body to tighten lid(5 locks of 35 liters and 6 locks of 65liters,pictures are slight difference of actual product)
  1. Airlock: An airlock is a device that fits into the opening of the fermentation vessel and allows carbon dioxide to escape during fermentation while preventing oxygen and unwanted microorganisms from entering. It creates a one-way valve, ensuring a controlled fermentation environment.
Brewing Airlock, 4 Fermentation Airlocks, Wine Airlock, Used for Brewing Wine, Sauerkraut, Pickles, Beer, Etc. Airlock
  • Much More Durable Plastic: Compared with other three-piece airlocks, it is stronger, less breakage, transparent, and made of food-grade materials. You can easily see the entire fermentation process, they can last for a long time, because they are the best choice airlock!
  • Multi-functional use: The air lock can be used for various fermentation projects to preserve food. As a brewing airlock, craft beer, wine, sauerkraut, kimchi, cider, fruit wine, rice wine, broccoli, carrot, ginger, and other fermented items that are brewed.
  • Good air tightness: The good air tightness of the fermentation airlock makes fermentation easier, effectively isolates the air and prevents oxidation. Automatic exhaust at room temperature without manual control.
  1. Thermometer: Accurate temperature control is crucial in all-grain brewing. A reliable thermometer is needed to measure the temperature of the water during mashing, sparging, and cooling. Digital or analog thermometers can be used, but ensure they have a suitable temperature range for brewing purposes.
  2. hydrometer: A hydrometer is a tool used to measure the specific gravity or density of the wort before and after fermentation. It provides information about the sugar content, fermentation progress, and potential alcohol content of the beer.
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American-Made Beer Mashing Hydrometer Calibrated at 155 Degrees Fahrenheit - Specific Gravity Pro Series Brewing Triple Scale - Brew Better All Grain Beer
  • Mash hydrometer to take your specific gravity reading at 155 degrees
  • Safe, Accurate and handmade (blown) to NIST standard with high quality glass
  • Scale specific to Mash. Calibrated to 155 degrees for accurate measurements every time. Make brewing more fun. Steam effects for "cool" level.
  1. Racking Cane and Siphoning Tube: These tools are used to transfer the beer from one vessel to another, such as from the fermenter to a bottling bucket or directly into bottles. They help avoid excessive oxygen exposure and minimize sediment transfer.
  2. Wort Chiller: After boiling, the wort needs to be rapidly cooled to a temperature suitable for fermentation. A wort chiller, such as an immersion or counterflow chiller, efficiently cools the wort, preventing the growth of unwanted microorganisms and improving beer clarity.
Coldbreak Homebrew 3-5 Gallon Batch Copper Immersion Wort Chiller, Medium, 3/8” x 30' Pure Copper, Leak Free Compression Barbs, Tubing and Garden Hose Fitting, USA Made
  • A 30' wort chiller is the perfect size if you are making full boil extract kits or making smaller all grain batches (3-6 gallons).
  • Made in the USA (Michigan) from pure 3/8” copper tubing.
  • Leak free compression barbs keep your immersion chiller from leaking back into your wort during the chilling process.
  1. Stirring Spoon: A long-handled spoon or paddle is necessary for stirring the mash, ensuring even temperature distribution and preventing any clumping of grains.

Additionally, various tools like a bottle capper, airlock brush, sanitizer, brewing software or calculator, and a reliable scale for measuring ingredients are also essential for the all-grain brewing process.

All grain brewing can be as simple or as complicated as you want. What equipment you need is often determined by just how much money you want to spend. I’ve had great success using a 10-gallon Rubbermaid cooler converted to a mash tun and hot liquor tank.

On the other hand, many of my buddies have gone out and invested in all-in-one all-grain brewing systems like the Grainfather or are even beer brewing veterans who have built and welded their own boil kettles and brew stands set up.

bevie Grainfather G30 Connect 220v
  • Use the Connect Control Box in conjunction with the Connect App and Grainfather Brewing Community for the ultimate brewing experience. Create your recipes on the Grainfather Brewing Community and then sync these recipes with the Connect app. The control box has Bluetooth connection to your mobile device so it can be controlled remotely. This allows you to multitask or simply relax while brewing and then be alerted when to return to your next step.
  • Grainfather Grain Kit recipes provided in the app Ability to import recipes (Beer XML files) - NOTE: iOS9 and higher Set your own boil temperature (for different altitudes) Change between celsius and fahrenheit easily Grainfather calculators provided in app Create recipes on the Grainfather Brewing Community and then sync these with the Connect App to brew
  • A 6 Watt, 1,800 RPM magnetic powered pump has been fitted to recirculate the wort through the grain bed for maximum brewing efficiencies. This is also used during the cooling stage to pump hot wort through the wort chiller. The pump also makes the cleaning process quick and easy by pumping the cleaning detergent through all the pipe work.

Whichever route you go down, all-grain brewing can be more rewarding than your previous extract kits. It will allow you more control of your beer recipes for a home-brewed beer you will be proud to share with your fellow homebrewing and drinking buddies!

What Beer Should I Brew When All-Grain Brewing?

Before we talk about all grain brewing instructions, there are a few preliminaries you need to do before you can start your brew day:

  • First of all, you have to decide what kind of beer you want to brew. This isn’t always as easy as it seems. Some beers can be easier than others if you are new to the all-grain brewing process, such as an American Amber Ale or Pale. We have rounded up some of the easiest beers for the new all-grain brewer here.
  • But, once you decide, you have to build an all-grain beer recipe from scratch or pick a good all-grain recipe that has been brewed before. Just looking at your local homebrew store or Amazon, you will find many books which are full of beer recipes. Two of my favourites come from well-known craft brewers Stone and Mikkeller.
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Mikkeller's Book of Beer
  • Hardcover Book
  • Borg Bjergso, Mikkel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Brewing software like BeerSmith can help formulate your recipes for any size batch of beer and give guidance on the entire all-grain brewing process. BeerSmith Brewing software automatically calculates the different variables and graphically and numerically shows you whether they are within the range of the style you want to brew. These ranges include Estimated Original Gravity Bitterness (IBU’s) Color in SRM Estimated ABV (percent Alcohol by Volume). Just make adjustments to the ingredients or processes, such as efficiency or sparge method, to change the variables (such as original gravity, color, IBU’s, etc.).

All of my award-winning beers were formulated on BeerSmith. I highly recommend it. I’ve tried several different ones and I find BeerSmith to be the best, especially for the beginner all-grain homebrewer.

Recipe design

The All Grain Brew Process

Although it follows the same standard brewing practice of extract brews, with the all-grain brewing method, there are the extra stages of mashing, lautering, and sparging, which needs to be carried out on your sweet wort before it’s ready to ferment.

Advanced brewers will often even mill their own grains and then malt them, which can save significant amounts of cash if you brew on a regular basis.

Selecting and Milling Grains

wicker basket on wheat grains
Photo by Shalitha Dissanayaka on Unsplash

Selecting the right grains is a crucial step in all-grain brewing, as it directly influences the flavor, color, and aroma of the beer.

Understanding the different types of grains available and how they contribute to the overall character of the brew is essential for creating a well-balanced and delicious beer.

Types of Grains

Base Malts

Base malts form the majority of the grain bill and provide the fermentable sugars necessary for the yeast to produce alcohol. Common base malts include pale malt, Pilsner malt, and Maris Otter malt. Each base malt has its own distinct flavor and color profile, which can significantly impact the final beer.

Specialty Malts

Specialty grains or malts are used in smaller quantities to add color, flavor, and aroma to the beer. They come in various forms such as caramel malts, roasted malts, and chocolate malts. Caramel malts contribute sweetness, while roasted and chocolate malts impart roasted, toasty, and chocolate flavors.

Adjuncts

Adjuncts are additional fermentable ingredients used in some beer styles to enhance specific characteristics. Examples include corn, rice, oats, and wheat. Adjuncts can contribute to the mouthfeel and head retention, or add unique flavors to the beer.

When selecting grains, it’s important to ensure their freshness. Fresh grains have a more pronounced flavor and higher enzymatic activity, which aids in efficient conversion during mashing. Purchase grains from reputable suppliers and check for the harvest date or ask about the freshness of the grains.

Grains should be stored properly to maintain their quality. Store them in a cool, dry place in airtight containers or sealed bags to prevent moisture and pests from compromising their freshness.

Milling Grains

Milling is the process of crushing the grains to expose their starchy interior, allowing for efficient conversion of starches into fermentable sugars during mashing.

Proper milling ensures a consistent particle size, which promotes uniform extraction of sugars and improves the efficiency of the mashing process.

Grain mills are devices specifically designed for crushing grains. They come in various forms, including hand-cranked mills, motorized mills, and adjustable roller mills. Investing in a grain mill gives brewers control over the milling process and the ability to adjust the coarseness of the crush according to their preference.

If you don’t own a grain mill, many homebrew supply stores offer milling services. You can purchase the grains and have them milled on-site or request the store to mill them according to your specifications. This is a convenient option, especially for beginners.

When milling grains, aim for a consistent crush with most of the grains cracked open without turning them into flour. The ideal particle size promotes good water flow during mashing and ensures proper extraction of sugars.

Before adding milled grains to the mash tun, inspect them for any foreign materials or damaged grains that may affect the quality of the wort.

By selecting the right combination of grains and milling them properly, brewers can achieve the desired flavor profile, color, and aroma in their all-grain beers.

Experimenting with different grains and ratios allows for endless possibilities and the creation of unique and personalized recipes.

The Mashing Process

Mashing is a crucial step in the all-grain brewing process where crushed grains are mixed with hot water to convert starches into fermentable sugars.

The mashing process unlocks the potential of the grains and creates the foundation for the flavor, body, and fermentability of the beer.

  1. Strike Water: The mashing process begins by heating a specific amount of water, known as strike water, to a predetermined temperature. This temperature is based on the desired mash temperature, which varies depending on the beer style and desired characteristics. Generally, the strike water temperature falls between 148°F (64°C) and 158°F (70°C).
  2. Adding Grains: Once the strike water reaches the desired temperature, it is added to the mash tun. The crushed grains are slowly and gradually added to the hot water while stirring continuously to ensure even mixing and to prevent clumping. The ratio of water to grain, known as the mash thickness or water-to-grain ratio, plays a role in determining the beer’s body and mouthfeel. Typically, a ratio of 1.25 to 1.5 quarts of water per pound of grain (2.6-3.1 liters/kg) is used, but it can be adjusted based on the desired outcome.
  3. Enzymatic Conversion: The mash temperature is critical, as it activates enzymes present in the grains that convert the starches into fermentable sugars. The primary enzymes involved in the mashing process are alpha-amylase and beta-amylase. Alpha-amylase breaks down the starches into longer, more complex sugars, while beta-amylase breaks down these complex sugars into shorter, more fermentable simple sugars. The mash temperature influences the activity of these enzymes and the types of sugars produced.
  4. Mash Rests: Different rest temperatures can be employed in advanced all-grain brewing techniques to achieve specific results. The two primary rests are the saccharification rest and the mash-out rest. During the saccharification rest, the mash is held at a specific temperature (typically between 148°F (64°C) and 158°F (70°C)) for a specific duration (around 60-90 minutes). This allows the enzymes to work efficiently and convert starches into fermentable sugars. The mash-out rest, which occurs at a higher temperature (around 168°F (76°C)), helps stop enzyme activity, liquefy the mash, and make the wort easier to lauter.
  5. Monitoring and Adjusting Temperature: Maintaining a stable mash temperature is crucial for enzyme activity. Throughout the mashing process, it’s important to monitor the temperature using a thermometer. If the temperature starts to drop, hot water can be added to raise it, while cold water can be added to lower it. This allows brewers to make adjustments to achieve the desired enzymatic activity and sugar profile.
  6. Vorlauf: Before lautering, a process called vorlauf is often performed. Vorlauf involves recirculating the wort by gently drawing it from the bottom of the mash tun and returning it to the top. This helps clarify the wort by filtering out grain particles and creating a compact grain bed that aids in efficient lautering. A RIMS system with a pump can help with this process.

Mashing is a crucial step in all-grain brewing, as it determines the sugar composition and fermentability of the wort, which directly impacts the beer’s flavor, body, and final characteristics.

With careful attention to temperature, enzyme activity, and proper mixing techniques, brewers can achieve the desired sugar profile and lay the foundation for successful fermentation and a flavorful beer.

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The next crucial step in the brewing process is to lauter where the wort, the liquid extracted from the mashed grains, is separated from the grain husks. It involves transferring the wort to another vessel while leaving the spent grains behind.

Lautering can be achieved using various methods, such as utilizing a lautering system or carefully draining the wort without disturbing the grain bed. This process helps clarify the wort by removing solids, such as grain particles and proteins, resulting in a cleaner and clearer liquid for further processing.

Proper lautering ensures maximum extraction of sugars and sets the stage for successful fermentation.

Sparging

Once the wort is separated, the grains are typically rinsed with hot water in a process called sparging. Sparging helps extract any remaining sugars from the grain and ensures maximum efficiency.

You want to make sure you get every last bit of goodness from those grains for the most flavorsome beer. The resulting liquid is collected in the brew kettle, where it is boiled and hops are added for bitterness, flavor, and aroma.

The Boil Process

The boiling process is a critical stage in all-grain brewing where the wort is heated to an aggressive boil. This step serves multiple purposes that contribute to the final quality and characteristics of the beer.

  1. Sterilization: The boil sanitizes the wort, killing any unwanted bacteria or wild yeast that may be present. This ensures a clean and stable environment for the desired yeast strain to ferment the beer.
  2. Enzyme Inactivation: Boiling stops the enzymatic activity that was initiated during the mashing process. This prevents further conversion of starches into sugars and ensures the desired sugar profile in the final beer.
  3. Hop Additions: Hops are typically added during the boil to contribute bitterness, flavor, and aroma to the beer. The boil extracts the alpha acids from the hops, providing bitterness that balances the sweetness of the malt. Early hop additions contribute more bitterness, while late additions enhance flavor and aroma.
  4. Protein Coagulation: Boiling causes proteins and other compounds to coagulate and form a solid material called the hot break. The hot break is formed by the precipitation of proteins, hop materials, and other solids, which can then be easily separated from the wort during the cooling and fermentation stages.
  5. Evaporation and Wort Concentration: The boil allows for the evaporation of excess water, leading to wort concentration. This increases the specific gravity and overall flavor intensity of the beer, enhancing its richness and body.
  6. Volatile Compound Removal: Boiling drives off unwanted volatile compounds, such as dimethyl sulfide (DMS), which can cause off-flavors in the finished beer. The boil helps eliminate these compounds, resulting in a cleaner and more desirable flavor profile.
  7. Sterile Environment for Hop Utilization: Boiling creates a sterile environment where hops can release their essential oils and contribute their desired flavors and aromas to the wort. This extraction is optimized during the boil, leading to a well-balanced and aromatic beer.

The boil typically lasts for 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the recipe and desired outcome.

Fermentation – The Final Step

bottle of mead with fermentation airlock
Photo by Kristian Hunt on Unsplash

Finally, you arrive at a stage where you are ready to add yeast to your wort to ferment it into beer. This traditional method of all-grain brewing may have taken much longer than using a Bag in a Box or one of the many malt extract kits, but the taste difference will hopefully be worth it.

After boiling, the hot wort is rapidly cooled to a suitable temperature for yeast fermentation using a wort chiller. The entire volume of cooled wort is then transferred to a fermentation vessel and yeast is added to initiate fermentation.

The yeast consumes the sugars in the wort, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide, which carbonates the beer. Fermentation takes place over a period of time, usually one to two weeks, depending on the beer style.

Once fermentation is complete, the beer is typically transferred to another vessel to separate it from the sediment and clarify it further. This process is known as racking. Finally, the beer is ready to be bottled or kegged.

All Grain Brewing: Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a beginner embarking on your first all-grain brew or an experienced brewer pushing the boundaries of flavor, all-grain brewing provides a fulfilling and rewarding brewing experience. It allows you to craft beers that truly reflect your taste preferences and showcase your creativity.

So, gather your equipment, select your grains, and dive into the world of all-grain brewing to unlock a whole new level of brewing enjoyment. Cheers to your brewing adventures!

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