Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tried my first all grain beer

I've been brewing extract beers and making all types of hooch and wine for years. I like my brews quick, easy and most importantly cheap. As much as I've always wanted to start making all grain beer the equipment necessary and the amount of grain needed was always a hurdle. There are also a lot of equations involved if you want any kind of consistency. All of these hurdles center around the mash which is basically the heart and soul of all grain brewing. You need to start with a lot of base malt which can get expensive. Well I was on a homebrew forum and there was a local group buy for bulk malted barley. $75 for 150 lbs of base malt was too good of a price to pass up.

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Now that I had the malt I needed a way to grind it. Like any good prepper I have a Corona mill. Once I got it dialed in it worked great. Here's a pic of my grain ready for the mash tun.

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You want the kernels to break up but you want the husks to remain intact. The husks create a filter that allows the water from the mash to flow through the grain bed. The broken grain fully absorbs the water so that sugars can be extracted. If the kernels are ground too fine or the husks are destroyed then you'll end up with malt o meal and your mash tun will get stuck. If you don't break up the grain then you won't extract nearly enough sugar from the malt. Either way your wort will be too thin and you'll end up with weakass beer and lots of wasted goodness left in your malt after the sparge. If you do it right you'll end up with wonderful, sweet wort that will make awesome beer exactly how you want it.

Before you can even think about mashing you'll need a mash tun. These can be as cheap or as complex as you want them to be. You'll need to be able to hold your mash at a specific temperature for at least an hour. That means you'll need some insulation. You'll want enough room to hold a lot of grain + water. That means volume. Luckily, there's a cheap and easy solution. Get a cooler. A cooler big enough to act as a mash tun already has a drain in it. It just takes a few parts to get it ready. Best of all, they're big enough to double as a lauter tun.

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I made mine out of a square 40 quart igloo cooler. I think I picked it up at Big Lots for $20. I ripped out the crappy, plastic drain and installed some brass plumbing in the hole. It's just a ball valve connected to a couple of nipples. The nipple on the outside has a vinyl hose attached to it for wort extraction. The nipple on the inside is attached to a stainless, braided water supply line that's had the plastic tubing gutted. The braided, stainless line makes an excellent filter. Once you have your mash tun assembled and your grain crushed then it's time to start making beer.

There isn't a whole lot to mashing. Once again, it can be as complicated as you want it to be. Some recipes call for multi step mashing. The easy ones that still result in fantastic beer call for one step mashing that's pretty simple. The important part is to make sure that your temperature is close to where you want it to be and that your mash tun can hold it there for at least an hour.

For the first part of your mash you need to dough your grain in. Pour some very hot water (I use boiling) into your mash tun and let it sit for a while. This tests the seals and it warms up the mash tun ahead of time so that your strike water doesn't have to be as hot. Pour the water out and pour your grain into it. Measure the temp to see how hot your strike water should be. You should use about 1.25 - 1.5 quarts of water per pound of grain. Your mash is where that calculation starts to come into play. Calculating how hot your strike water needs just takes a little bit of algebra. Here's the formula that I shamelessly ripped off from the greatest beer brewing resource that's free on the web: Tw = (.2/r)(T2 - T1) + T2

r = The ratio of water to grain in quarts per pound.
T1 = The initial temperature (¡F) of the mash.
T2 = The target temperature (¡F) of the mash.
Tw = The actual temperature (¡F) of the infusion water.

Usually your strike water temp will need to be about 20 degrees higher than what you want your mash temp to be. 153 degrees is a good temperature to shoot for no matter what you're brewing if you want to keep things simple. Pour in your strike water and mix it up so that all of the grain is saturated. Once you get your mash to the correct temperature just shut the lid and let it "cook" for an hour. If you're using a well insulated mash tun then you shouldn't lose more than a degree or two during that hour.

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After it cooks for an hour then it's time to start sparging. This part is easy. Attach a vinyl tube to the nipple. Use a pitcher to collect the first runnings.

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They'll be cloudy. Pour it back into your mash tun. Keep doing that until the wort is running clear. Once it's running clear start pouring it into your brew kettle. Once it stops running altogether then shut off your ball valve. Your ready for the sparge. This step will take twice as much water as the first step. Your water should be at around 170 degrees. Be very careful when you're pouring your sparge water. You don't want to disturb your grain bed. I just use a coffee can lid to disperse the water.

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Once you're finished carefully pouring in your sparge water shut the lid on your mash tun (now a lauter tun) again. Let it sit for about 10 minutes to let the grainbed settle.

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After you let it sit for 10 minutes finish collecting the rest of your wort. During this stage it should be running a lot clearer and you can collect it more quickly. Once you have all of your wort collected it's time to start your boil You'll want a pot that can hold 10-15 gallons for normal beer batches. For my first batch I used two turkey fryers and split my wort in half. The wort will boil down a bit during the boil which will concentrate it. You want this. Figure out a hops addition schedule before you start boiling. Adding different amounts of different hops varieties at different times will affect the bitterness, flavor and smell of your beer. Do some research and you can easily figure out what you need for the style that you want to brew. Hops bags make hops additions easier to clean up later.

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Once you're finished with the boil then you need to cool off the wort and get it into a fermenter as quickly as possible so that you can pitch the yeast. A great way to cool down wort fast is to get a copper coiled tube. Attach a tube that attaches to a faucet at one end. The other end can just empty into a drain or bucket. Put the coil into your wort, turn on the water and eventually it will cool off. Here's what I use:

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It cools 5 gallons of boiling wort down to close to room temperature in about 5 - 10 minutes. Fatter coils work a lot more quickly. Maybe they even work more efficiently. I just go with what I had to work with. It works so I can't complain. Once your wort is cooled then you just throw in your primary fermenter and add your yeast. After a week or so in the primary then you can transfer it to a secondary. Once that's conditioned for a couple of weeks then it should be OK to bottle or keg. Hopefully this breaks down all grain brewing simply enough that anyone can do it.


DaddyBear said...

Thanks for the tutorial. What do you do with the grain once you've brewed with it? Hunters around here get as much of the mash grain from distilleries as they can for their feeders. I've been told that used brewers and distillers grain is a protein rich treat for whitetails.

The Urban Survivalist said...

It makes great animal feed. I've also dried it out in the oven and ground it into flour for breadmaking in the past. This time I just dumped the spent grain into my compost heap. To be honest that's the quickest, easiest and most "environmentally friendly" way to get rid of it. Just because I think that global warming is bullshit doesn't mean that I'm not willing to do good things for the environment :).