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Old 11-19-2013, 03:02 AM   #1
barkingtreefrog
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Default Extract vs All grain

At the risk of starting a flame war I'll go ahead and ask a question that seems to have a different answer for as many brewers on this forum. I'm currently about 5 batches into extract brewing. I've been reading up a little (verry little) on all grain brews. Other than the street cred that comes with it, are there any more solid advantages to spending all that cash to get a decent all grain setup going? Thanks for all the advice, I love this forum!

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Old 11-19-2013, 03:11 AM   #2
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The biggest advantage for me is the taste, quality, and the freshness. You have control over all aspects of the beer when doing all grain as opposed to getting pre-made ingredeants. It's a bit of investment, but well worth it after a year or so. My first all grain was the best beer I ever brewed, even after 100 extracts. Hope this helps..

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Old 11-19-2013, 03:11 AM   #3
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In addition to the above, once you pay for your A-G equipment, your cost per patch for ingredients will generally be less for all grain than extract.

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Old 11-19-2013, 03:17 AM   #4
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Cost and control are the biggest differences that I've noticed. Cost of initial investment is quickly made up by the lower cost per batch.

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Old 11-19-2013, 03:23 AM   #5
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If you decide to stick with brewing long-term, make more than the occasional batch, want to not spend as much on ingredients and desire to be able to tailor the character of each of your beers, there are definite advantages to going AG.

Disadvantages are that it cost a bit to get set up and your brew day will be longer. That isn't always a bad thing.

Personally, I think that it's a good idea to get a solid handle on being able to chill wort properly (60*F for ales, 45*F for lagers) and have precise fermentation temperature control before jumping into AG. I'd much rather drink someone's extract-based brew that was fermented correctly than an ale made with good AG technique but tucked away in a 70*F closet to ferment.
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Old 11-19-2013, 03:35 AM   #6
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You can make great beer or horrible beer using both methods, or in between (partial mash). All grain gives you all sorts of control, but if you don't know how to use that control then you can make some really awful beer.

All-extract leaves hardly any room for error. All the mashing (and sometimes the hopping) is done for you. However, if you have poor temperature control and ferment too hot or cold, then your yeasts are going to produce some nasty flavors. If you can't brew beer with extract properly, don't bother with anything else until you can. Brewing decent all-extract is mostly about learning to keep yeast happy. Making outstanding beer with all extract is probably not likely; but good, delicious, fun, and tasty beer should possible if you understand how to treat yeast and your extract is reasonably fresh and from a reputable maltster.

Partial-mash is the middle ground. You might just be steeping specialty grains for flavor, or actually mashing grains to provide a portion of the fermentable sugars. You might still use extracts here to fill in some gravity. Here you need to worry about temperature control during the mash AND during the ferment, as well as all the other things that keep yeast happy (hydration, temp, oxygen). Again, still room to screw things up, but some more control. To some degree you can control how dry or malty your resulting beer will be (tempered by the extracts) and can learn about hop extraction. You can make some really excellent beers with partial mash if you have good brewing technique and become knowledgeable about your extract malts (how well they ferment, adjuncts in them, etc..)

All-grain - if you have figured out all of the above, then all grain is a great place to be - you can make some extra-ordinary, excellent, nuanced beers. However, if you don't understand the basics, then going to all-grain will not be a magic fix to making good beer.

I'm a partial-masher myself, just due to my temperament and the size of my kitchen pots and pans. I'm happy with it. I'm brewing good beer and am learning more and more with every brew. Maybe some day I'll go nuts and buy an all grain rig, but PM is pretty fun and interesting already.

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Old 11-19-2013, 03:36 AM   #7
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Holy crap amazing answers! Lucky newb! At least add some BIAB grains so your wort has the slightest character.

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Old 11-19-2013, 03:40 AM   #8
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I have made beers that I enjoyed with extract. All grain gives you more details to tinker with. You can control the fermentability of the wort and the body of the beer with the temperature of the mash. You can try a decoction with all grain and get wonderful mailard flavors.

That said, I do think about doing an extract batch now and then as I think I could brew more often because it does not take as much time.

All grain or extract, you're a brewer either way.

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Old 11-19-2013, 03:46 AM   #9
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I'll start by saying I do both.

That being said: all grain is a much purer beer, usually has better mouth feel, and gives you some sick satisfaction that you can brew like a champ.

Extract on the other hand is easy, quick, and with a bit of trial and error, can compete with some of the best all grain brews, as long as you add some specialty grains to your boil. (They release tannins and compounds that are lost in the extraction process). I do not mean to bash any all grain purists out there, but I have competed with my extract and partial mash brews against all grain and have won before.

I asked myself a long time ago whether to start all grain right away, or invest in a good home keggerator. the keggerator won (pics below).

some things to think about if you want to stay with extract. add anywhere from 1-2lbs of specialty grains to the boil, they make a WORLD of difference to the finished mouth feel and malty characters in the beer. Also, stay away from DME. I use only good quality, unhopped, fresh LME from my local brewpub or LHBS store. Use 3 litres (9.9lbs) as opposed to the 6.6lbs most recipes ask for and omit the sugar all together, it will treat you better in the long run and only costs an extra $3-$5. Use fresh pellet hops and make sure you get a good cold break after your boil and this should mitigate a lot of off flavors.

Another thing to consider is your yeast choice. A good yeast will make or break a great beer. To start off with, for ales try Nottingham ale yeast (if you can ferment at or just below 20C/69F). For wheat beer, use white labs heffeweizen IV ale yeast, and safeale US04 or US05 work fantastic for IPA's.

hope this helps. If I can answer any questions just give me a shout.

btw, when it comes to Kegging, you will never go back to bottling again. If you are even considdering it, go for that first.

inside.jpg   outside.jpg  
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Old 11-19-2013, 04:01 AM   #10
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Extract is a great place to learn how to care for yeast. If you abuse yeast you can get really crappy beer. If you are getting off flavors in your extract beer, work on learning to care for the yeast first.

After that, brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) is a great next step and is easy and fun. You can do partial or entire mashes with BIAB (if your bag is big enough).

It really is a spectrum. If you're coming out of all-extract, maybe make your next brew something with extract and steeping grains. See what that adds. Get comfortable with calculators for hop additions; the differences between bitttering, flavor, and aroma hops. Gradually up your amount of grain and reduce your amount of extract. You'll learn about mashing along the way.

I'm a partial masher, mostly because I am still practicing and my biggest pot can only take about 7 lbs of grain, so I need some extract to round up the gravity. You can keep incrementing up the grain until the change to all-grain is natural.

It is possible for an excited newbie to go whole-hog and buy an all grain rig and churn out nothing but bad beer. I'd say work your way up in increments, but don't be a snob either. Good beer can be made with extracts and partial mashes; don't shun them because they aren't all grain.

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