All-grain brew for first time? (Sort of.)

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MrEllis

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Hello all,

Quick question, looking for opinions. I haven't brewed in ten years or so, and not with all-grain at all. I've made a couple meads and some beers with extracts. Should I jump back in with all-grain? I'll have to acquire new gear and the like but I plan on small batches until I find my stride. Maybe three gallons? I'll probably buy gear for five or ten and just work smaller.

Any tips, recipes or the like are always appreciated. I'm interested in finding good solutions to gear and stop-gaps for gear. Things I *must* have first, then things I will find useful, then things that just make life easier for brewing.

Thinking about starting with a wheat beer? Opinions on that as a starting point. Recipes that are simple? Tricks? Tips?

Also, was considering bottling it in 33 oz. Grolsch Glass Beer Bottles... I'm too ignorant to know if this is a good or bad idea. Feel free to spank me and set me straight if need be. But I always share a bottle when I drink now, so...

Thanks for taking the time. Love what you got going on here.

Cheers.
 

myndflyte

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If I were you, I would look into doing Brew in a bag (BIAB). With that, you put a big grain bag in your pot, mash in your pot, raise the bag out, and now you're ready to boil. No sparging and no 3-tier setup. Wilser brew bags are renowned on this forum: https://biabbags.webs.com. I got mine from https://www.brewinabag.com/ and have done many batches on it with no issue.

I have a pretty straightforward Hefe if you want to check it out: https://www.brewersfriend.com/homebrew/recipe/view/591343/holier-than-meow-hefeweizen. If you use distilled water, I've even listed the water additions I did. Speaking of water, if you're going to really dive into all grain, you're going to want to educate yourself on water chemistry. This isn't a real necessity at this point but it's something that you want to keep in mind because depending on your water, it can really affect your beer.

Those Grolsch bottles should be fine. Just check the seals on the flip tops and make sure you keep them in a dark place since they are in green bottles.
 
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MrEllis

MrEllis

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Awesome, thanks for the tip. Is the bag just as good for starting out? Awesome recipe! I was going to start with spring water from the store until I know more.

Also, I planned on buying the brown ones if that helps?
 

mongoose33

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The difference between a standard using-a-mash-tun-and-lautering approach and a brew-in-a-bag approach is that with the former, you remove the wort from the grain; with BIAB, you remove the grain from the wort.

***

BIAB is, IMO, about the simplest way to do all-grain. Faster, easier cleanup--about the only issue you have to resolve is lifting the bag, for which most people use a pulley setup. That means something above the kettle you can hook to in order to use the pulley. I've done it in my garage using both the track for a garage door as well as an eyebolt I installed in the garage ceiling.

Some have built frames to rise above the kettle to accommodate something to raise the bag with, there are many ways to potentially do this.

***

Another issue is the coarseness of the grain crush. It's not unusual for a local home brew store, in crushing the grain, to crush it too coarsely. One resolution to that is to ask them to crush it twice. A better alternative is to buy grain uncrushed and get your own mill, which can be run with a drill to make it easy. IMO, the best value for a new brewer in a mill is the Cereal Killer mill. Can be had for $99 including shipping.

***

The size of the kettle matters. IMO, you really want a 10-gallon kettle so you can do 5-gallon batches. It'll give you flexibility. You'd be pushing it with an 8-gallon kettle. Some will argue you can do smaller kettles, just use makeup water and all that, but since you're getting back into this do it well. Get a 10-gallon kettle.

Make sure the kettle has a ball valve on the bottom to rack/drain into a fermenter, and if it were me, I'd get one with a thermometer too, with a stubby probe that extends maybe an inch or less into the kettle. It's nice to be able to see, at a glance, how close you are to your desired strike water temp, or how close you are to boiling when the wort is getting close.

***

You're a "tweener" in that you have some experience, unlike a newbie, but it's old experience and memories fade. So I'll suggest what I usually do with new brewers: brew a simple recipe the first time. There are just enough moving parts that you want to get the process down before introducing variables that, if the beer doesn't turn out, make it difficult to pin down the cause.

***

The biggest issue, IMO, with all-grain brewing is getting the water right. Your tap water might or might not be good for this. Mine isn't, for most beers, but the only way to know is to get a water report (Wards Lab does that, costs circa $42). Or, use distilled or RO (reverse osmosis) water and add various minerals and salts to build it up to what it should be.

If you don't get the water right, you can end up with a "Meh" beer, or worse. IMO (I have a lot of these "O" things :)), the best way to do that at the outset is to start with RO water, a simple recipe, and have someone tell you want to do to the water so you can focus on the brewing. Then, afterwards, you can get a water calculator and find out why the recommendation was correct. Meantime, you're focusing on the process.

*****

About bottling: a 33-ounce bottle of anything is a lot of beer to consume at one sitting. As soon as you open that beer it'll start oxidizing. I'm sure you're thinking you can reseal it, and you can, but carbonation will decline, and you will get oxidation of the beer. I wouldn't do that approach personally. You'd be better off with 12, 16, or even 22-ounce bottles.

Anyway, welcome (back?) to HBT and brewing, and dig in. Simple it up the first time or two and think about where you want to be in six months. Making the process simple at the outset will help accelerate the learning curve, odd as that may sound.

****

Attached are some pics showing how I did BIAB; it'll help you understand it better.

biabbag.jpg biabgarage.jpg biabgaragedoor.jpg biabpulley.jpg biabquilt.jpg biabsetup.jpg
 

BassBabiesBeer

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After both replies talking water chemistry, I'm pretty relieved to have a solid water source that I don't have to mess with. I use unfiltered tap water and just use Acid Malt for any pH correction.

Fermentation and temp control play a bigger role in your finished product, overall. If you have central air or have a pretty moderate ambient temp in your home, closet (or basement/garage) fermentation might work great. If summer and winter make your ambient temp fluctuate more, you might have to make style/yeast choices to go with what you've got.

I like all-in-one systems personally, but they're basically BIAB in an electric kettle with a pump. I brew in my kitchen because space is a big concern for me.
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kh54s10

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I like the idea of using spring water to start. That way you don't have to concern yourself with water. I had great water where I brewed for the first 6 1/2 years. The tap water must have been very neutral. It made great light beers as well as dark beers. There are those that will tell you that is impossible. I compare my beers to commercial beers in the $8 - $12/sixpack range. I generally preferred my homebrews. I also didn't concern myself with pH. It wasn't a priority since most of my beers were as good as or better than the average commercial beer.

Where I am now my water must not be so good so after 8 years I am getting a RO system and pH meter, we'll see.

BIAB is the cheapest to get into. I personally prefer to brew on my 3 tier rig. I built it before BIAB became so popular. I for one don't see where you save much time and do not find BIAB to be easier clean up. With normal timing you mash 60 minutes, boil 60 minutes. If there is any savings it in time it is the sparge. If you sparge your BIAB there is no difference. I batch sparge on my 3 tier and it only adds 10 - 15 minutes. Ease of cleanup - I find it easier to rinse out my mash tun than a bag. Both have a boil kettle. A wash at best.....

That said, if I go electric it will probably be a BIAB style system.
 

Cavpilot2000

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Whatever method you use (BIAB, 2-vessel, 3-vessel, etc), just go all grain. DOn't waste your time with extract. You have sooooo much more control over the finished product when all-grain vs. extract, and while some folks make perfectly fine extract beers, you'll never make a great extract beer (the only styles that can come close are super-hoppy styles where the hops masks the underlying malt source).
 

myndflyte

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I like the idea of using spring water to start. That way you don't have to concern yourself with water. I had great water where I brewed for the first 6 1/2 years. The tap water must have been very neutral. It made great light beers as well as dark beers. There are those that will tell you that is impossible. I compare my beers to commercial beers in the $8 - $12/sixpack range. I generally preferred my homebrews. I also didn't concern myself with pH. It wasn't a priority since most of my beers were as good as or better than the average commercial beer.

Where I am now my water must not be so good so after 8 years I am getting a RO system and pH meter, we'll see.

BIAB is the cheapest to get into. I personally prefer to brew on my 3 tier rig. I built it before BIAB became so popular. I for one don't see where you save much time and do not find BIAB to be easier clean up. With normal timing you mash 60 minutes, boil 60 minutes. If there is any savings it in time it is the sparge. If you sparge your BIAB there is no difference. I batch sparge on my 3 tier and it only adds 10 - 15 minutes. Ease of cleanup - I find it easier to rinse out my mash tun than a bag. Both have a boil kettle. A wash at best.....

That said, if I go electric it will probably be a BIAB style system.
To be fair with respect to clean up. The bag is pretty easy too. Dump the grain, quick rinse with the hose to get rid of most of the grain then throw it in the washer with the next load. I'll never knock anyone for using a 3 tier system though. Space and money were some of the driving factors that drove me to BIAB.
 

kh54s10

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To be fair with respect to clean up. The bag is pretty easy too. Dump the grain, quick rinse with the hose to get rid of most of the grain then throw it in the washer with the next load. I'll never knock anyone for using a 3 tier system though. Space and money were some of the driving factors that drove me to BIAB.
I agree space and money are prime factors. I still see little if any time savings or clean up. I do both. I use the same timing for both. For cleanup it takes me a little longer to clean my 5 gallon paint strainer bags. Partially because of the elastic band in the top, but also because the husks stick in the fabric. A proper bag probably helps, but I still see no gain in clean up. With my mash tun - dump the grain and rinse it out, max = 5 minutes.
 
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MrEllis

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Thank you for all the comments, I'm going to do some reading on BIAB and visit the local brew supply shop on Friday. I appreciate all the advice given, it's excellent!
 

kh54s10

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Whatever method you use (BIAB, 2-vessel, 3-vessel, etc), just go all grain. DOn't waste your time with extract. You have sooooo much more control over the finished product when all-grain vs. extract, and while some folks make perfectly fine extract beers, you'll never make a great extract beer (the only styles that can come close are super-hoppy styles where the hops masks the underlying malt source).
So totally wrong. There have been tons of award winning extract brews made... I have done about 8 or 9 extract and all have been equal to my all grain beers, one I would put in my top ten. (out of 107 batches)
 

Cavpilot2000

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So totally wrong. There have been tons of award winning extract brews made... I have done about 8 or 9 extract and all have been equal to my all grain beers, one I would put in my top ten. (out of 107 batches)
Were they hoppy beers? It's easy to mask extract with hops, as I said before.
Have you ever made a good extract Pils?
No, because you can't.
 

Cavpilot2000

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No they were not hoppy. I haven't tried to do a Pils but I bet I could. Just because you can't doesn't mean it is impossible.
Extract is too dark colored for a Pils out of the package for starters. The process of cooking down the wort to a syrup darkens it (even for pilsner extract).
Plus the flavor is all off for a proper Pils (you can't get that fresh grain taste from extract - again, it's the manufacturing process).
Look, I don't hate extract, I've been there and done that, but if you think extract is equal to grain as far as the quality of product you can product, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree, and I think any pro brewer worth his mash paddle would agree.

There are some good instant coffees out there, but none are going to rival good, fresh-roasted, fresh ground beans for a great cup of coffee. It's a similar concept - there is too much industrial process separating the starting product (grain) from the end product (extract), and those processes degrade the flavor.
 
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kh54s10

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Extract is too dark colored for a Pils out of the package for starters. The process of cooking down the wort to a syrup darkens it (even for pilsner extract).
Plus the flavor is all off for a proper Pils (you can't get that fresh grain taste from extract - again, it's the manufacturing process).
Look, I don't hate extract, I've been there and done that, but if you think extract is equal to grain as far as the quality of product you can product, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree, and I think any pro brewer worth his mash paddle would agree.

There are some good instant coffees out there, but none are going to rival good, fresh-roasted, fresh ground beans for a great cup of coffee. It's a similar concept - there is too much industrial process separating the starting product (grain) from the end product (extract), and those processes degrade the flavor.
Your mileage does vary. I can't really say to the Pilsner extract, but I brewed an extra pale ale (not very hoppy) with the lightest dry extract that I could find, don't remember the brand. It was a little darker but still VERY pale. The winners of competitions using extract may also disagree with your assessment that it can't be done. A little darker - probably, very little darker if you work at it, but inferior just because it is extract = a definite no.

And as far as instant coffee that is comparing apples to oranges..
 

Cavpilot2000

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Your mileage does vary. I can't really say to the Pilsner extract, but I brewed an extra pale ale (not very hoppy) with the lightest dry extract that I could find, don't remember the brand. It was a little darker but still VERY pale. The winners of competitions using extract may also disagree with your assessment that it can't be done. A little darker - probably, very little darker if you work at it, but inferior just because it is extract = a definite no.

And as far as instant coffee that is comparing apples to oranges..
So you think that taking wort, cooking it down to remove a large portion of the water to make it a syrup, then reconsitituting it by adding water back to it doesn't change or degrade the flavor at all?

Experiment: Try tasting unfermented fresh grain wort and reconstituted extract side-by-side. Use, say pale malt and pale extract so it's apples-to-apples. I GUARANTEE you will be able to tell a stark difference.

But to each his own. I posit that extract is not the equal of grain. You disagree and think they are perfectly equal. I think your position is preposterous, and you think I am wrong.
Difference of opinion - it's what makes the world go 'round.
 

BassBabiesBeer

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The biggest issue, aside from the extract process itself, is that the proper nutrients for healthy yeast come from mashing. There's much more flavor because the yeast is fed better.
 
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MrEllis

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Opinions wanted here.

I plan on investing in 10gal equipment, so it's gonna take a few paydays. In the meantime, I could probably pull off a gallon brew with some of my kitchen gear an old equipment. Would practicing on a gallon batch be worth the experience and time? Would it be a good way to refine my recipe? I'm going to keep practicing with hef until I nail my recipe and technique. Then maybe venture out into a stout. Would a smaller batch translate into useful skills/techniques down the line? For reference, I see myself settling on 5 gallon batches in the future.
 

BassBabiesBeer

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The process is still the same... I started with AG gallon kits from Brooklyn Brew Shop. It translated pretty well, but anytime you change your set-up or system you have a short adjustment period.
 

mongoose33

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Opinions wanted here.

I plan on investing in 10gal equipment, so it's gonna take a few paydays. In the meantime, I could probably pull off a gallon brew with some of my kitchen gear an old equipment. Would practicing on a gallon batch be worth the experience and time? Would it be a good way to refine my recipe? I'm going to keep practicing with hef until I nail my recipe and technique. Then maybe venture out into a stout. Would a smaller batch translate into useful skills/techniques down the line? For reference, I see myself settling on 5 gallon batches in the future.

I don't think there'd be any downside to practicing with gallon batches, and I suspect a lot of your previous brewing memories will come back to you. But, I don't know how well that will translate to 5- or 10-gallon batches. I think you can only, at best, come close to recipe determinations because small mis-measurements at the gallon level are multiplied to large ones at the 10-gallon level.

For example, if you're doing all-grain you should be paying attention to the water. Do you have an accurate gram-scale to measure water additions? Missing a measurement at the gallon level by, say, 1/3 gram doesn't sound like a lot, but it's 3.33 grams at a 10-gallon level. Same with the amount of water.

I've become a believer that it's (almost) all about process, process, process. Recipe is secondary such that if your process is bad, changing the recipe isn't going to rescue the beer. Part of that process is measuring things as accurately as you can, controlling temps as you like, the rate of boil and boil off, mash temp, and so on. I never brew stouts, or saisons, or belgians--don't particularly care for the styles--but I don't have any doubt I could do them as my process is pretty dialed in. All I'd need is a good recipe.

Not sure how much of that process you'll be able to replicate in a 1-gallon batch. I know that you're itching to get back to brewing. Far be it from me to suggest anyone shouldn't play around with this just for playing around's sake. But I doubt you're going to really refine any recipe at the 1-gallon level such that it'll exactly translate to a 10-gallon batch.

Anyway, enjoy the journey either way and good luck.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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Opinions wanted here.

I plan on investing in 10gal equipment, so it's gonna take a few paydays. In the meantime, I could probably pull off a gallon brew with some of my kitchen gear an old equipment. Would practicing on a gallon batch be worth the experience and time? Would it be a good way to refine my recipe?
This reads like you are focusing all your near term hobby money on the 10 gal setup.

@mongoose33 mentioned the issue of accuracy when weighing small amounts. FWIW, jewelry scales the measure with .01 gram accuracy are available for $10 - $15. I have a pair of them that are (at the moment anyway) consistent with each other and accurate when tested (with provided test weight and with various coins).

Batches in the 1.0 gal range obviously good for trying new things. Personally, I have a couple of 1.0 gal carboys (perfect for brewing a six pack) and a couple of 2.0 gal pails (perfect for brewing a 12 pack). Scale the recipe to account for losses (including hydrometer measurements) and there's no need to fuss with dialing in a refractometer for FG measurements. That being said, with a 10.0 gal primary system, 2.5 gal (brewing a 24-pack) may be a more interesting batch size for a 'pilot' system.
 
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MrEllis

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My end goal is going to be 5 gallon batches on the regular. I just want the option of ten. And a lot of the gear is just a bit more for ten. Not to say I won't change my mind later!

I was hoping a few gallon batches could help me polish fundamentals and steps in the process. I understand the specifics don't always scale. But I'm not really at that level yet.

Thanks for the responses. Awesome stuff.
 
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MrEllis

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100 bucks later I got supplies to make a gallon. Ordered a 15 gallon kettle as well!
 

CascadesBrewer

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100 bucks later I got supplies to make a gallon. Ordered a 15 gallon kettle as well!
Good luck! I assume your $100 got you more than enough to make just 1 gallon. Really, it is not that hard to spend $30 to $40 at the store for 9 craft beers, and easily $60 at a pub. I figure that brewing beer does not really "save" me money, but I also figure that it really does not cost much more that what I would be spending anyway.
 
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MrEllis

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Oh, I started rebuilding my kit. I got a giant metal spoon, an auto-siphon with a cane and a spring loaded bottling wand, a giant mesh bag, a two gallon fermenter, airlock, funnels, 6 foot of tubing, hydrometer, hydrometer jar, some silicon stopper and a little jug of StarSan. The grain bill, hops and yeast were like under ten bucks total. I ground it there and was off. I think the bag was the most expensive piece at 13ish bucks.

I could have saved like five bucks total on Amazon, but I'd rather buy it local. Plus I met the new (five years) owner and his wife. Cool cat, gave me some tips. Gonna start it tomorrow.
 
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