Cheap and Easy All-Grain Backyard BIAB

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I, like many other home brewers, began my journey 9 years ago with a standard home brewing starter kit. I brewed only extract beers and infrequently at that. Later, I began to use steeping grains and spices, but my brewing remained very basic. My job, then and now, has required a lot of travel, thus, I do not brew as regularly as I would like. For years I would hear about and see articles on all-grain home brewing. This always interested me because it seemed that I could have more control over the ingredients going into my precious homebrew.
Since beginning in 2005, it would be fair to say that I have brewed less than one hundred beers. Far less than the typical home brewer over a similar time period. As such, I could never justify the additional costs to go all-grain as it seemed to be equipment intensive. While perusing Home Brew Talk forums, I stumbled across an all-grain method referred to as Brew in a Bag or BIAB. My interest was piqued and I began to research this method. I first came across those practicing a hybrid of BIAB and traditional all-grain brewing. They used two vessels, one to mash and one for batch sparging. To me, this still seemed more difficult than what I was currently doing. Then I came across information for the original BIAB method; full volume mash and boil. This seemed so simple to me. With very little additional investment and effort, I could create an all-grain brew. I set to work researching the few pieces of equipment that I would need to upgrade.
Here is the list that I came up with:
  • (1) 10-15 gallon Stainless Steel Brew Kettle
  • (1) Long Stainless Steel Brew Spoon
  • (1) Propane Burner
  • (1) Brew in a Bag bag
  • (1) Pulley
That's it, if you are already an extract brewer you already have all of the other miscellaneous equipment to brew beer and make this work. If you are looking to jump right in to BIAB then you will need to acquire some more brew gear and it may be worthwhile to purchase a standard homebrew starter kit.
I personally went with a 44 quart Bayou Classic stainless steel pot, a standard stainless brew spoon long enough to not get lost in my mash, a Dark Star burner, and a Wilserbrewer BIAB bag that was custom built for my kettle that came with a ratchet pulley. All in all, the total cost was less than $160.00 or about the same as five extract kits.
To BIAB, I calculate the strike water that I will need with an online calculator that accounts for water losses of grain and hop absorption as well as boil off. I then heat it to the strike temperature, which is usually just a few degrees above my desired mash temperature. I add the grains and stir vigorously with the brew spoon to break up any clumps and to ensure that the mash temperature is homogenous throughout the kettle. Once that is done, I cover the brew kettle in an old moving blanket for insulation and then let it mash for the prescribed amount of time.

Kettle wrapped in moving blanket for insulation
It is also possible to do a step mash through application of direct heat and stirring. I have yet to burn my BIAB bag doing this. Once the mash is over, I use direct heat and stirring to achieve the mash out temperature. I let it rest for five to ten minutes and then pull the bag to drain.

BIAB bag hanging for initial gravity drainage

BIAB bag hanging higher for squeezing with pot lids

At this time I begin heating the wort for the boil. In the BIAB world there are squeezers and non-squeezers. If I was more patient, gravity would do all the work of draining the bag for me. I am not that patient, so when the bag slows to a trickle I simply use two pot lids to squeeze the remaining wort from the bag. Now all that remains is to boil, hop, cool wort, and pitch yeast as you always do.

Boiling the wort

Cooling the wort with my faithful brew assistant
I have personally made some of my best batches of beer since switching over to BIAB. Also I achieve a brew house efficiency of 80% plus with just a standard crush from my LHBS.
I hope that this has been helpful and may push some of you lurking around all-grain brewing to take the plunge.
I have at times been tempted to abandon my mash tun (Coleman Xtreme) and go BIAB, but one thing still worries me...how well does this hold heat during the mash? (Especially as ambient temps drop quite low, especially in the winter, and especially now that I'm living back in the Pgh, PA area!)
I know for a fact that even at below freezing temps my cooler can hold a rock solid mash temp for hours...
I wouldn't be too concerned about it. It's believed that most of the starch conversion is achieved in around 15 mins anyway, so you won't be losing too much temperature during the important first 15 minutes.
I've used the BIAB method multiple times. I was concerned about holding my mash temperature, as well. To combat this, I've used a blanket to wrap my pot during the mash period. In warmer months, I can hold it to within maybe 1-2 degrees of where it started. Colder months are more difficult, but still only swing maybe 6-8 degrees. (Use a more-insulating blanket?)
If you hit a solid mash temperature in the middle or upper part of your acceptable range, you should be just fine. Even then, you'll still get beer! Brew it up and enjoy!
Thanks for the write up. I used a variation of this yesterday for my first try using bag. I mashed into 5 gallon pot, which I place into insulated box. After mashing, I poured into plastic bucket lined with nylon bag. I sparged into boiling kettle. Much faster than bucket in a bucket I have used in past, but I will try your method on next brew.
@chowsky I doubt you will be disappointed. I enjoy that there is not a lot of clean up when my brew day is over.
Ok - I have to ask.. what is that rig you are using to cool the wort? I was going to make CFC with a hose and 1/4" copper, but I'd love to hear your solution as it looks different.
@Happywanderer It is just an immersion wort chiller, but I have it hooked up to a submersible pump that is in a cooler full of ice bottles and water. I put the pump on one side and the tubing for the "hot water" on the other side. Chills wort faster and wastes less water. Especially effective for me in the summer when the ground water temp is higher.
Ok - I was thinking of doing a similar setup with the pump and a CFC... Because I live in California where water doesn't exist.
So - what pump you using? I've looked at several at HomeDepot and can't decide how BIG I would have to go....
And what is your current time to chill a 5-gal batch?
(And sorry for steering away from the main article which I think is an excellent writeup for BIAB - and the use of the step ladder solves my issue of not having a way to hang the bag after Mash - genius!)
I do like the idea that it's easier to step mash if you want to...I may have to play around with this.
Regarding the cleaning...the only thing extra I clean is my mash tun, and that's not all that big of a deal...just dump and spray it out while the boil is getting up to speed...
I still do have concerns regarding the mash temps dropping in colder weather. I've never been quite fully sure whether it was more of the starting mash temp, or the ending one (if it's lower) that determines the wort fermentability...I've suspected that it may be the lower final temp. Even though the bulk of the conversion happens pretty quickly, if the temps drop, the enzyme balance will shift and you still may end up with a more fermentable wort than you want...
I also live in Pittsburgh and I find that if you wrap the kettle in reflective insulation, it really keeps the heat in. Just leave it a couple inches short on the bottom in case you have to fire the burner to raise the temp. The insulation looks like aluminum foil bubble wrap and is sold at lowes for 23.00 for a roll that measures 24 in. by 25 feet. I have done 90 min. mashes and only lost one to two degrees. Just something to think about.
That is the pump that I use. If I intended to do more than 5 gallon batches I might get something with a higher flow rate, but I'd also make a longer immersion chiller.
As long as I stir and bounce the IC around in the pot, I get my wort chilled to the mid 60's farenheit in 10-15 min. Some of the commercial ICs cut that time in half. I have added more of the smaller ice bottles to see if that will help on my next brew.
Cool! thanks for the info! Now that you mention it, I think I've seen pics of people wrapping their keggles like that...
Now to convince SWMBO that I need to buy one of those a-frame ladders "to change the lightbulbs and put up decorations in the foyer!"
I, too have begun using BIAB instead of making the total equipment upgrade to all grain. A couple of things I do; I use the rack from a canning pot to suspend the grain bag since I do it on my stove and don't have room for a pulley. I start the mash with 6g of water, then heat 1g of water to mash out temp and pour that over the grain bag when I raise it out of the wort.
I guess you just have to hit the gym... But in all seriousness it is a pretty heavy ladder. Very useful around the house though.
I have done about 15 5gallon batches of BIAB. I lift the bag out of the wort and put in a colander over the kettle and pour sparge water over it with a plastic watering can... works well. I also just bought a small plate chiller, which I will feed with ice water with a drill pump I had. Have not used that yet. Waiting for fittings.
@leapingbuddha It is a full volume mash, so no sparge water necessary. Just use direct heat to reach mash out temp