Simple Homebrewing Techniques

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So far in my homebrewing journey, I have explored the three simplest levels of homebrewing. All have used malt extracts rather than mashed grains (mashing is the process of converting the starch in the grains to sugars). "Malt extract" is wort (unfermented beer) from grain that has already been mashed by a brewery and then condensed into either a syrup or a powder. Extract brewing is very suitable for stovetop homebrewing, generally using only one kettle and burner, and a relatively small volume of water to boil.

Extract Brewing Kit
The simplest extract brewing method uses pre-hopped extracts. That's what Mr. Beer is. There's no boil and no hop additions. Just heat water, dissolve the extract, cool, and stick in the fermenter. The amount in the kettle is usually smaller than the desired batch size so makeup water is added. This is planned for in the recipe so the result isn't diluted. In the fermenter, yeast consumes the sugars in the wort and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. The CO2 produced during primary fermentation isn't used and is vented. After fermentation is complete, CO2 is added for carbonation during bottle conditioning. The alcohol is the point of the exercise.
A slightly more complicated method of using extract is usually simply referred to as "extract brewing". In producing the extract used for this method, the malt manufacturer doesn't add hops before condensing the wort. To use this extract, you heat water, dissolve the powdered and/or syrup extract, and then bring to a boil, usually for one hour. During the boil, hops are added at various intervals to balance out the sweetness that is a characteristic of wort, and to add flavor and aroma. Then it goes into the fermenter, along with any needed makeup water that is added.
Partial extract brewing is similar, but before dissolving the extract, one steeps "specialty grains" in the heated water, usually for twenty minutes or so. These grains don't add any fermentables to the wort and thus don't change the quantity of extract required, but they do add color and more complexity to the taste. From that point, the process is the same as extract brewing. I've used all of these methods so far, and have found that increased effort brings rewards. The partial extracts have been my best beers.
The next level of complexity is called "partial mash" (or sometimes "mini-mash"). A pet peeve of mine is that the terms "partial extract" and "partial mash" are sometimes misused by incorrectly referring to one system with the name of the other. They are distinct. In a partial mash, some (usually about half) of the extract is replaced by malted grains. These are "mashed" (soaked at a controlled temperature for an hour or so) and do contribute fermentable sugars to the wort. Then the extract is added to make up the remaining required sugars. The result is then boiled and hops added as required. After the boil, makeup water is added (if needed), and it goes into the fermenter.

All Grain Brewing Kit
The next level is "all-grain" brewing. In this, extract is generally not used and, when used, provides only a small portion of the fermentable sugars. Usually all of the fermentable sugars in the wort come from conversion of starch in the grains. All of the wort volume for the entire batch is present in the boil; no makeup water is added. These characteristics require a more complex setup and the greater (full batch) boil volumes generally dictate a larger heat source than a stovetop. Propane and natural gas are the most common fuels, though a number of electric brew systems are in use as well. I'll write about all grain brewing after I gain some experience at it.
There's a simplified variant of all-grain known as "Brew in a Bag" which requires only a single pot and a mesh bag, but most all-grain brewers use two or three vessels, often on a brewstand with multiple burners, or even multiple levels so that gravity can be used to transfer liquids from one container to another. I am currently working on a three-tier multi-burner brew rig for myself. The modern trend is toward single level brewstands, incorporating one or more pumps to manage liquid transfers. A number of more advanced setups also include temperature-controlled burners (either gas or electric), for varying degrees of automation.

Three Tier Brewing Stand
I've been pushing "production" because there's a gathering of local astronomers coming up at my place, and I want to be able to offer some variety of homebrew samples. I'll have samples of four of my first batches on hand to share. Batches six and seven are in the fermenters and won't be ready for this session but there'll be another soon enough. I figure I'm sufficiently ahead to relax a bit and work on infrastructure for my first all-grain batch (an American Pale Ale recipe that I picked up today). It's been a learning experience for sure. Fortunately, none of the lessons have been particularly expensive or disastrous. This is fun.
"most all-grain brewers use two or three vessels" <- Anyone actually have numbers on here about how many brewers use a BIAB vs. multi-vessel setups?
It would be very interesting to see that kind of information. I'd also love to know how many still use gravity feed stands compared to the more advanced pump-driven systems.
I went straight from extract with steeping grains to BIAB. I really don't understand why extract is for the beginner. BIAB requires a couple of extra steps (mashing 60 or so minutes and draining the bag). It only requires a larger kettle and a pulley. Most people have a ladder lying around to hook a pulley to. Some just lift the bag out and don't let it drain so they don't even need a pulley.
The only time that I can ever see the use of extract is if you need to shave 30 minutes off of brew day or can only do stovetop brewing.
Just my opinion on things. This was a nice article.
@brewprint In fairness there are more variables that can go wrong with even a BIAB all grain batch vs an extract batch. Beginners may not want to worry about hitting mash temps and maintaining them. As a beginner you would get a much more consistent product using extract. Extract eliminates worries over hitting your gravity as well. Basically extract brewing allows you to focus more of your efforts on learning how/when to add hops and on fermentation and sanitation.
Is it standard practice to cover the HD on the mash tun? I never used extract to brew. I decided if I was going to brew I was going straight to grain (first comm milled the I bought a mill second year.) I use gravity because it is less complicated for me. Both HLT and mash tun are HD 10 gallon crew coolers (one a 9" Stone Brewing sticker, one Birdman Brewing, both have Homebrewtalk stickers!) Someday I may add pumps and a rack but right now I'm making kick butt beers with what I have. No matter what you brew with and how you transfer it is all about the chemistry and temperatures.
I'm a new brewer, barely wet. I hadn't realised I could use dry malt extract versus wet malt extract. Dummy me thought DME was just for yeast starters.
An article titled "Simple Homebrewing Techniques" should not dismiss BIAB and move on to more complex arrangements.
BIAB is by far, the simplest method of all-grain brewing.
Three vessels, pumps, multi-burners, automation - do these really belong in the article as titled?
@mors I see where you're coming from but with extract the steeping grains are supposed to be held between 150-160F. Throw a blanket or towel or make an insulated jacket to maintain a mash temp for 60 minutes. Check it every 15 minutes and throw a little heat if it drops. It's almost no different at all. I've never had trouble hitting numbers unless it's a wheat or gravity >1.065. It's gravy IMHO.
Before I even got down to this comment section I knew there would be a lot of other BIAB folks down here commenting. For some reason, as a BIABer, I bristled just a tad at this statement...
"There's a simplified variant of all-grain known as "Brew in a Bag" "
After sitting with my thoughts for a bit, I think I realize what put a burr under my saddle. It's that the all-grain brewing method in which one moves the brewing water around from vessel to vessel is for some reason viewed as the "standard", and therefore other all-grain methods are "variants". In simplest terms, the only difference in the process is that BIABer's choose to move the grain around rather than the water.
I'm confident Crilly didn't mean anything offensive by his statement, so I'm not throwing stones. But I think it highlights one of the cultural contradictions in the homebrewing community. On one hand we love advancements and new, different, and sometimes better ways of doing things. On the other hand, our tendency is to cling on to tradition and the way we have always done them because it's comfortable and familiar. This other hand is an unfortunate source of misinformation.
Crilly, thanks for the effort you put into this article. It is appreciated. I'll use this post as a reminder to challenge my own biases.
I definitely didn't intend to appear dismissive of BIAB! In fact, I picked up a ten gallon pot just today so I can try it for myself at some point. My five gallon pot seems too small and the keggles don't seem well-suited. I am aware that some do BIAB with both; the ten gallon pot just looks easier than either. I'm thinking that I won't want to brew outside as much in the Winter so partial extract or BIAB will let me stay inside, safe and warm.
Everyone draws his or her own line between simple and advanced brewing. I figure that it is somewhere around the point that pumps and thermal control enter into it. My next brewstand will start with one pump. I expect to add a second pump and HERMS at some point and, later (MUCH later) add temperature controls. I am in no hurry to get there. I expect the gravity feed rig to keep me happy for quite a while.
I do both BIAB and also single infusion and occasionally a double decoction. Right now I'm doing mainly BIAB because it is less work, and I can also step mash via direct fire of the wort.
I am also very close to finishing a (low tech) HERMS.
I like to practice all the brewing techniques.
I too tend to bristle when BIAB is treated as an afterthought, or someone assumes "all grain" means three vessel. I think the tendency to do either of the above is due to historical influences from when AG homebrew was (almost) all three vessel. I'd like to see more writers and commenters be more precise in their terminology and say "three vessel" brewing or at least "traditional all grain" brewing. But the quest to get everyone on the same page is likely a lost cause. This is the internet after all.
I am so glad to participate in a hobby that people are so passionate about, and that everyones' own way is the way to do things. The big thing is that you are brewing beer that is drinkable and possibly awesome. I love getting together with my crew and seeing everyones different setup, some extract, some all grain, no biabers yet, but all kinds of setups from fancy 3 tiers to my crazy pulley system (built out of necessity from back surgery). I probably will never be able to afford a fancy computerized system with pumps, but if that is how you roll and make great beer, awesome. There is no right or wrong way to brew, I think seeing lots of options and figurin out what is best for you is the way to go.
The term "Partial Extract" is addressed in paragraph three. I describe it in the way I have generally seen it being used. After receiving feedback from readers, I acknowledge that "Extract plus specialty grains" is more descriptive. It's longer, though.
"There's a simplified variant of all-grain known as "Brew in a Bag" which requires only a single pot and a mesh bag"
I must be advanced, for you see, I am a BIAB'er... I work with a simplified version of a more complex process. In my mind if you can simplify a process and gain similar or better results, this equals "advanced", I would think.
@vincentAlpha I went from a $1200 homemade PID controlled HERMS system to BIAB.. Ease of use and simplicity wins!
I came up with some distinctions of my own I started using on here some time ago now.
E/SG- Extract with Steeping Grains
PB/PM BIAB- Partial Boil, Partial Mash Brew In A Bag
AE- All Extract
I thought they'd convey the intended meaning with less wordiness. And BIAB can, to me, also mean AG,PM or steeping, depending on the brewin style...not just AG. But I am starting to see, as you did, that a bigger kettle than 5 gallons is needed eventually. My last couple BIAB efforts were 8.6lbs & 8.7lbs of grains in like 2 1/4 gallons of spring water. Plus a 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 gallon batch (dunk) sparge of ten minutes 3 1/2 TO 4 gallons boil volume. Thick mashes are resulting, which is ok so far. But they say thinner mashes give better enzyme dispersal? So, here again, whatever method you're using to produce good beers is fine.