Small And Cheap Steps

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Like many, I started my brewing hobby using extract kits. I started when I hit the legal age (18 in the UK) and made it an annual tradition to brew a Christmas beer. I had an old jam making pot (about 7 pints), a fermenting bin and a pressure barrel, all of which were acquired off my dad. He started me off down the path.
After a few years, I got 'round to brewing more than once a year. The beer was good, but only lasted a while, and I was experimenting with different kits. My mate had already started all-grain brewing and kept saying we should get together and brew. Id been reading up on all-grain methods from one of Dave Lines books. Things were a bit confusing, you could say. However we got together after some time, and we went through my first all-grain batch: a pale ale. What a great start; tasted great and simple to do. The confusion from the book seemed a bit silly now, but it finally made sense.
Well this method is what I want to share. The step up from extract to all-grain was not as big as I thought it would be, and I still use the original fermentation bucket. However, I now use it as my mash tun. Mine already had a tap, but they're cheap to buy, and easy to fit and keep clean. I use a mesh bag as a mash bag. This holds the grains, and also works as a filter for the sparge so that the tap doesnt get blocked or let husks and bits through.

Fermentation Bucket With Mesh Bag
To insulate for the duration of the mash, I wrap the barrel in a couple of roll mats and a sleeping bag or a couple of sleeping bags. Its a method Ive adapted as Ive brewed more and found that this insulation is more than sufficient to hold between 1-2C for an hour or more.
While the mash is happening, I prepare for the sparge. I always fly sparge, and I have never tried any other method. I always tell myself I will one day. However I do not use a sparge arm or anything else; I simply jug the liquor onto the grain bed very gently. I make sure I have about an inch of liquor above the grain surface before I start running off. I recirculate until the wort is running clear, and then let run in to my kettle. The speed is adjusted by the tap, and I make sure there is the inch of liquor above the grain bed at all times. There will be some movement in the top of the grain bed but not enough to disturb the lower part and disrupt the flow. Having the inch of water above the grain bed helps the bed to float and prevents a direct path for the liquor to flow down the sides.

Transferring Wort To The Boil Pot
The rest is as normal - boil, hops, chill and pitch. The pot is an upgrade from my original 30L (used an HLT as well), which was again an upgrade from the jam pot. The burner is large enough to fit the pot, and the difference in time bringing the wort up to the boil is a lot quicker. Previously I used a much smaller pot and used the stove top. It took forever to reach a boil, and I quickly stopped enjoying cleaning up the burnt wort. The chiller is homemade and does a fantastic job, chilling to about 25C in 30-45 minutes. I think it didnt cost any more than 20 quid and Ive definitely got my moneys worth out of it.

Cooling Wort Down With An Immersion Chiller
Ive been brewing using this method for a couple of years now and had no issues. Id always been warned of the dreaded "stuck mash" and didnt know what the fuss was about until our first brew in our brand new insulated mash tun. From my notes, the sparge lasted 6 hours to get the sufficient running for the 2 of us. It was due to using a rubber hose fitting rather than a copper pipe. We soon swapped that. It kinda shows that you can buy all this nice equipment and still run into problems.
Ive upgraded equipment and bought bigger stuff to accommodate for things, but I started small and still use the same method because it suits me and makes sense. Its not perfect, but it does the job, and hopefully will show some of you aspiring all-grain brewers that equipment is not everything when you want to get started.
And how else to end a brew day.....

Enjoying A Nice Refreshing Brewday Pint
Cheers and happy brewing.
 

Comments

I have a similar setup. Cheap but gets the job done. I love my setup. Once you learn your own system, you can produce great beer no matter how expensive or fancy your equipment is.
 
I've stayed low tech here as well. Spent the most of my money keeping yeast happy, and even then I've kept it to a minimum. The results are in, and it's been worth every penny!
 
I'm a minimalist myself. Fancy bling is cool, but expensive for me. So low-tech gets the job done with gadgets added here & there t make things easier &/or faster.
 
I too am low tech; "ghetto" some might say. A re purposed turkey fryer, a home made IC, no pumps, no pots with valves and a few plastic buckets. The most high tech thing I own is an STC-1000 I built being used with a re purposed freezer.
 
Simple means less to clean, and more batches you can brew in a shorter time! Well said about the temp controller, that is where it pays to have well controlled ferm. I've used my Ranco controller with my craigslist freezer to serve my kegs as well as heat up to 90 with a saison or keep cool in the summer for fermenting a batch. Although if you check your beer regularly you can keep your beer cool with ice baths and changing out ice, which I'll usually do if my freezer is full with my keg.
 
Nice, almost the same method I use, and like you my first beer was a Pale Ale, but American, I think yours was British right?
 
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