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When to step up from Extract to All Grain?

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kgav8r

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For me, it really comes down to what you’d like to accomplish with your brewing. Do you want to clone your favorite store bought? Extract probably won’t let you do that. Do you want to have fast brew days that results in beer you can drink in several styles? Extract may be your target.
I am not entering competitions or even trying to mimic particular styles. I know what I like and what my wife likes, so I stay pretty narrow. At the end of the day, I want a quality beer which I can brew quickly and have flexibility to try something new if I get adventurous. Fermentation temperature control is probably the biggest improvement I’ve made to my process.
I BIAB and probably break a lot of “rules”. I’m using a 21 1/2 quart kettle and a 5gal paint strainer bag. I can mash 10lbs of grain on the stove top using a sous vide cooker for mash temp control. Sometimes I dilute the batch in the fermenter to come up to volume, sometime I do 2 half batches for big beers. Brew days range from 3-6 hours. The point (as above) is do what works for you and give you a beer that meets your goals. My system is low cost, and makes a good beer that I enjoy and my friends enjoy.
 

Ogilthorpe2

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As a musician (and perhaps you are one, too), I think this falls apart quickly. Making beer from extract is like piecing together pre-recorded sequences in GarageBand and making a song. Brewing beer from grain is more akin to recording those sequences yourself.

Both are songs, and to the listener, there might be no discernible quality difference. But a different level of skill was required of the composer.
I’ve brewed about 70 batches in my “career”. Every one of them all grain, never used a kit, and I only used a recipe for the first 5. When I’m making a new style for the first time, yes I read a lot of other people’s recipes, and the JCB guideline, but then I piece together my own recipes.

I grow some of my own hops, and am looking into sourcing grain to malt myself.

I also make my own Cheese, sauce, and sausage when I make a pizza. One of these days I’ll get around to milling the flour for the crust.

Like I said, my wife thinks I’m nuts the way I obsess over “from scratch”. But that’s just me...you do you.

Also...go Blackhawks.
 

McKnuckle

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I like analogies. :)

Long ago before MIDI and sampling and computers, if someone couldn't play an instrument, that instrument wasn't gonna show up on the track. And before recording, there were no tracks at all - one had to play an instrument live to make music.

Thanks to technology, practically anyone can appear to be a musician. But it's not all the same, is it?

It used to be that malt extract was not available as a product, because the technology didn't exist to make it. So people learned how to brew beer and that meant creating wort from grains. Before that, I guess there was a point where if you needed malted barley, you had to malt it yourself. And maybe you had to grow it, too.

I also like the spaghetti sauce analogy. You can make a killer meal with sauce from a jar and no one will be the wiser. But there's a satisfaction in making your own sauce from scratch. And growing the tomatoes and basil in your backyard, and...

These types of choices represent different levels of commitment and possibly different goals. I just think it's wise for people to recognize where their commitment falls along the continuum of those practicing a given craft.
 

Brews and Blues

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I’ve brewed about 70 batches in my “career”. Every one of them all grain, never used a kit, and I only used a recipe for the first 5. When I’m making a new style for the first time, yes I read a lot of other people’s recipes, and the JCB guideline, but then I piece together my own recipes.

I grow some of my own hops, and am looking into sourcing grain to malt myself.

I also make my own Cheese, sauce, and sausage when I make a pizza. One of these days I’ll get around to milling the flour for the crust.

Like I said, my wife thinks I’m nuts the way I obsess over “from scratch”. But that’s just me...you do you.

Also...go Blackhawks.
I was willing to put our differing opinions to the side until you threw in that last line 😂
 

Ogilthorpe2

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I was willing to put our differing opinions to the side until you threw in that last line 😂
We had our run, and it was glorious .

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="
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But, I don’t think the Blues will need to fear the Hawks again anytime soon.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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These types of choices represent different levels of commitment and possibly different goals. I just think it's wise for people to recognize where their commitment falls along the continuum of those practicing a given craft.
“I reject your reality and substitute my own.” :)

― Adam Savage
I found that the hobby became much more interesting when I started thinking of it as a big bag of ingredients and a big bag of techniques. (There's obviously a set of "essential" techniques - and that's where books like How to Brew can be useful).

:mug:
 

NGD

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1. The big question is - does All Grain brewing make a better product if done correctly? 2. Which is the best BIAB kettle setup? 3. Any thoughts or comments from the Pro's?
@Tiki_Jud
1. Better depends on your definition. Certainly AG brewing allows more ability to tweak a recipe to get it just the way you want.
2. Might as well ask which car is the best. Everyone will have a different answer for different reasons. Great thing is there are many fantastic options that weren't available even 5-6 years ago.
3. I should have read this part first. Disregard 1 & 2. I'm a newb. :rock:

If you want to give AG a try, @EthanH has great suggestions. Brew up a few 2 gal brews and dial in your technique. I consider myself an extract brewer even though I occasionally do mini-mashes and supplement with extract due to a 5 gal kettle size. I mainly brew extract for the same reason as @Davedrinksbeer . While I haven't done a no-boil yet, I only boil 20 minutes for most recipes, add pre-chilled/frozen RO or distilled water and I'm off for a run or bike ride with the kids in 1.5-2 hrs. Give AG a shot and have fun with it. If anything it will add more tools to your repertoire.
 

Davedrinksbeer

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Add me to the list of guys that have never brewed an extract batch. I just have a thing (my wife considers it a personality disorder) about doing things “from scratch” or as close to it as possible. I read Palmer’s book, and decided immediately that I’d be skipping the extract portion of the brewer‘s education. No offense to anyone doing it, but extract brewing just seems like cheating to me. It’s like baking a cake with a boxed mix. Yeah you might end up with good cake, but did you really MAKE it?
If you go out and buy a grainfather or any other of those fancy brewing machines is that really brewing beer??? The machine basically does all the brewing for you. Dump in the grains, add some water, push some buttons and your done.
 

alexrock

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If you turn ingredients into beer and it tastes good congratulations, you're a good homebrewer.
 

Davedrinksbeer

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It's totally brewing beer. I suspect you know this deep down, and only wish to start a ruckus.
Nope, someone said Extract brewing is like baking a cake and cheating, so is going out and buying a $500-$1,000 beer machine also considered cheating???
 

Birrofilo

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I am certainly not a pro. I have only brewed 10 beers and the next one will be my first all grain beer.

I think the answer lies also in what kind of beers do you want to brew. If you like beers where the "malt dimension" is very important, such as lagers, then with all grain you have full control of that part of the beer profile.

If you like more beers where the yeast aromatic profile, or the hop profile, is of greater importance, then you can concentrate on learning on those sides (fermentation, hopping) and postpone AG to a later phase.

If you only used hopped extract so far, you might find interesting to switch to the E+G technique. You steep (or in certain cases mash) only the specialty grain, or a small part of base malt, and you typically do all the hopping/boiling phase. This will allow you to familiarize with long boiling sessions, a little bit of mashing, steeping, whirlpooling, use of clarifying agent maybe, getting rid of spent grains, cleaning of wort coolers, dealing with hop pellet debris etc. without having to worry (or worry too much) with degree of grinding of malt, water profile, pH of wort.

This will also allow you to better choose your gear for the future AG phase: how annoying it is for you the vapour which is produced? How much space can you devote to beer making? How much more time?

When you have had your experience with E+G you will decide whether you want to make it "even more complicated" (but more finely controllable) or to just continue with E+G focusing on fermentation, hopping, adjuncts etc.

If you decide for All Grain, you will make a better informed choice between BIAB, BIAP, Three Vessels. As you have a large patio and no space problem, three vessels might be your better path, if you go AG.

I am switching to all grain because I like learning the process (besides drinking the beer), I have let's say an interest in homebrewing itself, but I would find also perfectly reasonable to go no further than extract (E+G+hopping) and spend the rest of my life in cloning Chimay beers, or other Belgian beers which, for what I read, can be reproduced with extracts with a good degree of quality, or very dense wort to make Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines etc. for which it makes sense to make use, at least partially, of extract.

If it's Pilsner or Helles you are after, all grain it's the way to go.
 
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McKnuckle

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Yes that line of argument gets rather silly.

As someone who has brewed with many systems, whether turnkey all-in-one or DIY cobbled together; 1, 2, or 3 vessels; propane, electric, or induction; bottoms, bags, baskets; recirculated or not, temp-controlled or not, etc. etc. - I feel strongly that they all require knowledge and skill.
 

Iowa Brewer

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All-grain tastes better to me, but that may just be the satisfaction of running the ball the full 100yds. Mash temp is an easily acquired skill, never paid attention to PH. Our water is pretty hard in my part of eastern Iowa, so I buy gallon jugs of spring water (not distilled, which lacks minerals) at the grocery, and grain storage is pretty simple with food-grade buckets from your local home-improvement store. Either way you go, happy brewing!
 

balrog

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I went extract to partial mash to BIAB as a natural progression.
I tell myself that I like being able to mash at different temps to get different wort fermentability as opposed to taking what the extract maker did. I cannot conclusively tell you that having that control is fun. And frustrating.

As far as:
If you're not growing/malting your own grain, growing your own hops, and culturing your yeast from wild strains, are you REALLY brewing beer?
If you're not creating your own universe with inhabitable planets where grain spontaneously ... oh never mind.
 

johndan

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If you go out and buy a grainfather or any other of those fancy brewing machines is that really brewing beer??? The machine basically does all the brewing for you. Dump in the grains, add some water, push some buttons and your done.
You know, I probably hoped buying my Grainfather was going to be like buying my InstaPot, but it's certainly not. It takes a couple of tedious or complicated steps out of traditional all-grain brewing but it's still a huge amount of physical labor, troubleshooting, monitoring, etc. The benefits (to me) are (a) not having to use a propane burner, (b) relatedly, being able to just set a target temp instead of tweaking a burner's dial, and (c) only having one main brewing vessel.

Most of the YouTube reviews I watched before I bought the Grainfather made it seem sooooo easy. And maybe for a more experienced brewer it would be (and I hope if that's true, I get there some day). But if you read threads on the Grainfather, you'll see how complicated using it is.

Is using the Grainfather easier than a more traditional all-grain brew? Absolutely. Does it make brewing mindlessly easy? I wish.
 

Ogilthorpe2

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Nope, someone said Extract brewing is like baking a cake and cheating, so is going out and buying a $500-$1,000 beer machine also considered cheating???
That’s actually not quite what I said, unfortunately much like listening, reading comprehension skills seem to be something few people excel at these days.

What I said was that I am borderline neurotic about doing things from scratch, and that because of that, extract SEEMS like cheating to ME. Therefore, it’s not for me. As I said in another, later post....you do you,

Whatever floats your boat.
 

kartracer2

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Brewing with extract now is not like it was years ago when I started. I still use extract using "PLETO". (Partial boil, Late Extract addition, Top Off water. I want to be part of the acronm world too) :cool:
I think that one thing that is being pushed is that AG/BIAB "needs" to be a "next step". Sure if you want to go that route for what ever reason, ROCK ON. I think there is so many other things that determin the quality of homebrew that going to AG just is low on my list. (if ever) Ferment temp control is one of them.
Here's a short read worth a couple of minutes. Just my .02 worth. (no charge)
Cheers,`:mug:
Joel B.
 

NGD

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Grain is still your friend. Use steeped specialty malts liberally to generate complex flavors (though don’t use them wantonly—excessive use yields beer that tastes like coloring with all the crayons looks).
Been there, did that, can confirm. 😁 The way I see it. If your enjoying the process and results then whatever way works for you is the best way. I’ve helped out on a few AG for local brewers and had a great time. I almost always pick up a new trick that I can apply to extract brewing or learn something about brewing in general.

Main Point: have fun
 

bwible

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If you go out and buy a grainfather or any other of those fancy brewing machines is that really brewing beer??? The machine basically does all the brewing for you. Dump in the grains, add some water, push some buttons and your done.
What do you think the big breweries do? They all have automated systems that do everything by a program.

I once asked if people brewing on these elaborate automated systems with controllers and programs purchased for thousands of dollars and glycol cooled unitanks were really home brewing and whether it was fair when they entered their beers in homebrew competitions against the rest of us with our buckets and carboys. I remember one competition in particular where a professional brewer entered his homebrew and I think that was what I objected to. The answer I got was if the beer is brewed at home, its homebrew. And fancy equipment and automated controls don’t automatically make someone a good brewer.
 
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bwible

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I brewed 20 batches in 2020, 3 gallons each. Of those, 8 were extract.

I hope everybody realizes there is dry malt extract, which comes in a bag sort of like brown sugar, and there is liquid malt extract that comes in a can and is more of a thick syrup. When I buy extract, I tend to buy the dry malt extract (DME). When I brew with liquid malt extract (LME) its usually because I got it as a gift in a kit or something. I think its the LME in my opinion that has more of the extract twang I call it, the off-flavor people get from extract. I don’t get that flavor out of DME. Whether it comes from being in a can or what. Some of the cans are plastic now, like Breiss uses. I wonder if that makes a difference?
 

Birrofilo

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I brewed 20 batches in 2020, 3 gallons each. Of those, 8 were extract.

I think its the LME in my opinion that has more of the extract twang I call it, the off-flavor people get from extract. I don’t get that flavor out of DME.
The gradual browning of LME is due to the Maillard reaction, which happens when you have water, proteins, certain kinds of sugar and acid in the same party. Even if you don't have heat in the party, with time the Maillard reaction will happen, that will change the aromatic profile of the LME and of the resulting beer.

On the one hand, DME has this advantage over LME, that having no water, does not undergo this slow Maillard reaction.

On the other hand, if you have a quantity of old LME you can use it for certain kinds of Belgian beer and save on candi sugar* ;-)

I have never noticed this typical off-flavour, but that might be either because the LME was fresh enough, or because the beer style that I was brewing did not suffer of it.

* Candi sugar being inverted sugar which underwent a Maillard reaction, and not only a caramellization.
 

Dave T

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Flexibility, like most said here, but also cost. Extracts are expensive, and sometimes the cans look like they’ve sat around for a while. 4 extract brews, one a clone that was darn close, one partial mash with a home made mash tun that was a dismal failure, and 23 (24 by the time some read this) ag batches.

both techniques are solid, have plusses and minuses. I think partial mash best of both worlds, but I don’t do anything halfway 😎
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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What's half way about partial mash? :cool:

In a broader context (not replying directly to anything here in this topic)...

Partial mash / partial BIAB can be viewed as cost savings way a way to make larger (volume) or bigger (OG)

People (and, from what I've read, commercial brewers) brew big beers - like barley wines - where they mash part of the wort, then add DME/LME to get to the target OG.

Stove top brewing (e.g."wort a/b" in HtB, 4e) is another place where mashing grains in a bag can be useful. Mash some/most of the wort with the equipment one has, then add DME/LME & water at the end of the boil.

... a big 'bag' of ingredients and a big 'bag' of techniques ...
 

Birrofilo

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People (and, from what I've read, commercial brewers) brew big beers - like barley wines - where they mash part of the wort, then add DME/LME to get to the target OG.
Sometimes the opposite is true. Stella Artois in its huge Louvain factory makes 2 beers, which then become many different models of beers: they brew at a high gravity - alcohol, and then dilute and "tweak" each single recipe.

Leffe and Stella Artois lager and other beers come from the same fermenter... (I find nothing against this, by the way, I am not a "zealot" of beer and brewing purity).
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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Sometimes the opposite is true. Stella Artois in its huge Louvain factory makes 2 beers, which then become many different models of beers: they brew at a high gravity - alcohol, and then dilute and "tweak" each single recipe.
In casual reading/scanning of the "top 4" (US-based) home brew forums, I haven't found places where people talk about doing this (for typical all-grain home brew batch sizes).

Any thoughts as to how this could scale down to typical home brew batch sizes? Or links to articles where people are doing this with 5 gal (or smaller) batches?
 

Birrofilo

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In casual reading/scanning of the "top 4" (US-based) home brew forums, I haven't found places where people talk about doing this (for typical all-grain home brew batch sizes).

Any thoughts as to how this could scale down to typical home brew batch sizes? Or links to articles where people are doing this with 5 gal (or smaller) batches?
No, I was only referring to "commercial brewers" to whom you made a reference. This was in confirmation of your expressed thought, that one can play with densities and don't need to stick to after-boil density. You can add DME and you can add water, to "legitimately" get to your target. Ultimately the proof is in the pudding, and if the pudding is good, all is good. Commercial brewers do many things that some people consider impure and blasphemous, but they do sell good beer.
 

HVCBrewing

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“There is a very fine line between hobby and mental illness” Dave Berry.

I met a home brewer who was a general contractor and made his own sausage. He built a room in his home that was humidity and temperature controlled. I thought he might have gone to an extreme and I was a bit jealous.

IMO the migration between extract - BIAB and All Grain results in part from human nature. If you have a hobby, it comes with a desire to experiment and improve/succeed. The level of experimentation likely reflects our means, nature and tastes.

Fortunately you can have a good time with each method.
 
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