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Which is Right for You? BIAB or Extract

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Extract brewing can be achieved in a smaller kettle, and only steeping grains for color and flavor are needed (in addition to your malt extract).
I’ve been brewing now for what I consider some time--around 2 years--but I’ve done many batches. I believe that’s where the experience comes and not from the length of time. There’s one major thing that always hits me when I question if I would’ve done things differently. That is, I wish that someone would’ve explained to me the differences between all-grain BIAB, and extract.
First off, there’s only a small time difference as far as a brew day goes. That is the number one reason I like BIAB. Second is that the beer tastes much better to my palate. Now, for someone who may be dabbling in extract or just thinking about getting into brewing: this is the article for you.
When I started, I had no clue. I ordered a 5 gallon "beer brewing kit," thinking that this is what I needed to upgrade from Mr. Beer. I didn’t even know what "all-grain brewing" meant. I had no friends or acquaintances that had brewed beer at the time. All of it just sounded overwhelming. "Everything has to be clean and sanitized or you’ll get an infection," kept ringing and ringing in my head. Not that I’m against being clean but when you hear things like this it can be overwhelming. My understanding is that yeast will pretty much take over your wort so the chance of infection is minimal.
Let’s move on to bigger and better ideas. I’m going to give a side-by-side comparison of the equipment needed for each method of brewing. These are going to be my basic recommendations. Pricing on equipment will vary some but this is a good ball park.
[tr]
[td]BIAB[/td]
[td]Extract[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]10-15 gallon stainless kettle ($75-90)[/td]
[td]5 gallon stainless kettle ($35)[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]220,000 BTU propane burner ($79)[/td]
[td]60,000 btu propane burner ($49)[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Wilser bag (or paint strainer bag)[/td]
[td]Muslin bag (for steeping grain) included with kits most of the time[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Hop bag[/td]
[td]Hop bag[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Pulley ($37 for kit with hop bag, brew bag, pulley, dry hop bag)[/td]
[td]x[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Ruler (to measure water height)[/td]
[td]x[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Ladder (you should have one!)[/td]
[td]x[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Auto Siphon, 5 feet of tubing[/td]
[td]Auto siphon, 5 feet of tubing[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]6.5 gallon bucket (or 6 gallon glass carboy)[/td]
[td]6.5 gallon bucket (or 6 gallon glass carboy)[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Lid, airlock[/td]
[td]Lid, airlock[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Sanitizer (no-rinse Star San is my recommendation)[/td]
[td]Sanitizer (no-rinse Star San is my recommendation)[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Optional: rectangular plastic bin for 5 gallons of sanitizer. Just throw your equipment in![/td]
[td]Optional: rectangular plastic bin for 5 gallons of sanitizer. Just throw your equipment in![/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Thermometer[/td]
[td]Thermometer[/td]
[/tr]
[tr]
[td]Wort chiller (50 foot copper 3/8) and hose ($75)[/td]
[td]Wort chiller (25 foot copper 3/8) and hose ($50)[/td]
[/tr]
[/table]
Mashing is easy with the BIAB Method
Now if you’re thinking about brewing and have stumbled upon this article, I’ve just laid out everything that you need. You won’t be limited to kettle size or other things that come with the equipment kits that are made.
Looking at that table, you can see that there isn’t that much of a difference in equipment. I do all of my brewing outside because the smell drives my wife nuts. Also our stove doesn’t have the capacity to boil very much either. This is why I recommend the propane burners. I’m sure there are nice electric burners that you could use to do this inside but I’m trying to keep this simple. If you have a turkey fryer or fish fryer laying around those work too, but most are only around 60,000 BTUs. If you’re going to do full volume batches of all-grain tasty wort, you’re going to want to step it up. Due to the option for partial wort boils, extract brewing requires less heat to boil. Also, if you want to stay indoors, you’re better off with extract. Smaller BIAB batches are also easier to do inside. In this instance, I'm talking about doing 5 gallon (2 cases of goodness) batches.
Overall you’re looking to spend roughly $125 more for the initial all-grain set up. If this is going to put a major burden on your wallet, you may want to stick with extract (you can always upgrade later). The cost difference between extract and all-grain is such that in just a few batches you will have recouped that initial extra cost.
Alright, Let’s Get Down to Process

Here’s the basic extract instructions:


1. Fill 5 gallon kettle with about 3 gallons of water
2. Get water to 150-160 degrees F
3. Steep grains for 20-30 minutes
4. Remove grains
5. Stir in LME or DME, being careful to dissolve the extract fully (Turn off the heat or remove kettle from the burner to avoid scorching the extract)
6. Turn the flame on and stir in order to get to a boil
7. Once boiling, add bittering hops and boil for 60 minutes
8. Depending on the recipe, add your flavoring hops 15-1 minutes before the end of boil
9. Cool wort and place in fermenter
10. Top off water to get to 5 gallons

Here’s the basic BIAB instructions:


1. Add water to kettle using the ruler for the full volume boil. Remember to account for grain/hop absorption and boil-off
2. Heat water to mash temp (148-156F)
3. Remove heat, place bag in kettle, add grain and stir. Take temperature and keep at mash temp
4. Let it sit for 60 minutes at the mash temp (you can use an old blanket on your kettle)
5. Lift bag up and let it drain into kettle and crank the heat to start the boil
6. Once boiling, add bittering hops and boil for 60 minutes
7. Depending on the recipe, add your flavoring hops 15-1 minutes before the end of boil
8. Chill wort and place in fermenter
A simple ladder and pulley system helps suspend the bag over the wort to drain, maximizing efficiency.
In a nut shell, the difference is that we’re replacing the dry or liquid extract with all-grain. Please realize that some sugars are extracted by steeping but the intention is to provide color and flavor. By mashing we’re increasing the amount of time that the grain is in the water by 30-40 minutes to convert starches in sugars. We also want to hold a more precise temp.
Lastly, we also have to calculate how much water we need to compensate for grain and hop absorption, and boil-off. It’s so easy to figure that out by putting your kettle diameter and capacity into an online calculator, such as one from Priceless Brewing. To start, put all of your information at his defaults. His calculator tells you how much water you need and how tall that amount will be. That’s where your ruler comes into play. It will tell you water height and you measure your water with a ruler.
We’ve established that it does cost a bit more in the beginning for equipment. Your end result will most likely end up tasting much better than the canned malt extract kit you purchased that has been sitting in the LHBS for the past 2 years. Maybe you got a fresher kit…maybe you didn’t. You really don’t know and that is another problem with extract. There are all-grain kits that are available that include all the grain and hops. However, it’s extremely easy to go to the recipe database on this website, call your LHBS with the list, and then pick it up on your way home from work. You’re also going to save around 40% by doing that. Even more just by using the grain as opposed to the extract kit.
I can appreciate any comments or suggestions about this article as I’m not an expert and am going by my own experience. Currently I am in the process of making an electric BIAB system, which is essentially the same thing I’m explaining here except with a lot more equipment cost. The method described here is the KISS (keep it simple stupid) version of BIAB.
 

Comments

Yes. When you get right down to it, BIAB all-grain brewing from a gear standpoint requires just a bigger kettle and a bigger bag! The process itself is where the added complexity is found - as you are now relying 100% on the mash to create your wort. Extract lets you be fairly lazy about water profile and temperature as compared to AG.
I only brewed 2 extract batches before going AG, which I began using a traditional 3 vessel system - because that's what all the literature says is the proper way to do it. Those books badly need to be updated! They do a disservice to new brewers by neglecting BIAB.
Traditional AG removes the wort from the grain, whereas BIAB removes the grain from the wort. That's why it's simpler and requires only one vessel. Otherwise, it is exactly the same principle and far easier to get into. I'm sure the brew shops are happy to keep selling lots of shiny SS kettles as tuns, HLT, and boil kettles... but you only need one!
 
Nice write-up, thanks for contributing. I followed a similar path to yours (as I think a lot of us do), Mr. Beer, BIAB, now all grain. I got away from BIAB mainly because I didn't have a pulley set up, I wasn't satisfied with the lower efficiency I was getting, and I wanted to eventually move to 10 gallon batches. The other issue I ran into was keeping the mash temp stable in the kettle. I tried wrapping blankets, aluminum insulation, even popping the whole kettle into a pre-heated oven, all with varying results. For the same price as a ladder (around $100) I picked up a 52qt cooler, SS ball valve, and bazooka tube and started mashing a more traditional way. I find it easier, more efficient, and can do 10 gallon batches or high gravity beers with no issue. I'm not trying to knock BIAB, but It does have it's limitations as well.
 
All-grain is just that. Matters not a jot what you mash in or what type of filtration system you use for lautering. The fundamental pricipals are identical regardless of your all-grain methodology, one vessel or many. The bag simply replaces the braided hose/manifold/FB in the BK/MLT
You advise folks to stick to extract if brewing indoors. I would whole heartedly disagrree with that, routinely doing all-grain 5.5 gallon stove-top batches. Not all stoves are created equally I suppose.
No ladder, no pulley, no rope for me. Also if you really wanted to KISS you can delete the need for a chiller, syphon etc.
The only piece of kit you need to go all-grain if already an extract brewer is a bag. I would second your excellent suggestion to get one from @Wilserbrewer ; top quality piece of kit.
I understand everyone has their own approach but I feel in your efforts to KISS you are dispensing some questionable advice WRT single vessel and extract brewing. Boil-off is one example of this. While kettle diameter is one factor for sure. A much more important factor is your heat source; specifically it's power.
Similarly, your KISS instructions for extract brewing are not the best. Late additions of extract are something that would have been good to include while still being very simple.
Thanks for writing the article and putting it out there to have folks like me stick their oars in. I'm sure many would disagree with many of my thoughts.
 
Ok... BIAB is as all grain as a 3 vessel system... There's literally no difference in the finished product. It's just one vessel all grain. I'm not sure why some people draw a distinction.
If I'm stuck indoors I brew 3 gallon BIAB on the stove. I've done one extract batch and it was my last. Just not the same satisfaction. My electric BIAB rig is almost done. I'll never brew 3 vessel. So much work compared to lifting a bag...
 
No worry for me without a pulley. I just get a good strainer and a 5 gallon Lowes bucket and paint strainer bag and remove about half the grain from the pot and squeeze the liquid out of it and it makes the main bag easier to remove and squeeze. I do suggest some good, heat resistant gloves to work with BIAB.
My effeciencies are every bit as good as before I went the BIAB route and the only time I may have to work harder and do a sparge is when I go above 1.078 or so which is rare for the beer I like to drink.
We all have great options as brewers and we should choose which works best for us.
 
What I do for my setup, is dunk the bag in a bucket of water (a dunk sparge in essence) for 15-20 minutes. It's increased my efficiency by about 5 points over trying to suspend and drain the bag (which usually ends in a messy situation, since I don't have a pulley).
 
I brew 10 gallon batches with the biab technique all the time, I don't see any limitations. I get a reliable 83-85% efficiency. I use a pulley system I got at walmart for less than $20 (It was for hoisting up a deer, in the hunting section). I do sparge with about 3 gallons of 170 degree water to get up to my pre-boil volume, but that's it. Everybody finds what works best for them.
 
I would encourage the extract brewer to do BIAB with the same kettle they already have, but try it with a smaller batch size- I routinely do 2.5-3.0 ish gallon batch BIAB in a 5 gallon kettle, stove top. No ladders, no pulley. Only add is a $2 paint strainer bag. Grain is generally cheaper than extract.
Small batch BIAB allows you to proof the concept and decided what equipment you really need (I also sometimes do outdoor BIAB 5 gallon, but still no pulley, no ladder).
 
There is also making smaller than 5 gallon batches for BIAB. Literally you can do a 2-3 gallon BIAB as an "experiment" in a 5 gallon pot using a paint strainer. It works. Well, actually.. And there is always partial mash, too. If you get creative you can do partial mashes almost exactly like you do extract batches with steeping grains. So there is a lot of options. I also disagree with "lower efficiency" of BIAB. Honestly that is 100% an old wives tale. If you know what you are doing and use the proper material as a filter you can get HIGHER efficiency using the bag as the filter over a bed. Look up HEBS brewing systems if you don't believe it. You can stir, grind finer, and do all sorts of things when you don't have to worry about disturbing the grain bed. You never need rice hulls either...
 
I think it's great that you have suggestions. I could not imagine not using a pulley to lift a bag of grains for a 5 gallon batch. Also I couldn't imagine doing it indoors...at least on the stove. I did an extract batch once on the stove and it took forever to get the boil. So in my situation to do a 5.5 gallon batch indoors would not work at all. I have to think most people would fall into that category...but I could be wrong.
I'm also lost on why you wouldn't use the siphon and chiller to keep it simple. I suppose no chill would work to keep it simple but IMHO I wouldn't want to mess around another day. A siphon makes life easy :)
 
With regards to step 2 on the BIAB instructions: it's not enough to heat your strike water to your mash temperature as it will drop when you mash in. Clearly you've been making BIAB beer for a while so you know this, but it needs to be explicit in your instructions - maybe link a simple four-variable (water volume, mash temp, grain weight, grain temp) strike temperature calculator to help new brewers grasp the concept and as a tool for them to use when they try their first BIAB.
 
A lot of good comments already here to fill in some gaps. Certainly KISS method can be had with even less materials, as noted. The one thing I point out that not all agree with is to avoid the paint strainer bags. They are not food grade, so why use them as such? Not good. I'd advise to get the Wilser bag as you noted.
Also you commented on your efficiency, and that you sparge. To be fair in time comparison this will add 20-30 min at least, as well if you mash low, you likely should extend mash time another 30 minutes or so.
 
Instead of a ladder, I place a shelf from a small refrigerator on top of my pot and place the bag (my case fryer basket) on top and push down the mash with a pot lid. I also only use a hop sack when I have hops in the keg.
 
I recommend consulting the BIAB sub forum for more information on BIAB.
Personally, I routinely get 80-85% efficiency with BIAB on my kitchen stovetop with 6 or 7.5 gallon pot on 3400w burner, $2 paint strainer bag, and 10-15 minute dunk sparge in 2nd pot and drained by sitting in a colander on top of the 2nd pot. 3-5 gallon batches, adding extract for >1.075 if I'm feeling too lazy to boil down runnings.
No ladder, no pulley, no burner needed.
 
I have only brewed using the BIAB method and I've had good results with my first four batches.
The www.biabrewer.info web site is a great source for info. They have an EXCEL spreadsheet (aka BIABacus) which is very useful for scaling recipes to a specific kettle size. The BIABacus automatically adjusts grain, hop, and water quantities after I input information from Brewing Classic Styles recipes.
There are many forums and members willing to share information. This is the most complete source of BIAB info that I have found.
 
I've done 3 vessel, Extract, and BIAB. I started with a extract kit as a gift 3 years ago. I spent a lot of time doing extract and making sub-par beer. My last few extract batches were OK, but never what I wanted until I went AG. I prefer BIAB for simplicity and the ease of using flaked grains. I have an indoor set-up for half batches and an outdoor for 6.
BIAB is just as easy to do as Extract imo. I wish I would have just started there. I don't really see the point in doing extract-- you spend more and don't get better quality from that extra spending.
 
Like Gavin, I also BIAB 5 to 6 gallon batches indoors with no problems. The (almost) commercial JenAir gas cooktop helps for sure. Really no need to go small indoors IMHO. I like what CUrchin says .. If you have done a few extract or PM boils, and if you think you might like BIAB, do a couple of small batches (2.5 to 3 G) with a paint strainer bag to see if BIAB is for you.
 
I have been brewing extract for 5 yrs and done over 75 batches. I appreciate you discussing the differences between all grain and extract, and there are times I wish I could do all grain brewing. I do have some different experiences than you have had. Based on several of my friends who have all grain setups they have never been able to do a batch of all grain in less than 4-5hrs, though that may be because they use a 3 tiered setup. I routinely do a 5 gal batch of extract in 2.5 to 3 hours including clean up. This allows me to brew on a weekday and not take up my precious weekends with brewing.
Also I'd like to address cost. Extract is more expensive, but there are ways to significantly reduce the cost.
1. Buying bulk DME
2. Bulk high AA hops like warrior
3. Washing and reusing yeast
I have gotten down to$18-21 per batch for some amazingly beers. And before you ask, no I don't skimp on ABV, mine are always 5.5-6.5%.
 
I think you can match that time, or maybe hit 3.5 hours if you're on your game with BIAB, and all of those cost savings apply to BIAB / all grain, except bulk grain is even cheaper (but you'll need a mill). However, I think there's no need to change your ways 75 batches in, especially if you're happy with the results, as that's what matter most.
 
I share Ian's experience with extract / partial mash: lots of really good batches produced more quickly than my recent BIAB method. Until a homebrewer is ready to pay attention to water chemistry, extract is the most risk free option. I'm still not convinced my mashing of 2 row will taste any better than using extract. Specialty grains of course require correct water temp, volume, and time even when using extract. I suspect folks who write about how much better their beer became via all grain are describing correlation with better practices, not causation with mashing vs extract. To me, what matters is what ends up in the glass, not how I got it there. That said, I recently switched to BIAB, am consistently hitting target #'s, and enjoying feeling like a "real brewer"
 
That is true! I did forget to mention the strike temp. Priceless and Beersmith are always wrong for me. I always go 4 degrees above mash temp and that gets me right where I need or a bit below. In which case I just stir and heat up. These details were left out as well as far as stirring and reheating.
 
I see how you can save some money doing extract. Think of how much you can save doing BIAB and washing yeast and using cheap high AA hops for bittering. I guarantee your cost is going to be about half.
I can do the Centennial Blonde recipe in 3.5 hours for some reason. I think because it's a smaller volume the water heats up faster.
 
I dont BIAB but I also dont think traditional AG is all that complicated and certainly doesn't "require" a second kettle. Granted a mash tun is needed but those can me made on the cheap out of a cooler. And, you dont really "need" a ladder or pulley or pump for that matter with 5G batches.
When I started with AG and one kettle, I would pour the strike water in the cooler MLT when it was on the ground. Then, I'd pickup the MLT and set it on a board that I set across two saw horses so that it was higher than my kettle and could gravity drain. I'd dough in, mash, vorlauf and drain. Then, back to the ground with the cooler again for the sparge water and an easy batch sparge. "Rinse/Repeat"
That served me well until I started brewing bigger batches and I now do have two kettles and a pump.
 
Awesome to see my software in an article mention! Thanks.
+1 for the ruler, wonder where you got that from?
My only comment would be to offer small batch all grain biab as an alternative to extract. Most people have enough equipment to be able to do 1-2 gallon batch.
 
All-grain single vessel brewing indoors is not hard to imagine. Many do it. There are threads on that very topic in the BIAB subform on HBT.
Unfortunately your KISS instructions for both BIAB and extract-brewing contain bad advice that should not be followed and include a lot of kit that's not needed starting out.
Example of bad advice: Water should be heated to strike temperatures not mash temperatures prior to doughing-in. That is a big error that can lead to problems with the final beer.
Examples of kit not needed: Contents of a boil kettle can be poured directly into a fermentor or transferred via pitcher. Is it simpler? Perhaps. Perhaps not, but no extra kit like a syphon and hose are needed. Put the full fermentor bucket somewhere to cool off and pitch yeast later. No chiller is needed. No ruler needed to measure volumes. Stainless steel kettles are not needed, cheaper alternatives exist.
 
Bad advice? Really? I agree that was an error in the article leaving out the strike temp. There's no doubt about that. I just missed it during my writing and reading again and again.
I wholeheartedly disagree that using a siphon is bad advice. In fact I think your method of using a pitcher to transfer wort is a messy tedious task that should be avoided. The cost of an auto-siphon is every bit of $15 and is a purchase that will pay for itself. Especially if someone would actually attempt to dump hot wort from a kettle to a bucket. One slip and there's a disaster.
Yeah you may not need to chill wort but this is what I've done since day one. I've read that dumping hot wort into a bucket is a no no. That could be wrong but that's what I've read. I've thought about purchasing a container built to take that kind of heat and doing a no chill but I would have no where to put it without it freezing or being to warm.
I think you may be making a mountain out of a mole hill so I will just have to agree to disagree here.
 
Also even though I left out the strike temp part; if someone was going to use ANY calculator there would be strike temp included. It would be hard to overlook and not question. Or just read the comments here :)
 
I use your calculator quite a bit. At this point I plug in my values for my system.
The ruler idea came from the fact that I wanted to have markings on my kettle and just didn't want to mess with putting them on myself. It was easier to just grab a ruler in the 'school supplies' section and go by what your calculator said. Gravy train.
I do agree a smaller batch would be an alternative but I'm about to start doing 10 gallon batches because 5 isn't enough! Cheers!
 
On the syphon. I never suggested it was bad advice. Read what I wrote again.
I don't use a bare bones approach myself, I use lots of do-hickeys to make my brewday more fun.
I was simply trying to point out that your KISS guide with a list of required kit contains lots of things that are not required. A bag is the only item that needs be on someone's "to buy" list to go all-grain if they are already doing extract batches. That's it, a bag.
 
Provocative writings, article and comments equally. I have gone through the methods starting with extract and recipes from my LHBS, to 3 & 5 gallon BIAB to 5 gallon all grain up to 10 gallon all grain in the past 3 years. While extract is the easiest, it is the most expensive in my opinion, even when buying in bulk. Furthermore, it is far less fun for me:
1) because I like to go down the rabbit hole of endless combinations of grains, hops, and yeasts, and now water which I am also learning about to develop and execute recipes.
2) I enjoy the hands on time of brewing, the anticipation of fermentation, and the final result. I thought that was the point of having a hobby, but I could be wrong.
Article was good, but the thing it really made me realize was that everyone has a different perspective on this hobby.
 
I do 5 gallon BIAB session beers on a stovetop, mashing and boiling at half volume in a 20qt pot, cooling the pot in a sink with a couple of changes of water (overnight if need be), then diluting to full volume in the bucket and pitching. My typical grain bill is around 9lbs which is manageable without a pulley. The only thing different from extract equipment is the bag. And you could even use multiple smaller bags if that's what you have. The hops aren't as pronounces as with full volume boil, but it all depends on which style you're brewing.
 
I did 3-tier for a while before my recent hiatus of 10 years or so. Ready to jump back in and considering my options. BIAB is a new approach to me that is pretty intriguing, due to it's more compact footprint. Just wondering if it's tougher to get clear beer, since you're not recycling the wort through the grain bed and sparging?
 
I would add that 1 gallon batches are a great way to start and get some miles under your belt. I received a white elephant beer kit (<$20) for Xmas consisting of glass carboy, airlock, racking cane and some tubing. I’ve since stepped it up with a bag, auto siphon and bottle filler. I’m on my 6th batch in 4 months. Drawbacks: only 7-10 bottles per batch. Benefits: it’s so low maintenance you can do it on a weeknight, plus you can mostly use existing kitchen gear. The batches are small enough to mash in the oven to maintain a perfect 155 degrees, and I sparge with a colander and my V60 for pour-over coffee. I’m sure I’ll graduate up in batch size eventually, but then I’ll miss out on the joy of regular brew days!
 
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