Why not just start with all grain?

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TheAlien121

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I have noticed that a common thought within the brewing community is that we should/just do start with extracts.. I'm just curious of why? Why did you, or why do we have that thought?

Personally, I started with all grain in a 5 gallon kettle (like what you need for extracts). It's just how I learned/who taught me.. lol Curious to know what you guys know!
 

johndan

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Some people do, but all grain adds another level of complication compared to extract. I think of extract as like training wheels on a bike--not absolutely required, but they can ease you into the journey with fewer skinned knees and elbows.

I did extract brewing for a few years in the 1990s, then nothing until the COVID lock down. Starting last spring, I brewed about four batches of extract, then switched to all grain. I was glad for the shallower learning curve. But I'm a chronically disorganized and absent-minded person; I'm guessing you're sharper witted than I am.
 

NSMikeD

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With BIAB I am an advocate to going all grain from the start. But here are some of my thoughts from back in the early 90s when I started extracts with specialty grains.
1. The friend who got me into brewing and held my hand that first brew was an extract brewer.
2 Mashing seemed to me, an outsider, as an advance science requiring technical skills including precise temperature controls scales etc.
3 Words like mash, mash tun, lauter, sparge added to a mysterious science described in 2
4 Extract was more like baking a cake. Open box, mix cook cool enjoy


fwiw. When I got back into home brewing 2 decades later I came across BIAB and it look very similar to what I had done with extract and specialty grains. Forums and you tube also made all grain a lot easier to understand versus a friend and reading Papazians Joy of Brewing.
 

johndan

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Good point--BIAB solves some of the complexity. I went with a Grainfather for similar reasons (albeit at a higher cost--I sometimes question it whether it was worth the price differential).

With BIAB I am an advocate to going all grain from the start. But here are some of my thoughts from back in the early 90s when I started extracts with specialty grains.
1. The friend who got me into brewing and held my hand that firs brew was an extract brewer.
2 Mashing seemed to me!, an outsider, as an advance science requiring technical skills including precise temperature controls scales etc.
3 words like mash, mash tun, lauter, sparge added to a mysterious science described in 2
4 extract was more like baking a cake. Open box, mix cook cool enjoy


fwiw. When I got back into home brewing 2 decades later I came across BIAB and it look very similar to what I had done with extract and specialty grains. Forums and you; tube also made all grain a lot easier to understand versus a friend and reading Papazians Joy of Brewing.
 

NSMikeD

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Some people do, but all grain adds another level of complication compared to extract. I think of extract as like training wheels on a bike--not absolutely required, but they can ease you into the journey with fewer skinned knees and elbows.

I did extract brewing for a few years in the 1990s, then nothing until the COVID lock down. Starting last spring, I brewed about four batches of extract, then switched to all grain. I was glad for the shallower learning curve. But I'm a chronically disorganized and absent-minded person; I'm guessing you're sharper witted than I am.
Brew software like BeerSmith and Brewfather help me a lot with that senility thing.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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@NSMikeD , @johndan : there is something called the "curse of knowledge" that may be a factor...

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.[1] This bias is also called by some authors the curse of expertise,[2] although that term is also used to refer to various other phenomena.
-- wikipedia

... in other words, it can be hard for an expert brewer to think like a new brewer.
 

NSMikeD

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Good point--BIAB solves some of the complexity. I went with a Grainfather for similar reasons (albeit at a higher cost--I sometimes question it whether it was worth the price differential).
Anvil Foundry here. Loving eBIAB. I sure don’t miss spilling wort putting the kettle in the stove to mash and worrying about temperature. Foundry is a game changer with the 6.5 price point and the increasing popularity of smaller batch brewing. We are no longer bound by the 5 gallon standard which I presume was driven by the soda industry corny keg.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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Curious to know what you guys know!
  • How to Brew (4e) chapter 1 talks about extract+steep for one's first brew day. Read the chapter and start brewing.
  • Speed Brewing chapters 1 & 2 does the same for BAIB with a 2 gal batch targeting a 1.75 gal keg.
I haven't (yet) seen the same for 5 gal BIAB batches.

One can certainly, with enough time, piece together the process for a 5 gal BIAB batch on "day one".

But the strength of the above approaches is that it is a low cost way to try out the "hobby".
 

NSMikeD

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@NSMikeD , @johndan : there is something called the "curse of knowledge" that may be a factor...


-- wikipedia

... in other words, it can be hard for an expert brewer to think like a new brewer.
I experienced this in another thread with a post about BIAB not being a stepping stone in the home brewers journey. I got the feeling that the poster had forgotten what it was like to be on the outside looking in, and while BIAB is most certainly a method to rival the best 3 vessel systems, it does offer the newbie a level of simplicity that isn’t jumping off the high board into a cold pool.
 

NSMikeD

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  • How to Brew (4e) chapter 1 talks about extract+steep for one's first brew day. Read the chapter and start brewing.
  • Speed Brewing chapters 1 & 2 does the same for BAIB with a 2 gal batch targeting a 1.75 gal keg.
I haven't (yet) seen the same for 5 gal BIAB batches.

One can certainly, with enough time, piece together the process for a 5 gal BIAB batch on "day one".

But the strength of the above approaches is that it is a low cost way to try out the "hobby".
I forgot about Speed Brewing as part of my re entry into brewing going all grain. Excellent point. On an aside I love making her Not So Dark and Stormy cider.
 

slurms

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For me, I was gifted two 1-gallon all grain kits for Christmas the same year (just randomly, I ever expressed interest in the hobby before that, odd...). Gave those a try, both turned out horrible, but it was fun, and I kept at making 1-gallons, continually getting better. Not doing much research at all, I never even knew about extract brewing. Would have made my initial few brews a lot better, but also didn't make jumping to 5 gallon all-grain scary, since I knew the process, generally speaking.

If it was up to me, I probably would have tried extract first, but I was pigeon-holed into all-grain from the get-go. Doesn't matter now, though thankfully I stuck with it after those "not great" first few brews.
 

Jim R

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There is no reason not to start with all grain if someone is willing to do the extra homework and learning before they start to shorten the learning curve. My first batch was all grain (5 gal) and turned out well although I had read 3 books and taken extensive notes.
 

NSMikeD

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There is no reason not to start with all grain if someone is willing to do the extra homework and learning before they start to shorten the learning curve. My first batch was all grain (5 gal) and turned out well although I had read 3 books and taken extensive notes.
I am curious to see if the advance of how to brew videos have influenced hobbyist to start all grain skipping the traditional extract starting point.
 

Jim R

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I am curious to see if the advance of how to brew videos have influenced hobbyist to start all grain skipping the traditional extract starting point.
No question about it. I love youtube videos for faster learning. Here is a good example with one of John Palmer's videos that helps to supplement his great books. I even do most of my car and home maintenance now largely because of learning you can do with youtube's help.

 

jrgtr42

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Like others said, one can certainly start right to all grain but it does take that extra doing to get things to come out right.
|Personally, I started with extract + steeping grains. I'd been to a couple open houses at my LHBS before taking the plunge, and everyone I talked to said to get a couple extracts under my belt before going to all-grain.
|For me, part was living in a small apartment at the time, so I didn;t have room for the extra equipment, plus my stove wouldn't handle a full boil, not to mention cooling the full batch would have been rough.
I could have done with a 1-gallon kit, but those weren't available at the shop.
I'm glad I did it that way because it helped me get used to other parts of brewing without worrying about efficiency and so forth - getting the boil, hopping and cooling, plus letting me concentrate on getting my ferementationo under wraps before moving to the next stage. |I did get a couple 1-gallon all-grain kits before moving to 5 gallon.
 

Immocles

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Money. Extract is a lot cheaper to try before dumping a few hundred in AG equipment.
Extract basically requires a kettle, a bucket, and a kit. Biab might require only slightly more, but most of my brewing searches early on only showed 3V systems and it was incredibly overwhelming and expensive looking. Plus the more you research, the more you discover mash ph, water chemistry, and every other AG detail that can be a serious deterrent to someone just entering the game.

Plus extract beers are pretty simple and can be damn tasty. It’s not fool proof, but it’s hard to screw up. My first three AG beers were fails. One took months to age out, one was a 2% grainy tasting mess, and one was bandaidy. If I hadn’t already brewed half dozen good extract beers (both kits and self made recipes), I would have probably walked away.
 

Brew_Dude41

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I, like a lot of others here, received a gift that included a very basic kit of a primary and secondary fermenter, an extract ingredient kit, and some directions. From there it has bloomed into a nightmare my wife could have never predicted.

I did a number of extract batches, and invested in 8 gal ported kettle so that i could do full boil batches. then started piecing together mixed matched parts and processes, but was very happy with the product all the same. Eventually, found a deal here with a guy getting out of the hobby, and now i have a 50A, 3 vessel system.

Looking back, I should have jumped in to AG sooner, but it was a nice timesaver versus my current brew days.
 

Stormcrow

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I jumped right into all grain BIAB, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend starting there as long as the new brewer is willing to do a little reading in advance and learn some vocabulary. By the time i brewed my first batch, i had logged several hours of reading and listening to podcasts. It really helped, and things went well.
 

khannon

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Yeah, BiaB is pretty new to some of us..
Extract kits (or Mr. Beer) are kind of "Wanna try this kid? The first one's free(ish)". In that there is minimal investment, you get beer most of the time, and it's usually pretty good.

BiaB is not too much a step up, but it does add time, and has a greater number of things that can go wrong.

3V systems are another step all together, and typically if you ask "that guy with the great beard, he must be able to brew beer, he's even wearing flannel!", they tend to get way too deep into water chemistry, lodO brewing, yeast, temp control, etc.. and have been doing it so long that they didn't have pulleys when they started brewing, so why try to lift the bag out(and why did you need a bag in the first place). Also, the investment is greater, and 3 vessels quickly become more when you start adding fermenters and kegs and stuff..

To boil it down(no pun intended), starting with extract lets you get some of the basics(sanitation) down. I've taught and helped people start out with all-grain, which I suppose is more complex than BiaB, but I think extract helps to KISS(keep it simple..) and "develop the fundamentals". Then when one is hooked, you bring out the shiny stainless, and at that point they need their fix.

I've taught all 3 of my kids to brew. One makes cider on the regular, one shows promise, and the two that still live at home have no issue "Making sure the taps still work".
:mug:
Kevin
 

kmarkstevens

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Nothing wrong with extract + specialty malts. It's only a little harder to BIAB. I've been brewing since 1980, and I don't have a 3 vessel set up. It's too much trouble. no worriers if that's your thing.

i brew primarily english session beers and biab does a great job quickly and efficiently.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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I have noticed that a common thought within the brewing community is that we should/just do start with extracts.. I'm just curious of why? Why did you, or why do we have that thought?
Personally, I prefer to recommend something better than "just web search it".

As mentioned in #8, I'm still looking for the the detailed brew day outline for 5 gal BIAB. There appear to be a couple of engineering problems (weight of the grains, maintaining temperature, heating wort, chilling wort) that are easier to solve at 2.5 gal or lower.

As for water, making proper adjustments for 1) initial water quality, 2) a quality mash, and 3) flavor adjustments is a solved problem (for both BIAB & extract+steep). I'll concede the concept of "water chemistry" as an advanced topic - but on the first brew day, water adjustments can be done (without software) using measuring spoons.
 
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IslandLizard

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One of the reasons why aspiring homebrewers start with extract brews, they can usually do it with the equipment they already have in the kitchen. That way they can test out if brewing is for them at a minimal cost and investment.

Your local bakery may have a free 3-4 gallon bucket for you that contained icing, perfect for fermenting 2-3 gallon brews. Just drill a 1/2" hole in the lid, and stick a grommet and airlock in it.

You can easily do a 1-2 gallon partial boil in a large pot (or 2 pots) or (small) soup kettle or canning pot, on the stove. Then top up to 2-3 gallons with cold water in your fermenter.

Especially avoid any Mr. Beer type of recipe kits that come with cans of pre-hopped malt syrup/extract and a couple bags with marginal "brew enhancers."
Most recipe kits from your local brew store or online brew retailer are fine as long as the liquid malt extract (LME) is super fresh, which is always the big unknown variable.

Instead of a recipe kit, you can buy loose ingredients.
Unless you know for certain the LME is fresh, to eliminate possible stale LME due to unknown age and storage conditions, use "dry malt extract" (DME). DME often comes in factory sealed 3# bags, and can be stored for at least a year (much longer actually) without deterioration.
To make your beer recipe complete, you also need to buy:
  • Some (pre-packaged, vacuum sealed or nitrogen flushed) hops,
  • A package of dry beer yeast,
  • And some steeping grain, milled fresh.
Water:
Most tap water that you would drink and tastes good is usually fine for extract brewing. But avoid very hard or water with high mineral content.
If it's marginal, yellow, brown, or otherwise discolored, smells weird or bad, stains tubs and sinks, etc. or went through a water softener, buy RO or distilled water instead.
Municipal water often contains chlorine or chloramines (for sanitation), that needs to be neutralized with 1/4 Campden tablet (or a pinch of K-Meta) per 5 gallons.

As mentioned before, read How to Brew. It's your brew bible.
 

Kerrden

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I have noticed that a common thought within the brewing community is that we should/just do start with extracts.. I'm just curious of why? Why did you, or why do we have that thought?

Personally, I started with all grain in a 5 gallon kettle (like what you need for extracts). It's just how I learned/who taught me.. lol Curious to know what you guys know!
I think it depends on how you start. I didn’t have anyone to teach me so I learned on my own. There’s a lot to comprehend between sanitation, water temperature, hop additions, not burning the extract, cooling the wort, oxiginating wort, pitching yeast, sanitation again, transferring to fermenter, bottling, cleaning. Now that all of that stuff seems 2nd nature I’ve moved to all-grain and it all makes sense now.
 

NewJersey

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Anvil Foundry here. Loving eBIAB. I sure don’t miss spilling wort putting the kettle in the stove to mash and worrying about temperature. Foundry is a game changer with the 6.5 price point and the increasing popularity of smaller batch brewing. We are no longer bound by the 5 gallon standard which I presume was driven by the soda industry corny keg.
Interesting take. I started brewing 5 gallon, went up to 10, and finally have settled at 5 again. For the time and effort involved I wouldn't want any less than 5 gallons per batch. Also the rate at which my wife and I (and friends here and there) consume it makes 5 gallons about perfect.
The small batch has always confused me as much as the guys who are homebrewing 30 gallon batches. What are they doing with all that beer???
Everyone's situation is different I guess.
 

wolfej50

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I have noticed that a common thought within the brewing community is that we should/just do start with extracts.. I'm just curious of why? Why did you, or why do we have that thought?

Personally, I started with all grain in a 5 gallon kettle (like what you need for extracts). It's just how I learned/who taught me.. lol Curious to know what you guys know!
IMHO, good beer can be had with all grain and with extracts. One downside of all grain is that it introduces more variables and chances for error, not to mention another hour or two for the mash step. On the other hand it provides for more creativity and personal satisfaction that 'you did it yourself'. I think beginning with extracts might be helpful to the beginner in that they can flatten the learning curve of making good beer. They can concentrate on boil, cooling, and kegging/bottling steps first. I know some old-hands that have gone back to extract because they can produce beer just as good with less trouble.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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Water:
Most tap water that you would drink and tastes good is usually fine for extract brewing. But avoid very hard or water with high mineral content.
If it's marginal, yellow, brown, or otherwise discolored, smells weird or bad, stains tubs and sinks, etc. or went through a water softener, buy RO or distilled water instead.
Municipal water often contains chlorine or chloramines (for sanitation), that needs to be neutralized with 1/4 Campden tablet (or a pinch of K-Meta) per 5 gallons.
With DME/LME, they take just the water out.

One (simple) approach on the 1st brew day would be to use distilled/RO water (avoid adding some unknown amount of extra minerals which may be a source of that dreaded "extract taste").

Or, given that many all-grain brewers use distilled/RO and build up mineral profile(s) from there, why not just start with a "best practice" - brew with distilled/RO water?
 

BrewZer

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I started all grain and kegging.
I don't understand why people recommend extract and bottling other than the cost involved.
If you include time as a cost, then I think you've hit the nail on the head. In the beginning, it's good to make the process as simple and speedy as possible.

As for me, I got a Mr Beer for Christmas one year, and it worked so well for me, I've never looked much past it other than adding steeping grains to influence the beer's characteristics.

But now that I've tried it so many times, and I'm more willing and "adventurous" in experimenting with steeping grains, all-grain all of a sudden doesn't seem as intimidating/mysterious as it used to. And with the advent of BIAB, I'm seriously considering a batch of all-grain APA as a test. The bag isn't all that expensive for a try-out, and if I like the results... who knows? I might just stick with the AG BIAB. All I need to try it is the bag and an overhead hoist to get it out of the kettle.

Thanks to extract brewing, I already have everything else I need.
 

IslandLizard

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I don't understand why people recommend extract and bottling other than the cost involved.
Extract for ease of access and process, the maltster has done the mash already.
But yeah, mashing is not a huge extension (except for some knowledge and time) to the brewing process, although it surpasses the elementary Duncan Hines-like approach of adding a powder to (boiling) water. ;)

Kegging involves a much larger equipment investment:
Keg(s), a CO2 tank, regulator, lines, and a way to keep your keg(s) cold. That's when using a picnic tap, not installing real taps. And again, more process knowledge.
Bottling you can do anywhere, with minimal equipment, even on a campsite.
 

odie

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extract is cheap and easy. before investing in a hobby you should dabble a little to see if it's even something you want to get into. extract you can usually do with what the typical kitchen already has. No cost except the ingredients. Equipment costs can escalate quickly.
 

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This long time brewer looks at brewing beer as a hobby with stellar rewards. It is not just a, "brew day" for me. It is a process from deciding the style I want to drink to final packaging.

I continue to advise new brewers to start out with an extract or two. From there one begins to learn basic processes that are carried forward. One such has been key to my enjoyment. Planning the next stage of my brewery and then the gear I need to expand to that level. "Ah, yes, I need this gear before my next expansion. And, what must I learn for the next stage?"

Moving from the kitchen with five gallon batches to outdoors with a turkey fryer brewing 10 gallon batches. From gravity feed to pumps on a single tier 10 gallon converted keg system. Then planning my standalone brewery with expansion to 15.5 gallon capacity.

I am currently redesigning that single tier to adapt to my changing needs. I want a CIP brewery. Fifteen years into the hobby with my 71st birthday approaching new considerations begin. As lifting becomes an issue, as I move from the country to a smaller domicile in the city what will my brewery look like?

This adventure is too good for me to end. And just as the beginning must work for us so does the end. Have fun and enjoy.
 

amber-ale

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All grain is only as expensive as you are willing to let it be. I started all grain brewing when a beer store opened up in my city and it was relatively easy to get the grains and have them ground.

As for extract vs all grain... If you were trying to teach a kid to bake a cake all by themselves for the first time (including buying ingredients, but assuming they had an oven and a pan) , would you

tell them to go to the store and get a cake mix, read the box directions and use whatever you already have in the kitchen...

or hand them a big cookbook and tell them to read it, to save their allowance for 2 months, then to buy a big bag of flour, dozen eggs, big bottle of vanilla, a $200 mixer, top of the line cake pans and suggest that it would be just as easy to do 6 cakes at the same time if they bought a bigger oven?
 

bleme

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When I first started, I only had a 2 gallon pot so I did 5 gallon extracts and soon after 1 gallon all-grains. I still do extracts every once in a while if my pipeline is low and don't have time to do an all-grain but I prefer to do all-grain, mostly for the cost savings.
 
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EthanH

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If I had it to do all over again, I would've started with 2 gal stovetop all-grain batches. No extra equipment needed beyond what you'd need for extract (except maybe a bigger bag). That way you learn the process and don't have 5 gal of mediocre beer to drink every time you do it.

What I did and would NOT recommend is start with 5 gal partial-mash batches. It's like the worst of both worlds.

I still make 2 gal stovetop batches from time to time.
 
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