All Grain Brewing

Russ' all-grain recipes are always intoxicatingly delicious.

Russ' guide to All Grain Brewing 

All grain brewing is a little bit more work, but well worth the effort. It also requires a bit more equipment as you will need 3 pots: a hot liquor tank, a Mash Tun, and a boil kettle. You can use one pot for your HLT and your boil kettle and a big insulated cooler with a drain for your Mash Tun if you are just starting out on a budget. When you do buy equipement, Russ recommends buying at least one size bigger pot than you think you'll need. Making big batches of beer is just as easy as making small batches. It doesn't take long to wish you had a bigger setup. 

The best part of all-grain brewing is that you get to create your own recipes and create your own signature brew. Nothing beats combining recipes and creating that perfect batch. If you are just getting started, there are tons of great recipes out there to help you get your feet wet. Once you have a little experience, you'll start to understand which ingredients bring out different flavors and how different methods of adding hops affects the final taste.

When you do an all-grain brew, your only limits are your imagination and the size of your equipment.

All Grain Brewing Step by Step.

1. Find or create your recipe 
This is the fun part. Most people start with existing recipes for beers they are familiar with and as they get experience, start venturing out to create their own recipes. There's tons of great places to find recipes, but Russ often directs new brewers to Beersmith for their first recipes. They have tons of great recipes and their software is great for saving custom recipes and scaling them for different batch sizes.  

2.Assemble your crushed grains
Russ buys quality grain and he buys it in bulk. He always has a huge selection of fresh, top-quality grains available at his shop. Bring him your custom grain bill and he'll get you set up. He'll even give you some pointers on how to make your new recipe a success and crush your grain for you. If you know exactly what you want, just give Russ a call and he'll get your grain ready, crush it, and ship your custom grain bill right to your door. Give him a call before your next brew session!

Crushing the grain is essential. Milling the grain breaks the husks apart to let the water get in to the grain so we can get those starches and enzymes suspended in the water to be converted into sugars during the mashing process. Those sugars are what the yeast converts into alcohol, making your grain juice into delicious beer! 

3. Get your strike water to temperature.
In your CLEAN and STERILIZED Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) heat as much water as you need to 145-162 °F, depending on your batch size. Make sure to have about 50% more hot water than you need for you Mash, as you will usually need to add water to your mash before the boiling phase.

Temperature is extremely important. We are activating natural enzymes, most notably the amylase enzymes, during the mashing process to convert those long starch molecules in the grain into shorter sugar molecules. Those sugars are what feeds the yeast and creates the alcohol in your beer.

Enzymes work most efficiently in a very narrow temperature range, so the temperature of your water is a major factor in the success of your brew. So much so that small temperature variations in this range will even activate the enzymes differently. If your water is a little cooler (145 °F), you will get a beer with less body, while higher temperatures (160 °F) will give you a more full-bodied beer. Russ recommends getting your water to exactly 150 °F. He has found this to be the sweet spot to get the best enzyme action and mouth feel for most beers.

4. Mash your grain.
Transfer your hot water into your CLEAN and STERILIZED Mash Tun (The big insulated pot you'll use to mix your hot water and crushed grain). If you are using a plastic cooler, pay extra attention when sanitizing your mash tun as you need to get the little scratches in the plastic fully sanitized.

Slowly add your milled grain. You should start to see a foam forming at the top almost immediately. That's your enzymes starting to break down your starches into their component sugars.

Use a paddle or giant spoon to mix everything up.  You will usually get quite a few balls of grain (we call them dough balls) that form. Break those up so your grain gets entirely saturated. Be careful not to disturb the false bottom (screen at the bottom of the pot). It's easy to get grain underneath it if you disturb it, which often results in a stuck sparge (clogged drain nozzle). That's a long day. 

Once you have the dough balls eliminated, let the mash sit for about an hour and let the enzymes do their work.

5. Create a grain bed.
Now that your mash is ready, we need to transfer the sugary liquid to the kettle you'll boil in, leaving the solid hulls behind. This process is called lautering. To get the clean liquid wort, we need to filter it. Luckily, the spent grain husks create an excellent natural filter. We need to settle these grain husks in our mash tun into a compact bed that will act as a natural filter for our wort.

Start by vorlaufing your beer to create a grain bed at the bottom of the mash tun. This just means recirculating the beer from the nozzle at the bottom of your mash tun back into the top of the mash tun. As the wort flows through the spent grain husks, it compacts it and locks it together. Initially, you will see lots of grain husks coming out in your draining wort. Vorlauf until you have no hulls or other solids running through the hose.

As much as possible, try not to agitate the water. We want to make sure all the husks at the bottom of the pot act as a natural filter for your mash. If we get too much pressure in a specific spot, you can burrow through the filter bed and you'll get solids in your wort again. The easiest way to do it is to pour your verlaufed wort over the side of your mixing paddle so it gently drips back into the top of the mash tun.

The depth of your grain bed is also important. If it's too shallow, it won't be able to properly filter your wort and it will come out murky. If it's too deep, you can get the dreaded stuck sparge.  A 4-8 inch deep grain bed is usually ideal.

6) Sparge & lauter.
Now that our filter bed is set, we just need to  sparge  (rinse the grain), lauter (separate the sweet wort from the grain bed) and transfer the wort to the boil kettle. This is where a pump system pays for itself. Fly sparging is generally preferred by most all-grain brewers, but batch sparging works just fine too. 

Fly sparging , or continuous sparging, involves adding more clean hot water (remember that extra hot water in your HLT?) as you lauter. This is accomplished by slowly sprinkling sparge water evenly over the top of the grains while the mash is slowly lautered (seperated and transferred) into the boil kettle. This is generally considered to be the most efficient way to sparge and is used by almost all commercial brewers.

When fly sparging, your flow rate is important. You generally want the wort lautering out at the same rate that the sparge water trickles in, maintaining a fairly consistent water level. 

In batch sparging , you completely empty the mash tun, then add your sparge water to the empty grain left in your mash tun and give it a good stir. Wait about 10 minutes to let the sugars dissolve into the hot sparge water. Then you set your grain bed again and lauter the sparge water into your boil kettle. Batch sparging may be a little less efficient, but it is quicker and doesn't require as much equipment.

7) Boil. Add hops.
Now that we have our wort lautered over into our boil kettle, it's time to add any initial hops and start boiling! You should have added enough water during sparging so that you have about 15% more pre-boil volume than your desired final batch size. We will boil off that overfill, leaving you with the perfect batch of beer!

Your recipe will determine how long you want to boil and when to add your hops. A 60-minute boil is pretty standard.

The boil serves several purposes:
  • It sterilizes the beer so that you don't have contamination from unwanted bacteria.
  • It stops enzymatic activity.
  • It converts alpha acids from hops into iso-alpha acids that will dissolve into the wort to give that distinct hops bitterness. This is also time dependent, so when you add your hops determines how much of this chemical reaction happens.
  • It allows proteins from the grain to bind with tannins and precipitate out into the hot break and the cold break.
  • It will evaporate off dimethyl sulfide (DMS) and its precursors, reducing that cooked corn/cabbage smell.
  • Boiling facilitates Maillard reactions, which can help develop deeper colors and distinctive flavors such as toffee and nuts. These Maillard reactions can also give better mouthfeel and head retention to your beer. 
  • The length and intensity of your boil also affects the concentration, and therefor gravity, of your wort.

8) Chill.
Once your boil is complete, you want to chill your wort down to yeast pitching temperature (about 70 °F) as fast as possible . The two primary reasons for this is to get better sugar breakdown and also to limit the amount of time bacteria can get into your wort.

The best way to chill your boiling wort, is with an immersion wort chiller. It's basically a big copper coil with hose ends that you put directly in your boiling wort. Just run cold tap water through the coil to draw out all the heat from your wort. They aren't terribly pricey and they work great. If you don't have one, you can set your boil kettle in an ice bath.

Russ' Tip:

If you put put the wort chiller into the pot while it's still in a rolling boil, the boiling wort will sterilize the coil for you. If the boil is complete, you MUST sanitize your wort chiller.

Work smarter, not harder.

9) Ferment.
Transfer the 70 °F wort to your CLEAN and STERILIZED primary fermenter. Once again, if you are using a plastic fermenter, pay extra attention during sterilization to get all the tiny scratches.

Once the wort is transferred, pitch your yeast, seal it up, give it a shake to get some extra oxygen in the wort for the yeast, and add your bubbler. Place the fermenter in a temperature-stable place that maintains a temp around 65-75°F. Keep the fermenter away from light as sunlight can cause photochemical reactions in some hop compounds that can skunk your beer.

Then just wait for the yeast to do its work.

Every recipe is different, and the environment you keep your fermenter in can affect the fermentation time. Especially the room's temperature. Most beers take 2-3  weeks for full fermentation. 

There are three phases to fermentation.

  1. Lag Phase:  Up to the first 15 hours after pitching your yeast.
    Here the yeast is building itself up. It's taking in minerals and amino acids from the wort and building proteins and enzymes necessary for growth. It may not look like anything's happening, but it is.

  2. Primary Fermentation 1-4 days
    The yeast will start rapidly consuming the sugars in the wort. This is where most of the alcohol is produced. You'll see a lots of head and CO2 bubbling through the airlock. The peak fermentation phase is called "high kraeusen" and is characterized by the head turning yellow to brownish in color.

  3. Secondary Fermentation : 3-10 days
    Yeast growth slows down here. This is where the beer matures and the flavors start to balance out. Yeast reabsorbs diacetyl from fermentation and hydrogen sulphide escapes as a gas. The yeast will begin to settle out, or flocculate.

Secondary Fermentation
Most brewers use single stage fermentation, but if you want to add hops after fermentation, it's best to use a secondary fermenter. As soon as the bulk of your yeast has fallen out of suspension, transfer the wort to a clean and sanitized secondary fermenter using clean and sanitized equipment. Try to avoid introducing oxygen to the wort as much as possible. You want as little head space as possible in the secondary fermenter for this reason.

Add your dry hops. It can take a few days for pellets to fall to the bottom. This is normal.

Check your gravity to ensure the yeast has completed fermentation before you bottle/keg your beer. Consistent gravity readings over a few days usually signifies the fermentation has ceased.

10) Bottle and enjoy.
  • Sanitize everything that could possibly touch your beer.
  • Transfer your beer to bottles or a keg.
  • Refrigerate (optional)
  • Enjoy!