Homebrewers typically fall into two factions: extract and all grain brewers. Extract brewing is the entry point to the hobby, while all grain brewing is where every homebrewer aspires to reach once they gain experience. But what is all grain brewing?
All grain brewing produces beers with actual grains instead of malt extracts. While these extracts can make great beers, they don’t quite compare to the product you get from using natural ingredients. Grains impart texture, flavor, and color to the beer.
This article will tackle all grain brewing, including the processes involved and how it compares to extract brewing. But first, what is all grain brewing?
What is All Grain Brewing?
All grain brewing involves making beer from scratch using actual grains instead of malt extracts. It is the brewing style used in professional settings, including commercial brewing. Before brewing, maltsters convert grains to brew-ready malt, which is ground in milling.
Malting initiates the enzymatic breakdown of starch and proteins into simple sugars and amino acids. The intensity of kilning during the malting process gives beer its color.
Grains are rich in starch, which enzymes will eventually break down into fermentable sugars. Conversely, protein gives beer its mouthfeel, flavor, and foaminess. Apart from supplying fermentable sugars to the brewing process, grains impart flavor, texture, and color to beer.
Below are the most common grains used in all grain brewing:
Barley is the base grain in beer brewing. It is combined with other grains to achieve certain textures or flavors. Barley is an excellent candidate for brewing because it contains 65%-68% starch and 10%-17% protein. Barley is malted to give beer its color and toasty flavor.
Unmalted barley gives beer the rich and grainy characteristic you taste in dry stouts. While it may help in retention, unmalted barley makes beer hazy.
Rye contains 56%-70% starch and 8%-13% protein. Rye is used in combination with malt to brew beer. It sharpens flavor and adds crispiness and complexity to a beer’s taste profile.
Wheat contains about 78% carbohydrates and 14% protein. Yeast is used for brewing wheat beer. The brewmaster may mix it with other grains like malted barley, but wheat remains the most abundant. Examples of wheat beers include Belgian Witbier, German Weizenbier, Berliner Weisse, Gose, and Lambic.
Rice contains almost 80% starch. While rice doesn’t pass along much flavor, it creates a dry profile and bitter taste. Rice is the main grain in Japanese beers like Kirin, Asahi, and Sapporo. Budweiser uses a combination of barley and rice.
Corn contains 70%-75% starch and 8%-10% protein. Due to its high starch content, corn brings a neutral and smooth sweetness to the beer. It also balances beer flavor and decreases haziness. Corn is used in corn lagers.
Oat contains approximately 60% starch and 14% protein. Oats are combined with barley to make a rich and creamy beer. Oats are used in brewing oatmeal stouts like the Samuel Smith and Anderson Valley Barney Flats oatmeal stouts.
All Grain vs. Extract Brewing
All grain brewing and extract brewing are similar except for how wort (fermentable sugars dissolved in liquid) is obtained. In all grain brewing, the brewer crushes malt before mashing it in water to obtain fermentable sugars from the grist.
In extract brewing, you get your fermentable sugars from malt extract. Malt extracts are fermentable sugars from the malt processed into powder or liquid sweeteners.
You can also use grains with malt extracts. This style of brewing is called partial mash brewing. In this technique, you’re using a little grain to achieve the flavor of real grains.
Extract brewing is popular among homebrewers because it is the easiest way to get into the hobby. It doesn’t need a lot of equipment, and the process is time-saving.
However, all grain brewing is the traditional method of making beer. It gives you control over the flavor and texture of your final brew.
All grain Brewing
- The ingredients are cheaper.
- It gives you greater control over the brewing process.
- You get to brew as commercial breweries do.
- The process is time-consuming.
- It has a higher margin for error.
- It’s easier to get into and perfect for beginners.
- It requires less in terms of equipment.
- It’s not as time-consuming as all grain brewing.
- The brewing process is restrictive.
- Malt extracts are more expensive than grains.
Equipment Required For All Grain Brewing
The good news is that you don’t have to throw away your extract brewing kit when getting into all grain brewing. Since only the malting and mashing phases are different, we’ll concentrate on the two processes.
The boiling, fermentation, and conditioning processes are similar to the ones in extract brewing.
The main equipment required in all grain brewing is the mashing and lautering vessels. All grain brewing is possible with single, dual, or three-vessel systems.
Below are three common configurations:
Also known as brewing in a bag, this system only needs a single vessel. It is the cheapest and easiest way to brew at home. You only need a stainless steel kettle, water, yeast, grains, and a heat source.
First, malt is ground and put in a fine-mesh bag. Like a tea bag, the bag is then lowered into a kettle containing hot water to mash the grist.
After mashing, the bag is withdrawn from the kettle leaving behind fermentable wort. In the same kettle, you can introduce hops while you boil your wort.
In this system, you need two vessels; one for mashing and the other for fermentation. In this system, you don’t have to lift a 15-pound bag of steaming-hot spent grain in your brewing.
Many all grain brewing setups feature a three-vessel system, sometimes even more. The first vessel acts as your mash tun, the second as the lauter tun, and the third as the fermentation tank.
All Grain Brewing Process
All grain brewing is similar to extract brewing except for how the fermentable sugars are obtained. Below are the processes involved in extracting wort from grains:
In commercial setups, breweries have to make their own malt in a process called malting. Malting involves:
- Steeping grains in water to induce germination.
- Drying the sprouting grains to stop germination.
- Roasting the partially germinated grains in a kiln to impart flavor.
Lucky for you, you dont have to malt your grains. You can buy already-malted grains and proceed to the next step. Malted grains are available in your local homebrew stores and even on Amazon.
Milling involves crushing malt into course particles called grist. By crushing malt, you’re increasing the surface area for the enzymatic action that will take place during mashing.
You’ll need a grain mill to grind your malt into grist. However, you don’t have to buy your own. You can ask your local homebrew store to grind your malt as you buy the next batch.
Mashing involves activating enzymatic saccharification by soaking the grist in hot water. Saccharification is the enzymatic breakdown of the starch in grains into fermentable sugars. The water must be warm for the enzymes to work effectively.
Add water to your mashing tun and boil it to 155°F. Once the water is hot enough, add your grist. Since mashing takes about 60 minutes, maintain a temperature between 148°F and 158°F. Stir your mash constantly.
Lautering involves extracting wort from the mash. For this process, you’ll need a lauter tun (a kettle or drum with a tap and a sieving system at the bottom).
There are three steps involved in lautering; mashout, recirculation, and sparging.
Mashout involves stopping saccharification by raising the mash temperature to 170°F. You can achieve this by adding boiling water while stirring the mash. Mashout takes about 10 minutes.
Recirculation involves drawing murky wort from the lauter tun and running it again through the lauter tun. Repeat this process until the wort you draw turns clear.
Drain your clear wort, only leaving the spent grain and a little wort (an inch or two above the residue).
Sparging involves sprinkling hot water over spent grain to extract the leftover sugars in the grist. To sparge your mash, sprinkle hot water into your lauter tun while draining wort at the same rate. Once your wort achieves a specific gravity of 1.008-1.012, stop sparging.
At this stage, add hops to the wort as you heat it to boiling point. The number of hops you use will determine your beer’s taste and shelf life. Also, note that the duration of boiling will contribute to the taste of beer.
The table below shows different boiling timelines and the effects they have on the beer:
|0-30 minutes||Flavor and Aroma|
Boiling, fermentation, and conditioning processes are similar to your usual extract brewing technique.
Eventually, every homebrewer has to evolve from extract brewing to all grain brewing. While it seems intimidating at first, all grain brewing offers a lot of control over the flavor and texture of your brew. And you also get to brew as the commercial breweries do.
And that’s everything you need to know about all grain brewing. Are you excited about getting into all grain brewing? Let us know in the comment section below.