Grain weighed and crushed? Check.

Mash temperature sitting at about 146? Check.

Homebrew poured into your favorite pint glass? Check.

Now we play the waiting game.

The mash for this recipe will last 60 minutes and the benefit of using a converted cooler for a mash tun is that there’s no open flame involved during this hour, so you can feel free to run to the brew store for the Irish moss that you forgot to pick up, or run out and grab some groceries for dinner. However, by the end of these 60 minutes, you’ll want to have your sparge water heated and ready to go for the next step — the sparge.

The goal of the sparge is to rinse the grains of their sweet nectar and saturate the grains with water, rather than the delicious wort. A recipe like this will require about four gallons of sparge water, and I’ll talk more about this volume later.

Next we’ll heat up our calculated volume of sparge water to about 15-18 degrees above our target mash-out temperature of 170 degrees. (Remember that old 5-gallon kettle you used for extract batches? Gently remind it that it is still very useful and loved, but that its new job will only be with sparge water heating.) The increase to 170 degrees will allow us to liquefy the mash a little bit and allow it to flow out of the mash tun as easily as possible. If we happen to raise the mashout temperature too high an increase tannin extraction occurs, which makes for some unhappy taste buds.

So now that we’ve got our water heated up to temp and ready to go, we’ll start by popping the lid off the tun, and doing a step called the “vorlauf.”

Grab yourself an empty pitcher, and bust open the drainage valve on your mash tun. You’ll notice a few flecks of grain material that flow through initially, and then it starts to clear up. This typically happens for me about 3/4 of a gallon into the vorlauf. Once you’ve got some clear wort flowing through, carefully pour the vorlauf volume back into the mash tun along the sides of the tun so as not to disturb or mix up the grain bed. This will allow for a nice, clear flow of wort.

Once you’ve drained your mash tun entirely, calculate how much wort is in your boil kettle. Pre-boil, you’ll want to end up with five gallons, plus an extra gallon or so of wort per hour of boiling. Since this recipe is a 60 minute boil, we’re looking for a total of six gallons of wort.

Due to grain absorption during the mash you’ll probably draw off about two gallons of “first wort” from our soon-to-be Kolsch. That means we need four more gallons of sparge water to make it to our target pre-boil volume. The next step is to take two gallons of our pre-heated sparge water and dump it into the mash. Give it a bit of a stir, repeat the vorlauf process and run the valve wide open until you get through the first two gallons of the sparge.

Now theoretically, you’ll have exactly two gallons of sparge water left over, and you can throw in the tun, vorlauf and let it all drain into the kettle to get exactly six gallons. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and these calculations are typically tricky to hit spot on. If you have a little bit extra sparge water left, you can put it all in the tun and simply cut off the drain when you hit your target volume of water in the kettle. This works just fine, and is actually somewhat ideal in a way.

If you have less than two gallons, you’ll have to add water, heat it up and add it to the mash tun. Finally, if you have a lot more than your necessary volume of water left, you’ll have to estimate and again, cut it off when you get to your target volume.

So what you’ve done by adding the volumes in two separate additions is rinsed the grains twice as opposed to once, and this is called a double batch sparge. This results in a higher level of efficiency on average compared to a standard batch sparge. The first time you drain the mash, you receive the highest concentration of sugars in the wort, sometimes measuring quite high in specific gravity units. During the first sparge, the concentration is of course, significantly reduced.

Finally, on the second stage of batch sparging, and third, final drain, your concentration will be quite faint, which ensures that the first rinse pulled as much sugar out of those grains as possible.

At this point, you will have heated your water, mashed, sparged, (sparged again) and lugged your six gallons of Kolsch to the top of the stove for the final portion of the brew: The boil. The good news is that from here out, your process is almost exactly the same as with extract brewing, other than the fact that your malt extract is already dissolved into the tasty, pale wort.

As soon as the boil begins, wait a few minutes for the hot break to subside, add your 60 minute hop addition, and carry on through the rest of the brew and fermentation.

Remember: If all of this has melted your brain matter as much as it did to mine the first time I tried to all-grain brew, please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to get back to you with a clear answer. 

At this point you’ve got your equipment rounded up, and your ingredients selected. It’s time to start firing up the burners and getting some water on the stove.

Prior to filling the room with the delicious scent of your mash, we need to talk about water. Although water chemistry can get extremely complex, we’ll take it easy this time and make it simple, and just worry about getting this basic wort into the kettle.

A basic rule of thumb is to use distilled water if your tap water is especially hard or contains a lot of crazy extra compounds. Here in Grand Rapids, our tap water will do just fine for most basic beer styles without too many tweaks, so we’ll just pull water right out of our tap.

Next, we need to calculate just how much water we’ll need. There are plenty of iPhone and Android apps that will do this for you, but I like to work with the simple equation of about 1.4 quarts of water per pound of grain. For this recipe, it looks something like this:

1.4 x 9.75 = 13.65 quarts, or about 3.4 gallons of strike water. (Don’t tell the competition judges, but we’ll just round it up to 3.5 gallons.)

Next, we’ll heat up our calculated volume of water to the strike temperature (or more simply put, the temperature in which we’ll dump all this water into the mash tun while trying desperately to avoid spilling it all over our unburned flesh).

Since this is going to be crisp, clean, easy-drinker, we’ll want a drier final product, which means a low final gravity, or low residual sugars after fermentation. This is where the all-out nerdery comes in. Basically how this all works is when we mash our grains, we need to pick a temperature that efficiently extracts all of the fermentable sugars and other flavor components out of the crushed grains.

Thanks to our brewing ancestors, someone, somewhere along the way has figured out that this happens at about 150 degrees. The cool part is that we can move that number up or down to change what types of sugars are extracted. Say we mash at 156 degrees. What happens then is that we extract plenty of those fermentable sugars, but also in the process, we’ll extract some of the more complex sugars that most brewing yeasts simply will not break down and turn into alcohol. So what we are left with is a high final gravity, or a sweeter beer by the time our fermentation finishes.

As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t at all what we want for our summer suds! What if we try a lower mash temp? Ahhhh, of course! A lower mash temp (such as 146 degrees) will leave those complex sugars behind in the tun, resulting in a more fermentable wort, and therefore a low final gravity, and a drier beer. So, to recap, higher mash temps yield a sweeter beer, and lower mash temps yield a drier beer.

The next step is to heat our water up to our mash temp and dump it in, right? Wrong. We need to heat it up well past that number in order for it to end up at 146 degrees by the time we put our room-temp grains in our room-temp mash tun. There are a few ways to calculate and counter this, but more than likely, you’re going to have to experiment, and use some trial and error.

What I do with my setup is heat the water up about 15-18 degrees above my mash temp, and take a gallon of the hottest water that my tap will give me, and toss it in the mash tun with the lid on while the aforementioned 3.5 gallons of strike water is heating up to our strike temp of about 160-165. Remember that it’s going to be easier to lower the mash temp than it is to raise the mash temp, so aim high by a few degrees or so if you’re not confident with your equipment yet.

The last step to the mash-in is to throw your water in, and then toss the crushed grains in and stir. Make sure you’re not leaving any doughy clumps of grain in there, so that the water can evenly heat and saturate all of the kernels evenly. This can also help reduce the temp if you overshot your target by a few degrees. Simply stir until the temperature drops to the right spot, toss the lid on there, and go have a homebrew!

We’ll talk through the final steps of the all-grain brew session in the third part of this artcle.

So you’ve got a few batches under your belt, and (if you’re like me, some were better than others…) you’re confident you can make some tasty brews under the right conditions. Perhaps you’re saying, “these beers are great, and I’ll just keep cranking them out using extracts from the local homebrew shop.”

This of course, is a perfectly good approach to brewing, but I’m looking at those of you who pitch that yeast, aerate, and get the chill through your bones that suggests you do it all over again the next day.

In this series of articles, we’ll look at what it you need to take grab the all-grain bull by the horns, starting with the necessary equipment (and maybe the not-so-necessary equipment!), the process and maybe even a little bit of the nerdy technical jargon that you might choose to avoid regurgitating when you try to attract a romantic interest at the pub.

Extract Brewers Saywha?

First thing’s first, let’s talk about the main differences between extract and all-grain brewing processes.

In the typical extract brew session, you heat up a specific amount of water, wait until it boils and toss in your sweet syrupy goodness. At which point you carefully toggle the burner on your stove to avoid the dreaded boil-over, wait for the excitement to pass, and move onto your hop additions.

After the boil and hop additions are over, you cool, pitch the yeast, get that beer into a fermenter, aerate, throw on an air-lock and you’re on your way to making some scrumptious bottles of barley-pop.

There are a few beautiful things about this option: Minimal space is required, it’s fairly simple once you build up a bit of confidence and if you’ve got a modest set of brewing equipment, you’re looking at a mere three-hour brew session.

All-grain brewing takes much more time on brew day — you need more equipment and it requires understanding the process a little more thoroughly to be able to get the most out of the process.

However, there are more than a few reasons to make the switch.

All-grain batches are typically more cost effective, enable full control of the final product and really let loose the inner beer-geek that brought many of us to this hobby to begin with.

(Side note: the following processes are based off what I have discovered to provide the best balance between the highest quality and efficiency with the lowest cost. By no means is this only way to brew beer at home.)

Break It Down, Now!

First things first — let’s round up our equipment. It seems most homebrewers these days seem to work with five-gallon batches, so that’s the scale we’ll be working with in this particular scenario.

Chances are, you already have most of the equipment you need, save a few important pieces including the mash tun and a perhaps a bigger kettle.

Most brewers tend to start with a five-gallon kettle, but this process requires a full-boil, meaning we’re going need more room than that. Eight gallons is the bare minimum, and keep in mind that you don’t want to buy another kettle in a few months, so for the gusto, if possible! You’ll want to keep the five-gallon kettle around, cause it will come in handy later. As for the mash tun, I would recommend at least 10 gallons, and there’s a very simple way to make these with plumbing equipment from the hardware store and some basic tools.

Lastly, something that isn’t necessarily a must, but will help you out when you switch to all-grain is a wort chiller. These can be a bit expensive to buy, but the cost is reduced dramatically when you make them yourself.

Also keep in mind that you’ll be heating up around six to seven gallons at a time, so an electric stove more than likely will not do the trick, in which case you’ll need to figure out another way to heat your liquids, such as the quite-common propane turkey fryer.

Kick on Those Burners!

Before we get started, let’s pick a nice, simple recipe to work with. Since warmer weather has finally arrived in Michigan, let’s look at my recipe for a tasty Kolsch style ale that I’ve brewed several times:

  • 9# American Two-Row
  • .75# Carapils
  • .5 oz Mosaic @ 20.6 AAU — 60 minutes
  • 1 oz Australian Topaz @ 2.4 AAU — 1 minute
  • .5 oz Mosaic @ .9 AAU — 1 minute
  • Wyeast 2565 — Kolsch Ale Yeast

This is a nice slow one across the plate for your first batch of all-grain beer for a few reasons. The grain bill is very simple, contains a small amount of grain, and thus, has a relatively low target gravity of about 1.049.

If you’re anything like myself, you should expect to come in somewhat low on efficiencies for your first few all-grain brews, just until you get the hang of your setup. There is nothing wrong with low efficiency, but rather the goal here is a consistent efficiency level. Work with a brew recipe calculator and log such as Brewtoad in order to monitor things like efficiency as you move through your journey in all-grain brewing.

KALAMAZOO — Nick Rodammer took first place in Bell’s 3rd Annual Homebrew Competition, announced Sunday during All Stouts Day.

Rodammer’s recipe, a Belgian black IPA, will be brewed with Specialty Brewer Zeke Bogan at Bell’s original Kalamazoo brewery, and will then go on tap at the adjacent Eccentric Cafe.

This is the same brewery where many of Bell’s smaller batches are brewed including The Wild One, the Jazz Series, Roundhouse IRA, Kal-Haven Ale, Harvest Ale, a number of specialty stouts and more.

Following Rodammer in second was Jay VonBuskirk, for his hoppy beer brewed with mango, and in third were Adam and Britani Wisniewski, who brewed a brown ale with smoked malt.

KALAMAZOO — Nick Rodammer took first place in Bell’s 3rd Annual Homebrew Competition, announced Sunday during All Stouts Day.
Rodammer’s recipe, a Belgian black IPA, will be brewed with Specialty Brewer Zeke Bogan at Bell’s original Kalamazoo brewery, and will then go on tap at the adjacent Eccentric Cafe.
This is the same brewery where many of Bell’s smaller batches are brewed including The Wild One, the Jazz Series, Roundhouse IRA, Kal-Haven Ale, Harvest Ale, a number of specialty stouts and more.
Following Rodammer in second was Jay VonBuskirk, for his hoppy beer brewed with mango, and in third were Adam and Britani Wisniewski, who brewed a brown ale with smoked malt.

The first batch of beer I brewed was a Weizenbock back in January 2011.

That was 10 batches ago.

As a Christmas gift from my wife the month prior, I received a home brewing kit. And I’m not talking about some Mr. Beer Kit (no offense to those who use one). What I received was more than I expected. And that’s when it all started.

It was a “basic” brew kit that included food-grade fermenting and bottling buckets, airlock, bottle filler, hydrometer, thermometer, auto-siphon, bottle capper and all kinds of stuff that I had no idea about at the time.

I’m pretty sure she’s been regretting her decision ever since.

From the time of my first batch to now, I’ve acquired countless additional items for home brewing including wort chillers, glass carboys and more fermenting buckets, just to name a few things. Not to mention the purchase of countless extract kits.

Oh, I also forgot to mention the part where I bought a kegerator and started kegging my homebrew. And because one is not enough, I recently upgraded and went with the double faucet tap and another keg.

Sure, it’s been a slight point of contention between my wife and I. But, I always win because I can simply say, “you started it!” She made that argument way too easy for me.

But aside from whole spending money thing, there are so many great things about home brewing.

First off, it’s fun! To me, the whole idea of creating your very own batch of beer is a very, very cool thing.

For a craft beer enthusiast like myself, to partake in something you enjoy and are passionate about, there’s nothing better. And for some, the dream of creating their own beer may not always come to fruition.

People don’t realize that home brewing isn’t just the actual act of brewing. There’s much more to it than that.

My favorite part of brewing my own beer is sharing it with others. To pour a pint, hand it to someone and see their reaction is an amazing feeling. And to say, “I made that” is an even better feeling.

Some people do it for hobby. For others, it’s a lifestyle.

For me, I think it falls somewhere in between. It’s a great hobby that I love and maybe one day if I’m lucky enough, that hobby could become a lifestyle…just like a simple Christmas gift became a hobby.