Move to All-Grain Brewing

So you’ve been brewing for a while and you’re considering moving to all-grain brewing. The first question people ask of course is, “why should I”? The answer is – to gain complete control over your brewing process. However let me just say – extract brewing is a perfectly fine way to brew. In fact, you’ll find that many medal winners of homebrew competitions brewed using extract. I say this not to put anyone off moving to all-grain, but because there seems to be this stigma around extract brewing which I just don’t get. As if there’s some machismo factor to milling your own grain and doing a full mash. There’s not. The reason I do all grain brewing is quite simple – I enjoy messing with every part of the brewing process. I like having full control over my brewing and the only way to do so is to brew using only grain. The other reason is far more pragmatic – it’s cheaper. Well, it’s cheaper in the long run. In the short run you end up putting out a few hundred bucks to get some specialty equipment but if you brew, say, twice a month, you’ll make up for that inside of a year. So if you still want to go for it, what new gear do you need?

  1. A mash tun. You can easily create one for about $45. Get yourself a 40+ quart beverage cooler. Make sure that it has a drain plug on the bottom. You can remove that drain plug, usually by simply unscrewing it, and add a 1/2″ ball valve to better control the flow of the wort. To the inside portion of the valve, you can attach a stainless steel braided hose which you can get at any hardware store, which makes an excellent manifold (get a 1/2″ stainless toilet supply line and hacksaw off the ends. You can then remove the stainless braided hose. Use a hose clamp to attach to a 1/2″ hose barb that is connected to the nipple of the ball valve. Just fold over and crimp the other end of the hose with some pliers). A few o-rings and washers to keep the liquid inside and you have yourself a very nice mash tun!
  2. An 8 or 9 gallon stainless steel kettle. No more 3 gallon batches, you’ll be boiling 6+ gallons of wort so you’ll need the volume to keep that under control. I also highly recommend getting one with a spigot on the bottom, or adding one yourself, since trying to sling 6 gallons of liquid around is really just asking for back trouble. Check out discount restaurant supply stores. I scored an 8 gallon kettle for $60 and just added the spigot and thermometer to it for another $40.
  3. A high-output propane burner. Those burners you get with your turkey fryer work well for this and can be had for about $50 with a kettle! I went a bit upscale with mine and procured a Camp Chef 75k BTU burner for about $80. However, I’m guessing you could score a turkey fryer on Craigslist for even less than $50. Try looking just after November.
  4. The next item is optional, but to really get the economies of scale in brewing all-grain, you’ll need a mill. I have the Grain Gobbler from MoreBeer. I love it. I now get my base malt in 55 lbs sacks for $35 and then just pick up my specialty grains in 5 lbs increments when I need it. Whole grain lasts for over a year in dry storage. I’ve spent upwards of $30 on a single batch when using extract. It doesn’t take take a degree in micro economics to do the math on that one. A good grain Mill runs about $150.
  5. If you don’t already have one, you’ll need a wort chiller of some kind. You’re not chilling down 6 gallons of boiling wort in your bath tub. A good copper immersion chiller is about $50.
  6. Another optional piece is some brewing software. I use ProMash and I could not be more pleased. It’s the best $25 I’ve spent on any one brew item (aside from grain). You can formulate recipes, keep track of your brew notes, and calculate your mash temperatures and water requirements. It tracks your grain, yeast and hops inventory and lets you tweak your recipes on the fly to see how your gravity and other potentials will be effected. I would seriously be brewing blind without it.

That’s it. The only other thing you need is a place to brew. Your kitchen is no longer going to work with that burner. You’ll suck all the oxygen out of the room in 10 minutes. Nope, you’re heading outdoors for this one. A garage works, but make sure it’s well ventilated (read: open the garage door before you fire up the burner). Ok, now you’re ready!