Is All-Grain Brewing Better?

I get asked the question, “Is all-grain brewing that much better?” a lot.  Like a lot a lot.  Thanks to forums, people I feel sometimes get shamed for not doing all-grain.  Well I’m here to let you know, and this may hurt some sensitive extract brewer’s feelings, All-Grain Brewing IS that much better.  Commence the flaming!

Extract brewing is good, like how the Denver Broncos were good this past season.  Extract tastes alright, has a pretty good quarterback, and can make it to the SuperBowl.  All in all you think, hey those Bronco’s are something else!  Then All-Grain shows up and makes you ever wonder why you doubted the other option.

So you’re probably pondering, well why does anybody brew with extract to begin with? Unfortunately, not every brewer has the requisite 4 plus hours to commit to an all grain brew sesh.  All grain has a lot of setup, cleanup, more cleanup, and monitoring involved; and it’s not the easiest thing to do in your kitchen.  Extract brewers however can churn out a pitch-able brew in less than 2 hours, only need one pot, and usually hit their marks.  Point extract!

My problem with extract really stems from what I see beer as being all about, and how Extract takes that conception and twerks it like Miley Cyrus on molly.  Beer is beautiful in its simplicity; you take four simple ingredients and turn them into a drink loved universally; brewed by people of all cultures, nations and histories.  You’re using the same techniques that Trappist monks, German Brewmasters, and hobbits in Middle Earth have used for centuries.  Extract subverts the time, work, and dedication from this process and overall cheapens the process and the final product.

Forest Elf

Apparently hobbit’s use palm pilots? (gotta love stock images)

That’s not to say that I haven’t had good extract beers, you can definitely make a perty darn good product, but is that what you’re really going after?  Are you striving for perfection, or settling for mediocrity?  If you’re really happy with an “Ok” beer, then why are you bothering making it all instead of picking up a sixer at your favorite gas station?

I’m sure that by now some of you are typing your response so furiously that you’re two keystrokes away from a weekend of Carpal Tunnel.  Yea yea I may not be able to tell the difference between an AG or Extract beer in a blind taste test, and yea yea it has this benefit  or that yada yada yada…  For me, when I find out that a beer was brewed with extract, it’s cheapening.  A shortcut was taken, and no matter how you justify it, it’s still a shortcut.   I appreciate good beer not only for its complexity and flavors, I appreciate the work that went into it, knowing that the brewer has mastered his art and poured his heart into making that beer.  (Note:  Heart’s tend not to pour easily, always blend first)

Finally beyond the existential musings of grain I think of Extract as a processed product.  Next time you bake a cake, try using powdered milk instead of regular.  Or instead of grilling steaks, consider using some pink slime hot dogs.  Tastes pretty good right?  Keep thinking that while you repeat the words “pink slime” over and over in a self induced foodie convulsion.

Ellie 2

Or Black Slime Hot Dogs…


For those of you who can’t read between the lines (or just simply, the lines) I’ll conclude with the following:  Don’t use extract.  If you’re gonna do something, do it right.  Lastly, for all the newbies to brewing; consider yourself excused from all of the above, but you’ve been warned.


– Brohiem, Brewer of Beer, Destroyer of Dreams



Jays Brewing Logo

Share Button

5th Essential Step Into All-Grain – All-Grain Series

If you made it to this point in the series you have the knowledge to start brewing all-grain.

You need:


Mash Tun

Extra Cooler

Turkey Burner

Big Pot (7 gallons +)

I brewed this batch of beer with one of my buddies and took pictures of it so we’ll go with this recipe.  It kinda falls under a mixer of ingredients that we had lying around but it is what I would refer to as an easy drinking beer.  You could give this to about anyone and they would enjoy it.

8 lbs – 2-row

1 lb – biscuit malt

8 oz – crystal 20l 

1 oz  Fuggle (60min)

1 oz Fuggle (15min)

So you need to either mill up those grains  or when you go to you order the grains ask for them to be milled.


You’ll see that in the pictures I was using one of the mash tuns that is a pot, but it’s the same process if you made your own.

You want to go to this link and type in the amount of grains you have, what temp they are at, and what temp you are going to be mashing at.   When it comes to the part that says “Constants” just leave them unless you know what you’re talking about.

What I put in was

Grains: 9.5 lbs

Grain Temp: 68 F

Target Mash: 152 F

What I got Was

Total Water Needed: 8.6 gallons (we’ll just use 9 gallons)

Mash Water Needed: 3.16 gallons (I will use 3.5 gallons)

Sparge Water Needed: 5.44 gallon (I will use 5.5 gallons)

Strike Water Temp: 164.63 F ( I am doing 165F)

And that should get you about 6.37 gallons of pre boil

I start off by heating up the sparge water. This is the water that is going to be used to rinse the grains.  I put this in an extra cooler.  The sparge water I heat up to 175F, and it is 5.5 gallons that I need.  After I put that in the extra cooler, I close the top and forget about it for a bit.

After that, I end up heating up the mash water which is 3.5 gallons to 165F.  Put that in your mash tun, then add your grains.

Once you have added your grains stir them around and make sure that it doesn’t have any clumps in them.  Check the temp.

For your first batch I wouldn’t worry too much about hitting 152 exactly.  You should be in the ballpark though, 149-154.

If you are low, take some water (1 qt)  throw that on your stove bring that up to a near boil and slowly add that to your mash.  Stop when you get in the ballpark of 149-154.

If you are high on temp, start stirring and that usually cools it off.  If you are really high add some cool water (1 qt) and stir.

What’s nice about these pots which are mash tuns are, if you are low in the temp you just turn on the heat, and the solution is solved.

Considering that you haven’t blown a socket yet and you’re still in the game, we let the mash sit for 1 hour.  At this point I would play your favorite pump up mix because it’s going to be a little bit.

An hour has passed and it’s time for the next step, VORLAUFING.  Take a pitcher of some sort, put it under your spigot and open it very slowly.  Collect it  and pour it back on top of your mash.  When you pour it back over your mash do it slowly over a spoon.

The idea behind this is that you are essentially creating a filter with your grain bed.  Each time you do this you will see less, “floaties” in the mixture.  The objective is to have the clarity similar to that of freshly pressed apple cider.   It normally takes about 12 times of doing it with taking about a liter or two of the mash each time.

Once the clarity is that which you want, open the spigot slowly and start collecting the wort in your brewing pot.  This is referred to as your first running.

Once there is a trickle of water coming out the spigot on to the next step.  Now remember that water we set aside in the beginning?  Close your spigot and then pour that water on top of the grain bed.  Stir around breaking up the clumps and let it sit for about 10 min.

Do the VORLAUFING process once again and then collect it in your pot.
What you collected is your second running.  You should have about 6.5 gallons of wort now in your pot.  At this point, you are at the same point that you would have been at if you just added malt extract.

So bring the pot to a boil, and just add the hops when needed.

Pretty easy right?

The grains which you have you can just throw those away or I’ve heard of people making dog biscuits out of them if you didn’t want to throw them away.  I would not put them in the garden however.  I heard this couple doing that up in Alexandria, next morning they had 15 rats the size of cats eating away at the grains, so I would not advise.

But that really is all-grain brewing.  Not to hard.  I hope that this series added some clarification to it.   Another piece of advice, start off with forgiving recipes not delicate ones.  Milds, browns, darker pale ales – those  are pretty forgiving.

Good luck!

Share Button

4th Essential Step In All-Grain – All-Grain Brewing Series

The biggest thing that separates extract with specialty grain brewers to all-grain brewers is that with all-grain brewers you need a vessel called a, “Mash-Tun”.  You can buy these online but honestly I don’t see the point.  You can make them for a fraction of the cost and you don’t need any special tools.

But before I dive into how to build, I need to point out a few key points. When you are buying a cooler, I would get 2 of them.  One is going to turn into your mash tun and the other is going to be where you hold hot water.  So if you are going to go cheap, don’t go cheap on the mash tun but the one to hold the hot water.  You want something that also can hold about 10 gallons of water.

When you build your own mash tun there are two different approaches that are pretty popular.  One you put a stainless tube in a cooler and that is the easiest way.  I really don’t prefer this one based off my own experience.  What would happen  is that the tube would collapse on itself and end up making a stuck sparge.  So even though it was easy to put together, it turned into a big pain every time.

The other way to do it is a bit more time consuming but well worth it.  By the way I’ll put up pictures of one I just built with a friend of mine, but it took us 30 minutes.  The other way is that you make a manifold with CPVC piping on the bottom of the cooler.  So below are the directions on how to do the different steps.

I could not do a better job then some other blogs out on the internet so I copied what they had and the link is found by them as well.

How to make a Coffin Mash Tun

A local homebrewer has long had a large cooler he mashes in that has been dubbed the coffin. For NHD 2006 we decided to make a coffin for club use (CARBOY) and to do a 20+ gallon batch of 1.090 beer. The large cooler was a donation to the club by a member so all that was needed was the parts to assemble the system and the time to drill the tubing. The cooler that was donated was about 140 qt. Having made a 100qt cooler conversion for another brewer out of CPVC, I knew that it could easily be accomplished out of a few parts from the local home improvement store and local homebrewing shop. It uses a bottling spigot much like my other two rectangular mash tuns but then instead of a coil and copper, it is laterals of CPVC. If we were batch sparging we could have used a single outlet point and a braid or a SS scrubbie on the back of the bottling spigot, but due to the need to maximize grain in the batch, not enough room remained for the sparge water additions, so we elected to make a fly sparge system. The key is to keep the laterals off the walls to avoid channeling through the grain. Here is the parts list and the prices paid (including tax):

Price each
Bottling Spigot
Extra Gaskets for Spigot
90º Elbows – 1/2″ CPVC
45º Elbows – 1/2″ CPVC
Tees – 1/2″ CPVC
3/4″ x 1/2″ Reducer Busing CPVC
3/4″ Threaded Female to Glue Female CPVC
Grand Total

Parts for the manifold (note that three Tees are not pictured)

The layout is pretty simple. The bottling spigot will be put into the cooler through an enlarged drain hole after the old drain is removed. The 3/4″ Threaded Female connector will then be used on the backside of the bottling spigot and additional gaskets as needed. The bushing will reduce the size from 3/4″ to the 1/2″ CPVC.

From there the 45º Elbows can be used to get the pipe system to lay flat on the bottom of the cooler. The 90º Elbows are for the corners and the Tees are for the middle laterals and connecting to the 45º Elbow section. Of course your cooler configuration may differ, some coolers have the drain lower and some higher, your parts list would need to be adjusted for your configuration and cooler. In looking at the bottom inside of the tun (be sure to measure the bottom, not the top, most coolers taper), it became apparent that there was only enough room for 3 laterals if space was to be left at the sides to avoid channeling. I like to drill everything in the field, lats and connecting pieces, but I don’t drill any fittings. Let’s run through the tun fabrication from start to finish. First up, remove the existing cooler drain.

The cooler drain is generally threaded with a coupler tightened on the inside and a few gaskets. Once this is removed the hole may need to be enlarged. If so mark the cooler using a gasket from the bottling spigot as the guide and then remove the marked area.

For enlarging the drain hole I use a spiral saw, and mine just happens to be coordless. I have used other methods in the past from utility knives to saws and most are too violent for the operation and can end up damaging the cooler.

Once the hole is enlarged, insert the Bottling spigot with a gasket on the outside and at least one on the inside. Then tighten down the 3/4″ Threaded female. On this cooler it took two inside gaskets to make that connection.

After the spigot is installed the next piece is the bushing and then later you must figure a method to either move upward to the manifold or downward. If upward you may be able to use a single 45º Elbow, on ours to move downward it took two 45º Elbows and some transition pipe. This is probably the most difficult part to create so save it for last. Move on to the manifold. Try to stay 2″ off the walls at all times. That should allow you to cut the laterals, three in this cooler. Measure the inside length and cut the lats 5-6″ shorter. 2″ for each end and ~1″ for the elbow. You can always recut them even shorter, but to add back will take a coupler. The nice thing is that the pipe is extremely inexpensive if more is required. Once those are cut, trial fit them with the elbows in the bottom to see how you did. In my case the middle lateral had to be moved down in order to accomodate the transition piece for the manifold to lay flat. If this is the same in your case, just cut a short 1-2″ piece of pipe for the bushing, put on the 45º Elbow and then take the other elbow and a short straight edge and find the point where you can get them lined up and one is on the bottom of the cooler at a 90º angle to any lateral. In this cooler it took a cross piece and a few extra Tees to make the connection work out.

Once the lats and the connection to the back of the valve is decided, drill the bottom side of every pipe piece that lays flat to the bottom and that is 2″ away from the walls with a 5/64″ bit. I used a two speed cordless drill and found that the low speed setting was best. Put the holes fairly close together, no more than 1/2″ apart.

After drilling, reinstall the mainfold and see if any joints need gluing. Most of the time, none will. In this cooler only one required glue. Use cleaner and glue designed for CPVC.

Now you’ll have a coffin mash tun all ready for those team brews!

This tun was used for our2006 NHD brew and achieved 78% efficiency on a 70 lb grist and a 23 gallon finished batch size.

NOTE: Use CPVC for the mash tun manifold, not PVC. CPVC is made for the temperature ranges of mashing, PVC is not.

The Other Method

Cheap and Easy Mash Tun Rubbermaid cooler 48 quart from Menards.  Cost was $13.99.  (now it is on sale for $10.67!)  I knew this would work because a guy named Kevin used this same one (except mine has much fancier and deluxe tropical designs…) and so did Denny.  Both of their web pages helped me get ideas.

Braided Stainless Steel toilet supply line tube (Menards):  $3.19

4 clamps at $.58 each:   $2.32

Plastic valve 3/8″:  $1.50

5 feet hi-temp 3/8″ tubing 1.60/foot: $8.00

48 quart cooler:   $13.99

Total cost =    $29.00

Considering a cooler conversion kit can cost $30 itself, this appears to be a cheap and easy way to get into all-grain brewing.  I thought I would start cheap and easy, and if I ever want to upgrade, I can.  

OK here comes my tubing sob story.  I figured I needed hi-temp tubing so I bought the 3/8″ stuff (the wider of the two  typical sizes, the other being 1/4″).  Now I know I don’t.  I could have saved a few $ and made it even cheaper if I had not bought it, but I’m sure it’ll work fine.  Where I ran into trouble was in trying to get the hi-temp tubing through the spigot.  I WAS able to get the non hi-temp 3/8″ tubing through because its walls are a little thinner.  But the walls of the hi-temp tubing make it just too big to pull through no matter how tapered I made the tubing (see above).  That is when I found out that I can get away with using the non-hi-temp (and slightly smaller) 3/8″ tubing for the inner part of the mash tun.  I did use the hi-temp stuff I bought on the other side of the valve.  Bored yet?!

This was the open end of the braided tube.  I sawed off the ends seconds with a hack saw.  Then I pulled the rubber tube out with a pliers.  I decided to fold over the end, bend it onto itself with a pliers, and tighten a clamp as far as it can go.  All I really have to do is keep grain material from getting into the end and that should work.  

Here is the braided tube before I put it over the plastic tubing.  You can see how tight the tubing is in the spigot as it is slightly collapsed where it goes through.  After it was done I filled it with some water and it did not leak.  The water ran pretty quickly out of it through the tubing too, so I think I will get a good rate of collecting wort.

At left is the non hi-temp tubing.  At right is the hi-temp.  The inner diameter is the same (3/8″) but the outer diameter varies, with the hi temp being thicker.


Here’s the Midway Mash Tun ready for action.  It’s no different than a lot of guys have made but I thought I’d post how I did it.

Now What?!

Now all you need is a few more things and you can start your brewing.

  1. A burner – check out amazon or you local homebrew shop.  You want a turkey burner essentially.
  2. Large pot – Get a large stainless steel pot 7.5 gallons at the minimum.  You’re going to be boiling 6.5 gallons of water so keep that in mind.
  3. A pump up song – choose a song that you will play when you are going to put in the mash.  It’s a big moment – the song will add to the drama that will unfold.

That’s it!  The next post for this series we’re making the brew so get pumped! I still remember my first all-grain batch like it was yesterday, I was blasted, “Framed” by Chris Knight.  

Do you remember your first batch of brew or all-grain batch? Leave it in the comments below if you got a story .



Share Button