Extract vs. All Grain Brewing

We tried an all grain (no malt extract) recipe for the first time last week and learned some things. We still have yet to finish fermenting the summer wheat brew so we aren’t sure how it will turn out yet but I think our noble attempt could be improved, albeit our equipment was not really ideal for attempting this approach. Here is what we learned:

  • Extract brewing is easier. This seems like a no brainer but now I know that all the pounds of grain needed to produce the malt sugars needed to make beer are not easy to work with. It is a big volume, heavy, requires more care, and probably you should get the right equipment first.
  • The standard brew kettle we use for extract recipes is not big enough for all grain recipes. Our light summer wheat recipe required minimal amounts of grains. For bigger beers this could become impossible in a 4-5 gallon kettle
  • The heat needs to be gradually applied.  We made the mistake of placing the grain in grain bags and setting them directly to the bottom of the kettle in water with the stove set on high.  This caused the bags and grain to burn to the bottom of the kettle within seconds.  Luckily we realized this quickly and salvaged the batch.  Low heat and stirring is key.
  • Extract brewing is more expensive.  We typically use 6 lbs of liquid pale malt extract as a base for our beer. This costs about $22.  You can get 10 lbs of quality milled malt grain for under 10 dollars. In fact this might allow you to make a 5 gallon batch of quality home brew for less than $15 dollars (<30 cents per 12 oz).  While extract brewing is still cheap for good beer its even more cost effective to use all grain.
  • All grain really requires a real mash tun. Whether you buy or build one a mash tun is designed to make extracting all the sugars and malt flavors from grain easy.  Without it you are left with an inefficient process of manual straining and rinsing – in our attempt this was using a kitchen strainer.

We still have yet to taste our first attempt at all grain brewing. If it is amazing it might just pay to invest in brewing all grain going forward. We are learning and perhaps you can learn with us.

Posted by John Peterson

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