Gearing up for all-grain brewing

It’s a slow and expensive process, but eventually I will get to an all-grain homebrew system. My buddy and I have incentive now, since he just renovated his kitchen, which means no more stovetop brewing, which means moving to the garage, which then of course induces goldfishing (growing to fit one’s tank).

I’d prefer not to grow too big until there’s dedicated space for brewing – something permanent. Until then, perhaps a 10 gallon batch size is the right size to shoot for (had been brewing 5 gallons at a time).

So far we’ve bought new propane burners (one each). These things pump out up to 185,000 BTUs, which should get 10 gallons of water up to boiling in about 10-15 minutes (and 5 gallons in not time flat). I think they were about $40 each if I recall correctly. Hard to say for sure, we were enjoying some rather potent ales the night we ordered them. Have beer, broadband, and credit cards, will buy stuff. I can’t wait to try these out. The “power boil” option on his stove was nice, but these propane burners are about five times as powerful. And yes, the garage doors will be open while we use these things.

I also went out and bought another 5 gallon stainless steel pot for small batch brewing and steeping grains in. This should get us by in the short term until we blow a few hundred dollars (each) on some bigger brew pots (10-20 gallons each), complete with spigots and (ideally) built-in thermometers. The larger pots are a requirement for all-grain brewing, since we won’t be brewing with extracts, and will need more hot water (liquor) in order to mash the grains.

Speaking of mashing grains, a mash tun is in order, for sure. The most common approach is to convert a large cooler (Gott and Igloo are the two most popular candidates). This will free us from relying on expensive malt extracts and use dry grains to make our own malt/wort. I’ve seen both the rectangular coolers and the cylindrical ones used for mash tuns, and don’t quite see a difference other than possible maximum capacities (rectangular coolers generally run larger). And of course there’s the question of using false bottoms to strain the wort out of the cooler or use perforated siphon tubes. I’m more partial to using a false bottom (easier to clean, last longer), but it’ll really depend on what kind of cooler I can get. Also, you see the piping inside the cooler? That’s for sparging, or washing the grains with hot water or the recycled wort to get every last drop of fermentable sugar out of them. I’m not sure I’ll be building such an apparatus in the near future, since from what I hear it’s pretty much as effective to just dump the hot water/wort back into the cooler and re-drain it.

I think that’s about all we really truly need in order to get going with all grain brewing. We have fermenters – food-grade buckets and glass carboys, though a conical fermenter would be fantastic. They’re a bit out of my price range, though; I think I’ll be spending enough on the items above. I could use some soda kegs too, rather than bottle my beer all the time. Of course then I’d need a spare fridge… You know, my freezer’s been making noise lately… Excuse for a new kitchen fridge/freezer? Perhaps… but not an immediate need.

It seems like an expensive hobby, but it’s quite fun, and consider that stepping up to all-grain brewing and a larger batch size should likely reduce my ingredient cost to well less than $20 per case (most likely under $10 per case of beer for a run of the mill ale, though I tend to favor more interesting, stronger ales).

On the flip side, I’m also thinking of brewing small scale and on the cheap, using a standard (and cheap) drip coffee maker. This will mostly be for test batches. More on that another day.


One Response to Gearing up for all-grain brewing

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