It's hard to believe it was barely a year ago that my husband and I brewed our first batch of beer. What an adventure it's been! Two batches of porter, an imperial pale ale, the purchase of an extra-large pot, and a homemade wort chiller later, we finally felt ready to take the next step: all-grain brewing.
For our first few batches of homebrew, we were working with malt extracts (essentially, concentrated beer juice) supplemented with a small amount of specialty grains for extra nuance and flavor. Moving to all-grain brewing meant cutting ourselves off from that extract and doing it all ourselves.
It's kind of like making tea. A whole lot of tea. In a very large pot. My husband and I found a recipe for a basic amber ale and worked with our local homebrew store to buy the 14 pounds of grain we would need. These grains got steeped ("mashed") in hot water in our shiny new 9-gallon pot at a steady temperature of 150° - 155° in order to extract the sugars from the grains.
Once we strained out the sugary liquid (a process called "sparging"), the rest of the process was exactly like what we'd done before. We boiled the liquid (now called "wort") and added hops at various intervals to further flavor our beer. We got the wort cooled down, added the yeast, and let it ferment away.
Our biggest challenges were keeping the temperature steady while we were steeping the grains and then getting the wort chilled down enough before adding the yeast. This was a lot more liquid than we were used to dealing with - nearly 5 gallons for the mash plus another 4 gallons for the sparging and the boil. It was a lot harder to get the temperature of the mash where we wanted it. We kept shooting over or under our 152° mark, and ultimately ended up letting it simmer at a slightly higher than recommended temperature. We're thinking that we'll get better at this temperature control with time.
For the cooling step, a friend of ours and fellow homebrewer had gifted us with a homemade wort chiller. This is a coil of copper tubing that sits right inside the brew pot with the wort. We connected the chiller to our kitchen faucet with plastic tubes and ran cold water through the system to cool down the wort. Our tap water isn't terribly cold so this took a little longer than the fifteen minute ideal, but still managed to cool down the entire pot of liquid very efficiently. Heat transfer rules!
We were on pins and needles waiting to taste this first batch of all-grain beer, and just cracked the first bottle over the weekend. It's not half bad! The beer ended up tasting more hoppy and less malty than expected - more like a pale ale than an amber. This is probably due to our high-temperature mashing, which doesn't extract as much sugar. But it's definitely drinkable, and it has good color, good head retention, and a nicely creamy mouthfeel.
I can't wait to try this again! Any advice for next time?
(Image: Emma Christensen)