Tuesday 1 May 2012

Adventures in all-grain brewing #1

Back in December of last year, while considering who to nominate for the Golden Pint awards, I decided that the beery thing I'd most like to start doing in 2012 was to start home brewing. I had dabbled with kits in the past, with some success, but wanted to have a go at all-grain brewing working only with raw ingredients to see if I could create something that passes as drinkable (well, there would always be time to improve and perfect later!). 

I already had some equipment from working with kits but did need to get my hands on a decent sized pot and a mash tun. Fortunately I live just up the road from the fantastic Home Brew Shop in Aldershot who stock a good range of both. After mulling over the options, I went for a 33L pot (ample room to make 5 gallon batches without filling it to the brim) and one of their home made mash tuns, which is a converted cool box with false bottom filter and a 1/2" tap added. Some photos are included below.

So, with kit secured, the next decision was figuring out what I should brew. As a lover of the West Coast IPA style, this was an easy decision. Although not the simplest (or cheapest!) place to start given the multiple US hop additions and large malt bill, I figured it better to throw myself in at the deep end rather than take an easier option. A bit of googling found a recipe for a clone of one of my favourite beers - Green Flash West Coast IPA. After a download of the very handy Beer Tools Pro (thanks Rob from Hopzine for the tip), some tweaking based on the ingredients I could get, and a couple calculations around water volumes and temperatures, I had my recipe (note, dry hop schedule not shown):

A last minute re-read of John J. Palmers excellent musings on all-grain brewing and brew day was go! The first job was of course to clean and sterilise everything. Once that was done I put the stove on and started warming the water while weighing out my grains. As soon as the water hit the right temperature I added to the mash, stirred it in and measured the temperature, aiming for 66 degrees centigrade once mashed in. By a stroke of luck (or good calculation formulas - isn't the internet great) I hit this on the nose...

I left the grains to soak for an hour before taking the first runnings. This involved taking a sample then recycling until the grain bed settled and the wort ran clear. Once this was running clear, I ran it off into my fermenting bucket while heating my sparge water...

The run off took about an hour or so. I batch sparged and collected about 6 gallons of wort in total. While that was running off, I weighed out my first hop addition. Simcoe is a wonderful smelling hop and I might've spent some time with my face in the bag throughout the day...

The wort was transferred to the pot and brought to the boil and the hop schedule followed to the letter until the final addition 1 minute before flame out...

It was then time to chill the wort down as quickly as I could. This involved cycling water and ice through a large garden bucket until the wort had cooled down to about 30 degrees centigrade....

I then transferred it to the fermentation bucket (leaving as much trub behind as I could), took a gravity reading (1.078 - not bad) and cooled it further until it hit 22 degrees.  This took about an hour in total, most of which was the last 5 degrees (see lessons learned below).  I was finally ready to pitch my yeast. The Wyeast smack bag (smacked before starting the brew) was looking in great shape by this point so I poured it in and created an air-lock with a syphon tube and some cleaning solution. Below shows the fermentation on day 4, still bubbling away:

Dry hops will be added once fermentation is done and the beer is syphoned for secondary fermentation. Looking back, I learned a lot of things during my first all-grain brew day. Below are just a few...

  • A 90 minute boil leads to more loss than a 60 minute boil (don't laugh now!) so my overall yield was lower than I'd hoped
  • I need to cover my mash tun during the mash to help control temperature loss. I lost about 5 degrees in an hour
  • Plastic hose expands as it warms (stop it!) so relying on push-fit to secure it leads to leaks. I need to clamp the hose on to the mash tun (more wort lost through drippage)
  • I could get away with cooling the wort further before transferring it. It didn't lose that much temperature during the transfer so I had to wait ages to pitch the yeast
  • Home brewers are a great bunch and I received lots of tweets offering support and advice!

All told it was an interesting experience and I'm looking forward to trying the resulting beer. If it's drinkable, even better! All-grain brew number 2 is already being planned.


  1. Very good, and a whopper of a beer for your first attempt!

    Re: controlling mash temp. Yes to covering the tun in whatever blankets, duvets etc you can find. What might also help, when your tun isn't full to the brim, is to put a layer of tin foil inside the tun and over the grain.

    Re: Plastic hose. I can recommend some food grade silicon tubing, which is a little pricey, but will stop the problems you are having. I'll tweet you the link.

    When cooling, you might want to consider leaving the lid off the vessel. I don't know the exact details, but there are certain things that need to evaporate and fly away, rather than collecting and running back into your wort.

    I have the same problem with lag time between cooling and pitching the yeast. The only way around this is to build or buy a copper wort chiller. Which I intend to do.

    Any more questions, I'm happy to try and help.

  2. Thanks very much David.

    I'll probably do both - use foil (great idea!) and blankets etc. to help control temperature loss. The loss wasn't too bad but I understand the less the better.

    The hose is the 'stiff' type so I'm not surprised (with hindsight) that it expanded as the warm wort ran through it. I'll check out the silicon tubing.

    Thanks for the tip on removing the lid while cooling. As I was outside, I was worried about contamination but I guess at that stage it's still nice and hot so less risk of that.

    I might look into the copper wort chiller in future. I did managed to take the first 70 degrees off pretty quickly with ice and water but should have taken more off while outside before transfer. Hopefully something I can get right with practice.

    Thanks again - your help is very much appreciated!

  3. You can also reuse the foil when you are recirculating and sparging. Just stab it full of holes and pour your wort/liquor over it to avoid disturbing the grain bed in the mash tun.

    Silicon tubing, well worth the money in my opinion.

    You are right re: contamination, but I reckon more of an issue in hotter weather, more airborn beasties and wild yeasties :) Don't worry too much about this. I actually think this it's more of an issue to cover during the boil (aside from the obvious boil-over).

    Cooling is time consuming without the chiller. I'm getting fed up not having one and may be spurred into action by this post. It just adds time to an already long brewday.

    Let us know how it turns out!

  4. I'm surprised you're losing so much heat from the mash tun - I have a very similar converted cool box, and it doesn't drop more than a degree or two in a 90 minute mash.

    As for cooling; I made a copper immersion chiller and while it's very good at the initial cooling, it still takes quite a while for those last few degrees. Plus, of course, I'm not sure I'm allowed to use it during a hosepipe ban...!

    1. Thanks for the info Pete - good to know. I'm not sure I measured the mash temperature straight away (I think wort recycling had already commenced so it was some time after opening it). I'll monitor more closely next time and use the tricks mentioned above to further help with temperature loss.

      Good point on the hosepipe ban - will investigate! Technically I probably shouldn't have been using my outside tap either. Brewing certainly uses a lot of water.

  5. Well done on your first AG brew day.

    To beat the hose pipe ban I've bought a cheap pond pump to attach to my Immersion chiller and recycle water from a spare FV full of ice. It gets down to around 24oC in about 30-40 mins - especially if you keep stiring the wort. I'll probably continue using this method from now on because it wastes very little water. I fill up from a water butt and then return the water when finished.

    1. Thanks Russ. I like the idea of using water from a water butt. Guess there's no need to use treated water for cooling. The nice thing about the bucket I was using is that it's not much bigger than the pot, so the amount of water needed to fill it was quite low. The pot was actually floating freely in it. Of course, that means it warmed quicker so I probably changed it 7 or 8 times to lose those first 70 degrees.

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