The Beginner Brewer: May 2013

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Your First All-Grain Brew: Step-by-Step BIAB American Pale Ale

It's time for your first all-grain, BIAB brew! Today's post is going to walk you through each step of brewing all-grain beer in a bag. We'll be using the BIAB American Pale Ale recipe that I've discussed in a previous post, so if you haven't yet, go check it out.

It might also be a good idea to review the basic steps of all-grain brewing before going on.

First things first: Prep

Just like last time when we brewed the extract beer, good prep is key to a successful BIAB brew day. Here's what to do:
  • Measure out the grains you'll be using. Since this is an all-grain recipe, you'll be using only grains and no extract. Make sure that the grains are pre-milled, or if you have a mill, now's a good time to mill your grains. Don't mill too finely. You're really only trying to crack the grain hulls to expose the starchy goodness underneath. For this recipe, we'll be using 3.55kg of 2-Row Pale Malt, 350g of Carared Crystal Malt, and 70g of Carafa Special III.
    The grain bill: Milled, mixed, and ready to go!
  • Measure out the hop additions, and place them in order of adding
  • Get the right quantity of water ready (about 27-29 litres)
  • Clean everything, from the brew kettle (stock pot) to your spoons, whisk, fermenter,and measuring instruments.
  • Measure out and prepare other ingredients, like Irish Moss 
  • Prepare the ice bath or wort chiller you're going to use.
  • Get a timer ready with all the steps you need to take into consideration.
  • Wash out the viole bag in hot water to remove any residual soaps / detergents
  • Get some iodine tincture from your local pharmacy. We'll use this to test for full conversion at the end of the mash (more about this later).
  • Get your sanitation station ready. A container filled with the sanitation of your choice (I recommend Perisan), and a spray bottle filled with the same.

Step 1. The "B" in BIAB. 

First off, you need to fit the viole bag in your brew kettle. For this, you'll need:
  • Your brew kettle
  • The viole bag
  • Binder clips
  • Small metal colander
Colander at the bottom
 of the kettle
Place the metal colander upside down in the center of the brew kettle. Now fit the bag into the kettle, and clip the top with your binder clips.

Finally position your kettle and bag on the burner or stove top. I recommend a low pressure gas burner, since it's easier to control temperature this way. Second prize is your stove top, but temperature control during the mash can be a challenge, especially if you're using an electric stove top.

Step 2. Heat your water.

Bag installed, H2O in: Note the binder clips 
Next, add 27-29 litres of water to your brew kettle. You'll have to judge this based on the size of your kettle--remember that you'll be adding about 4kg of grains, which will displace the water, so be cautious of adding too much H2O!

Our mash temperature for this recipe is around 66-67C. But, the grains we'll be adding are at room temperature, and will therefore cool down the water. To hit the right temperature (referred to as your strike temperature), we'll heat the water to 70-72C. 

Step 3. Mashing In.

It's time to mash in your grains. It's a good idea to place all the grains we'll be using into a bowl of some kind. That way, it's easier to pour into the water. It doesn't matter that you're grains are mixed up--they'll all go into the kettle (now a mash tun). Check the recipe for the grains that we'll be using.

Important Caution: During the entire mashing process, you want to avoid introducing too much air into your grains and mash. So do everything gently and slowly. Don't splash, don't agitate, don't breathe (just kidding about that last one). 
Why? Getting air into the mash is referred to as hot-side aeration, a fancy term for oxygenating your as-yet-unmade wort and risking off-flavors and flavor stability issues down the line.

The grains fully mixed in
So now that you're sufficiently forewarned, you're going to slowly pour the milled grains into the heated water. Have your brew spoon (or mash paddle) handy! Stir the grains gently, and break up any dough balls that form. 

Your goal here is to fully mix in the grains with the water, avoiding dry clumps. This is actually far easier than it sounds, mostly because you're working with a large volume of heated water, which is one of the factors that make BIAB such a joy.

Once you're grains are fully mashed in, check the temperature of the mash. It should now be really close to 66-67C. If not, you can either goose it a little by applying heat, or if its too hot, add some cold water (I recommend keeping some refrigerated brew water handy so you don't have to add too much H2O at this stage). 

If you're happy with your temperature, close the kettle lid, turn off your burner or oven, and go have a beer. We'll be mashing the grains for 75 minutes. Because of the large volume of water, your mash should stay at the right temperature for most of the mashing time (depending on ambient temperatures). Check it after 30 minutes or so, and adjust the temperature as needed. 
Lid closed,
 digital thermometer in, mash at 66C. Nice!

You can also stir the mash gently once or twice during the 75 minutes to distribute heat more evenly, but don't overdo it: we don't want to aerate the mash!

At the end of 75 minutes, on, take a small, tablespoon-sized sample of the wort and put it in a bowl. Drip some of your iodine tincture onto it. If all has gone well, the iodine will remain brown. If not, it will color blue-purple.

The iodine test. Brown = good
If you get a blue iodine reaction, it means that the starches in your grains haven't changed into sugar. You'll have to extend your mash for another 10-20 minutes and re-test (also check whether your mash is in the correct temperature range. If it is below 55C or above 74C, you won't get much conversion happening).

Step 4. Mashing Out.

One of the down sides to BIAB methodology is that you don't always extract as much fermentable sugars from the grains as other all-grain methods. To counter this, you'll be mashing out: that is, at the end of 75 minutes, you're going to raise the temperature of the mash to 76C and hold it there for 10 minutes.

This step will help to extract more sugars, and aid in the next step, which is lautering.

Step 5. Lautering and Sparging.

When you use BIAB, lautering and sparging are as easy as lifting the bag out of the kettle. Yep, that's as complicated as it gets!

The final collected wort.
 23 liters of goodness!
Because you've mashed out, the run-off from the bag will be less viscous  and will therefore drain more sugars from the grains. Let the bag drain as much as possible, then stick it in a spare bucket. It's a good idea to fish out your colander from the kettle and place that at the bottom of that bucket, underneath the bag.

The bag will slowly drain more sweet wort, and you can then add that to your kettle.

Measure the specific gravity of the wort at this stage. If all went as planned, it should be in the region of: 1.038 to 1.040. If it's much more than this, you can dilute it with some water. If much less, you'll have to add some Dried Malt Extract during the boil. You'll need about 500g of DME for every 10 points you're off.

Now it's time to continue with the regular wort boil. This step is identical to what you've already done with extracts, with the exception that no specialty grains are steeped, since their flavors have already been added in the mash.

Step 6. Boiling the Wort; Chilling; Fermenting

To save time and space, I'll condense the next few steps and summarize what happens next. You're going to:
  • Bring the wort up to a rolling boil
  • Add your first hop addition;  9 g Galena, @ 60 minutes
  • Add your second hop additions: 10 g Centennial and 10 g Mt. Hood, @ 20 minutes
  • Add 5 g Irish Moss @ 10 minutes
  • Add 15 g Mt. Hood @ 5 minutes
  • Add 28 g Cascade at flameout
  • Create a whirlpool
  • Add the final hop addition, 28 g Mt. Hood into the whirlpool
  • Measure your Original Gravity. It should be in the region of 1.046
  • Rehydrate the yeast in 120ml sterile water
  • Chill your wort to 27 C and pitch your yeast
  • Wait for beer to be created!
Wait for 2-3 weeks for fermentation and conditioning. Your target Final Gravity is around: 1.010-11.

Then bottle you beer, wait another 2 weeks, and enjoy! Let me know how it turns out!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

American Amber Ale Recipe

Today I spent a great day at the Beer Keg homebrew shop and location of my future microbrewery. If you were there, I promised to post the recipe of the american amber ale I demo-ed. If you need a refresher on my step-by-step guide to brewing this type of beer, click here.

Here it is. Enjoy this crisp, flavorsome beer with some hearty winter food or as a refreshing libation at the end of a long day!

Redemption Red Ale

You will need:

Malt & Specialty Grains

(Grains for Steeping)

300g Caramunich III Caramel Malt 
120g Caramunich I Caramel Malt
60g Carafa Special I Chocolate Malt


2.35 kgs Dried Malt Extract


12g Warrior @ 60 minutes
10g Cascade @ 15 minutes
28g Cascade in the whirlpool


1 tsp Irish Moss @ 10 minutes


11.5 g packet of US-05 Dry Yeast or similar American yeast.

Technical Notes

OG (Original Gravity): 1.044
FG (Final Gravity): 1.011
ABV (Alcohol): 4.4%
IBUs (Bitterness Units): 30


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Your First All-grain Brew: BIAB American Pale Ale Recipe

If you've read and followed my posts, you may have already tried your hand at brewing the ESB recipe, using the techniques in my "first brew" step-by-step guide. I'd recommend that you try the techniques in that post many, many times over. Why? It's important to master some of the basics of homebrewing before moving on, tempting as it may be, to other methods of brewing.

But if you feel particularly competent as an extract brewer, you may want to venture into brewing an all-grain beer, using the BIAB equipment I discussed last time.

I've made really good extract beers and really good all-grain beers. I've also tasted and made some pretty horrible all-grain brews which would have made hard-core craft enthusiasts turn back to mass-produced, yellow fizzy stuff in a second.

So, just going all-grain is not an automatic pathway to making good beer. I've spoken to many homebrewers who've claimed that switching to all-grain brewing has improved their beer. Fair enough. But what a lot of them haven't considered is that they also incorporated other techniques at the same time, such as full wort boils and proper measurement. These will make any brew, extract or otherwise, taste better.

So the message is this: don't forget the fundamentals! Good cleaning and sanitizingaccurate measurement, and a good working knowledge of your ingredients are essential for making better beer.

Today, I'll focus on a solid recipe for your first all-grain beer. Time to call up the homebrew shop!

BIAB American Pale Ale

For this refreshing, hoppy ale, you'll need the following ingredients:

Grains for Mashing:

3.55 kg of 2-row Locally-sourced Pale Malt (milled)
350 g of Wyerman Carared Crystal Malt (24 SRM) or similar
70 g of Carafa Special III (470 SRM) or similar


9 g Galena (12.5% Alpha) @ 60 minutes
10 g Centennial (10% Alpha) @ 20 minutes
10 g Mt Hood (6% Alpha) @ 20 minutes
15 g Mt. Hood (6% Alpha) @ 5 minutes
28 g Cascade (5.5% Alpha) @ flameout
28 g Mt. Hood (6% Alpha) in the whirlpool


1 tsp Irish Moss @ 10 minutes


11.5 g packet of US-05 Dry Yeast or similar American yeast.

Some Technical Notes

OG (Original Gravity): 1.046
FG (Final Gravity): 1.010
ABV (Alcohol): 4.7%
IBUs (Bitterness Units): 33

And there it is! Next time, I'll walk you through the entire BIAB brewing of this recipe, one step at a time.


{Picture credit: mfajardo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0}

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Going All-grain with BIAB: Basic Equipment

Pictured: An average homebrew setup
If you've been following this blog, and have tried your hand at homebrewing, you know that you can make some truly excellent beers using extracts, specialty grains, and hops.

You should also have realized by now that good, solid basic techniques and practices, such as religious sanitation, and a few others, can result in good beer and more fun than watching back-to-back Star Wars reruns (well maybe).

And as I've written before, there's really no point in being an all-grain snob. Really none at all. But that doesn't mean that making an all-grain brew isn't a fantastic challenge. In my previous post, I discussed the basic theory of all-grain brewing. Today, we tackle the how-to, starting with equipment.

When it comes to equipment, one option is to go full hog. Buy larger brew kettles, get a hot liquor tank, convert a cooler into a mash tun, and buy various other bits and pieces to construct a state-of-the-art all-grain home brewery. John Palmer's site has a nice setup that you can take a look at here. There's one problem though. Full hog = full price. Building a three-tiered, 50 liter electric pump brewing wonder-machine might be awesome, but for many homebrewers, it's just too costly.

Even if you have the money (you lucky bastard), you may not have the space. So if you've got a tiny apartment (or bank account), is all-grain brewing out of reach? Not at all. There's a quick, easy, and cheap way of trying your hand at brewing all-grain beer.

This method of brewing is called brew-in-a-bag or BIAB. It's an excellent way of getting into all-grain brewing without massive investment. In fact, if you've got the equipment I've listed in my basics and nice-to-have equipment posts, you're just about ready to go.

BIAB Basic Equipment

Here's what you'll need for BIAB:

The Bag.

Closeup of a viole mesh bag
The obvious one. As the name suggests, you're going to be using a rather large mesh bag. Most homebrew supply stores sell these, and they're generally made from voile mesh (the kind old folks made inner curtains from) and can carry up to (or more than) 5-6 kgs of grains.

 Make sure you buy a bag that is large enough to line your brew kettle (see below), and that it is strong enough to hold weight (flimsy ain't going to do it). So if you want to make your own, make sure to double stitch or something (I don't know anything about sewing. Sorry.).

A good way of knowing how big your bag should be is to use your brew kettle. If the kettle can fit inside the bag and leave enough space for the bag to be tied, your bag is spot on. Speaking of kettles..

Bigger Brew Kettle

If you haven't yet bought a bigger brew kettle (shame on you), you will definitely need one for BIAB. I recommend a kettle of at least 30 liter capacity. Try for a nice, big stock pot made from either aluminum (cheaper), or stainless steel (bling-ier).

Avoid pots that are very wide and squat. It'll be difficult to maintain a good rolling boil in those (not to mention finding a bag that will fit).

Colander in the brew kettle

Small Metal Colander

Viole mesh is a great fabric for BIAB, but it isn't 100% heat resistant. So to keep the mesh off the bottom of your brew kettle where it can get scorched, I recommend placing a metal colander upside-down in the kettle. 

That will keep your bag safe and in one piece for multiple brews.

Binder Clips

Yep, everyday binder clips from the stationary shop. You'll use these to secure the bag to the sides of the kettle, and in turn, prevent the bag from falling into the kettle, thus making it difficult to retrieve at the end of the mash.

Brew Spoon

A nice, long handled brew spoon, preferably with holes or slots (also known as a mash paddle), is useful for mixing in your grains and preventing clumps and dough balls from forming.

Digital Thermometer

Keeping an (accurate) eye on your mash temperature is crucial for all grain brewing. Try and get an accurate digital thermometer that gives you an instant reading of the mash temperature. 

A probe-like thermometer like the ones used to measure the inside of cooked meats (yum) can also be used successfully.

Nice-to-haves: Grain Mill.

If you're going to be doing more all-grain brews, the ability to mill your own grain is very convenient.

Of course, you can have your malts pre-milled by the homebrew supplier, but milled grains don't keep fresh as long as whole one. 
So if you buy pre-milled, use the malts as soon as possible.

Well, that's it. Now you're ready to tackle all-grain brewing with BIAB! Next time, I'll discuss your first all-grain, BIAB recipe for a hoppy, refreshing American Pale Ale. See you then!