A Simple Guide To All-Grain Brewing Equipment

All-Grain BrewingAll-grain brewing is the closest thing to being a professional brewer. If you’re already brewing with malt extract, advancing to all-grain means that you need to learn how to mash, i.e. extract fermentable sugars from barley malt by mixing the grains with hot water. To do this effectively, you’ll need to add a few pieces to your existing home brewery:

• A large pot for heating water. Professional brewers call this a hot liquor tank. You will need to heat mash water, and then sparge water. Larger is better, so you can heat all the water you need at once. Also keep in mind that the larger the pot, the easier it is to brew larger batches later on. The Polar Ware 30 Qt. Brew Pot will work for a 5 gallon batch of brew.

• A mash tun – Mashing requires 1-1.5 qts of water per pound of grain. A typical 5 gallon batch of homebrew uses 10-12 lbs. of grain, plus you need to account for the grain itself. At the very least, you’ll need a 20 qt brewpot, but the larger the better. Some brewers like to build their own mash tuns from a large water cooler, but a Polar Ware Brew Pot with a false bottom, thermometer, and ball-valve is the way to go.

• A large kettle for boiling wort. If you play your cards right, you could move wort from the mash tun back to the hot liquor tank for the boil, but many brewers prefer to have three separate vessels. Keep in mind that over the course of a 60 minute boil, you’ll probably evaporate 20% or more of your volume. You also don’t want the wort to go all the way to the top of the kettle. If you want to end up with 5 gallons of wort, you need a brew kettle that holds 7 gallons or more.

• Wort chiller – Beginning homebrewers might get by with an ice bath in the kitchen sink, but if you need to cool 5 gallons of boiling wort, an Immersion Wort Chiller makes things much easier. Depending on the temperature of the cold water going through the chiller, these can chill wort to pitching temperature in 15-20 minutes.

• pH Testing EquipmentpH Test Strips are the most affordable option, but a Digital pH Meter is much more accurate and easier to use.

Thermometer – even if you have a thermometer built in to your mash tun, it help to have another one to measure the temperature of your sparge water.

Grain Mill – You can get by without one, but you will have to buy pre-crushed malt (or borrow a mill from a friend!).

Gypsum and Calcium Carbonate – These minerals will help you adjust mash pH.

Gas burner – Not essential, but if you have the space to safely use one, an outdoor gas burner will save a lot of time when heating water.

There are about as many different homebrew setups as there are homebrewers, but these are some of minimum requirements for all grain brewing. From there, you can easily customize your setup with countless doo-dads and gizmos. If you’re looking for ways to save a little money, consider the Brew-in-a-Bag (BIAB) technique, which we will cover in another post.

Want to learn more about all grain brewing? Stay tuned for more!

What Makes Belgian Beer Belgian?

Belgian BeerOne could easily write a book on this subject and still not have a complete answer to this question. Belgium has a very long, creative, and artisanal brewing tradition that makes it difficult to lump all Belgian beers into a single category. Whereas in Germany, the Reinheitsgebot required brewers to only use barley, water, and hops, there was no such law in Belgium. Brewers in Belgium were allowed to experiment and continue to do so. As a result, there is a huge variety of beers being made in Belgium, and essentially no restrictions on what can go into them.

That said, there are a few broad characteristics of Belgian beers:

• Belgian yeast strains – Though some Belgian beers (such as Lambics and Saisons) are fermented using spontaneous or “wild” fermentation, most Belgian beers are brewed using very specific yeast strains. Belgian brewers will often ferment these beers at higher temperatures to encourage spicy, fruity, or phenolic flavors and aromas that are produced by stressing the yeasts.

• More malty than hoppy – You’re not likely to find a hop bomb in Belgium (the Belgian IPA is an entirely American construction). Belgian beers are traditionally brewed featuring combinations of wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and other grains.

• Use of spices and herbs – Prior to the widespread use of hops, beers were commonly flavored with a blend of herbs and spices called a gruit. Many of these ingredients survive to this day, the most popular being the coriander/orange peel combination in Witbiers. Saisons also frequently use a variety of spices and herbs.

• Bottle conditioned – Many Belgian beers go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which carbonates the beer. As a result, bottled Belgian beers will often have yeast sediment at the bottom. Generally speaking, it’s preferable to leave that sediment behind (despite what Hoegaarden recommends).

Want to brew Belgian beer at home? Try some of these ingredients and brew kits to make your own authentic Belgian-style ales:

Ingredient kits:

Brewcraft Belgian Wit (White) Bier Recipe Kit – All ingredients are pre-measured and included for brewing this iconic style. Belgian Witbiers are cloudy, pale in color, and flavored with coriander and orange peel.

Brewcraft Belgian Tripel Recipe Kit – Belgian candi sugar helps raise the alcohol content of this Belgian ale. Look for complex flavors of banana and citrus with a touch of spice.

Wyeast 1388: Belgian Strong Ale Yeast – Wyeast 1388 is ideal for strong golden ales. It’s very alcohol-tolerant and finishes dry, fruity, and somewhat acidic.

Wyeast 3787: Trappist High Gravity Yeast – This yeast is a good all around Belgian yeast strain, featuring a fruity flavor and aroma. This is a very active yeast, so be prepared for high krausen. Tolerant up to about 12% ABV.
Adjuncts and Additives:

Dark Candi Sugar – This is an invert sugar that helps raise the alcohol content of Belgian ales without adding malt character or body. Also contributes some color. (275º Lovibond)

Light Candi Sugar – Light candi sugar helps to raise the alcohol content of Belgian ales without adding malt character or body. Unlike the Dark Candi Sugar, this will not add color to your beer.

A Simple Guide to Malted Barley

Malted Barley GrainMalted barley is used in brewing beer as it is a good source of sugars (especially maltose). These sugars are fermented during the process of making beer. During the malting process, the grain germinates a bit, which allows the beer to make full use of the nutritional qualities of the seed.

There are certain enzymes that are released during the germination process, and these enzymes break the protein matrix to create simpler carbohydrates that ferment more easily. If the germination process is allowed to continue, a plant will start to grow, and the starch that is required by the beer would be consumed by the plant. Not a good thing. This is why it is important to stop the germination process at precisely the right point.

From the point of view of a brewer, there are two types of malted barley: the one that needs to mashed, and the one that doesn’t’t.  In mashing, barley is soaked in hot water which lets the enzymes grow and convert starch into sugars. There are light colored malts like Pilsner beer malt and pale ale malts that are mashed to convert starch to sugar. Some of these malts are roasted or kilned to add different tastes.

Apart from the light colored malts, there are some malts that don’t need mashing. These are called specialty malts and are used to add unique flavor, color and aroma to the beer. They sometimes go through a special heating process where their starch gets converted to sugar, which is why they have complex sugars that have a caramel like sweet taste. They are sometimes known as caramel malts or crystal malts and they come in various colors and roasts. You can find more information on this in another blog post, What Are The Different Malts Used In A Homebrew Recipe?

Although barley is still the number one choice of most brewers, you can use other grains as well, like flaked rice, flaked corn, flaked oats, and flaked rye. When you are brewing at home, there is a lot to experiment, and the options are practically unlimited.


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Save Time! Keg Your Homebrew!

Home Kegging SystemOnce you’ve started brewing at home and made your first batch of home brew, you’re going to have to find something to store it in. The two main options are either kegging beer or bottling beer. Many people initially dismiss kegging their own beer, because the concept of having a keg in their house seems a bit much. But just like anything else that goes with making your own brew, bottling or kegging is largely a matter of personal preference.

Kegging does bring its own benefits.

While the equipment needed to keg beer might seem like a lot at first, with the kegs and valves tanks and taps, it’s really not when you consider how much equipment you need to bottle beer. The actual beer bottles are what most home brewers find the most trouble coming up with, either because they simply don’t have any lying around, or because they’ve lost some to damage along the way.

When you use kegs however, no matter when you’re ready to brew and store your beer, you’ll have one on hand. Even if it’s just a matter of emptying the small amount left in it and giving it a quick clean, typically there’s not nearly the running around when you’re kegging as there is when you’re bottling.

Another way kegging your beer can save you time is the simple fact that the entire process is much shorter. You’ll be filling one large container rather than dozens of small ones. Imagine half a day of bottling cut down to half an hour of kegging, and you can see how much more convenient it can be.

Bottling and kegging your own home brew both come with their own benefits, and these are a few that come with kegging your own (aside from the fact that it’s just cool to pull a draft for your friends!) But if kegging your own beer has always seemed like something that was simply too overwhelming, consider the benefits it can bring before you write it off altogether.


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Homebrewing Is Even Easier With Home Beer Kits

Beer Ingredient KitBrewing at home isn’t necessarily hard. You need fairly little homebrewing equipment, and there are many different malts and beer yeasts available to help you perfect your own beer recipe over time. But for those that are just starting out, finding all those different homebrewing ingredients and supplies can seem a bit intimidating; and it’s for this reason you can find home beer kits available.

These beer ingredient kits are created for individuals who are just starting out in brewing their own beer, and they’re created under the assumption that the individual has never even done it before. Included inside the box is everything from the hops to the malted barley grains to the malt extracts that you’ll need; you’ll find everything but the equipment! You can buy beer recipe kits in many different flavors and colors, all with different beer recipes. These can be extremely helpful when you’re just starting out making your own beer, and you’re not yet sure of what flavors you like.

Once you’ve tested out several different beer ingredient kits and are ready to start branching out on your own and experimenting, you can still go by what you’ve learned trying out the different kits. By having started with blends that you know are already tasty, you’ll have that foundation from which you can build your own. Of course you can always continue on using the beer recipe kits, and making great tasting beer!

When using beer ingredient kits, remember that you’ll still typically need to have basic beer-making equipment on hand, as only really the beer making ingredients are included in these recipe kits. There is another great blog post about this, The Minimum Equipment You Need To Brew Beer Yourself. If you don’t have the equipment yet, don’t worry too much about it as beginner homebrewing equipment kits are also often available. Using both types of beer kits can really boost the convenience factor of brewing your own beer, and leave you wondering why you didn’t do it sooner!


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The Advantages Of Bottling Beer

Bottle HomebrewWhen it comes to storing your homemade beer, you’re going to need more than just a couple of pitchers. You’ll need to decide whether you’ll be bottling beer, or kegging beer, and both come with their own advantages.

One of the biggest advantages home brewers find with bottling their own beer is that initially, the cost of storage can be much cheaper. Rather than having to invest in a stainless-steel keg (or several, if you want to make different kinds of beer) beer bottles can be picked up more cheaply than kegs; and you can reuse them, saving you on cost, too.

Once you start brewing your own beer, you’ll also most likely want to give everyone a taste, and provide samples to all your friends and family. When the homebrew is sitting at home in a keg, you need to wait to have them over to do it. But when it’s bottled, you can take your own six pack with you the next time you go over, and even give it away as a gift.

Even home brewers that choose to keg their own beer sometimes still turn to bottling for certain types of beer. In cases such as Russian imperial stouts, or other beers that need to be stored for a long period of time before being consumed, brewers don’t always want to have a whole keg “on hold” that entire time. By placing this long-standing beer in bottles, it can be stored easily; while the beer that’s ready for consumption can be placed in the keg, and drank easily!

Definitely, both bottling and kegging your own beer come with their own advantages. But when you want to give your brew away, take it with you camping, or are just looking for the most affordable way to do it, bottling might be the best choice for you. Here’s a great blog post you might want to tak a look at on bottling your own homebrew, How To Bottle Your Beer.


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How Long Does Homebrewing Take?

Time To Brew BeerWhen people are first learning how to brew beer, one of their first questions is always, how long does the homebrewing process take? How long it takes to make the beer, and how long it will be before you can start drinking your homemade beer are two different things. But altogether, from the time you first start mixing your own beer, to the time you’re cracking open your first bottle, it should only be a matter of weeks.

The day you actually mix together your beer yeast, hops, malt extract, and other homebrewing ingredients to actually start making your own beer, you should probably set aside at least four hours to do it, as a first-timer. This will include the sterilization time beforehand and the cleanup afterwards; and it will also get shorter as you start brewing more of your own beer and becoming more experienced at it. But the first few times it can take an entire afternoon or more.

Once the beer has been mixed or mashed, it will then need to sit in a fermenter for about a week. This will give the beer its alcohol content, as well as a certain level of carbonation. You won’t need to do much during the fermentation stage, but you will during the bottling stage, which is next.

Bottling your own beer really only requires a siphoning hose, some beer bottles, bottle caps and a bottle capper, but it does also require about two to three hours of your time. For a 5 gallon batch of homebrew you will be bottling 50 to 55 twelve ounce beer bottles. It’s at this stage that many home brewers are the most impatient so, many choose to keg their beer, instead. This can take as little time as half an hour.

When you keg your beer you also won’t need to let it sit as long before drinking it. While beer needs to sit in beer bottles for a week or two before it reaches full carbonization, kegs can be carbonated in as little as a day.

All in all, from the time you start mixing your own special blend, to the time you’re enjoying a nice cold one, brewing your own beer should take anywhere from three to four weeks.

A great blog post that will give you a little more information on the homebrewing process is, The 3 Different Methods Of Homebrewing. There you will get a good overview of the three basic ways you can approach homebrewing as a beginner, and discover which is the best way for you.


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Is Brewing at Home Really that Much Cheaper?

Homebrew Beer Ingredient KitMost people know that whenever you can do something yourself at home rather than just go out and buy it, it’s probably going to be cheaper. But is homebrewing one of those things? And if so, just how much money will you save?

First, consider that if you were to purchase a case of beer from the store, it will probably cost you at least a dollar a bottle and up. If you purchase a smaller pack, the unit price will also go up because manufacturers will typically provide small discounts the more you purchase at once. Those smaller packs can cost anywhere up to $2.00 or $2.50 a bottle.

Typically when brewing at home, you will make about five gallons of beer at a time, which is 54 bottles of beer. The amount you spend on the actual homebrewing ingredients for the beer will vary depending on the kind of beer you want to make; but typically home beer kits can cost between $30 for making a light American-style Pilsner to $60 for your heaviest of Imperial IPA’s. That means that every bottle of beer you make yourself will cost anywhere from $0.56 to $1.12 per bottle. And for those that are keeping track, that’s half the cost of even the best-discounted cases of beer you’ll find in any store.

Making your own homebrew with a homebrew ingredient kit will always be a cheaper option than buying a comparable beers at the store, but there are much bigger advantages to brewing yours too. Namely, the sheer satisfaction you’ll feel the first time you crack open a bottle of your very own blend – and every time after that, too. While there are many cost-saving benefits to brewing your own, home brewers quickly forget them after realizing all the other benefits that go along with it! So if you want to save a buck, okay brew some beer, but if you want to have some great tasting beer and have some fun in the process, okay brew some beer!

Here’s another blog post that will help you figure out how to get started: The Minimum Equipment You Will Need To Brew Beer Yourself. The post talks about the homebrewing equipment you will need to get you going.


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What’s Better: All-Grain Brewing, or Extract Brewing?

Malted Barley Grain SyrupWhen it comes to brewing at home, you have two options: you can choose all-grain brewing, or you can choose extract brewing. If you’ve never done either before, you might be wondering which is the better of the two; and you might have already heard a number of arguments for each. So, which one is it?

The debate is a difficult one, as both methods are perfectly valid and both deliver perfectly good beer. Which one you choose will largely depend on how much time you want to put into your beer making, and what kind of beer you’re looking for.

With all-grain brewing you place cracked malted barley, with water and cook (mash) it a specific temperatures over a period of time. This is a delicate process that needs to been done with great care. The liquid is then removed from the barley grains and boiled with hops.

With malt extracts on the other hand, you are skipping the cooking (mashing) part of the process. All that is need is that you pour the malt syrup in with water into a kettle and boil the mix (wort) and boil the hops in as before. No critical temperatures need to be followed. No grains need to be dealt with.

So which one is better?
Some beer brewers simply prefer one method over the other, just as cooks do in their kitchen. Those who prefer that everything be made “from scratch” will probably find more satisfaction in working with all grains, while those who would prefer to use mixes and a more hands-off approach might find malt extracts more convenient.

If you’re really picky about the type of beer you’re striving for, you might want to choose all-grain when you want a light, amber-colored beer with an all-malt Pilsner. However when the mood strikes for a bold stout, using malt extracts could possibly give you better results.

Another related blog post that you may want to take a look at is, “The 3 Different Methods Of Homebrewing“. It goes over the different ways that you can approach brewing your own beer at home.


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