Big happenings at the Northwest Oklahoma County Memorial Sports Coliseum/Thirsty Beagle Brewing and Bottling Co. over the weekend: I officially joined the ranks of those who have brewed all-grain!
Since I started brewing in January, I’ve knocked off seven extract/kit recipes: American brown ale, witbier, pale ale with raspberries, dry-hopped red ale, dunkelweizen, witbier #2, and summer ale with peaches I grew in my backyard. They all were fairly successful, in that all resulted in beer that tasted good.
All along, however, I’ve known I wanted to eventually graduate from extract/kit to all-grain. Two things have been slowing me down: Owning the correct equipment to do it, and grasping the terminology/process to accomplish it. Eventually, I’ll overcome both of these hurdles, but in the meantime, a suggestion from a homebrewer friend caught my eye. He mentioned something about the brew-in-a-bag method.
It’s an all-grain method that requires less equipment and time than standard all-grain brewing. If you have a big pot (you can do it with a seven- or eight-gallon pot, but a 10-gallon pot is probably best) and you’ve already been brewing extract, you pretty much have everything you need to go all-grain. The only thing I added to my equipment repertoire was this nylon bag:
Internet research reveals the brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) method is predominantly favored in Australia and is not best for stronger beers that require a tremendous amount of grain. But for the Oktoberfest I wanted to brew, which should end up at 5.4 percent strength, I figured it could work.
Gail at the Brew Shop (big props to Gail for her help!!!) helped me pick out an Oktoberfest recipe and milled the grain — 12 pounds in all. (Let me just detour here to say that you don’t really realize how much a lot of grain is until you try your first all-grain batch. That’s a lot of grain!)
For my five-gallon batch, I decided to start with 6.5 gallons of water to allow for boil-off and absorption. That’s when I came to my first hurdle — my pot is not quite big enough. When I got to six gallons of water, I realized there wouldn’t be room for all the grain. I had to skim off half a gallon. At that point, I clamped by bag on, brought the water to 155 degrees and added the grain:
As you can see, with 5.5 gallons of water and 12 pounds of grain, the pot is pretty much topped-off. Most BIAB guides say to avoid having your bag touch the bottom of the pot in case the bag were to burn/melt, so I used the clamps to hold the bag up a bit. You can also use some sort of trivet or cookie-cooling rack-type apparatus in the bottom of the pot as well.
After steeping at 155 for an hour, it was time to remove the bag and drain off the wort. Here’s another one of those things you don’t quite think about until it’s too late: 12 pounds of grain soaked in water is heavy, and I didn’t think to rig up some sort of device to suspend the bag. So I was left with the static-bicep-curl technique:
Once the bag drained as much as it would, I set it aside and returned the pot/wort to the stove-top to start the boil:
After that, it’s business as usual. One hour boil, add the assigned hops at the assigned time, use a little Irish moss near the end for clarity, chill wort, rack to fermenter, pitch yeast and cap fermenter. At the end of the boil, I was down to four gallons of wort — down 1.5 gallons from the outset — so I had to top it off by a gallon. I’m not the biggest fan of doing that, but I really had no choice due to the size of my pot. (It did show that my original estimate of 6.5 gallons probably would have worked out pretty well.)
Total brew time from set-up to clean-up was a little shy of four hours. I’m under the impression the standard all-grain method takes about five hours. I would have liked to have shaved off more time, but working with five-plus gallons of water on the stove, it just takes a long time to bring the water up to the correct heat.
So, now the beer has been in the fermenter since Saturday night. I used an ale yeast since my version of temperature control involves determining which room in my house is the coolest, so I should by looking at another 10 days or so of fermenting before bottling day. The airlock starting bubbling pretty well after about 16 hours, then kept up a pretty vigorous pace through this morning — it appears all systems are go.
They only thing I didn’t do properly was take an OG reading. Rookie mistake. I had the hydrometer out on the counter and just totally forgot to use it. Oh well. One word of warning, all material I could find suggests you don’t try BIAB without a wort chiller. I have one and used it; I can’t imagine you could chill that volume of beer fast enough without one.
I’ll report back in a few weeks with the end result of my BIAB experiment. In the end, it’s not really that hard. Hopefully I’ll end up with a very drinkable Oktoberfest.