Thursday, November 6, 2014

Greg's Adventures in Homebrewing:
The All-Grain Leap, Part 1: Equipment & Upgrades

Hey all! So over the last year I have been pretty lax in my updates with how the homebrewing has gone. Well, there has been a whole pile of stuff that has happened and I couldn’t possibly fit it all in one post. I guess I could but that wouldn’t be any fun would it? The first part of this little trilogy will be about getting a hold of all of the equipment. The second will feature some of the good, the bad, and upsetting experiences we’ve had with all grain. Finally, you’ll get to hear all about the homebrew competition I entered at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids.

I needed to upgrade a few items to get the equipment up to par for all-grain brewing. The biggest piece was a mash tun. What is a mash tun you ask? Why that is a very good question, faithful reader. A mash tun is the device used to mash grain. Not a very good answer, huh?

A major ingredient in beer is grain. Those grains can include: barley, oats, wheat, etc. To make beer out of theses grains, the beer maker roughly grinds the grain and soaks it in water at a certain temperature to extract sugars out of the grain. The temperature will depend on the grain and the amount of fermentables the brewer would like to get from the grain. That heated water is drained off of the grain after soaking and that water contains all the sugars that were removed from the grain. At this point, that sugar water is called wort. Wort is then boiled with hops and fermented to make the lovely drink we call beer.

The previous brewing post showed us using extract to brew. (Hard to believe it's been a year!) By using extract, a brewer does not have to go through the work of extracting all the sugars out of the grain, so a mash tun is not needed. Using only extract can limit your freedom to experiment, but it is a heck of a lot less work to make beer that way.

I made my mash tun out of a Rubbermaid cooler, a valve used in home plumbing, a braided hose, and various other fittings. I used this guide as a reference for the parts I needed. I had to improvise a bit because I could not find some parts, but it is at least a place to start. The entire thing cost me somewhere around $70 if I remember correctly. Personally, if I had to do it again I would use an Igloo cooler since they seem to be easier to find.

The other piece of equipment I needed was a larger pot and a propane burner. The burner is a turkey fryer burner available here. The burner is very good on its own, but you will want to upgrade the regulator. We’ll get to that in the next post. The other item I needed was a 44 qt pot like the one here.

These are the major equipment upgrades. If you are wanting to take the leap, be mindful you’ll need to get a propane tank or two. That will add another $50ish per tank. I got two to make sure I wouldn’t run out mid-boil. A tank seems to last about 5 or 6 batches depending on boil times. Total cost to make the leap was in the $300-$350 range – so be prepared for the extra cost. It is worth it no doubt!

Okay, all. That’s where I am going to leave it for now. Next post will go over some of the learning experiences I’ve had: the good, the bad, and the ugly. See you next time!

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