The first question to ask is why brew beer at all? The answer will be different depending on who you ask. For me it is the creative control I am able to achieve when I am solely responsible for the entire process as well as the joy in achievement of being able to say “I made this”. The fact that I save some money over buying craft beer in the store doesn’t hurt either.
Once you decide to brew beer you need to decide how and how much to brew. The industry standard is a 5 gallon batch and almost all kits are tailored to that batch size. An extract kit with a pre-hopped syrup you just add to water is probably the easiest way to brew but leaves you with almost no control of the finished product and they are scaled for a 5 gallon batch which can be hard to work with and may be overkill depending on how much beer you intend to drink. Personally I prefer to have some variety available rather than 5 gallons of one single beer. Brewing from grains solves the scaling and control issues but if you use conventional all grain brewing techniques it can get expensive and take up a lot of storage space. My personal favorite method is to brew small batches from grain using the method below. Small batches give me the freedom to experiment without risking large amounts of ingredients and time as well as making the whole brewing process friendly for those brewing in a small apartment kitchen. Small batches of all grain beer are also a great way to try brewing without spending a lot of money before you know if the hobby is really for you. If the bug gets you by all means feel free to build a full on micro brewery in the garage, or just stick to small batches, it’s home brew and it’s about what makes you happy!
If you are still with me I will assume I have you convinced of the merits of small batch all grain home brewing and move on to the method itself. I use a variation of the brew in a bag method pioneered by Australian home brewers to simplify all grain brewing to the point it becomes a countertop operation. Most of the equipment you need you will already have, but there are a few specialized items you may need to buy.
The basic equipment list for 1 gallon batches is below:
- 2 gallon bucket
- 2 gallon or larger pot (preferably 3 gallon)
- A heat source (your kitchen stove will work fine for small batches, but a dedicated turkey fryer type burner may be needed for a 5 gallon batch)
- An accurate thermometer (I use a dial thermometer with a long probe I got from a restaurant supply for $10) it needs to accurately measure between 140 F to 170 F. Mine goes from freezing to boiling in 2 degree increments.
- Hydrometer and test vial, this is one of the only brewing specific tools you will need. It is used to calculate alcohol content by comparing the density for the liquid before and after fermentation.
- A fermenting vessel, a 1 gallon glass jug works great but anything you can put an airlock on will work. A cleaned and sanitized milk jug works too.
- Rubber bung and airlock, these you will also need to get from a brewing supply. They are used to keep airborne bacteria and foreign material out of your beer while it ferments.
- Sanitizer, there are several commercial brewing sanitizers available for home brewing. I use Star-San but a solution of household bleach and water works fine. Just be sure to rinse everything really well afterwards, bleach has no place in beer.
- Clear vinyl tubing, this will allow you to siphon your beer from the fermenter to the bucket and from the bucket to the bottle without adding air which can spoil the beer.
- Some bottles to store the finished product and appropriate caps. I like swing top bottles for the convenience factor,but you could use plastic bottles, such as sanitized pop bottles.
- An accurate kitchen scale to weigh ingredients. It needs to be accurate to a fraction of an oz. Most grocery stores have these and a model sufficient to our needs should be under $20
- Strainer bag, this is the backbone of the brew in a bag system. A paint strainer bag works well as does a loosely woven muslin bag. Make sure you get one large enough to go over the mouth of your pot for convenience sake.
-Ingredients: milled barley, hops, yeast,and water, these will come from a home brew supply which should be willing to mill the grain for you. If you source your malted barley elsewhere or make your own you will need to mill it yourself, a simple hand crank corn grinder should do fine for small batches. The grain needs to be cracked but not powdered.
- Recipe , there are hundreds of recipes available online as well as many more in books. Most will be scaled to a 5 gallon batch but it is an easy matter to divide by 5 to reach a 1 gallon recipe.
The process itself is pretty simple, but it does require some care to ensure things go smoothly. The first thing you will need to do is figure out how much water you need. I always allow ⅛ gallon per pound of grain for the water absorbed by the grain and around ¾ -1 gallon per hour for boil off and ¼ -½ gallon for waste left in the pot plus the gallon for the actual wort(unfermented beer is called wort). Make sure your pot is large enough to hold the full volume of water as well as the grain while still allowing some space to prevent boil over. Once you have figured out the water needs for your recipe place that amount of water in your pot and bring it up to what is called the “strike temperature” this is typically a few degrees hotter than the “mash temperature” listed in your recipe. Some recipes will list a strike temp, but it’s best to figure it out yourself as those recipes are typically not calibrated to small batch BIAB methods. I use a free app on my android smartphone called “Wort” which comes with several useful calculators including a strike water calculator to figure this out. The info and calculators are also available online on numerous websites.
This is the point where you add the grain bag to the pot and turn off the heat!. The bag should line the pot and go over the mouth of the pot to hold it in place.
Next add the milled grains to the bag in the pot. This step is called “Mashing in”. Keep stirring gently while you add the grains to avoid clumping and dough balls. Once you have all the grain stirred in cover the pot and set a timer for 1 hr. This mashing process converts the starch in the barley malt into fermentable sugar and extracts it from the grain. This is the most flexible point in the process, so if you need to run out for a few minutes, it’s no big deal and if the mash lasts more than an hour it won’t hurt anything unless it gets cool enough for bacteria to grow in the mash.
After the hour long mash is complete remove the bag of grains from the pot by picking up the bag. Give the bag of wet grains a good squeeze to get a bit more water out. Careful not to burn yourself. Put the bag of grains in another container as a bit more sugary wort will seep out over the next several minutes.
Now turn the heat on to high and bring the wort to a boil. Keep your eye on it as it will tend to boil over just as it comes to a rolling boil. While you wait for the wort to boil weigh out your hop additions. Most recipes call for 3 hop additions the first for bitterness the second for flavour and the third for aroma. A typical hop schedule will have the bittering hops added just as the wort begins a vigorous boil. This is when the risk of boil over is highest so stay close by ready to stir down the foam or use a spray bottle of cold water to knock down the foam. Boil the wort for one hour, adding hops at the intervals indicated by the recipe. A timer helps keep things on track.
At the end of the boil remove the pot from the heat and begin chilling the wort to room temperature. This should be done as quickly as possible but it’s not the end of the world if it takes a bit, just try to keep anything from getting into the wort while it cools to avoid bacterial contamination. For large batches I use a copper wort chiller coil but for these one gallon batches I just put the pot in the sink and run cold water around it while stirring the wort in the pot. When the wort gets down to 70 F you can pour it into the fermenter. Save aside a bit of wort to check the gravity with a hydrometer. Make sure the fermenter and airlock/bung are sanitized before transferring the wort. This is the one time where you want to mix air into the beer so pour from a distance and give the fermenter a shake after it is full. A funnel helps make transferring from the pot to a glass jug much easier. ⅓ of a package of ale yeast is plenty for a 1 gallon batch (the remainder can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a few weeks to make the next 2 batches of beer.) Just add the yeast directly into the jug on top of your wort. Place the airlock in the rubber bung and place the airlock and bung in the mouth of the jug and add water to the airlock to prevent anything getting into the beer. The first day or so of fermentation can be pretty vigorous and your airlock may fill with yeasty foam and gunk, it’s not a big deal just remove it, rinse it out and replace it. I always keep the jug in another pot or bucket for the first few days just so if there is a foam over it won’t go everywhere.
Allow 5-7 days for fermentation. I don’t bother with a secondary fermentation for most beers because I have never noticed a difference with most medium alcohol beers and the bottle conditioning performs some of the same functions. I would rather be drinking my beer sooner rather than later given the choice. You will know that primary fermentation is complete when the airlock is only bubbling once every minute or so and the beer is no longer cloudy. This is called “falling bright” and will be quite a difference from the cloudy appearance when the yeast is most active.
After your beer has fermented it is essentially finished but will be flat without carbonation.This is the time to check the specific gravity again with a hydrometer. There are a number of calculators online which allow you to enter your original gravity reading and your final gravity reading and convert that into ABV. To carbonate your beer, just mix a little sugar into a small amount of water. I use around ¾ oz of white table sugar for a gallon of beer and just enough warm water to dissolve it. Sanitize your vinyl tubing and bucket as well as your bottles and caps, then put the sugar water in the bottom of the bucket and siphon the beer from the fermenter to the bucket trying to leave most of the yeast sludge in the fermenter. Give your beer and sugar water solution a gentle stir to make sure it is completely mixed, then siphon it into the bottles and seal them up. The little bit of additional sugar will kick start the yeast and create CO2 as a byproduct of digesting the sugar which will carbonate your beer. Leave the beer in a dark place with a steady temperature around 70F. In a week or so refrigerate one of the bottles and test it. If it is still a bit flat wait a bit longer and try another bottle. When you are happy with the carbonation level put the whole batch in the fridge and enjoy at your leisure.
The idea of brewing directly from malted grains can be daunting for newcomers to the hobby of homebrewing but the truth is that it is really a simple process. I have done my best to simplify it and distill all grain brewing to a simple easy to follow formula, but even my simplified description makes it sound more complicated than it is. My advice is just do it! Set yourself 3-4 hours for your first brew day and relax , enjoy the process, and drink a homebrew (I will forgive you for drinking a commercial craft brew if this is your first go at home brewing). I started brewing with extract kits; but if I had known how easy it is to brew from grain, and how much more I would enjoy both the process and the finished beer, I would have gone to BIAB right off the bat. There are as many ways to make beer as there are brewers and this is just the way I have come up with to make the process accessible to first time brewers, as you progress you may want to try other methods or add steps to suit your tastes and situation. For more info, tips, tricks and recipes check back soon as I’ll be posting more here on the blog as time allows.
American Pale Ale 1 Gallon Batch
American Ale yeast
Pale Ale barley malt (2 row) milled 1 1/2lbs
Crystal 20 barley malt milled 8 oz
Simcoe hop pellets for bittering .10 oz
Simcoe hop pellets for flavor .15 oz
Ahtanum hop pellets for aroma .20 oz
If you use whole leaf hops rather than pellets just add 10% by weight to the recipe for the hop additions
Heat 2 ¼ gallons of water to 157* F.
Mash in grains and keep at 153*F for 1 hour
Remove grains after mashing and bring to a boil
As wort reaches a rolling boil add bittering hops
40 minutes into the boil add flavor hops
60 minutes into the boil remove from heat and add aroma hops
Chill wort to room temperature, transfer to fermenter and pitch yeast and cap with airlock.
This recipe was originally published in the book Brew Better Beer by Emma Christensen which I highly recommend as a resource for the beginning brewer. It contains a number of excellent recipes as well as straight forward brewing instructions. The instructions in the book vary a bit from the method I laid out above but using either method will end up with great beer. As a bonus all the recipes in the book are scaled for both 1 and 5 gallon batches.