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All Grain Brewing Overview

Target audience:
Irish homebrewers who wish to progress from kit or extract brewing to all grain brewing. 

Prerequisites: you will know how to brew beer kits, and understand the basics of:
- sterilization,
- fermentation,
- hydrometer specific gravity readings.

Essentially you will progress to making beer from malted barley, hops, yeast and water. As per usual with homebrewing, there are exceptions: wheat beers, oatmeal stouts and many other beer styles use additional ingredients. And what exactly is water? A big question for homebrew beer makers as different water "profiles" suit different beer styles. And then there are hundreds of yeasts out these. But these and other issues are dealt in other articles.

This article is about getting you kitted out for all grain brewing. It assumes you have a few beer kits under your belt, and that you already have basic beer making equipment to ferment (or keg) homebrew beer. But first lets take a brief look at the process of making beer from basic ingredients:
- mashing: heating malted barley and water to about 65 oC to allow enzymes in the barley to convert starches to fermentable sugars
-lautering, sparging etc: don't let this confuse you, its simply about rinsing the "mashed" barley to get all the goodness out and then removing the barley to leave the "wort" . . . wort is a rather unfortunate term for unfermented beer
- boiling and hopping: we need to add bittering hops to the wort to counteract the sweetness of the malt and make it more drinkable. Hops only release their bittering compounds when boiled (usually for an hour or so). You can also add hops for "flavor" and "aroma".

Before we look at the equipment options, an important issue is the quality of the ingredients: grain (malt), hops and yeast. Grain is always best crushed fresh which means that you will need a malt mill. Cheap mills don't work very well, leading to unpredictable results. The one we recommend is the Bulldog Malt Mill which has a great track record in Ireland. We regularly do promotions on quality malt mills in order to encourage the use of fresh whole grains. Yeast must be stored cool and hop pellets are much more stable than hop cones (leaf).

Now, its time to make some choices; there are several approaches to this great adventure. The most popular equipment options are listed below. Please get in touch if you know of any others.

Mash ton plus boiler and chiller (circa 200)
Essentially a modified "eskie" or insulated cool box often used on picnics to keep stuff cool. But it can also keep stuff warm, like your barley and water for mashing. The mash ton usually has some kind of filter and a tap so that you can draw off the wort, leaving the barley behind. Next you boil it in a big pot and add the hops. Then cool it, add yeast and ferment.

Brew In A Bag, BIAB (circa 200)
Here a pot or an electric boiler is used to keep your barley and water warm for mashing. Essentially the barley is held in a big nylon bag and placed in a pot of heated water for about an hour. Then its removed, and the remaining wort is boiled with the hops. Then its cooled, yeast is added and fermentation begins. 

All-in-one Brewing Systems (circa 400)
These are a bit like BIAB but the bag is replaced by a metal "malt pipe" and the wort is recirculated with a pump. They are the Rolls Royce of brewing systems and usually offer much higher "efficiency", far better temperature control, and many other features like step mashing so that you can influence protein profiles that affect the beer's clarity and head retention. This used to be firmly the domain of the Speidel Braumeister and these are still by far the best systems out there, but recently other quality systems have appeared at a fraction of the cost and these are also very impressive: Bulldog Brewer. Many Irish homebrewers prefer these systems because they are the most flexible and also for a less obvious reason: the take up much less space: kitchen and partner friendly!

Hybrids (circa €???)
Variations of the above created by DIYers using electric elements, old pub beer kegs and temperature control electronics to make up a myriad of systems.

So there you have it!