First all-grain brew soon, any tips?

Discussion in 'General Brewing Discussions' started by Clarkey35, Jul 5, 2016.

  1. Clarkey35

    Clarkey35 New Member

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    Hi everyone,

    I'm planning my first all-grain brew soon, having set up a fairly primitive 23l system. If anyone has any ideas for a good first beer to brew, I'd love to hear it! Due to available local supplies and fairly low experience, I'll be looking for something simple with basic ingredients where I won't be left with excess grains and various hop packets for storage. Thinking of doing a bitter or fairly simple pale ale.

    My system is a temperature controlled hot liquor tank to supply mash and sparge water, home-made mash tun (cool box), and a modified fermentor vessel with kettle element as a boiler. Will be using a copper coil chiller pumping out to a hot tub :) Can then either bottle or pressure barrel.

    Experience so far; juiced and made a lovely sparkling cider and 10 or so different extract beers. Not yet done the wort production stages myself and looking forward to it!

    Cheers all!
     
  2. jmcnamara

    jmcnamara Well-Known Member

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    Awesome!

    Just a few tips, based on my system. Which is very different from yours.

    Depending on how insulated the mash tun is, over shoot your mash temps by about 10f. The grain is at room temperature and all the stirring to mash in is going to drop the water temp somewhat. You don't want to be chasing temps the whole time.

    That being said, as long as you're within a pretty wide temp range, you'll make some sort of beer or other, so don't worry too much.

    I did a simple smash beer, maris otter and Amarillo. I think you'really on the right track for the first time out.

    As for leftover ingredients, doublecheck your math for the max amount of grain and strike water that can be in your tun, with enough room to comfortably stir or potentially add more hot water.

    Just my 2cents.

    Good luck!
     
  3. artbreu

    artbreu Member

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    Familiarize yourself with these calculations:
    http://www.brewersfriend.com/mash/

    Calibrate your thermometer using a glass of ice water. Stir the ice water thoroughly and make sure that your thermo reads 32F while in the cold water. Take a temperature reading of your grain while your strike water is heating. Add the target temp, grain weight, grain temp, strike water volume, etc to the calculator to determine what your strike water temp should be. Combine the grain with your strike water (how depends on your process) and you'll hit your mash temp every time.

    People will usually suggest for you to aim for 153F... as a good one-stop that maximizes conversion. I don't do this, but it's a good general rule.

    Maintaining mash temps depends on your set-up and multi-step mashes are more variable and complicated, but it's the same concept. You're either adding enough of the same temp water to maintain the temp, or you're adding it a little hotter to compensate for temp losses during the mash (usually minimal but depends on lots of things (mash outside/inside winter/summer???), or you're adding it much hotter to "step" the mash temp to another temperature stop.

    If you ask me, so long as your water profile is reasonably favorable (another variable that effects mash ph), most of your conversion will take place during the first 30 minutes, before you step your mash up anyway. So you'll still produce a very fermentable wort. If you don't know your tap water chemistry, you can get it tested for about $35. It's invaluable once you get to the point where you are really trying to aim for a targer water profile!
     
  4. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

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    ^^^^What he said...
    Simple single infusion is pretty easy to deal with and it sounds like you have a great set-up to start with. You shouldn't have any trouble calculating and hitting the numbers.
    I've tried step-mashing at 120, 149, 156 and mash-out. I've found that the first temps - protein rest and Beta - are easy to hit and the second is sort of right then I really have a hard time hitting a good solid mash-out temp. That's lead to some slightly sweeter beers than I wanted. Not much of a problem with a Pale Ale, but bad news with a Kolsch or Helles. I hope to get my system and procedure tuned over a few more runs.
    Since you don't know your efficiency, go for a style that will work over a pretty big OG range. If you shoot for a Pale ale of 1.055 at 75% efficiency with about 40 IBUs, you get a decent beer that's in style whether your efficiency turns out to be 60% or 85%.
    Good luck!! ;)
     
  5. Clarkey35

    Clarkey35 New Member

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    Thanks for the responses guys, much appreciated.

    So it will indeed be a single temperature mash, using the cool box mash tun. I'll pre-heat it by swilling around some boiling water and use the calculator to figure out the strike water temperature. I'll wrap it in towels because the lid doesn't seem to have much insulation- obviously they're made to keep "coldness" in the bottom, rather than preventing heat escaping out the top.

    Would anyone think there'd be any problems with topping up the mash at the half-way point with some hotter water if the cool box is losing too much temperature? Obviously I'm only aiming for a single temperature mash, but assuming I don't dilute it all too much, I should be OK?

    I'm pretty sure a basic bitter or other pale ale won't be too picky on temperatures and O.G. as suggested, and I can also do a water-only test run to check how well it maintains temperature, how quickly the chiller works, and make sure I'm not going to get any boiling water leaks!

    Water in my area is very soft (low calcium along with most other minerals) and I think I'll look at this in more detail once I'm a few brews down. Start basic for now :)

    Jmcnamara- thanks for the point on leftover ingredients. I suppose the obvious thing to do, as you suggest, is calculate the maximum pre-boil wort production my tun allows for and the amount of grain that would need, then reduce all ratios according to the sack size that the grain comes in. This is generally 3kg (6.6lbs) bags, tiny 0.5kg bags, or whopping big 25kg bags.

    Thanks again everyone. I'll let you know how it goes once I start in a month or so.
     
  6. artbreu

    artbreu Member

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    Most people mash at a ratio of about 1.5 liter/quart to lb. of grain. And again, there's no tablet out there where that is etched into stone, but it's the oft-quoted happy medium between "too thick" (< 1 liter pp) and "too thin" (>2 liter pp). The real concern is mash ph.

    I put quotes there because some people, like myself, do a full-volume mash for convenience. So, ALL my water is in my mash (>4 liter pp in some instances) and I use brewing salts when needed to keep ph in the appropriate range based on the beer I'm brewing (color effects ph generally). My efficiency is high enough, my attenuation is always in the high range for my yeast, I have no astringency, good mouthfeel (to me), etc.

    I'm not suggesting my method at all (I'm a stark minority doing that), just pointing out that there's always another way to do it "right."
     
  7. Clarkey35

    Clarkey35 New Member

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    That's interesting, thanks. So no sparge whatsoever eh? Like everyone seems to be saying, it's a big experimenting game! I'm sure you can get a decent drinkable beer out of many techniques, perhaps just not the exact beer you were expecting until you gain experience in your own technique and equipment.

    I'm probably going to use the batch sparge technique following some 'vorlauf' recirculating, and use some simple hop additions (Fuggles, Goldings) in the boil. Maybe a little dry hop with something more exotic at the end.

    Cheers for the advice all, I'll let you know how it goes in a few weeks...
     
  8. TheZel66

    TheZel66 Member

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    if you are looking for a style, try a stout. It's most forgiving. Other than that, relax. It's easier than it appears at first, and the beer that you make is incredible. welcome to real brewing.
     
  9. jeffpn

    jeffpn Well-Known Member

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    It's all real brewing.
     
  10. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

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    If you can't add heat to change the temperature (whether you're step-mashing or just trying to keep temp up), the only thing you can do is add boiling water.

    You'd be surprised, though, how well a big mass of grain holds temp. It doesn't need a lot of help, depending on ambient temp (and wind, if you're outdoors). Thinner mash will probably lose heat faster than a thicker one, but it all holds heat pretty well. I mash in my brew pot and if I'm using my smaller pot for a 3-gallon batch, I'll put the whole thing in my oven set to warm. If it's my bigger pot, I'll wrap it in a big blanket and throw a towel over the top. If you start with a good mash temp, you'll loose only 2-3 degrees over an hour mash.

    As for water volume, start with your boil volume with plus whatever will be absorbed by the grain - a pint per pound, maybe. Then figure that whatever you don't put into the initial mash goes through as a sparge. BIAB mashers can use full volume in the mash, but that's not usually done with traditional methods. I can't fit all my grain and water in my pot at once, so I do a BIAB mash that's pretty standard thickness for traditional mashing and then transfer the grain bag to my bottling bucket (has a spigot) to pour the sparge water through and collect in the pot along with the "first runnings"
     
  11. Clarkey35

    Clarkey35 New Member

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    Good advice all. I'm not crazy for stouts but might do one anyway- maybe my second run using the all-grain system. It's useful to see how people do the boil-in-a-bag system too in terms of understanding general brewing processes and then picking what technique's best for my equipment, ingredients, and experience.

    The hops will probably be boiled in a bag as I've not got a strainer in the boiling vessel and I figure it's easier to just have them in there like a tea bag and lift them out at the end. I'm keen to use leaf/full cone hops rather than pellets- anyone know if there's typically a difference in the weight of hops you'd use vs. pellets? Most recipes on here seem to use pellets but they're a bit more scarce where I am.

    I guess for pellets added at the end of the boil, I can't substitute this using leaf hops, so perhaps a combination of the two and a good whirlpooling at the end of the boil.

    Thanks again.
     
  12. jmcnamara

    jmcnamara Well-Known Member

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    I'd second what JA does with the bottling bucket sparge set up. I also top off with some water if i'm shooting for a 5 gallon batch, i just don't have a pot big enough for a full boil. speaking of that, you're also going to need to account for boil off, but the amount depends on your brew pot and how hard you boil. if you have marks on the side of your pot, you could just measure it during your brew.

    for the hops, not sure of the exact conversion, but you do need more whole leaf than pellets. i want to say it's a 2 or 3 to 1 ratio, but don't quote me. also, those suck up a bit of wort, so you have to consider that as well. my understanding is that you can use whatever style of hops whenever you want
     
  13. jeffpn

    jeffpn Well-Known Member

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    I hadn't thought of using the bottling bucket to hold my draining grain bag. I use my fermenting bucket with an upside down colander to act as a false bottom.
     
  14. jmcnamara

    jmcnamara Well-Known Member

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    that little spigot on the bottom is awesome. i put the bucket on the counter and use a tv tray table to hold my kettle underneath.

    way cheaper than me getting a kettle with a spigot in it
     
  15. jmcnamara

    jmcnamara Well-Known Member

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    but then again, i usually mash without the bag, then pour that into the bag lined bucket. usually requires 2 people, but i feel it's just easier
     
  16. jeffpn

    jeffpn Well-Known Member

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    That poor cat has been skinned infinitely here!
     
  17. artbreu

    artbreu Member

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    No sparge. I just vorlauf until my runnings are clear and drain the mash.

    The important elements are:

    - Mash Ph (5.2 is the commonly suggested target), as it effects conversion.
    - Mash temperature (varies but 153F is commonly suggested target), as it effects wort sugar composition. There are many types of sugars produced in the mash process, some more or less fermentable and flavor/mouthfeel ramifications.
    - Total water volume/mash efficiency. Your grain will absorb some of your water (sparge or no sparge, it will hold the same amount of water). There will be some freely flowing water left in the bottom of your tun known as dead space, etc. The lautering process, in it's simplest form, is making sure that residual water is holding as little wort sugar as possible without extracting tannins from the husks. The result is referred to as "mash efficiency."

    Notice that the "how" is not nearly as important as the "why."

    It's the same on the cold side, too, as you're already familiar.
     

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