In the pursuit of perfect homebrew, failure still makes beer.

All-Grain REMIX – Celebration Pale Ale

About 6 weeks ago, a little holiday rolled around in March that usually calls for the proclamation of your Gaelic heritage, whether lineage states it as a fact or not. Said holiday persuaded me to not only celebrate my half-Irish-ness (for real!) by brewing a homebrew on the morn’ o’ that sacred day whence to feast in memory of St. Patrick, but to also venture into all-grain brewing.

I want to try and describe to you what all-grain brewing is, so here’s my attempt.

  1. Instead of steeping specialty grains in a large pot and adding malt extract (malt sugar) later, like I usually do, we’re kicking the sugar completely out and using “all grains.” Get it?
  2. How the mash works:
    1. Malted barley, when steeped in water, releases sugars.
    2. The temperature of the water dictates which of these sugars get broken down, by enzymes.
    3. The duration which you keep the water at this temperature dictates how much of these sugars gets broken down.
    4. Only shorter-chain (more broken-down) sugar molecules can be converted to alcohol by yeast, for the most part.
    5. Longer-chain (less broken-down) sugars tend to hang around in the beer and add sweetness.
    6. Using time and temperature, and mixing ingredients, you can have complete control over the taste outcome of your beer.
  3. On Brew Day, you have to:
    1. …calculate the volume and temperature of water you need per pound of grain you use to bring the whole mix up to your target temperatures, anywhere from 115F – 155F at any given stage of the mash.
    2. …calculate the amount of hot water you have to add to move the temperature up and down, if you want to activate different enzymes.
    3. …measure the sugar content of your mash water (liquor).
    4. …calculate the efficiency of your mash (how much grain vs. how much sugar in the liquor).
    5. …calculate how close to your “target” sugar content you are.
    6. …calculate the amount of water needed to sparge (rinse) your mash, taking into account that some water will be evaporating off in the brewpot.
  4. No matter what, it’s still brewing. So even if it’s a bit more hectic, you’ll have fun.
I’m looking into maybe doing a Prezi on it later, because that’d be freaking awesome and I’d probably be super famous for it. Glitz, glamour and glory is all I want.

My method was the Brew In A Bag. Simply put, the grains go into a large straining bag (usually around 10-15 lbs of grain can fit in one of these) purchased from the homebrew shop. These grains are steeped in the mash water (think of it as really sweet tea, held at a warm temperature for a long period of time) and then either batch-sparged (dump more water over the bag to rinse it out) or dunk-sparged (well… just dunk the bag in the water a couple of times). Pros to this method include easy cleanup, less $$ spent on equipment, and an introduction into the art of all-grain brewing. Cons range anywhere from gummy mashes (when the grains get to “gelatinization temperature” and stick together, ruining your expensive-ass tea) to lack of efficiency (not a lot of sugar yield from your grains) and others. Regardless, I pushed on.

My mash-tun was simply my bottling bucket with about 6 towels wrapped around it and a meat thermometer stuck in the top. Crude, unsavory, and jerry-rigged – but it did the job just fine. I ended up losing more heat than I would have liked, but my next homebrew investment will probably be a classic Igloo cooler mash-tun. Then I can brew like a real boy!

Needless to say, the hectic schedule was a lot to handle for a first-time, solo brewer. Some problems I ran into during the brew day:

  • Losing heat, like I said before. I overshot the initial strike water temperature and volume intentionally because I wanted to account for the fact that my mash-tun was a POS, but I still drifted lower than I wanted.
  • I didn’t hit my pre-boil gravity like I wanted, so I had to boil up and add some malt extract to compensate. This changed the color of the beer a bit (darker), but helped me out alcohol wise.

Regardless of the craziness that ensued, and the 8 hours total spent on that brew day, I’m pretty confident that this guys turned out great. I mostly subbed 2-row malt for my previous light malt extract. Other than that, the recipe was identical to that of the original, partial mash version that got such rave reviews last year. It’s sat for about 6 weeks in the primary (a few weka longer than last time), 5 days on a dry hop bill of Amarillo whole-hops and Fuggles pellets (a last-minute addition, they were getting stale), and currently is warm and cozy in bottles, primed with amber DME to 2.6 volumes CO2.

I’m submitting this to the Merrimack Valley Homebrew Club Competition, our club’s first AHA-sanctioned competition and my first as an entering brewer. Regardless of how I place, I’m mostly looking forward to the comments and constructive criticisms I’ll receive in return.

I’ll post the recipe on the log, and I’ll let you know how it tastes. Hopefully, it will truly be cause for inebriation – I mean, celebration.



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