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All Grain Brew Day: Crush to Pitch

OK, so you want to try all grain. But what goes into an all grain brew day? There are two basic methods of mashing grain, with branches off of those. Using a mash tun or using the Brew-In-A-Bag (BIAB) method. I’m going to focus on the more traditional mash tun, but rest assured that BIAB will produce equally excellent all-grain beer as well.

Make Sure Everything Is Accounted For

Figure out what beer you want to brew, then make sure you have the correct supplies of grain, which may include basic 2-row barley malt, other malts like wheat or ryeadjuncts like oat flakes or flaked corn or rice, crystal or smoked or other flavored malts, the appropriate hops for all additions, whirlfloc if you use it, and your yeast.

Today I'm brewing a California Common (Steam Beer) recipe that CatDaddy66 on HomebrewTalk passed on to me. It's a fairly simple recipe:

California Common

Hop Schedule
1 Packs with a 1L Starter - WL San Francisco Lager

By the Numbers
OG: 1.054   FG: 1.019   ABV: 5%  IBUs 39

*For extract use 4.7 pounds of Light DME
**For extract use 1 pounds of Munich LME

I batch sparge, so my process is different than BIAB (no sparge traditionally) or those who do fly sparging. Ready? Here's the step-by-step account:

Friday: First I went to the supply store for some WL810 yeast. I thought I had some, but was out. Again, make sure you have what you need! A brew day without yeast won't be very successful. Once I had my yeast, I made a starter, and put it on my stir plate.

Saturday: 24 hours later, I removed the yeast starter from the stir plate and cold crashed it in the refrigerator.

Sunday 8:00am: Time to set up for brew day: pour some coffee, set out the boil kettlepropane burner, sawhorses and plywood, and mash tun. I added my strike water to the kettle and adjusted the water with mineral additions (3 gallons RO, 1 gallon Tap), 1/4 Campden tablet crushed, 5gr CaCl, 2ml lactic acid, and 4 gr Epsom Salt. Then I fired up the propane burner and began heating.

I Started 1 gallon water boiling on stove for preheating the mash tun. Weighed out the grain and crush in mill. I double crush on my system despite not using BIAB. Next I checked on the strike water's temperature, cleaned up my mill, and moved 5-gallon bucket of grist (grain) to brew area in garage.

Why do some BIAB Brewers mill twice? Milling grain twice ensures a good crush; a single milling can allow larger pieces to sneak between the roller teeth. Smaller pieces helps to ensure that all the starch can be broken down quickly and easily by the enzymes. The result should be better efficiency. However, those with traditional mash tuns should not double crush, as it can lead to sparging issues.

8:33am: Transferred 1 gallon boiling water to mash tun to preheat. I set out my hops, Whirlfloc tablet, refractometerpH Meter, calibration solution, mash paddlestainless spoon, water spray bottle (to cool boil-overs). I put pH testing glasses in freezer to cool samples quicker.

What is pre-heating the mash tun? Several factors influence initial mash temperature: grain amount and temperature, water amount and temperature, and the temperature of your mash tun. Preheating the mash tun prevents it from sucking too much heat out of the mash, lowering the temperature below the target.

8:40am: Strike water was at 168 degrees, so I turned off the burner. Dumped the preheat water from mash tun, and filled the mash tun with strike water using pitcher. I added the grain in small increments while stirring to help prevent dough balls. Once all the grain was incorporated into the mash, I started my 60 minute mash timer. I cover my mash tun with blanket to keep heat in. After that I calibrated pH meter, and added 4 gallons RO water to boil kettle for sparge. Once that was finished, I began heating sparge water.

9:00am: Stirred the mash and drew wort in small glass for pH testing. Next I transferred wort from frozen glass to frozen glass, checking the temp along the way. Once the temp drops to 70F, I check PH with meter. PH 5.33 (OK!).

Why is Mash PH Important? What's ideal? Mash PH influences how well enzymes work, hop utilization, and taste. A range of 5.2 to 5.5 is a good target. Typically a lower pH for hoppy beers and a higher one for malty beers, but there is a lot more that goes into water chemistry.

9:17am: While sitting around waiting for the mash to finish up, I rinsed my fermenter with Star San. The lid, airlock, and stopper were also sanitized.

9:45am: Vorlauf Time! Having a hop sock on a torpedo braid makes the vorlauf a fast and painless process.

What is a Vorlauf? The vorlauf process sets the grain bed to act as its own filter as the wort is drawn off the mash. Start a vorlauf with a trickle; when the wort runs clear with no bits of grain, generally a quart or two, return it gently to the mash. The trickle can be increased as the first runnings are drawn off.

9:55am: I got 2.5 gallons of first runnings and drained into kettle. Next I transfered 4 gallons of sparge water from the HLT to mash tun. Stir. While the batch sparge was proceeding, I began heating the first runnings.

10:00am: It was at this time that I began the batch sparging process.

Basic Sparging Method: A simple sparging method is to split the total water amount in two; mash with half, and sparge with half. Once the first runnings have diminished to a tiny trickle, close the valve and add the sparge water. Mix with the mash paddle then allow to settle for a few minutes. Repeat the vorlauf sequence and then draw off the second runnings.

10:10am: Drained the sparge water into the kettle and turned up the propane burner to reach a full boil. While waiting for the wort to start boiling, I cleaned out the mash tun. Checked the kettle. Drank coffee. Everything going was going OK, so I had a donut as a reward.

The Boil

From here on your process is pretty similar to an extract brew day, now that the grain has been converted to sugar and the wort is boiling.

10:30: Boiling! Added hops and used a spray bottle of water to fight boil overs. After the bot break subsided, I boiled water for sterilizing O2 wand. I also got out my immersion chiller and connected it to the hose and drain.

11:15: I put the immersion chiller into kettle to sterilize, and I added whirlfloc.

11:20: Added hops. Put O2 wand in boiling water with 10 minutes remaining.

11:30: Flameout, burner off! Last hop addition and started chilling.

Post Boil

11:43: After 13 minutes of chilling, It was time to transfer. The wort temperature was 73F. I rinsed off chiller, and began racking to the fermenter. Cleaning is always easier when done right after brewing, so I rinsed the kettle once the transfer was complete.

12:00: Added O2 into wort, 1 minute.

12:05: Pitched starter into fermenter!

12:10: Fermenter went into the swamp cooler.

12:15: Finished cleaning.

There are variations to all grain brewing, of course, based on what steps and measurements you take in your mash. For instance, not every brewer eats donuts while brewing. Others play specific music, enlist help of family members, or sample previous brews as a quality control measure.

But as a timeline of what a typical all grain brew day might entail, this is pretty common. As I finish writing this, I'm sipping on the new addition to my keezer, a California Common which is delicious!

Happy Brewing!