More and more craft breweries have been popping up across the country. Ask the head brewer how they got started in the business and most will say, “It all started when I began homebrewing.” Now you have the chance to start focusing on your craft as a beer creator by developing and enhancing your skills as a homebrewer!
Defining Types of Homebrewing
There are three, though some may argue there is only one, ways to brew beer. Extract, partial grain (or partial mash), and all grain.
Extract brewing is commonly used by new brewers. This brewing process involves using concentrated malt extract (which looks like molasses) to brew a beer. The use of malt extract allows the brewer to skip the mashing process and move directly to the boil and fermentation steps. This brewing process is the quickest way to brew a batch of beer.
After brewing extract beers, partial grain is commonly the next step a new brewer takes to add flavor and aroma complexity to their craft. This brewing process involves steeping crushed malt (typically 2-row barley or 6-row barley) for 30 minutes prior to using malt extract to brew. What is malt? Malt is grain (barley, wheat, and rye are the most common) that has been soaked to initiate acrospire growth to start the modification process of starch to sugar in the seed. Once the modification process is complete, the grain is kilned to capture the sugar to be used during the brewing process. Prior to brewing, the malt is crushed by using a mill to allow the sugars to be extracted during the 30 minute steep.
All grain brewing is considered to be an expert brewing process as the brewer is required to mash and sparge all of the required grain to obtain the sugars and flavors that malt extract provides. This process allows the brewer to select malted grain varieties to match flavor and aroma profiles of the finished beer. The mash process includes milling the malt, soaking the crushed grain in water (between 150 degrees F – 156 degrees F) for 60 minutes, and then sparging (passing water through the grain bed) to collect the sugars to start the boil process.
Each brewing style requires specific equipment. All styles require the following: brew pot, thermometer, heat (stove top or propane burner), oven mitts, timer, measuring cup (ideally, one quart size), fermenter, scissors, large brewing spoon, and an airlock.
Style-specific equipment includes the following:
Extract: There are no specialty pieces of equipment required to complete an extract brew.
Partial Grain: Specialty equipment includes: metal tongs and muslin bag which will be included in the partial grain brew kit purchased from a local homebrew shop or from an online supplier.
All Grain: Specialty equipment includes: six gallon sparge water pot, grain mill (or you'll need to use your local homebrew shop’s mill), and mash tun (false bottom to extract wort or baby beer).
An option when brewing all grain is Brew in a Bag. This style, which started in Australia, is also known as BIAB. With this brewing option, you need less equipment compared to a typical all grain batch of beer. You will not need a sparge water pot or mash tun. Your cost is cut by nearly $200. As you consider Brew in a Bag, it may be helpful to refer to this resource.
Deciding Which Brewing Method to Use
With three main options to brew beer, you must decide which is best for you. There are four considerations to contemplate. Cost (ingredients and equipment), time to brew a batch of beer, quantity of beer you are going to produce, and how much freedom do you want to select your owningredients when creating recipes?
Cost Differences Between Ingredients (for a five gallon batch)
- Extract: Approximately $35.00
- Partial Grain: Approximately $35.00
- All Grain: Approximately $32.00
Cost Differences Between Equipment (for a five gallon batch)
- Extract: Approximately $300.00
- Partial Grain: Approximately $300.00
- All Grain: Approximately $500.00
Time Commitment (for a five gallon batch)
- Extract: Approximately 2 hours to brew a batch of beer.
- Partial Grain: Due to a 30 minute partial mash, approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes to brew a batch of beer.
- All Grain: There are multiple steps when all grain brewing. As a result, this brewing option requires approximately 4.5 to 6 hours, depending on the beer being created.
Beer Quantity Differences
- Extract: Typically used to create five gallon batches.
- Partial Grain: Typically used to create five gallon batches.
- All Grain: Able to be used to create five gallon batches to half barrel (15 gallon) batches. Brew In A Bag creates one gallon to three gallon batches.
Ability to Create Your Own Recipes
- Extract: Nearly zero ability to create your own recipes.
- Partial Grain: Minimal ability to create your own recipes. You can select the malted grain for the steep which will directly impact flavor and aroma characteristics of your beer.
- All Grain: You have 100% ability to create your own recipes.
The good news is that all three brewing options will create delicious beer! There are homebrewers who have been brewing for 20 years and only use extracts to create their beer. On the other hand, there are homebrewers who started brewing all grain from their first batch of beer.
Your Journey as a Homebrewer
The typical progression of a homebrewer is to brew extract beers to develop an initial understanding of the brewing process. Then, to transition to extract brewing with partial grain. This style requires an additional step as well as the option to impact ingredient selection. All grain brewing is a final option that allows one’s craft as a brewer to shine as their technique directly impacts the quality of the beer created.
There are a number of books to support you on your journey as a homebrewer. The most widely known book is How To Brew by John J. Palmer. This resource will cost you around $20, but is certainly worth the investment! The next resource is your notebook and pen (total price of $3.00) as you write details of every brew session you have. Being able to reflect on your brew day success and setbacks is crucial to developing your craft, regardless of your brewing style. The last resource is free, but is arguably the most crucial to your brewing success. What is it? The feedback that you obtain from the individuals who sample your creations! These three pieces, along with your attention to detail as you brew, will lead to amazing beer!
If your interest in craft beer is present, it is time to select your brewing style and start mastering your understanding of a quality beer from ingredient selection to palate impact! Good luck!
Daniel Gridley is the pioneer of North Carolina single origin grown hops and malts. Since 2009, Farm Boy Farms in Pittsboro has been cultivating hops, malting locally grown grains and distributing quality ingredients to local brewers. Using a scientific approach, data based decision-making and in collaboration with over 100 microbreweries, malt houses, hop farms and agriculture research facilities, Daniel is creating a new agricultural model in a state that values fresh locally sourced ingredients. Follow the leader @FarmBoyFarms for all things grown in North Carolina for beer.