Like many homebrewers I started out brewing with extracts. I brewed more than a few successful batches using this method. After a few years I began brewing with some friends that were making all grain beers. The first thing I noticed is that it wasn’t as difficult as it sounded. To this day I typically mash with a single infusion and a batch sparge. That method is suitable for most every style that I’m typically interested in brewing and adequate for many others given the quality of ingredients that are available today.
Here are a four reasons to switch to All Grain Brewing.
1. More Control. Mashing your grains gives you more control over the fermentability of the wort. Mash cooler and you’ll get a drier beer. Mash warmer and you’ll get a more full bodied beer. It’s true that even with extracts you can add refined sugars to dry out your wort or steep specialty grains or add lactose to add residual sugars but I don’t think that these methods give you quite the same results as beginning with your choice of malted grains.
2. More Variety. Today’s home brewer has an almost overwhelmingly large choice of grains to use. A quick count on Midwest Supplies’ Website, for example, has ninety-six varieties of grain on the grain page. Leaving out the hopped varieties I count about twenty-five varieties of extract. Again, steeping allows you to add crystal and some other malts in your pot prior to boil but there are some grains like wheat, rye, and oats that it’s recommended that you mash rather than steep.
3. Lower Cost Per Batch. A typical all grain batch of beer costs less than the equivalent extract batch. This makes sense given that the maltster does a bunch of the work for you. Consider the example below. Assume that you were going to make a batch of beer that called for 10 lbs of 2-Row Barley. If you were to make this beer out of extract you would need either 8 lbs of liquid malt extract or 6.4 lbs of dry. I went to Midwest Supplies, selected the largest quantity that they list for each type of ingredient and used that to calculate the per batch cost.
||American 2-Row (Briess)
||Briess Gold Unhopped Liquid Malt Extract
||Briess Dried Malt Extract- Golden Light
|Package Size (lbs)
Here are some reasons to stick with Extract brewing.
1. Shorter Brew Days. Brewing a batch of all grain beer makes for a longer brew day. Extract brewing lets you skip mashing. That step alone takes at least an hour plus you have to heat up your mash water and you’ve got more to clean up when you’re done. I know a lot of brewers that love the ritual of the brew day. If you do, that’s great. If your goal is to just crank out a batch of good beer, then extract brewing can make things go faster for you.
2. Less Equipment. While a batch of extract beer is typically more expensive than an equivalent all grain beer, all grain brewing requires you buy or make more equipment. You need something to mash in and you need to do a full wort boil which requires a pot that is big enough to hold the whole volume. This alone is why many beginners start out using extracts. It’s a great way to see if you like the hobby without dropping hundreds of dollars on equipment.
3. You Can Make Great Beer. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to switch to all grain to make good beer. There are extract beers that medal in home brewing competitions every year. There are even some commercial breweries that use extracts, although I don’t know that I’ve ever tried any of them. Sanitation, technique, and the freshness of your ingredients are king using both methods and will have a far greater impact on the final product.
If you enjoy what you make and have fun making it, you win regardless of your brewing method. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.
Which brewing methods do you prefer and why?
Note: I have no practical experience with partial mash brewing. This technique sits between extract and all grain and might be worth looking into if you are interested in using grains that can’t be steeped in your extract recipe. I think that the biggest advantage over full blown all grain is that you can get away with using a smaller mash/lauter tun. Like I said though, I’ve never made a partial mash beer so if you know of additional benefits I’d love to hear them.