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Andrew's All-Grain Brewing Setup

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  1. Introduction
  2. Ingredients
  3. Mashing
  4. Lautering
  5. Boiling
  6. Chilling
  7. Fermenting
  8. Next Steps


I switched to all-grain beer production in late 1996. You can read about my expereinces with my first batch in a small article that I wrote.

Much of the equipment in my brewing setup has changed since I took up the all-grain craze! I used to do extract batches with partial volume boils on the kitchen stove. Now, I am able to get the benefits of a full volume boil with my new combination mashtun/boiling kettle. My equipment arrangements will evolve as my experience does. I have recently moved into a new house with an unfinished basement. Paradise! I can actually organize my brewing equipment the way I want to. My setup is still needs some work, but my latest batch (January, 1998) went very smoothly.

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I get all of my brewing ingredients from a small shop called Brew Your Own! here in Toronto. I have no affiliation with the store, other than I like the service and the quality of thier products. These folks sell mostly bulk ingredients, in returnable plastic tubs for malt syrups. I have been happy with the quality and freshness of their goods, and they give excellent advice. Stop by if you are in the area and chat them up. You can find them at 168 McCaul St. in Toronto, Ontario.

Malt: For base malt, I use Canada Malting 2-row brewers malt. I suppose that I really should find out some of the specifications of the malt.
Hops: I use both whole and pellets. I prefer to use whole hops, but I will use the pelleted version in a pinch. I have never seen hop plugs offered in any homebrew stores in Toronto. Whole hops are more easily left behind in my straining system (copper manifold in the kettle), but tend absorb more wort than pellet debris.
Yeast: I brew ales, and have had good results with Yeastlab British Ale and Australian Ale. For my latest batch, I used the Yeastlab American ale. Wyeast seems to be harder to find here, so I have yet to try it. I make starters for all my yeasts. I recently aquired some equipment to store yeast on slants. I can't wait to get going on ranching some yeast!
Water: My local tap water is slightly alkaline / hard (PH of about 7.2). It tastes good right out of the tap, so I don't treat it in any way for brewing except for adding some gypsum to the mash.

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One of the goals for my brewing setup was to be able to use electricity for heating mash strike water, and boiling the wort. I chose to use a Bruheat mashtun for these purposes. This is essentially an HDPE plastic bucket fitted with a heating element/thermostat and a tap. The element is connected to a 240VAC circuit (like the one your clothes dryer uses) to provide enought power for heating. The Bruheat is a rather expensive indlugence. If you have ingenutity and some skill with electrical circuits, check out Ken Schwartz's five gallon plastic electric brewery. Ken found a way to use common electric water tank heaters in his brewing system.

Electricty Warning: Please note that the BruHeat is of British design, and thus is rated for their current. Most likely your breakers will be 60amps for your dryer, while the Bruheat is meant for 30amp service. Be careful and build yourself a "jockey box" to connect the wires to the correctly rated fuses.

Fitted around the rim of the mashtun is a grain bag. This is a cloth bag that contains the grist of the mash. The strike water is measured into the tun, and the thermostat switched on. When the stike water has come up to temperature, the grist is added to the tun. I use a giant plastic spoon to mix the grains and the water. When the mixing is complete, I put a thermometer in the middle of the mash, put the lid on the tun and wait for ten minutes or so for the temperature to stabilize. For now, I am sticking with single infusion mashes so that I can hone my skills and move on to more complicated procedures. I aim for a mash temperature of between 150º and 153º F. Mash times are between 60 and 90 minuites. The thermostat does a good job of keeping the mash temperature fairly stable during the mashing period. I taste a spoonful of the mash (to see how sweet it is) and test with iodine for starch conversion. I then add a measured amount of boiling water for mashout, and let it rest for 10 minutes or so. I have brewed two all grain batches and have achieved extraction of about 73-75%. I expect to see higher extraction rates once I get some more experience.

Notes about the Bruheat:

For those of you considering purchasing one of these units, I'll share my experiences with you. The unit performs quite well, and fits my needs. However in hindsight a system similary to the one that Ken Schwartz built would have been cheaper and custom fit to my brewing habits. Here are some observations on using the unit:
  • The tap supplied with the unit is IMHO not very good as it is difficult to fit hose on it. I'm looking for a better hose (i.e. wider) that I can attach to the tap with a hose clamp.
  • The walls of the vessel are fairly thin, and lose heat quickly. Even with the heater and thermostat in the unit, I find my mashes tend to develop cold spots. To remedy this, I'm in the process of constructing an insulating jacket for the tun out of an old backpacking sleeping pad.
  • I've brewed some fairly pale beer, and carmelization has not been a problem with the heating element.

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My inital batches of all grain beer have shown me that the lautering/sparging phase of my brewing process needs some work. I have had some difficulty in getting the wort to run off at the right rate, while maintaining an adequate level of sparge water over the grain bed. I leave the grain bag in the mashtun, and collect the runnings in another plastic bucket.

When I start my brew day, I heat up the sparge water in the Bruheat, and then run it into a Rubbermaid beverage cooler (you know, those large round orange one that almost every all-grain brewer has). For my first batch, I removed a juice jug full of hot sparge water and gently sprinkled it over the surface of the grain bed, over and over. This was quite a lot of work, so on my second batch, I fitted a tap to an old plastic primary fermenter, and ran a hose with a sprayer into the lauter tun. This arrangement worked better, but there are still a few kinks that I've got to work out (like equalizing the flow rates between the input and output to the tun). After sparging for about an hour, I clean out the mashtun and syphon the wort back in. A better alternative might be to remove the grain bag from the mashtun, and put it into a separate bucket for a lauter tun. This would allow me to sparge directly into the boiler and save a few minutes syphoning time. I've also tried batch sparging, but have had poor results when using oatmeal and wheat, as the extraction figures show in my recent Steepleview Oatmeal Stout.

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Once the wort has been syphoned back into the Bruheat, I crank up the thermostat to 10 and wait for the wort to boil. Just before boiling commences, I skim off the foamy material on top of the beer to help preven boilovers. Before I add my bittering hops, I allow the wort to boil for 10 minutes or so for a good hot break. Five minutes before the end of the 70 minute boil, I insert my gooseneck syphon into the kettle. This is a nifty gadget that I saw on Allan McKay's brewing pages . I had some leftover copper tubing from my counterflow wort chiller project and fashioned a manifold of sorts that fit into the bottom of my boiling kettle with a tube that comes up all the way to the top of the kettle. I drilled scads of tiny holes on the underside of the tubing, to filter out hops and larger particulates.

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After the boil is finished, I let the wort sit in the kettle for a short time and then whrilpool the trub and spent hops. Chilling is accomplished by syphoning the hot wort through my home built counterflow chiller into the awating sanitized primary fermenter. This process takes about 15 to 20 minutes, and requires very little work on my part once the syphon is started. Once the beer is in the primary fermenter, I aerate it. Using an aquarim airpump, an inline granular activated carbon filter and a sterile air filter. I imerse a sanitized plastic air difuser in the beer and wait for 30 mintes or so. The air pump that I use has an adjustable rheostat that controls the air flow through the system. When the wort starts to foam up, I just adjust the flow down a little bit, rather than shutting the whole unit off.

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Typically, I use two stage fermentation. My primary fermenter is a large 6.5 gallon glass carboy. Previously I used plastic fermentation buckets. For a secondary fermenters, I split up my batches into 2.5 gallon glass carboys. This means that I can experiment with various dry hopping strategies with one batch (something I have yet to do...). The dual stage method has worked very well for me, leaving me with clear beers at the end of two or three weeks.

I ferment down in the basement, where the ambient winter temperature is about 68º F. This is probably at the limit of the ideal range for ales, but I have had good results and clean tasting beer. I may use the "wet towel over the carboy" method to further cool the beer, or finally bite the bullet and construct a fermentation chiller like the one that Ken Schwartz outlines on his brewing page to further improve my beers.

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Next Steps

So far I have been fairly pleased with my brewing setup, but I'm sure that it will continue to evolve with time. For one thing, its fun to play around with new gear, especially stuff that you have made yourself! There are a number of things that I'm working at changing though:

  • a better sparging system that means less physical work for me;
  • an insulated mashtun;
  • a kegging system so I don't have to spend so much time bottling;
  • a mill so I can crush my own grains;
  • a temperature controlled fermentation chamber to get ideal yeast characteristics; and,
  • some photographs of my setup to put on this web page!

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