BIAB: From Extract To All Grain in $7

Brew In A Bag is kind of a brilliant way to get to All Grain Brewing, if you think about it.  It covers the entire brewing process, it involves the equipment that you probably already have if you’re extract brewing, it’s cost effective, has a smaller footprint, but still doesn’t preclude building your dream system eventually.  And all it takes is a pot big enough to brew in, and a bag big enough to hold grain! This week we’ll talk about the equipment it takes to make the jump from extract to brew in a bag (BIAB), best practices with process and differences vs a more traditional system.

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What It Takes

Most of the time, brewing with extract has a lot of benefits.  Brew day is faster, it’s very versatile, and you can still make incredible beer, especially if your process is on point.  But what happens when you want to make a teeny-tiny adjustment, be it just a little more residual sugar without changing yeast, or testing a new base malt with a tried and true recipe?  Although you can do just about anything with extract, it’s that ‘just about’ that spurs many homebrewers to the next level.

The problem with making the jump to all-grain brewing is the extra equipment.  You’ll need your normal boil pot, a mash tun, another pot full of sparge water (lauter tun or sparge tank), and then a way to transfer it all, be it gravity driven or a pump.  Not that all of this is too crazy, but it’s a lot of extra investment into this hobby to test a theory. Let’s be fair, that’s kind of a pretend argument, because if you’re already brewing, it’s likely you’re hooked anyway, but it’s the principle of the thing!  The extra equipment, process and potential cost can be a bit overwhelming, even with simplified systems like the Robobrew or Grainfather.  This is where the brew in a bag method comes in!

What if you just want to try your hand at all grain, but don’t want to invest in extra stainless until you know it’s for you?  Well, as long as you have a 10 gallon pot, which you probably have anyway for the ease of brewing and extra space for your extract brews, and at least a 2’ x 2’ Grain Bag, you’re pretty much set!  If you want to get crazy, you can grab a 29” x 29” Grain Bag, which is literally big enough to steep your oldest child in.  Everything else, from thermometers to burners, you already have in your extract system, so it’s really an easy leap!

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Processing the Process

Just like brewing with extract, brewing on a more traditional all grain system or any kind of brewing, BIAB is all about process.  When BIAB first became a thing, thanks to the innovation of Australian homebrewers looking to simplify the process with less equipment, it started with calculating your entire brew day water and putting your grain in all of it at once.  They found that the beer came out great at the cost of decidedly crappy efficiency due to the inevitably high water to grist ratio.

How much water you mash with plays a huge part in your efficiency.  Normally, a 1.2 to 1.5 quarts of water per pound of grain makes the perfect balance.  This ratio keeps the pH in the 5.2 to 5.6 range (for most beers), keeps the mash from being too soupy or too thick, all of which helps the enzymes in the malt convert the carbs into the types of sugar that we, and the yeast, want.  One of the biggest reasons that BIAB efficiencies are so low is because if you’re using the entire water bill in the mash, then your water to grist ratio ends up being more like 2.7 quarts per pound of grain, which in turn washes the pH out to less ideal levels, in turn murdering the efficiency.  All of that being said, a few extra pounds of base malt can fix the efficiency issues and bump your sugar up enough to hit your numbers where you want them. Remember, for us homebrewers, it’s less about getting insane efficiency and more about knowing our efficiencies so that we can plan and create the beer that we want!

All of that being said, there are some life hacks and process improvements that you can do to make your efficiency sky rocket!  The first, and probably one of the easiest, is to use some Five Star 5.2 pH Stabilizer.  2.7 or 3.5 quarts per pound of grain, this will put you back into the optimal pH zone for the enzyme to work no matter what the grain bill is or the type of beer you’re trying to brew!  This makes it easy for those of us that don’t want to play with water, and already have the full volume of wort version of the process in mind.

Another way, and maybe my favorite, is to mash in at a normal water to grist ratio, and have another pot going with whatever your sparge volume is going to be.  This gives you the versatility to adjust and modify water profiles and has increased efficiency, but also requires a little bit more equipment.

 

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Washing The Grain

This part of the BIAB process can be a little tricky since we’re not dealing with a grain bed like we would be with a traditional system, and we’re not going to do a batch or a fly sparge.  (Read more about both processes in Dialing In Your Process:  Mashing and Sparging!).  Instead, we’ll usually do one of two things for the sparge/lauter portion of our process.

The first, shamelessly stolen from an avid BIAB friend, is to use an old wire rack or mini fridge shelf and set it on top of the pot after you remove your grain bag.  This lets you work your way toward the boil, and let’s the bag drain as you do it. It’s pretty easy to let your prepared hot water pour slowly over and through the almost spent grain and into the kettle.  We usually incorporate this into our process no matter what, because it’s just too easy!

The second, and a method that we like to use in conjunction with the first, is to pull your grain bag from the kettle and let the kettle start heading towards boiling.  From there, throw your grain bag into the sparge pot and move it around in the fresh water that’s around 168° F. The clean water is going to saturate the grain bag and all of that sugar (and color, of course) is going to naturally want to even itself out through solution, making pulling whatever sugars that are left easy with the tea bagging motion of the mash bag.  From here, pour all of the sparge water into the kettle, set the bag on top on your shelf, and you’re on to the boil and normal extract process!

Keep in mind that you’ll want to calculate all of your water ahead of time, otherwise your gravity will come out low, high efficiency or not!  You can find the water calculations that we use in our Pocket Guide to All Grain Brewing on the first 2 pages, or go more in depth by reading Designing Great Beer by Ray Daniels.

If you’re extract brewing and want to make the jump to all grain, we hope this gives you a few ideas and sparks you to try it out!  If you already brew all grain or BIAB, hopefully this gives you some ideas on expanding your process! Let us know how you brew in the comments below!  Everyone has some tips and tricks, so help out your fellow brewers if you do!

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