All grain brewing does not have to require an expensive set-up. After 2 or 3 extract brews early in my brew career, I decided I wanted to move to all grain, but as a (then) college student I needed to find a way to do so without spending much money. Here’s my set-up and method, all for under $30.
I purchased this 30 qt. pot from Academy that only cost me $30. I’ve able to brew 4.5 to 5 gallons depending on OG, limited by the brew in a bag size and not the boil size. I’ve also done a few 5.5 gallon extract brews in this kettle.
I know that Aluminum is a bit frowned upon, but I have experienced zero issues with off-flavors from the aluminum pots.
Mash Tun (Brew in a Bag)
I bought a nylon bag at my local brew shop for $10, which can fit the full grain bill of a 5 gallon boil with no problem. I do get a little tight on higher gravity beers, and have to limit the final volume to 4 or 4.5 gallons. On lighter beers, I’ve made up to 5.5 gallons with no problem.
I start by pre-heating my strike water to 160 degrees, then add my grains to the nylon bag. I typically get a drop to my mash temperature of 152 degrees, although if I’m a little low I’ll add heat from a gas burner and if I’m a little high I’ll add ice. On a warm day (which we get a lot of in Houston) I find that my temperature does not drop substantially over the course of the mash, however I will check it every 10 minutes to see if I need to adjust the temperature.
I’ve experimented using a sous vide in the past, which works GREAT, but unfortunately I broke my sous vide shortly after starting to brew. I don’t think that it’s related, as I started to hear the pump going out a few weeks before my first ever brew. I’m debating purchasing another, although it would push the setup cost well over $30. I typically mash for an hour, depending on the recipe, and have achieved around 75% on most of my brews. I do like to squeeze the bag, but I’m not sure how much efficiency this really adds.
After the mash, it’s just like any extract brew. I’ve made a few batches without any type of immersion chiller by filling a large bin (which I already had) with water and ice to cool the beer. An immersion chiller is a worthwhile investment if you can afford to buy it or make it, but not absolutely necessary for making good beer.
So don’t be afraid of the cost to start doing All-Grain…for most brewers the only additional equipment needed is a large Nylon bag, which can be re-used! Try it for yourself.