My friend Fred is a fellow beer enthusiast and he also started to homebrew around the same time I did. He started with a 5 gallon two bucket extract system. He’s also now gone to partial extract, incorporating the steeping of some specialty grains. Over the past year, whenever we talked about homebrewing, he’s tried to convince me to take the step out of the Mr. Beer world and go to all grain brewing (getting away from the malt extracts, dry or liquid, and just using grains as the malt sugar source). My main trepidation arose from money and storage space. I didn’t have much of either. Through internet research, I had started to learn what all grain brewing was about and found out there was a lot of equipment involved. Mash tuns, sparge arms, large kettles, turkey fryer burners, assorted tubing/connections, etc. You could buy this stuff ready to use online or at the local homebrew store (LBHS) at a significant cost. Or you could scavenge the coolers and pots needed and MacGyver the shit, which I was not at all confident I could do without a lot of frustration. It just seemed to be a bit much for me. So I dismissed it.
Then, while doing one of my many google searches on anything homebrew, I came across the term “Brew in a Bag” or BIAB. This was a modified process of all grain brewing that originated in Australia and has been gaining popularity in the US. The principles of BIAB and traditional all grain are the same. You soak your milled grains in heated water for usually an hour, called mashing, in order to extract the malt sugars into the water. This sugar water, called the wort, is then separated from the grains and boiled for usually an hour. During the boil, hops are added. Then the wort is cooled, transferred to a fermenter (usually a paint pail or carboy), pitched your yeast and allow it to ferment. Then you prime the bottles with sugar (usually table or corn sugar), bottle your beer and let it condition for a couple weeks. Or you could transfer your batch to a keg and force carbonate with CO2. The process from the boil onward is pretty close to the process for extract brewing. The difference between all grain and extract comes down to this. How do you get your fermentable sugars in your wort? In all grain, you extract the sugars from the grains directly. In extract brewing, you are just diluting essentially a pre-prepared concentrated wort in water.
Now the difference between BIAB and traditional all grain is how you perform your mash. In traditional all grain, you combine the milled grain in your mash tun with hot water. The mash tun is usually a converted cooler or a pot that has a false bottom and a draining mechanism at the bottom of the tun. After the mash time is up, the wort (sugar water) is drained from the mash tun into the boil pot or kettle. Then usually a process called sparging occurs where you add additional hot water, hotter than the mash water, to fully extract the final remnants of sugar from the grain, and then drain and add that water to the boil pot. Then you boil your wort as usual. In BIAB, you put a mesh bag into your boil pot with hot water and put your grain in. You essentially mash in your boil pot instead of a separate mash tun. When the mash is over, you just pull the grain bag out and allow it to drain into the pot. Sparging can be done also but it isn’t necessary. Then you boil your wort as usual. BIAB is a simplified process with less equipment, less clean up and the upfront cost of the equipment is much less. I’ve finished one beer batch with this method with one batch currently in process (more on those in another post). I have been extremely pleased with the results. In the next post, I’ll detail my process more fully, including where I got the equipment and how much it set me back.