Homebrew Banter: Methods of Brewing

In our first edition of Homebrew Banter, we reviewed Chicago homebrew resources. Now that we have that out of the way we can dive into brewing the stuff we love to drink. When it comes to brewing at home, there are a few ways to go from raw ingredients to bubbly goodness. Factors, such as time, space, equipment and cost all play a part in your brew day. For our second installment of Homebrew Banter, we're going to walk you through the pros and cons of three brewing methods. Extract, Brew in a Bag and All Grain. No matter what route you go, you have everything you need to brew award winning beer.

Extract Brewing

With low barriers to entry in regards to equipment and time, extract brewing is a great place to begin your homebrew adventure. With the extract method, all of your fermentables are coming from condensed liquid malt extract or dry malt extract. The beauty of extract brewing is that each container of extract has a known amount of fermentables, so hitting your starting gravity is a piece of cake. If you're just starting to brew, you're most likely brewing on your stove top and you know how long it takes to boil some water to make spaghetti. The beauty of extract is that you don’t have to boil the full amount of water needed for a 5 gallon batch. Just start by boiling about 2.5 gallons of water, then add more water to your fermentor to reach 5 gallons. Not only does this reduce boiling time, but if you top off the fermentor with cold water, you've just saved even more time chilling your wort. All of these benefits do come at a cost. Malt extract only comes in so many varieties so you have fewer options when it comes to creating your “grain bill”. Malt extract is more expensive than its malted barley counterpart so keep that in mind. You’ll hear people talk about “extract twang” but don’t buy into that. If you are using fresh extract with proper brewing technique, you can make award winning beer.

EASE: 4/5
TIME: 2-3 Hours


malt extract

Brew in a Bag

The happy medium between extract and all grain, brew in a bag is a great way to ease into brewing using malted barley as the source of some/all fermentables. Brew in a bag is great since you get to transform malted barley all the way into beer just like your favorite breweries are doing.  If you’re making the jump from extract brewing, you may already have most of the equipment you’ll need except for a large mesh bag which you can pick up at your local homebrew shop. This method of brewing closely mirrors making a cup of tea. Your bag full of malt is submerged in hot water for 30-60 minutes. During that time, natural starches in the malt are converted to sugar. From there, it's the same as an extract brew day. Boil, hop, cool, and pitch yeast. Again, there are some trade offs with this method. If you don't have a large kettle, you're batch size is limited to how much malt and water you can fit in your kettle. This also affects how high you can get your starting gravity. On the other hand, this is a great way to get started all grain brewing without much overhead cost and equipment.

EASE: 3/5

TIME: 3-4 Hours


All Grain

The last method we'll cover is what you'll find your local brewery doing. If you've ever been on a brewery tour you've heard the basic steps in all grain brewing. Homebrewers employ this method since it allows them to fully customize their grain bill and brew any style of beer they desire. These fully custom beers do come at a price. In order to brew all grain, you're going to need a few extra pieces of equipment. Mainly, a mash tun, with false bottom will be needed to combine the malted barley and water. Most all grain beginners convert a picnic cooler to be used as their tun. You'll also need a large enough kettle that can collect and boil your wort. Remember, if you're making a 5 gallon batch, you'll need to collect roughly 6.25 gallons since boil off will steal some of that liquid, so get a kettle that can easily hold this much liquid. These two pieces of equipment will set you back a few bucks up front, but the cheap price of malt makes it an attractive option for brewing at home. All grain brew days tend to take a fair amount of time as mashing and boiling take at least 60 minutes each, plus all the time needed to heat and cool your liquids. Having 5-6 hours of free time can be hard to come by so if you're short on time try one of the earlier brewing methods. 

EASE: 2.5/5
PRICE: $$$

TIME: 5+ Hours

In our upcoming editions of Homebrew Banter we'll have step by step guides for each of the methods outlined above. Until then, happy homebrewing