Brewing beer using only grains instead of malt extract is how most professional brewers make beer. This is the purest form of beer making and the method that allows you to have the greatest influence on the outcome of the beer.
The Pros of All-Grain Brewing
Complete Creative Control
Perhaps the greatest advantage of all-grain brewing over extract brewing is that you, as the brewer, have complete control over how the beer is made. It’s like baking a cake from scratch instead of using a premade cake mix. You get to decide everything about the beer, from its color and aroma to its flavor, mouthfeel, and all the complexities in between.
Being able to choose from a wide variety of grain options is a huge advantage of all-grain brewing compared to brewing with extract. That’s why professional brewers and those familiar with the beer-making process usually prefer to brew using only grains.
No matter how you brew, the necessary ingredients for making beer are malt, hops, and yeast. Both all-grain brewing and extract brewing use these same basic ingredients.
However, all-grain brewing requires a larger quantity of grains to achieve the necessary sugar levels that can be achieved with highly concentrated malt extract. Despite this, grains in their whole form are actually cheaper than extract, which requires significant time and effort to produce. So, all-grain recipes end up being more affordable. While the savings may not seem substantial for a single batch, over hundreds of batches, it can add up to a significant amount of money saved that could be used elsewhere.
The Cons of All-Grain Brewing
More Equipment = More Expensive
All-grain brewing is a more complex process that requires larger and more equipment. You will need a large mash tun for mashing, and depending on the methods you choose, a hot liquor tank for holding hot water for sparging.
Some methods of sparging require ball valve spigots for your kettle, mash tun, and hot liquor tank, a sparge assembly including a sparge arm and hose, and a false bottom to separate the wort from the grains. Additional items that can be helpful in the process include a kettle thermometer, sight gauge, large immersion wort chiller, and a yeast starter.
It’s also important to note that working with larger volumes of liquid requires higher levels of heat than a conventional stovetop range can produce. Many homebrewers choose to use a propane burner capable of producing the necessary heat. However, these burners are only intended for outdoor use, which means you may be limited to brewing on days with good weather or need to find alternative solutions for less-than-optimal conditions.
All of these additional items increase the initial cost of brewing and require more space, both when in use and for storage afterwards. These reasons alone can discourage some people from trying all-grain brewing, especially those in small apartments where space is limited.
All-grain brewing involves additional steps such as mashing and sparging, which make the overall process much longer compared to extract brewing. Additionally, using more brewing equipment means more equipment to clean up afterwards. Depending on the recipe, an extract brew may take around three to four hours to complete, while an all-grain brew can take between five to eight hours, which is about twice as long. To put it into perspective, you could complete an extract brew after getting home from work, whereas an all-grain brew would require an entire day.
While there is no right or wrong method when it comes to extract and all-grain brewing, there may be a better option for your needs.