Is it hard to switch from extract brewing to all grain brewing?

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Answered by: Ric, An Expert in the Brew Styles and Methods Category
Switching from extract brewing to all grain brewing. Is it hard? Short answer? No, but it does take a little work and sometimes craftiness. Basically, with extract brewing, you're using malt extract which allows you to skip multiple steps including mashing and sparging.

So, first step is you'll need to procure a "mash tun". A mash tun is a vessel that holds the crushed barley and hot water while the starches from the barley are converted to sugars. This vessel can be anything from an insulated cooler to a stock pot. Regardless, on either on you'll need a spigot for when you sparge. Sparging is when you've converted all the possible starches to sugars in your mash and now you need to rinse all that sugary water, which is called wort, off of the grain and collect it into another stock pot so you can begin your boil. It's at this point that you continue the course with all grain brewing as you would with extract brewing.

Coming back to the mash tun, a cooler is ideal because in most cases it already has a spigot at the bottom and it is well insulated so you probably won't experience much temperature change. This is important for the starch to sugar conversion. Also, in most cases coolers are cheaper than stock pots, especially if you're going to go the stainless steel route. Let's say though, you do decide to go the stainless steel stock pot route, what then?

Well, first of all, you need a decent sized pot. Somewhere in the range of 30 quarts should do the trick. Now, for sparging you have two options. If you know a good welder, ask him or her if they'd be willing to trade for some home brew and see if they can weld a spigot onto your pot. It'll need to be right near the curve of the bottom. Another thing you're going to need is a false-bottom. A false bottom is a perforated piece of metal, ideally stainless steel, which the grain bed sits on top of rather than sitting on the bottom of the pot. This is so that your spigot doesn't get all clogged up when you're sparging. It's important that the false bottom fit snugly into the pot so that no grain can get past. Even the smallest amount can clog your spigot right up.

The third thing you'll need is a sparge arm. It isn't necessary, but it really makes things easier. This piece of equipment is a piece of tubing that is also perforated so that you can rinse the grain evenly and avoid a "stuck sparge" where the grain becomes so compacted that none of your sparge water can get through. You can skip the sparge arm just so long as you evenly distribute the sparge water with a mash paddle or perhaps even a water pitcher.

The last thing you'll need is a hot liquor tank. The hot liquor tank hold hot water that you'll be using to sparge. You hot liquor tank is just like your mash tun. It can be a cooler or a pot with a spigot. All you really need it to do is hold hot water and be able to dispense hot water. That's just about all you'll need to get things going on the right track for making your own beer, all grain style.

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