To Grain Or

Not To Grain?

Home-brewing Minds Want To Know

by Alex Shoenthal •  March 1, 2016


To grain or not to grain?  That is the question on many burgeoning homebrewers’ minds as they begin the quest for making great beer at home.


There are two methods of making beer at home:  all grain and extract brewing.  Both have pros and cons that need to be considered as you begin to round up your brew equipment.


Extract Brewing

Extract brewing is a great way to start.  It’s easier, and demands less equipment.  With this type of brewing, the main ingredient is malt extract, which comes in dry (DME) and liquid (LME) forms.  Both forms are the result of a process which removes the fermentable sugars from grains and creates a ready-to-use extract.  Malt extract is available in a variety of colors and flavors;  the right extract to choose depends on what style you are making.


Extract recipes include some specialty grains used for steeping, such as crystal malts, chocolate malt, Belgian malts, etc.  These will give the beer the color, aroma and flavor required to make a solid beer.

 Overall, the process is simple.  Steep the grains, add the extract, boil for an hour — adding hops as needed — cool and then ferment.


A bonus of extract brewing is that it requires little equipment.  To get started, you’ll need a kettle (at least a 5 gallon one), a sink to chill it in, and your basic brew gear, such as hydrometers, thermometer, siphon, stir spoon, and a carboy or bucket to ferment in.  This can all be done in your kitchen — provided you are allowed, wink-wink!

 Of course, there are many additional items that you will want to add to your brewhouse, but there’s no rush.  This is a relaxed hobby.


All Grain Brewing

All grain brewing is where nearly all homebrewers end up eventually.  The process is authentic, the beers are far more complex and true to style, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun! The drawback?  You will need more equipment and a larger space to work with.

 The process is very different.  You start with raw grain — mainly barley, but wheat, rye, and oats are common adjuncts.  This grain is mashed at a specific temperature as the starches convert to sugars.  The grain is then “sparged” (rinsed), which removes all the fermentable sugars.  The rest is the same as extract brewing: boil, add hops, chill, and then ferment.


Of course, I’m simplifying things.  Honestly, there is quite a learning curve involved and you will need more stuff, including:

  •  A Mash Tun that is capable of holding a       constant temp
  •  A round Igloo beverage cooler fitted with a ball valve and a  screen or false bottom
  •  A second cooler known as a hot liquor tank to hold your sparge water
  • A larger brewpot (I recommend 10-15 gallons in size)
  •  A propane burner
  •  A proper chilling method (we’re shooting to go from boil to 70 degrees in 30 minutes or less; chillers range from $60 to $200)
  • A brew stand to tie all the gear together


You can build a gravity-fed stand, which is easy and allows you to brew just about anywhere.  Or you can build an advanced set-up using pumps and a digital control panel with a counter-flow wort chiller, which is awesome!  Of course, this is for the die-hard brewer and can easily run into the thousands.


Whatever kind of brewing you do, if you want to master the beer, you will need to master the grains first.  There are hundreds of different brewing grains from dozens of different maltsters from all over the world.  Much like the chef must know his repertoire of spices, so too must a brewer know his grains.


Base Malts

These are the bulk of your recipe, providing the fermentable sugars needed for fermentation.  They can add color and more subtle flavors.  Examples include Two/Six Row Barley, Pilsner malt and Wheat malt.


Kilned Malts

Cured at slightly higher temps than base malts, these add higher levels of flavors/aromas and can still comprise 10 to 60 percent of a recipe.  Examples include Munich, Vienna, Aromatic, Biscuit, or Victory malts.


Crystal/Caramel Malts

These are processed at a higher temp, caramelizing the starches.  They add intense levels of aroma and flavor, and have sweet notes of caramel, honey, toffee, dried fruit and burnt sugar.  They add body, complexity and sweetness to beer.  Examples include Crystal, Honey malt, Special-B, Carapils, Caravienne, and Golden Naked Oats.


Roasted Malts

These are highly roasted, resulting in flavors of chocolate, coffee and dark scorched fruit. Used in porters, stouts, and other dark ales to give intense dark color and extreme flavors. Use these sparingly.  Examples include Chocolate malt, Black Patent, Carafa, Roasted barley, and Chocolate wheat.


And there you have it.  Hopefully I’ve added some insight and perhaps a friendly nudge in the right direction.  Bottom line, brewing at home isn’t nearly as difficult as you think.


Learn the Craft Articles

Become a Brewmaster

An intro to the art of home brewing


The Perfect Pairing

Brewing with food in mind is all about the taste.


To Grain Or Not To Grain?

Home-brewing Minds Want To Know


Fall into Seasonals

Brew Season is here


Homebrew Supply Stores

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Seven Jars Products


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Cabarrus Homebrewers Society

Public group meets the second Thursday of the month at Cabarrus Creamery.



Carolina BrewMasters

Public group meets the first Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at Dilworth Neighborhood Grill.



Iredell Brewers United

Public group meets the second Monday of the month at Ultimate Ales in Mooresville at 7 p.m.




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