A Guide To Starting Out In Ag

Aussie Home Brewer

Help Support Aussie Home Brewer:

jyo

No Chillin' Like a Villain.
Joined
18/5/09
Messages
3,165
Reaction score
771
Location
Imagination Land
Thanks for the info, mate. I've been doing partial mashes for a couple of years, and I am going to go AG very soon. Some valuable info.


Advice and Recommendations for those starting out in all grain home brewing

There are lots of people getting into All grain brewing these days. All too often though I see newcomers leaping into the AG side of brewing before they have really grasped the concepts and knowledge and they make a lot of mistakes and spend a lot of unnecessary money (hey, I've been there! Words of experience). It can be very daunting and no one can be expected to know everything before starting out but with the right advice and a bit of thought and planning you can do it in a more efficient way. I thought I might take the time to write an article for the aspiring all grain brewer that highlights a few of the pitfalls experienced by new comers to all grain home brewing, particularly in regards to getting started with equipment for the brewery.

Going back less than 10 years there were few home brewers brewing all grain, mostly due to a lack of available knowledge but also due to the lack of access to ingredients, ideas, equipment etc. The internet has certainly driven this boom in the number of AG brewer as it has allowed people to gain access to the information and communicate with others of similar interests where they can share knowledge and experience. However, it has also done a pretty good job of both confusing and misleading those starting out due to a wealth of conflicting and incorrect statements and advice.

This article aims to just offer a few things to think about if you're interested in AG brewing and are looking to dabble or shift to AG and have been pondering building your own system. Brewers wanting to get into AG brewing but looking for a place to start seem to be looking for guidance to starting their home system so I thought I offer a few recommendations and pieces of advice that I have learnt along the way.

It can be a daunting process getting started because of the myths and misconceptions coupled with the fact there are a broad range of knowledge and experience levels out there participating in forums. We have new brewers coming through looking for hints and advice, experience brewers talking on more technical issues, people offering up advice in an effort to help and then people who don't know much but profess to know all and it can be a pretty confusing place. What I see a lot of though is people coming into building an all grain brewery all guns blazing because they are keen and motivated yet blindly following what others have done. It's great to see that on this forum at least, a lot of people are doing their research, utilizing the information that has been posted previously and then making their own decisions.

However as I alluded to at the start, I see a fair few newcomers coming into the hobby, keen as mustard with their new found hobby and then leaping into building his/her brewery before they have really grasped the concepts and understood how to go about it and wasting a lot of money, time and effort. This is particularly prevalent on many of the other forums (both Australian and US based) so I thought I would write a few comments to help the new brewer, who is keen to build, sift through the maze of info out there and come out with a good functional brewery they have designed and built themselves.

There are a lot of websites based on people's home breweries, but not all of the info posted on them is necessarily the greatest information, nor is it always correct, efficient or sound. People give all sorts of reasons why they did what they did in an attempt to justify their expenditure. The sooner you realize this the better off your brewery will be and the less money and messing around you are going to experience. You're free to spend what you want on your brewery but I'm just hoping that with a bit of thought and planning you can go about it in the most cost effective way.

Now there are good websites out there with good solid information, but what the new comer has to realize is that the trick is to sift over the range of websites and weed out the bad ones and remember the good ones. There are no guidelines or standards to regulate what is posted on the net and unfortunately a lot of these websites are posted by keen, but very inexperienced brewers keen to put back some info that they hope will help others like themselves, as well as justifying to themselves their choices for various things. It's a form of self reassurance. But for those starting out, don't be afraid to back yourself and your ideas if you think you can do it better. Use what others have done, but use your head about it.

However, for the new AG brewer here are some points to remember when you start down the AG brewing road:

1. Keep it simple. All grain brewing can be a very simple process indeed, so don't make it harder on yourself. Anyone can do it and you don't really need to know that much to get started and produce pretty good beer if you already have some sound knowledge of kit based beers and good sanitation/fermentation techniques. Do some reading on the subject and try to get a handle on the basic process, you can refine and expand your knowledge as you get further into it. Have a go, if it doesn't come out great don't be disheartened. Learn from it and try again, you'll get it second go and very likely will brew a good beer first go.

2. Don't be drawn into the race for gadgets and to make things look cool. People are proud of their breweries and rightly so, but at least in the first instance don't let it deter you by thinking that to make good beer you have to spend big dollars and buy all this gear and have all stainless vessels. So many of the home breweries out there are filled to the brim with crazy gadgets, electronics and shiny things. It's a hobby, people get excited, addicted, carried away etc. While that is fine and you are free to add/buy whatever you want, but don't feel intimidated by an apparent need for technical equipment. All you really need is some very basic equipment and some simple techniques all the rest is bling factor.

3. Understand what your needs are and what you want to achieve. Remember that each person has different needs, budget, restrictions, time, interests and skills etc. Therefore, build a brewery to suit yourself. Brewing frames are cool, but you might not have the room for one-but that's ok because you can work around this. If you need to pack up after every brew session design your system to suit. If you can leave it in place then you're a lucky person indeed and have a range of additional options open to you. But if you can't weld or don't have access to a welder your still ok. Use whatever supports you have to make yourself a tier or two and lift if you have to. There are ways and means so find out how you can make your brewery work for you.

4. Start out simple and grow from there. You don't need a big complex rig to make it all work. My best advice is to throw together something cheap and simple that you can get your feet wet on. Experience is the key here. The more hands on brewing experience you can gain before you invest in a major rig the better your system is going to be and the less money and heartache it's going to cost you. By actually getting in there and brewing you will find out if AG brewing is actually for you, you'll get a feel for the techniques and requirements that make things work, and you'll also understand parts of the process you would like to streamline and adapt to your situation.

5. Research what others have done but don't blindly copy their system. Understand what's going in the various stages of brewing, it really is very simple. You should be able to visualize brewing an entire batch of beer on someone else's system just from photos. If you can't work out how to go through the process and how it works then you probably should do a little more reading on the topic until you can understand what's going on and where. Hopefully these people built their system to suit their need, that's what you want to do too. Their needs are not your needs necessarily, so don't just blindly copy their system. If you look close enough and give it enough thought you should be able to pick the mistakes and poorly designed aspects of their brewery. Don't make the same mistakes, learn from their example.

Think about what you want and need, but don't be afraid to adapt or change something so that is suits your purpose better. As I said at the start, AG brewing is essentially a very simple process and only requires very simple equipment. Things such as HERMS and RIMS are in most instances totally unnecessary, so don't think that you're going to have to build a HERMS or RIMS to be able to make good beer. These systems are usually employed because a stainless keg looks cool for a mash tun but sucks from an insulation point of view. If you're looking for a great mash tun and a simple brewery get an esky and be eternally happy with your ability to leave it unattended during the mash. If you want to build a herms or rims system don't build one at the start, add it into you brewery later on once you've got the basics down and know what you are doing and you have decided that you really do need it. I couldn't think of anything worse than trying to learn to AG brew on a HERMS or RIMS system. Remember, keep it simple.


6. Plan your system well before you leap in and build. Visualise what you want to achieve and then draw a plan of how you want to build it and how you want to use it. Then play out a brew day on your diagram, is it going to work, what stuff is unnecessary, what should I change? What problems am I likely to experience? How high is it and can I access the mash tun? How do I empty the mash tun with heavy wet grain and can I drain all the hoses and lines to keep it all clean? If I mount some thermometers here, are they actually going to be covered by the grain or water?

Some extra time spend now in planning will save you time, effort and money down the track and your system will work much better without (or fewer) little niggles or things like "I wish I thought of that".

7. A note on temperature control. When your dealing with 25+ litres of hot water (or hot water plus grain) is doesn't heat very quickly, nor does it cool particularly fast. Thermostats are nice but your not going to keep over shooting your sparge water temps because your vessel heats too quick while you're not looking. It also doesn't cool down that quick either, so don't worry too much about having automatic temp control in your mash or HLT. It doesn't matter if your sparge water is a degree or two cooler than you were hoping for you'll still have a good sparge. It's not that important. Try to have your mash tun correct and insulated and you should make nice consistent beer. Add things like thermostats later on if you decide you need it.

8. Some points on height. If you can, keep your system low. Your mash tun is the most important vessel for access. You need to get to it to measure the temp, add in the grain and stir the mash. If you can avoid it try not to place your mash tun at a height where you need to stand on something (eg. Ladder) to get in there. When you're brewing on your own it can be quite tricky to pour your grain in and stir at the same time, worse if your standing on a ladder. I find it amusing when looking at some of the commercial systems (B3, Sabco) that employ pumps to move liquid yet for your $5000 investment you still have to balance on a ladder to access the most important vessel and mash in. These systems use a pump-so why not actually use it ;) .

9. But which valves do I have open? Wow, look at all those valves, that looks cool. Now which one do I open again? Try to make your plumbing as simple and as idiot proof as you can by minimizing the number of hoses and valves. Not only will it save you money but trust me, the more valves you have on the system the more times you're going to leave the wrong one open-and it will happen. Throw in something like hard copper plumbing and you won't even realize liquid is quietly moving from one vessel to the other under gravity until your HLT is full of wort from the mash tun because you can't see in the lines. Keep it simple again.

10. But I need sanitary welds and fittings on all my vessels. No you don't. Anything that is preboil does not need to be sanitized. As long as you can clean it without too much trouble I wouldn't worry too much about welds or hoses or valves on the preboil side of your brewery. Do worry about what your beer touches and where your beer goes after the boil and after it's chilled. If you have lots of extra plumbing on the output of the kettle it just makes more for you to sanitize and increases the chance of some nasties hiding. If you can run off straight into your fermenter it can't get much better than that.

11. Don't get hung up on the minor things. As I've said before AG brewing is easy so don't get too bogged down on the details. Little things like how you build a rotating sparge arm to sprinkle water onto the grain bed don't make a lot of difference. As long as you can get the sparge water into the mash tun it's going to work, it doesn't have to be carefully sprinkled in a rotating fashion so as not to disturb the grain bed. Experience from actually doing a brew or two beforehand is going to come in handy here and hopefully you will realize that aspects like this are not that important. Get the water into the tun, get the wort out the bottom and then boil it.

12. Don't let a lack of equipment prevent you from having a go. You don't have to brew 25 or 50L batches. If you have a 20L stock pot you're in a position to give this AG thing a go. With an extra bucket or two you can be brewing all grain. Take for example the All in One brewery thread that is currently underway on this forum. If there is a will there's a way. Although, I probably wouldn't bother trying to make the All in One work for me, I think it would just be easier to use an extra bucket or two that can then pack away inside each other if space is tight, but if it works for you then go for it.


What if I want to add or spend more on my equipment? I'm not saying that you shouldn't spend the money on your brewery or do it on the cheap. It's up to you how you tackle it, but many people are on a budget. I think the first piece of equipment one should buy though if they are prepared to invest in AG brewing is a good size kettle and a burner powerful enough to boil it. This gives you the immediate option to brew full volume boils of extract based beers and then easily move into AG brewing as funds or time allow. I have to whole heartedly back the use of a good sized aluminium or stainless pot in the size range of 50-60L. Trust me that the initial outlay is well worth it and it is an item that you will always have. Please resist the temptation to source a 50L stainless keg from the back of a pub or wherever. The number of kegs being put to use in home breweries in Australia is soon going to be an amount significant enough that it will attract the attention of the rightful owners to the point that it will be worthwhile to legally pursue. It's best to avoid this from the first outset for everyone's sake and never worry again. $100-150 for an aluminium boiler is actually one of the cheaper things you'll end up buying for your home brewery.

From here you can fill in the rest of the items as you see fit and can afford the items. Don't rule out the benefits of scrounging an item but if in the end it comes down to buying it, don't sweat it too much. If you're in this hobby for the long haul then your brew gear will last a very long time indeed and pay for itself before long and if it comes to it, brew gear seems to have excellent resale value.

So hopefully this article will help give you some direction from which to approach a move towards all grain brewing. If you approach it in a logical manner, try to contain your enthusiasm (I know it's hard :) ), read plenty of information and try your best to educate yourself before you invest, hopefully you should be able to build an excellent, well functioning brewery first go that will serve you for many years. Then all that is left to do is start working towards brewing the best beers you have tasted. It's a fun hobby and if you're keen enough AG brewing can also be a heap of fun.

Best of luck with your brewing.
Justin
 

Samuel Adams

Well-Known Member
Joined
20/10/10
Messages
442
Reaction score
70
Location
Shailer Park
Great thread Justin, on my way to AG brewing one step at a time.

Nice work Justin. If this was pinned with Jayses original bible on getting into all grain, which concentrates more on recipes and processes than equipment, between them it would make a great primer.
I know this thread is over 4 years old but can anyone give me a link to this thread mentioned above ?

Cheers
 

Bribie G

Adjunct Professor
Joined
9/6/08
Messages
19,838
Reaction score
4,394
Welcome to the darkside Sam. Justin posts only infrequently these days, last seen about 5 months ago so I hope he's ok. Great guide for sure, since then there have been some developments in getting into AG, and you might want to suss them out as well - examples are getting into AG for $30 and my guide to Brew in a Bag using an Electric Urn, not to mention the initial BIAB thread by Pistol Patch.

Should give you some ideas to explore. Not sure about the Jayse thread, if he's around he may advise.

Cheers
BribieG
 

MarkBastard

Well-Known Member
Joined
19/5/08
Messages
3,857
Reaction score
49
My guide to starting out in AG (20L batches on dedicated brewing equipment).

Buy a 40L Crown or Birko urn.
Buy 50cm of Silicone Hose for the urn tap from craft brewer.
Buy a 19L Big W Stainless Steel pot
Buy a pre-made BIAB bag from gryphan brewing
Buy a 20L jerry can from super cheap auto or bunnings (clean well a few days before your brew with napisan and thoroughly rinse)

First recipe (buy from craft brewer or closer alternative, get the shop to crack and mix the grain for you)
American Amber Ale
4500gm Barrett Burston Pale Ale
300gm Caramunich II
30gm Chocolate Malt
60gm Willamette hops
1 packet US05 yeast

Attach the silicone hosing to the tap of your urn.

Put 30 litres of water into your urn and bring it up to 70 degrees. Turn your urn off. Put your BIAB bag in the urn. Pour the grain into the urn water and mix it well for about 2 minutes using a coopers plastic spoon or anything else long enough. Put the lid on the urn. Throw a towel over the lid of the urn. Through a blanket over the urn and wrap some wrope around the urn to keep the blanket close to it.

Walk away for 60 minutes.

Come back, take the blanket off, take the towel off, take the lid off the urn. Bunch the edges of the BIAB bag up in your hands and slowly lift it and allow it to drain. Once you have drained it as much as possible lift it up and place it in the 19L Big W pot. Turn the urn back on and put the temperature up to 110 degrees.

Now go back to the bag. Lift it in the pot and drain it as much as possible. If you have someone else there get them to squeeze it (they may prefer to use gloves to do this if it's too hot. Any liquid you squeeze out you should put back into the urn. Once you think you've got all of the liquid out you can put the lid back on the urn to help you get to boiling faster.

Once the boil starts start a 60 minute count down timer so that you know when to add hops.

Add 40 grams of hops when the count down timer gets to 45 minutes.
Add 20 grams of hops when the count down timer gets to 5 minutes.
When the count down timer gets to 0 minutes turn the urn off.
Place the other end of the silcone hose into the bottom of the jerry can so that your hose goes from the tap of the urn to the bottom of the jerry can. Open the tap and let the liquid fill the jerry can up. You may need to tilt the urn to get more liquid out. Try and leave as much hop crap at the bottom of the urn as possible but it doesn't really matter too much for your first brew.

Once done, place the jerry can against a wall and use your knee to squeeze it so that there's as little air inside as possible. You can even half tighten the lid and squeeze and more air will come out but probably not any liquid. Then fully tighten the lid and kick the jerry can over so it's on its side.

Wait 24 hours for it to cool down.

Then once it's cool transfer to your fermenter and add the yeast as per normal.

Done. Worry about all the finer details on your subsequent brews.
 

Samuel Adams

Well-Known Member
Joined
20/10/10
Messages
442
Reaction score
70
Location
Shailer Park
Thanks for the links BribieG - Having a read through them today.

Mark, cheers for the write-up mate.


I'll be giving this a go for sure in the future, whether I get an Urn or just start out with a large pot.

Cheers
 

MarkBastard

Well-Known Member
Joined
19/5/08
Messages
3,857
Reaction score
49
Yeah I just said urn because it's turn-key.

When I first asked for advice everyone was saying to get a pot and a lot of people were saying make sure it's big enough to do double batches because you'll for sure want to do double batches anyway, but that was horrible advice. I ended up throwing that big pot out and getting an urn. Would have been better off just starting with the above equipment in the first place and not mucking around.

Likewise I had an attempt to make my own BIAB bag but it was a nightmare. Even bought a cheap little sewing machine off Ebay. what a waste of money that ended up being. The store bought bag seems expensive but it is specialty equipment and it works very well.

And then that recipe I think is the most forgiving one I can think of. A lot of people say Dr's Golden Ale but I don't think that's the best recipe for a new brewer.
 

np1962

It's all about the Beer
Joined
21/10/08
Messages
1,618
Reaction score
10
Location
Blakeview, SA
Great thread Justin, on my way to AG brewing one step at a time.



I know this thread is over 4 years old but can anyone give me a link to this thread mentioned above ?

Cheers
Jayse's guide as mentioned is in the articles section.
HERE

Cheers
Nige
 

manticle

Standing up for the Aussie Bottler
Joined
27/9/08
Messages
25,707
Reaction score
6,123
Location
Glenorchy, TAS
Never saw this thread when I was first starting out - would have helped a tun (ha, ha, ha, ha, sorry).

I did keep it simple for my first few though
 

Hatchy

Well-Known Member
Joined
30/1/10
Messages
1,200
Reaction score
4
Jayse's guide as mentioned is in the articles section.
HERE

Cheers
Nige
My beer has improved out of sight since I learnt to listen to Led Zeppelin on brewday, prior to reading that guide I'd have my music on random play but it really is cricial to listen to Led Zeppelin.
 

Lecterfan

Yeast, unleashed in the East...
Joined
15/8/10
Messages
2,062
Reaction score
333
My beer has improved out of sight since I learnt to listen to Led Zeppelin on brewday, prior to reading that guide I'd have my music on random play but it really is cricial to listen to Led Zeppelin.

Funny that, while this post was useful for me also I actually tweaked things a bit and listen to Black Sabbath instead. The beer comes out a bit darker and with a heavier body. :icon_chickcheers:
 

proudscum

Well-Known Member
Joined
17/9/10
Messages
471
Reaction score
2
Funny that, while this post was useful for me also I actually tweaked things a bit and listen to Black Sabbath instead. The beer comes out a bit darker and with a heavier body. :icon_chickcheers:

As for this independent brewer its all PUNKROCK and beer and skittles.
In your face spiky non conformist with a lot of attention to the art.
 

yardy

BI3V
Joined
25/2/06
Messages
3,065
Reaction score
9
Funny that, while this post was useful for me also I actually tweaked things a bit and listen to Black Sabbath instead. The beer comes out a bit darker and with a heavier body. :icon_chickcheers:

Dark Side Of The Moon will bring forward an excellent Stout.
 

Lecterfan

Yeast, unleashed in the East...
Joined
15/8/10
Messages
2,062
Reaction score
333
As for this independent brewer its all PUNKROCK and beer and skittles.
In your face spiky non conformist with a lot of attention to the art.

Not sure if it counts but I did a Dead Kennedys Amarillo SMaSH last weekend...(bedtime for democracy)

I'm also quite fond of bottling to Zappa.
 

bunyips

Active Member
Joined
6/1/11
Messages
36
Reaction score
0
Here it is in PDF Format.

Enjoy,
Doc
Very well written Justin
Discovered this about a year ago and have only just become ready to do some AG brewing (a big cyclone kinda messed things up).
Was wondering where to get some basic beginnings with building a system to brew AG and stumbled on your article. Thanks ...will be looking for a good quality Stainless pot during the week. And it begins...
 

PranK

Active Member
Joined
19/11/11
Messages
32
Reaction score
0
Location
Northern Beaches, Sydney
Thanks for this post. Super helpful. Particularly the sanitisation - makes sense now that pre-boil equip doesnt need sanitising... I hadnt even thought of that.

Christian
 

Bribie G

Adjunct Professor
Joined
9/6/08
Messages
19,838
Reaction score
4,394
Yes that's the difference between kit brewing and AG brewing. With kits you even need to sterilize the can opener :lol:
However with AG, once the boil is finished, you have stepped over the line from "hot side" operations to "cold side" operations.
Once you are on the cold side, then no amount of sanitation and hygiene is too much - fortunately I've avoided infections and such like for about 2 years now.

I'd advise getting a good supply of Starsan and use liberally on everything.
 

MartinOC

Insert something suitably witty here
Joined
10/1/10
Messages
2,716
Reaction score
1,436
Location
The Planet Gong
Hatchy said:
My beer has improved out of sight since I learnt to listen to Led Zeppelin on brewday, prior to reading that guide I'd have my music on random play but it really is cricial to listen to Led Zeppelin.
Lecterfan said:
Funny that, while this post was useful for me also I actually tweaked things a bit and listen to Black Sabbath instead. The beer comes out a bit darker and with a heavier body. :icon_chickcheers:
proudscum said:
As for this independent brewer its all PUNKROCK and beer and skittles.
In your face spiky non conformist with a lot of attention to the art.
yardy said:
Dark Side Of The Moon will bring forward an excellent Stout.
Lecterfan said:
Not sure if it counts but I did a Dead Kennedys Amarillo SMaSH last weekend...(bedtime for democracy)

I'm also quite fond of bottling to Zappa.
My first post on the forum!

I just LOVED Justin's original post (Sadly, some 30+ years after I started homebrewing!). To distill:

Read/research voraciously.

Accept information/advice cautiously.

Start simply.

Practice continually.

Drink judiciously during the learning phase (One of my golden rules has always been "NO drinking before sparging!").

And...crank-up the stereo whilst brewing. I've made multi state/national & 1 International-award winners that I've named after the music I was listening-to on brew-day.

The lesson is: Knowledge, not gear.

Slainte!
 

bum

Not entitled to an opinion
Joined
19/2/09
Messages
11,585
Reaction score
909
In case anyone missed it:

MartinOC said:
Accept information/advice cautiously.
Nice first post, Martin.
 

Nick JD

Blah Blah Blah
Joined
4/11/08
Messages
7,322
Reaction score
454
This thread is 7 years old.
 

bum

Not entitled to an opinion
Joined
19/2/09
Messages
11,585
Reaction score
909
Good advice is soooo 7 years ago.

DELETE!!!
 

Latest posts

Top