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What are the differences in all-grain vs. extract brewing and how you can brew beer at home using these methods? Extract brewing is typically more beginner friendly and a good place to start for most homebrewers. All-grain brewing is more advanced, requires more equipment, but allows homebrewers better control over their beer.
What is All-Grain Brewing?
All-grain brewing uses malted grains during the brewing process as opposed to a liquid extract that’s ready to boil out of the gate. It has some additional steps that are liable to get technical depending on the recipe at hand, including mashing.
This type of brewing is the most common and is what commercial and professional brewers use to brew the beers you and I buy from the supermarket or gas station. Homebrewers, on the other hand, sometimes start with extract brewing because it’s easier and they don’t have to worry about mashing.
What is Mashing?
Mashing is the difference between all-grain and extract brewing. Mashing during all-grain brewing creates the sugary water, or “wort,” that’s subsequently boiled and fermented.
Mashing is the process of steeping grains in very hot water to convert the starches into sugars. The sugar is what’s used to ferment the beer later on in the brewing process. The sugary water is called wort and is what you boil in the next step. If you were using extract brewing, you would skip this step.
The mashing process ends with sparging, where the now-sugary liquid is transferred out of the mash tun. More hot water is added to the mash tun and the combined liquids are transferred to the brew kettle where the wort is boiled. Different sparge methods include no sparge, fly sparge or batch sparge.
What is Extract Brewing?
Extract brewing has fewer steps and ingredients than all-grain brewing. It also uses less equipment and water during the beginning stages of brewing. You don’t need to mill your grains or pick out any malts for the grist.
Extract brewing uses malt extract in place of the sugary wort made during mashing. Think of it as skipping a step and getting right to the boiling process without a sweet, sticky mess of a mashing process.
Malt extract is the sugary fuel for the yeast you’ll pitch after the boil. It’s controlled and less stressful for new brewers, yielding the same or similar results as if you mashed your grains. Like all-grain brewing, there’s still a variety of malt extracts to choose from depending on the beer you want to brew.
Equipment You Need for All-Grain vs. Extract Brewing?
All-grain brewing requires a few additional pieces of equipment compared to extract brewing. It’s also often considered the next step for brewers, as most start with extract brewing. At the end of the day, extract brewing limits brewers, but it’s easier than all-grain.
For all-grain brewing, you need a mash tun and a way to sparge. Sparging is ultimately optional, but it increases the efficiency of your yeast later on in the brewing process. A mash tun is an insulated cooler with a spigot and a false bottom for transferring the wort to the brew kettle. This type of mash tun is essential for all-grain brewing.
Extract brewing requires less equipment, but you still need the essentials: a heat source, a brew kettle, and a fermenter among other things.
Here’s a complete list of equipment required for extract brewing:
- Primary fermenter
- Heat Source
- Hydrometer (optional for casual homebrewing)
- Sanitizing agent
- Priming sugar
- Bottles, bottle caps, and capper
- Hop straining bags
- Measuring cup
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For all-grain brewing, you’ll need the same equipment with an additional mash tun. Wort chillers are extremely helpful time-savers that speed up the time between the boiling and fermentation process; I highly recommend getting one.
Although all-grain brewing sounds like the way to go right from the start, it can be intimidating for beginners to select their grains, mill them (if needed), and mash them. The entire process can seem convoluted to a new brewer, but all-in-one brewing kits like Brewzilla Gen 4 make all-grain brewing a simple and enjoyable process.
Conclusion: All-Grain vs. Extract Brewing
The two main ways to brew beer at home are by extract or all-grain brewing. Typically, brewers start with extract brewing because it is easier and less expensive to get started. However, all-grain brewing allows greater control over the process, even though it is more complex and requires more equipment. The moral of the story is both ways are great methods to learn how to brew beer at home.
Whether you are an extract brewer, all grain brewer, or just recently upgraded to the Brewzilla Gen 4, everyone needs a place to store their recipes and make those important brewday calculations. Brewgr is a free online homebrew community that allows you to do just that - signup for Brewgr today and get brewing!