from a friend who was moving across the country and was looking to lighten his load (along with finding excuse to upgrade his gear).
For those of you who aren't familiar with the process, most homebrewers usually start out with extract kits. With those, you mix malted barley syrup with boiling water (along with hops and sometimes other ingredients) to create the pre-fermented beer.
All-grain brewing is just what it sounds like - instead of buying syrup, I'm buying 10+ pounds of milled malted barley. I'm not going to go into the entire rundown of the process, mostly because others have already done so. If you're a homebrewer or homebrewer-curious, then check out this link. If you're just mildly interested in the same way that I find wine production interesting even though I'm not a big fan of wine, then here are some general thoughts:
1. It's a lot more work. Extract brewing is like cooking, and it turns into a science project when you ferment it. All-grain brewing is more of a science project at the start, then you're cooking, and then it's a science project again.
There are many more steps, which means that there are more places to go wrong. The trickiest part involves keeping the "mash" (the grain sitting in hot water) within a certain temperature range.
2. It takes longer. Set aside the better part of the day if you're going to all-grain. I suppose I'll start to go faster once I get the hang of it, but I found myself having to "fix" my mistakes more than once. Still, even if I get it down perfectly, the very nature of the process adds a few extra hours.
3. Even though I screwed up a bit, I still got some really good beer. The first one I made was a pale ale, and that was good. The second was a brown ale (and a slight modification of a recipe from The Complete Joy of Homebrewing - the book that my sister-in-law bought me years ago which prompted me to start this hobby). That one is downright excellent. In both cases, the alcohol level was a bit lower than it ought to be, but I don't think that anybody can complain about the taste.
4. In both cases, my beers look more "professional". I don't know if this is a coincidence, but most of my extract beers tend to have a decent amount of yeast at the bottom of each bottle. It's not off-putting, but it's noticeable, and my beers are rarely as "clean" looking as the kinds you can buy at the store. In the case of these two all-grain batches, there's hardly any yeast at the bottom of the bottle - just about as much as you see on the bottom of a Sierra Nevada. (They carbonate their beers in the bottle, don't you know.)
5. Kits are cheaper. The Pale Ale kit I got was eight bucks less than its extract equivalent.
5. Essentially, the process is a lot of work, a bit frustrating, and slightly maddening. I can't wait to do it again.