Monday, July 28, 2014

Thinking of going all-grain?

Another analysis of the question - and where I stole this image.
I'm a homebrewer, and I wrote several months ago about how I had made the switch from extract kits to all grain kits. Take a look at that particular entry if you want my initial impressions. For this post, I want to give those who are considering going all grain some additional thoughts.


Because I've gone back to extract kits.

I'm not saying that I'll never go all-grain again. I'm not planning on getting rid of my equipment (that a friend gave me for free) but I don't see myself doing an all grain kit anytime in the near future. Maybe if I see a really cool all-grain recipe or I get some sort of brilliant idea where all-grain is the better option, I'll do it again. But I just made an extract kit today, and I've got two more out in the garage for the next couple of batches that I brew.

There are advantages to all-grain. One of them is that the kits are about $10 cheaper. Also, you have more control over the finished product. For instance, if you can control the temperature just right as you mash the grains, you can control whether your beer is more on the malty or sweet side. Oh, and I suppose that if you own a cow, you have a nice treat for her when you're all done with the grains.

The problem is that with more control there are more ways for you to screw something up. Yeah, if you can control the temperature you can control the flavor, but CAN you control the temperature? There are a lot of variables in that alone, one of the most crucial being how warm it is outside as you have them in the mash. (There's some really expensive equipment you can get that will control it precisely if you want.)

Sure, you'll save some money, but you're going to be out there brewing for at least an additional two to three hours, nearly doubling the time you'd normally spend brewing your beer. For me, that was the deciding factor. I figured that two hours was worth ten bucks. I was outside, frustrated in the heat that it was taking so long, and my wife asked me why I was doing that to myself, as I normally seemed much more enthusiastic about brewing.

With the few all-grain batches I've made, I didn't notice a significant difference in quality. I know that I definitely noticed one when I went from a three gallon boil (which required me to add two gallons of water at the end) to a five gallon boil (which required the purchase of an outdoor burner). However with this? The only really noticeable thing was how much clearer my beers looked, but when a beer tastes really good, you kinda stop giving a crap about how clear it is or isn't.

I'm definitely glad that my friend gave me the equipment though. I had been toying with the idea of making the leap to all-grain, but doing so would have set me back a couple hundred dollars. I also had a good time with the few batches I made (with the exception of the last one) and like I said before, I'll probably eventually make another. (Perhaps for my annual pumpkin ale?)

However, if you're on the fence, ask yourself the following questions before you make the leap (unless you have a generous friend like I do):

1. Are you satisfied with the beers you're making?
2. Would you potentially miss $200?
3. Would you rather save some time than save some money?

If you answered yes to all of these, then you might want to just stick with what you're doing.


Richard Neel said...

Lance, your points seemed to be a bit focused on money. My opinion is that if you are worried about your ROI on brewing, you're probably in the wrong hobby. I always tell my friends that are considering homebrewing, "if you don't like to cook, experiment with recipes or mind cleaning - this probably isn't for you".

Switching to all-grain seems to be a decision for folks that want to feel like they're making as close to the same quality of product that commercial brewers are making - regardless of the time investment. It's something do do with the word "craft" in craft brewing. It's knowing that you were in control of the whole process of making the beer as much as possible. At least this is the case for me. Both of my LBHS owners tell me that the quality of the extract we are getting today is much better than that of a decade ago and that it will make good beer. However, they will also both tell you that most people that have been in the hobby for a while eventually switch to all-grain. My opinion is that this is due to the fact that the are "into" the hobby and not because they feel that they are making that much better a finished product. However, I feel certain that if a commercial brewery believed they could shortcut the brewing process/expenditure by brewing with some type of extract, they'd be doing it!

At the end of the day, brew the way that you get the most enjoyment of the process and have fun!

Lance Johnson said...

Good points.