The more you do extract brewing, the more you end up reading recipes and articles and forum posts where all-grain brewers talk enthusiastically about Maris Otter and Carafa Special III and strike temperatures and protein rests, and if you've got anything like my urge to tinker with recipes then you rapidly realize that you're going to have to get around to all-grain sooner rather than later.
I'm not going to write about the generalities of all grain brewing - that's been covered very well elsewhere - but I am going to write about what my setup is and why.
I started off by considering (and rejecting) the following standard options:
- Brew-in-a-bag - simple, but it seems hard to get reasonable volumes out given the size of pan that I've got to mash and boil in. Also requires a lot of attention and stirring.
- Pre-converted picnic cooler - these seem like a good idea, but tend to be far too big for my purposes.
- Home converted picnic cooler - this is probably the Right Thing To Do in the long run, but I'm crap at Making and would probably make a balls of it.
What I've ended up with is a brew-in-a-bag-in-a-picnic-cooler system. The equipment comprises one Igloo 19l picnic cooler and one grain bag. The process is as follows:
- Put milled grain in bag in picnic cooler.
- Add strike water, stir well, check / adjust temperature and leave for an hour.
- Remove the bag slowly and dunk it in some more hot water in the boiling pan.
- Stir the grain, take bag back out, and leave it somewhere to drain.
- Add the wort from picnic cooler to the pan, crank up the heat and get boiling.
Since my crappy electric stove can only keep about ten litres at a rolling boil, I'm currently starting the boil at a high gravity and diluting in the fermenter.
This has some downsides - you get limited sparging to keep the pre-boil volume down to ten litres, and unpredictable efficiency as a result - I tend to guess at the amount of grain to use, check the volume and gravity pre-boil, and adjust the hopping and post-boil dilution accordingly. You also can't vorlauf properly. The risk of hot side aeration is higher than if you do everything with spigots and tubes, but opinions seem to be divided as to how much of an issue that is.
In general, though, this approach seems pretty practical and I'd recommend it to anyone who's trying to brew mid-sized all-grain batches without a proper boiler.