The thoughts that were thunk and the goings on of my life.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Brew In a Bag - Modification for Betterfication

I brew beer. I love it. It's a great hobby, and it has a tasty tasty reward.

Until recently the only method of brewing I've ever done was Extract or Mini-Mash. I've wanted to do all-grain for awhile, but the setup is pretty crazy expensive and takes up a bunch of space that I don't have in my little house. I thought it was a lost cause until I learned about Brew in a Bag (BIAB).

The purposes of this post are because while I like BIAB, I think there's a few flaws with the method and I think I've found a way to improve the process so that it's even lazier! In fact, my method of BIAB (let's call it the Otis BIAB Method) is so easy that the actual work involved is way less than even doing a mini mash.

Let's begin...

Otis Brew In A Bag Method

Equipment needed:
  • Gas/Propane Burner
  • Large Pot
    At least 6-7 gallons, I use a Turkey Fryer
  • Digital Thermometer with alarm
    • I used this, but be careful not to burn the cord, or let water get in between the lead and the metal
  • 5 gallon water cooler, like this
    a 10 gallon is fine too
  • Large mesh grain-bag
  • Grain for brewing
  • Strike Temp Calculator
    Any one of many online ones will work
  • Large spoon for brewing
  • A-frame ladder
    or a good anchor point at least 6-7 feet high
  • Ratcheting tie-strap
  • Medium pot
    2 to 2.5 gallons
  • Hops and all the other fun stuff to make beer

Brewing Process:

Mash the Grain
  • Put about 5 gallons of water in the Large Pot and heat to the calculated Strike Temperature
    • Use a Strike-Temperature Calculator like this:
      I've found my strike temp is usually in the 165 - 170 F range
      • Mash Thickness in a 5 gal cooler will be 20qts / # lbs of grain
      • Desired Strike temp is 150-155 F
        • 155 F is better if you like a more grainy-tasting beer
        • 150 F is better if you want a more subtle beer
      • Temperature of Grain is whatever the room temperature is that the grain is in
    • Also consider adding a pH balancer like 5.2 pH Stabilizer
    • Use the digital thermometer's alarm to tell you when it's at the right temperature
  • While the above is heating, put grain bag in the cooler, then pour in the grain.
  • Once strike temperature is reached on the water pour it over the grain in the cooler
    • Make sure to stir a bit to get out all the bubbles
    • Fill to just about the brim on the cooler
  • Put the lid on the cooler and wait for at least 90 minutes
  • You're done for awhile, go do something else
Note: This method is only proven on beers with <7% alcohol, and supposedly BIAB doesn't work well for high-wheat-content beers.

Drain the Grain & Sparge
Once the time is done on the mash, you need to lift out the bag of grain, but it's heavy so you'll need to do it this way if you're lazy.
  • While you're doing this you should start heating up 1-2 gallons of water to 170 F for sparging
    • Use the digital thermometer to alarm when it's ready
  • Set up an A-frame ladder over your cooler
  • Hook the ratcheting side of a tie strap directy above the cooler
  • Open the cooler and tie a knot in the top of the bag
  • Make a loop on the strap side of the tie-strap and slip the knot through
  • Ratchet the grain bag out of the wort
  • Once above the water line, swap the cooler beneath the bag for the large brew pot
  • Then slowly pour all of the liquid from the cooler over the grains
    • Try to give all the grains equal love
    • This step filters most of the extra crap in the beer, meaning you get more beer that tastes better and looks cleaner at the end
  • Once the sparge water is hot enough, pour it over the grains in the bag and let it drip into the large brew kettle
    • You may need to ratchet the tie strap up a bit more if you find that the water level is nearing the bottom of the bag
  • Give this plenty of time to drip dry
  • You should not have a large brew pot almost full of wort, fill it up with extra water to the desired boil volume
Total Time Before Brewing: 2-2.5 hours
Total Effort Before Brewing: 30 min, maybe.

Once the wort reaches a boil brew like you normally would per the recipe
You might want to add some Whirlfloc or Irish Moss though, as it will help eliminate the increased haze that comes from the BIAB method.

Why is this easier than standard BIAB?
  • Just bring water to strike and sparge tempertures, no watching things.
  • Cooler holds a steady temperature and won't need re-heating over the 90 min steep
  • Do whatever you want during the steep
    • Last batch I went to a park, played with my dog and wife, did some hiking together, went grocery shopping, at lunch, and started watching football all while 'brewing'
  • No chance of burning a grain bag on the pot
    • Can use full-force heat for all parts instead of more-slowly ooching up the temperature.
  • Ladder is easy to set up and take down
  • Ratchets make it super-simple to lift the grain bag and hold it in the exact right spot for a long time
  • Using a digital thermometer means you don't have to watch anything, just listen for beeps
Why is this easier than mini mash?
  • Longer steeping time means you have plenty of time to do other things
  • Steeping in a cooler with this much water means temperatures won't fluctuate much
  • No bringing things to a boil only to then cut flame, then bring back to a boil
  • Also, it tastes much much better
I'm not an expert, but I've done 3 batches this way and really love the ease of everything, and the beer produced is by far the best-quality beer I've ever made. The flavors are also much cleaner and complex than anything I've done as an extract or mini mash.

If you have or can use a 5-gal cooler, then I'd at least give this a try. Sure it's not going to be quite as good as something from a 3-tier proper brewing setup, but it's really really close. Seriously, it doesn't get much better than this.

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