One Gallon Brewing: Setting Up an All Grain System -- Part 3 - Brain Sparging on Brewing


Sour beer, saisons, farmhouse beer, homebrewing, ramblings

June 14, 2013

One Gallon Brewing: Setting Up an All Grain System -- Part 3

In this third and final installment I'll show you a walkthrough of an all grain brew day (I'll leave out the cleaning). The beer I am brewing today is Lucky Pierre. I won't go through the recipe and all the stuff I normally post with the recipe just to keep this post focused. My next post will be the recipe post for Lucky Pierre. The actual brew day process is very simple and straightforward, which makes it a perfect beer to demonstrate all grain brewing. I am using my hybrid small batch system, which I discussed in Part 2.

The total brew day runs about five hours, including clean up. I do not have a wort chiller so there's actually some additional time while the wort cools before pitching that actually extends the brew day but there's no work involved in letting the kettle sit in some water in the sink cooling.

Here's an overall picture of all the equipment I use. I forgot to toss in the measuring cup I use and some of the ingredients are missing but you get the idea of the equipment. It isn't a lot.

On the left side of the picture is an airlock, stopper, fermentor, sack of grain and you can't really see it but there is the grain bag behind the paper bag of grains. Moving right, there is my small digital scale in a box, a quick read thermometer, a floating thermometer, star-san and a strainer. Moving further right is a funnel, my other digital scale, a candle that doesn't belong in the picture, the refractometer in the blue box, my small kettle and behind it is the two gallon cooler. Finally, all the way to the right is my shitty grain mill. In the very back of the picture you can see my larger cooler mash tun.

Step 1: Milling the grain

First thing you need to do in an all grain brew is mill the grain. This cracks apart the grain, letting those key enzymes get access to more of the starches. This is a picture of my mill. It is a corona mill (actually it is a corona-style mill, not actually made by Corona). It is a cheap mill, running about $20-25 on, designed for milling corn and other large seeds for farm purposes. However, it will mill brewing grains well enough. It doesn't work quite as well as a nicer roller mill but it works well enough. I've modified the hopper in a cheap way by cutting off the top and bottom of a two liter soda bottle and then attaching it to the hopper with tape (looks hood, right?) to expand the hopper. This allows me to shove more grain in and mill faster than if I had to stop every eight ounces to refill the hopper. There are nicer hopper extensions you can buy.

As you might be able to tell, on the front of the mill (your right) there is a large eye screw holding a wing nut that holds together an assembly. In that assembly are two roller plates. The grain travels through the mill, driven by the shaft, which turns one plate as it feeds the grain against a stationary plate. This is what mills the grain. The problems is that there is no shield on the plates so milled grain flies in all directions. Not good.

This is my ghetto fabulous remedy. I place a kitchen bowl under the plates and wrap the whole thing in a grocery bag. The bag drives the grain into the bowl and if the bowl fills up before I can empty it then the bag will hold the grain for me.

You may also notice that the mill is hand cranked. Yeah, it can be a real chore to hand mill a lot of grain. However, for small batches it takes me 5-10 minutes to mill enough grain. Some people attach drills to their mills. It's an option but I don't own a decent drill. When you use a drill you need a drill that can turn at a slow speed and those are usually your nicer drills. Cheap drills go one speed -- fast -- and that will tear apart your grain hulls. That's a problem when you don't brew in a bag because you need those hulls partially intact to act as a filter (the bag is the filter in brew-in-a-bag brewing).

Step 2: Filling the mash tun

Next, I needed to set up the mash tun. As I discussed in part two, I use a cooler with a grain bag to gain the
benefit of using an insulated mash tun but the ease of brew in a bag. So the next step starts with lining the mash tun with the grain bag. As I mill grain and fill up the bowl I empty the bowl into the mash tun.

There's no real science. The bag just goes in the cooler like putting a garbage bag in your kitchen trash can.

 Once all the grain is milled it goes in the bag. Here's what milled grain should look like. I could mill this more aggressively because I don't need the husks to act as a filter but I use the mill for non-BIAB brewing so I don't want to try to change the mill settings each time I brew. You can see that the husks are torn but still mostly intact. The smaller bits are the actual grain with the starches I need.

While I am milling the grain I also need to get the mash water measured and into the kettle on the stove to
start heating up. I heat the water to the recipe's temperature, which is a little higher than what the mash temperature will be because the cooler and grain are at room temperature so temperatures will equalize out at the right mash temperature. Usually the mash water will get up to the mid-160F range (known as the strike temperature) and this takes around ten minutes at high heat on my stove.

I don't know why I thought you needed to see this picture. You know what hot water looks like.

I added brewing salts to my mash water, which is a step I left out because the whole water adjustment issue is too advanced to worry about with your first all grain brew. I use 100% RO or distilled water because the local water supply sucks ass so I have to adjust the water on every batch. If your local water supply is municipal then it probably has chlorine or chloramine in it and you will need to treat that water by boiling it the day before for chlorine or adding a campden tablet the day before for chloramine to eliminate that stuff. Both will later turn into disgusting phenolics after a couple months in your beer and make it taste like floor cleaner. I prefer to just buy some form of filtered or distilled water.

Step 3: The mash

Really easy stuff. Once the mash water hits the strike temperature the water goes in the grain and gets stirred
for several minutes. To the right is the beginning of the mash. You can tell it's basically just like making oatmeal. Hot water and grain. This particular recipe has oatmeal in it, so it's literally making a big pot of oatmeal.

Once everything is mixed up I tighten the lid on the cooler and let the enzymes do all the magic. I put the cooler in the oven with everything turned off just to reduce the amount of cool air coming in contact with the mash tun and cooling it down. It's just a small step to help maintain stable mash temperatures.

And here's the after shot. I blew this picture up larger for you so you could see how the mash changed. If you compare the prior picture and this one you can see the grain has settled a little and there's a nice dark layer of liquid visible on top. This doesn't mean anything special, it just means the specialty grain (in this case roasted barley) leeched out color into the wort and the grain settled.

This wort, the first runnings, will be darker and sweeter than even the post-boil concentrated wort. Even in the lightest of beers it will have a color about the same as a cooked pie crust. The subsequent runnings from the sparge will dilute the wort, reducing the color and sweetness. It's not quite as sweet as liquid malt extract just because liquid extract is evaporated down even further to get to that thick syrup consistency. First runnings are far less viscous and drain easily.

Step 4: The sparge

Yeah, more pictures of hot water. With about 25-30 minutes remaining in the mash is a good time to start heating the sparge water, at least at these volumes. It is important to heat the sparge water during the mash so you don't have to extend the mash. Sometimes it's not a big deal to extend the mash (and on commercial systems the runnings remain at mash temperatures for a long time) but you don't want to let it go too long because the enzymes will keep working on the more complex sugars and that will produce a more fermentable wort that can get drier than you want.

Once the sparge water is ready I just lift the grain bag and let it drain out. It's not important that the bag drains dry, just enough that moving it won't make a mess. To the left is a picture of the first runnings. You can see that it is very dark.

The grain bag needs to get soaked in the sparge water in the kettle and then "tea-bagged" or dunked in and out of the water to create water movement that can rinse the sugars off the grain. I like to alternate between a few minutes of dunking and a few minutes of resting in the water. I don't know why I think that helps. In the picture to the right the grain is taking a rest.

After 10-15 minutes it's time to drain all the goodness out of the grain by holding it up and letting
gravity do the hard work. I spin the bag to pull the bag against the grain and squeeze out some more liquid (be careful about doing it too fast because it will spray hot and sticky wort everywhere). I squeeze the bag with my hands a little but the wort is hot so there's only so much I can do. It's not important to get every drop out of the grain. As you can sort of see in that picture, the wort in the kettle is much lighter than the first runnings. That's because most of the good stuff was left in the mash tun.

The final step is to mix everything up and get the boil started. You can see in this final picture that the blended wort is lighter than the first runnings but darker than the sparge runnings.

You can do all kinds of variants on mashing with this technique. You can first wort hop in the mash tun with the first runnnings while you sparge. You can add the steeped specialty grains at the end of the mash. All the stuff people do on larger set ups. The only thing that doesn't make sense is to do fancy electronic recirculation systems but I'm sure if you were particularly innovative and had the right equipment it could be done.

So there you have it. A whole all grain brew. Of course, I hit the boil and did all the boil additions but if you have brewed an extract beer you already know what the boil looks like. The recipe for this beer is the Lucky Pierre Double Brett Farmhouse Ale that will get posted up next week. Not that it really matters but just in case you were curious. I hope you enjoyed the three part tutorial and for all of you fearing the jump to all grain you can see that it is a really simple task. On my larger system it's the same process except I would drain the wort from the mash tun and leave the grain and add the sparge water to the mash tun, stir and drain again. It's the same process but instead of moving the grain the liquid is moved. Not difficult either.

In the future I plan on doing some more tutorial-based posts for small batch brewing (as well as normal homebrewing tutorials) and I have some other small batch-related stuff. I'm brewing several other small batches over the next few months so stay tuned for those one gallon and 2.5 gallon recipes. My next brew will be coming in a couple weeks (hopefully) of a mesquite-smoked saison with home smoked munich malt over mesquite wood.


  1. Hello, I noticed you use a standard rubber stopper for your jugs. All the ones I have found have smelled excessively of rubber. Some of the beers I have fermented under them also taste like rubber. Not sure if the taste is from the stopper. Have you noticed anything similar? Did you do anything to the stopper before use?


  2. I wash the stoppers with regular dish soap and water and sanitize with star-san. The rubber smell never goes away but I have never had a rubber flavor come through in the beer even when the krausen reaches the stopper.

  3. Great article! I will try this soon. Thanks.

  4. I've been really intrigued by this idea, but I'm still trying to figure out exactly how much wort can realistically be poured into a single one-gallon glass jug. I was thinking of making a 1.5 gallon batch and then splitting it between two jugs, but can one full gallon fit without losing too much yeast through the blow-off tube?

    How much wort do you pour into your one-gallon glass jugs?


  5. I should point out that I use five liter jugs, which are about 1.3 gallons. I get these jugs by buying the cheap wine jugs and using it for cooking. In 95% of the brews I have no problem with blow off. With particularly aggressive strains (like weizen and Belgian yeast) I hook up a blow off tube and tend to only lose a little krausen. If I only had one gallon jugs then I would definitely not go any more than 3/4 full in a jug. You can also buy two gallon plastic buckets that will work fine as fermentors. Just drill a hole in the lid for an airlock.

  6. Where did you find a 5L glass wine jug?

  7. Those are empty jugs from the 5l wine jugs you see at the supermarket. I think Carlo Rossi is the brand I normally see in the stores. There are a few wineries putting out one gallon jugs as well. I believe some homebrew shops are stocking new 5l jugs if you don't want to find a use for five liters of jug wine. I use them for cooking and unload one every nine months to a year.

  8. I should clarify that those are 4l jugs, not 5l. Will update the post in the future.

  9. Thanks for a very nice tutorial. Two questions please. How do you know how much water to use in the mash tun and in the sparge kettle to come out with the right amount for the wort boil? Also, I used a muslin bag to do my biab on my last batch.(Still in the bottle stage), A pumpkin ale with extra grain and real that OK or should I get a different material?

    1. The short answer there is whatever beersmith tells me. I wish I could give a more mathematical answer but I have good luck relying on beersmith's water calculator for this setup.

      Muslin bags work as long as they can support the weight of the grain. There is probably an upper limit on that. I'm not sure if muslin provides a great filter but you should be able to tell by how much trub you are getting.

    2. Just stumbled on your blog, it is quite fantastic really! Thank you. I was looking for a way to step to all-grain, and since my eletric stove strugles to boil a mere 3 gallon, 5 gallon batches are out of question, plus I like to drink different styles of beer. I have been reading about brew in a bag and small batches, and the way you combine both seems to give best of both world!

      I will probably begin with something really simple, just to get used to the process, but I would like to move on and play with recipes. Would you mind sharing your beersmith equipment profile (like a screen or something) for those 1 gallon batches? That would give me a solid base to start with, that I could then tweak to my own reality. I've tried to set one up but for a newbie, there are lot of parameters to "guess", sortof...

  10. And do you put your specialty grains in with the main grain mash or wait until later when you have the wort and boil them then?