Brew In A Bag is the easiest and cheapest way to dive into all-grain brewing. If you haven’t already caught up on part one of the Brew In A Bag series, click over to it and catch up to where we’re at. If you’ve already read that post, then you’re in the right spot. But before we get too far, this series assumes that you already have the basic brewing set-up, and have a suitable bag (if not a purpose-made bag) for this style of brewing. Without further ado, let’s get to it!
In the last post, we went over some of the details of all-grain brewing and how Brew In A Bag works. There was a lot of explaining happening as we went through the details of mashing, water volumes, grain absorption, and some scary-sounding maths. I’ll put off bringing up calculations for another post. That way we can just pick up where we left off on how to Brew In A Bag.
Why brew in a bag?
Brew in a bag is a method of brewing all-grain beer that largely developed in Australia. It is a substantially less expensive means of brewing beer completely from scratch. The clean-up is also very easy and quick to do as you’ve got less equipment to worry about.
Okay, so where were we? Oh yeah. Starting the batch!
So we’ve got our bag, our basic brewing kit, and our large kettle ready for action. We also need grains, hops and yeast. I know, I know… but it doesn’t hurt to make sure. This particular batch that we’re brewing for this series is a personal recipe for a Dark IPA. At some point I’ll publish it on the blog, but it’s not yet ready for primetime. The most important thing is that we start this batch and get things kicked off.
For this recipe the mash needs to sit at about 68°C. Because our 5kg of grain is sitting at room temperature (about 20°C), it’s going to drop the temperature of the water when we dough-in (this is what it’s called when you pour the grains into the water for mashing). This is another area where you need a calculation, but let’s just gloss over that for now, and kick the temperature up a few degrees. Let’s shoot for 72°C as the target temperature for our strike water. Strike water is the water that is at striking temperature in your mash tun (kettle with BIAB bag in this situation) which is ready for doughing-in. So our strike water needs to be at 72°C to get our 5kg of grain to mash at approximately 68°C.
This is obviously hotter than 72°C, so we need to bring it down by adding some cold water to it. We’ll pull 2 litres of the water, and add 2 litres of cold water, then stir it up, and that should bring us down to strike temp. That’s just a guess from experience, but there are calculations (if you’re not afraid of them) that will help you bring your strike water down exactly where you need it.
For brevity’s sake, we’re going to keep it very simple on this batch, so let’s move on.
Doughing-in, brew in a bag style!
Here’s one of the more fun activities in brewing. Doughing-in. At least I think it’s fun, and mildly therapeutic as well. You may or may not think so, but at any rate we need to do it to make our beer, so let’s get to it.
Ahhhh, that feels great! And in a few moments, the kitchen will be full of the beautiful aroma of steeping grains.
One thing that is good to do when doughing-in, is to go little by little and stir the grains gently as you add them to the water. This will prevent any clumped up chunks from forming which could reduce your mashing efficiency. It also helps form a good grain bed, which is instrumental in lautering when using a mash tun so that you don’t get a stuck sparge or clogged up false bottom. I won’t get into those details here, but gently stirring the grains while doughing-in is a good habit to form.
The mash temp is a little high, but it will drop slightly over the next hour, and this is the first attempt at this new recipe so it will give me a good idea of how to tweak it from here. I’m also brewing the same recipe at the same time in the mash tun for comparison (and more beer!), but that’s for a different post.
So from here I let the kettle go for a little bit with the heat on low-medium to maintain temperature. I will check the temperature every 15 minutes and stir the grains gently to keep the temperature even, break up any hot spots, and adjust as necessary. But most importantly is to start preparing a couple things. Let’s keep going.
The yeast is alive!
The yeast is indeed alive. There are two forms of yeast commonly used in brewing. Dehydrated yeast sachets and liquid yeast pouches. Some of the liquid yeast pouches are “smack packs”, and they are preferred by a lot of home brewers, but dehydrated yeast does just fine. I won’t go into detail about yeast or preparation methods at this point, but just make sure your yeast pouch or sachet is sanitised before cutting it open with sanitised scissors.
If you’re using a sachet of dry yeast, now is a good time to rehydrate it. I’ve never done this before, but Ben has had great results. He’s got a post in the works that covers this in detail that I will link to, but for now here’s what to do. Make sure you’re using boiled water that has been cooled to 24°C in a sanitised vessel. A Pyrex bowl or measuring cup will work perfectly. Just carefully open the sanitised sachet wit sanitised scissors, and empty it into about 250ml of cooled boiled water, and cover with cling wrap.
If you’re using a liquid yeast pouch or smack pack, now is a good time to retrieve it from the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature. This will take about 3 hours, and with the mashing underway now is a good time to set the liquid yeast pouch out on the counter to bring it up to temp. The mash will take about an hour, then another hour in the boil, and then at least an hour to cool. There are also in-between steps that take time, so no worries about getting the yeast out sooner than doughing-in.
Sanitise, sanitise, sanitise. Don’t get lazy.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to sanitise your gear before doing a brew, throughout the brewing process, and after you’re done. There is a lot of opportunity for airborne bacteria and wild yeast to make their way into your batch spoiling your day AND your entire batch.
Sanitising your vessels, utensils, and work area should become a habit. To do this, you should keep a spray bottle with sanitising solution handy, and a bowl of sanitising solution to keep little bits and bobs in until they’re needed. Ben has a great post here about sanitising your gear. It’s a quick and useful read that stresses the importance of sanitising. You won’t regret reading it.
Back to the batch at hand, let’s keep moving.
To sparge or not to sparge, that is the question.
Simply put, sparging is the process of rinsing the grains of all the usable sugars before moving on to the boil. When it comes to Brew In A Bag, sparging is possible, but not entirely easy or economical in the interest of time and patience. I’m not going to sparge this BIAB batch, but I’ll cover it in another post at a later date. Let’s move on.
Lifting out the bag.
This is important because we don’t want to boil those nasty old grain husks and make the beer taste like facial soap. The easiest way to do this is to carefully lift the kettle off of the stovetop and on to some carefully placed towels on your floor. If you’re going to do this outside with a burner you shouldn’t need to do this.
Once the kettle is at ground level, it becomes simpler to lift it out and do with it what you will.
Some people, myself included, have the luxury of two identically sized kettles. This comes in useful for putting the bag of spent grain in so you can wring it out, and provides the opportunity to attempt sparging. Again, I’m keeping this batch as simple as can be so I won’t be sparging the grains. I will, however, wring out the bag to collect as much wort as possible.
Once I’ve twisted and smashed and squeezed the bag to release all the sugary grain juice I possibly can, it’s time to pour said juice into the main kettle. Extra wort. Bonus.
Now it’s time to quickly get the kettle back onto the stovetop so we don’t lose temperature, and get our wort up to a boil quickly. Crank up the burner to get things going. Once the kettle is back up and the burner on full-steam, prepare your hop additions if you haven’t already done so.
Since this post is about brew in a bag, we’ll stay focused and leave it at that. To continue on with this batch of beer, stay tuned for my upcoming post about why we boil. I’ll pick up where this post on brew in a bag leaves off, and then continue on from there.
One of the things I love about BIAB (brew in a bag) is that it is a very affordable and easy to get going in all-grain brewing. It is also extremely economical in regards to brewing in an apartment or small flat, because all of your gear can fit into a 40 litre kettle to store in a closet.
Have you done a brew in a bag batch before? Is this getting you excited to start making your first all-grain batch of beer? Maybe this is the only way you fly. Whatever the case, we’d love to hear about it in the comments!