Skip to content

Getting Started Brewing All-Grain Beer

Why All Grain (AG)? 

All Grain is the process of making sweet wort from converted starches in malted barley and other adjuncts.

  • More control – You can choose and mix a wider selection of ingredients. Virtually any style can be brewed to whatever color is wanted. 
  • Ability to make beers that are difficult or impossible to brew with extracts – (i.e. Pilsners, rye beers) truer and lighters colors than extracts
  • Less Cost – Less expensive to brew an AG than extract beers.


  • Kettle for full volume boil (30 quart(7.5gallon)) minimum for 5 gal batch
  • High BTU Burner 
  • Wort Chiller/ Immersion or Counterflow (store bought or homemade) 
  • Hot-liquor tank – To heat strike water and sparge water.
  • Thermometer

Kettles: Commercial stock pots, Turkey fryers, Converted beer kegs, lobster pots, etc. 
Wort Chiller: Necessary to quickly cool the full boil volume to yeast pitching temperature. Immersion chillers (ICs) are lower in cost and lower maintenance, while Counterflow chillers (CFCs) work faster.
Mash Lauter Tun: Water and heat proof container for the mash; Converted stock pots, Kegs and coolers are the most popular. The false bottom perforated manifold or porous drain allows the wort to be drawn off from the grains. 
Hot Liquor tank: Simply a container to heat and hold hot water for the brew process (strike water and sparge water)
Thermometer: A good thermometer- Either dial or digital is required. You will need to precisely know the temps of the strike water, mash steps, and sparge water.
High BTU Cooker: Propane turkey fryer coolers, camping cookers, shrimp-crab-boil cookers are the best choices and a far better solution than using the kitchen stove. 

The Mash

A process to convert the starches in malted grain to fermentable sugars. 

This is what all grain brewing is really about. Crushed malted barley is mixed with hot water to produce a sweet liquid. The extract manufacturer has already done this step. By using your choice of grains in the mash and determining the mash temperature(s), this procedure is what allows the brewer to make whatever beer is desired. 

Most beers and most grains can utilize a single temperature infusion mash. This is the simplest type of mash and essentially the mixing of Strike water with the Grist Bill to yield conversion of the grain’s starches to sugar. 

For certain grains and styles, the brewer may decide to use a multi-temperature mash. This can be done either by infusion or decoction. Decoction is a traditional continental method where a part of the mash is removed, boiled and then added back in to raise the temperature. 

A Simple Infusion Mash

Typically approximately 1.25qts of water would be used for each pound of grain in the recipe. The water is first heated to “strike temperature” and then grains are thoroughly mixed in. The water temp will be approximately +15 degrees F above the desired mash temperature which will be approximately 150 degrees F. The mash is then allowed to set (or rest) for one hour. During this time, enzymes in the malt break down starches into fermentable sugars. This is the saccharification rest, or sugar rest. 

After the sugar rest, a mashout can be done. The mash temp is raised to 168 degrees F for 10 minutes to accomplish two things. 

  1. Stop the action of enzymes.
  2. Fully dissolve the complex sugars in the liquid. A mashout will generally make up the next step (sparge, lauter) go smoothly, but it can be bypassed. 

Sparging and Lautering

This Post mash step drains the sugary liquid out of the mash tun, leaving the grains behind. 
Sparge water is prepared at 170 degrees F

The grain bed is first prepared by doing a “vorlauf”. This is the draining and recirculation of the first liquid from the mash, which lets the grain husks, and particles settle, providing a nature filter bed. The sparge water can be introduced. Adding it slowly keeps the grain bed undisturbed and helps rinse most sugars from the grains. Mechanical sprinklers or perforated manifolds can be used to distribute the sparge water, or it can be allowed to flow into a small plate on top of the grain to prevent disturbing the bed. The sparge should be done at a rate that it completes in approximately one hour. With a little tweaking, the flow of the “runoff” and the flow of the sparge water should be adjusted so that they are equal. A little faster on the sparge input is okay; you don’t want the water level to sink into the grain bed. This can compact the grain bed and cause drainage problems. 

After the sparge is complete, you should have collected about 20-25% more wort than your recipe volume (6 ½ gallons for 5 gallon batch). This extra water will evaporate during the boil and that’s why you need a bigger kettle compared to a partial-boil extract brew.

The Boil

Once the collected wort is in the brew kettle, the procedure is the same as extract brewing. The wort is boiled and the hop additions are made. There will be more “hot break” material.

The Big Chill

At the end of the boil, it is time to use your wort chiller. Besides the fact that it will take a long time to let the wort cool by itself, which would open the door to infection from bacteria and wild yeasts, using a wort chiller provides a good “cold break”. Both the hot break and the cold break precipitate unwanted materials out of the wort, producing a cleaner and more stable beer. These “breaks” are not as pronounced in extract brewing because most of it happened during the production of the extract itself. 


Use fresh, quality yeast. Modern dry yeasts are easy to use and inexpensive. Liquid yeasts let you choose from a much wider variety of styles. Buy fresh dated yeast stored under refrigeration and store it in the fridge at home. 

  • Making a Starter: with liquid yeast it will shorten lag time, give a better fermentation and provide a fuller attenuation. Two to three days before brewing, prepare a starter solution. Boil 3oz of Dry malt extract (DME) in 1 liter of water for 5 minutes, chill, pour in a sanitized bottle, add liquid yeast and cover with fermentation lock. This will activate the yeast and grow more yeast cells. For large batches and/or stronger beers, this step can be repeated to increase the yeast population. More information on making starters can be found in our guides page here.


Yeast requires oxygen to go through a complete growth cycle. Shaking or splashing of the cooled wort will provide a minimum oxygen for the yeast. Additional air or oxygen mixing will provide the yeast’s growth and strength. 


Water is the largest component of beer and more important in AG brewing compared to extract. Fresh, good-tasting water will make good beer, but a little knowledge of your brewing water will let you fine tune water profiles to fit famous beer styles. Most traditional beer styles were developed due to the characteristics of the water in each locale. The highly carbonate water of Munich and Dublin was a good match for darker beers. The high sulphate content water of Central England allowed the development of very bitter India Pale Ales. The soft, low mineral content water of Pilsner is a perfect match for light colored Pilsner beer. 

Information on water volumes can be found here.

Ions in Water Important to Brewing

Calcium – #1, it stimulates the activity of enzymes in the mash.  
Sulfate – Contributes to better mash filtration and gives a dry flavor, enhancing hop profile.
Chloride – Small amounts improve clarification and stability and enhance body and flavor; excess can negatively affect yeast activity and flavor. 
Carbonates – Desirable in dark beers to balance the mash pH
Magnesium – Similar to calcium, but too much will give a harsh flavor.
Sodium – a little helps flavor and body. Too much can cause a salty/sour taste. 
Iron and ManganeseBAD NEWS TO BEER!!! – Causes metallic flavors and can interfere with yeast activity.
** Worth noting, because some well water in Northern RI can have significant amounts of iron.


If your Town water has high chlorine, you can preheat it or use a carbon filter. If your water doesn’t have a great taste, buying spring water can be a good option. It’s a very good idea to know what’s in your water. You can obtain a report from the Water District/City, or pay to have a test done. If you want to do any water modification, you need to establish a baseline. 

The pH of the mash should be at 5.3. Most light malts should be fine with local water. For dark malts, add some calcium carbonate. 

Brewing Salts and Simple Additions
Take with a grain of salt…

  • Calcium Sulfate (Gypsum)
  • Calcium Carbonate (Chalk)
  • Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt)
  • Calcium Chloride 
  • Sodium Chloride (table salt)

Basic Pale Ales:
1tsp calcium sulfate per 5 gallons

Stouts and Porters:
1tsp calcium carbonate per 5 gallons (add to mash)

Light Lagers:
¼ tsp calcium chloride

Burton/British IPAs:
4tsps calcium sulfate
¼ tsp calcium chloride 
½ tsp magnesium sulfate

Use pure salts purchased from a brewing supply shop or drug store. For Sodium Chloride, pickling or canning salt and be used.
Diamond Crystal Kosher – Use 50% more by volume than fine-grain salt. 

Approximate PPM contributions: 

  • 1tsp/5 gallons

Calcium sulfate

  • 60ppm calcium 142ppm sulfate

Calcium Carbonate

  • 39ppm calcium 57ppm carbonate 

Calcium Chloride

  • 92ppm calcium 161ppm chloride

Magnesium Sulfate:

  • 25ppm magnesium 98ppm sulfate

Sodium Chloride (Pickling salt)

  • 110ppm sodium 166ppm chloride 

Diamond Crystal Kosher salt:

  • 72ppm sodium 110ppm chloride 


Pale malt
Good general-purpose malt for all ales. Can be used for lagers. European malts have the best flavor. Domestics cost a bit less, but can be somewhat bland.
Pilsner Malt
Lighter in color and more delicate flavor than pale malt. Best choice for lagers and can also be used for ales. 
Vienna Malt
Lager malt with more kilning. Rich, toasty flavor – it makes a deep gold to light orange brew.
Vienna, Bocks, and Oktoberfests. 
Munich Malt
Deeper in color and even more richly flavored than Vienna. Brews a beer with orange/amber color.
Wheat Malt / Rye Malt
Very light color and distinctive “wheaty” flavor. No husks, so it must be mixed with regular malt and/or rice hulls.

Specialty Malts and Adjuncts

  • Crystal and Caramel Malts
  • Dextrine malts/carapils/carafoam
  • Chocolate malts
  • Carafa malts
  • Black patent
  • Roasted barley
  • Flaked Maize (corn)
  • Flaked wheat
  • Flaked rye
  • Flaked barley
  • Flaked oats

Even the darkest beers will be 80-90% base malts. Crystal and dark malts add flavors and color. Flaked products can lighten body, add texture, add flavors and enhance structure. 

Base Malts
Crystal/Dark Malts
Pale Malt
Maple Syrup


These Dried flowers of the humulus lupus plant provide a signature bitterness, flavor and aroma to the beer. Hops also work behind the scene by helping to preserve the beer and helping with the foam stability (head retention). Brewing hops are available in three forms: whole, pellets, and plugs. 

In general terms there are three basic hop families. Within each family the various members have their own individuality but share some general sensor characteristics. 

British: Woodsy, floral, berry/fruity; i.e. Goldings, Fuggles, WGV
Continental: Spicy, Floral, Herbal; i.e. Hallertau, Spalt, Saaz
American: Earthy, Piney, Citrus/Fruity; i.e. Chinook, Cascade, Amarillo

Hops can also be subdivided into bittering and aroma types. The “Alpha Acids” of the hop are what contributes to bittering. Those varieties with high alpha acid numbers (AA%) tend to be considered bittering hops while those with lower AA% are normally used for their flavor and aroma qualities. Noble hops are traditional varieties that exhibit the best flavor and aroma characteristics. Saaz and Hallertau are classic European Noble hops. 

Additions to the boil kettle at different times have a large effect on the bittering yield from hops. Long boil times give more bitterness but will dissipate the more subtle flavors and aromas. Hops added towards the end of the boil preserve more aromatics. 


Adjunct – Unmalted ingredient added to the mash or brew to increase fermentability (flaked grain or sugar, for example).
Break – Coagulated material, mostly proteins and phenols, which drop from the wort; hot break during the boil and cold break at cooling.
Decoction – Old world method of raising mash temperature by boiling part of the mash. 
Enzymes – Organic catalysts in the malt that converts starch to sugar in the mash. 
Grist Bill – The recipe or grains and adjucts for the mash. 
Hot Liquor Tank – A container for heating and/or dispensing hot water for the mash and sparge (water used in the brewing process is called liquor).
Infusion – The addition of hot water to the grist to create a mash; the basic and common system used for mashing.
Ion – An atom or molecule with a net electric charge due to the loss or gain of one or more electrons.
Lauter – Draining of the liquid from the mash solids.
Malt – Grain (usually barley) that has been partially sprouted then kilned to serve as a source of starches and enzymes for the mash.
Mash-Lauter Tun – Container for the mash and straining system for lautering. 
Mashout – Temperature increase at the end of the mash to improve run off. 
pH – Measurement of the acidity/Alkalinity of a solution. 
Rest – Specific temperature strange of the mash. 
Saccharification – The conversion of starches into sugars during the mash. 
Sparge – The addition of water to the mash grains to rinse out the sugars. 
Specific Gravity – Density of a solution, the weight of a mixture compared to water. 
Strike Water – The hot water initially mixed with the grist to create a mash. 
Trub – Precipitated break material.
Vorlauf – Initial draining and re-circulation of the mash to prepare for sparge and runoff. 
Wort – The sweet liquid drawn from the mash and boil with hops before yeast is pitched. 
Wort Chiller – A heat exchanger used to chill the boiled wort to fermentation temperature:
Immersion Chiller: Drops into the wort an does not require a pump. This chiller connects to the garden hose or sink to bring cold water in through its coils to cool the wort.
Counterflow Chiller: Uses the exchange of cold water and hot wort to cool, while it does not require a pump one should be used.

Advanced Information 

Mash temperature and enzyme break down

Image from the book How to Brew by John Palmer

Water chemistry can be very complex but it does mean you will not master it with experience. A great resource for helping you understand and calculate water chemistry can be found using Bru’n Water. This spreadsheet has an extensive knowledge base and formulas to help you master your salt additions.