Extract to All Grain for Four Dollars

Because it’s so extremely hot where I’m at, I brewed a Brew in a Bag (BIAB) batch last night.  I was again struck by how well this technique works.  It’s extremely easy and requires so little equipment.

I ended up splitting a California Common Kit.  I thoroughly mixed the grains included in the kit and divided it in half.  I switched up the hops for the beer I made last night.  I’ve been wanting to try making something similar to a test batch of beer that I had at Boulevard Brewing’s tasting room.  Think lower gravity with tons of hops at the end.  I’ll use the remaining half of the grain bill to make a 2.5 gallon batch of California Common.  It’s amazing!

What kind of gear is needed to accomplish this amazing feat?  A comprehensive list follows.

1.  A Bag.
That’s about it.  You kind of just need a bag.

My total investment was about 4 for two bags.  This assumes you already have a reasonably sized kettle that you’ve used for extract and a thermometer.  My extract kettle is 6 gallons.

What is All Grain Brewing?
In a (very small) nutshell…
  • Soaking malted grains at a set temp using a set amount of water.  This triggers enzymes that convert complex carbohydrates to simple, fermentable sugars.
  • Separating those grains from the sugary wort.
  • Rinsing to retrieve some of the additional sugar that remains on the grains.
Small Batch Brew in a Bag (BIAB) Step By Step:
  1. Decide on a recipe and a batch size and gather your ingredients.  Buy your grain pre-crushed if you don’t have a mill.  More info on recipe sizing below.
  2. Heat the right amount of water to the correct temperature.  How do you figure that out?  Use the spreadsheet below.
  3. Put an appropriate fine mesh bag in your kettle.  Make sure the bag is large enough to hold your grain.  I’ve found with my 6 gallon kettle, doing one to three gallon batches, that a 5 gallon nylon paint strainer bag is perfect.  It’s plenty large enough to hold the grain and it’s not so large that it sits on the bottom of the kettle.  This helps to avoid scorching the bag.
  4. Put your crushed grain in the bag inside of the kettle.  Mix everything well and take a temperature.  The mash should settle out around your target temperature.  If it’s a little low, add some direct heat and stir.  If it’s a little high, add some ice and stir.  Your temperature does not need to be exact.
  5. Put the lid on your kettle and wait, usually 60 minutes, depending on the recipe.  Your grains are mashing.  Because there is no insulation, I usually take a temperature measurement half way through and add a bit of heat to bring it back up to the right temp.  Again, stir when you are adding heat.
  6. When the mash time is up, grab the bag and lift it out of your kettle.  I give it a spin or two to close up the bag.  Let it drip for several seconds.  I also give it a few light squeezes.  Have a large bowl nearby ready to receive your bag of spent grain.  When you have the time, discard the grains and rinse out the bag.  It’s ready for another use!
  7. Start boiling!
You will notice, there was no rinsing of grains.  The technique that I’ve outlined, is a no sparge method.  You’re just losing a little efficiency.  No big deal in my book.

The Spreadsheet
This is a simplified version of my regular brew day spreadsheet.

(Click the graphic to enlarge)

Green cells are to fill in as necessary.  Blue cells are calculated values.  The directions section is calculated as well and puts all the numbers into sentence form.  

Plug in your numbers under “Beer Info” and go.  You can adjust grain absorption rate and boil off rate, in the constants section, if you know your numbers or just leave the default values in place. 

Microsoft Excel Version
Open Office Version
Google Docs Version (Thanks to Google+ friend Daniel for this!)

How do you get an appropriately sized recipe?

  1. Use BeerSmith.  BeerSmith has the capability to easily scale recipes.
  2. Divide a 5 gallon ingredient kit or recipe down to whatever size you need.  Want to brew a 1.25 gallon batch?  Divide your 5 gallon recipe in quarters.  If you’re physically doing this with a recipe kit, make sure the grain is mixed up thoroughly to evenly disperse specialty grains.  You are losing a bit of accuracy in hop utilization by simply dividing a recipe.  Again… not a big deal in my book.
  3. I’m coming at this from a small batch perspective, but there’s nothing saying you couldn’t do this with a 5 or 10 gallon batch.  You just need get the right sized kettle and bag.

Important Note
However you end up with ingredients and a recipe, pay special note to the “Total Mash Volume” cell in the spreadsheet.  After you plug in your numbers in the “Beer Info” section, this estimates the total volume of your mash.  This should be less than the size of your kettle!  Special thanks to the Green Bay Rackers.  The Total Mash Volume calculation is an adaptation of the excellent “Can I mash it” online calculator.


The Bag:
Thanks to tipster Todd for this!  By the way, Todd is the guy behind Grog Tag.

These are elastic top nylon paint straining bags. 

The elastic helps keep the bag from falling into the kettle when filled with grain.

5 Gallon Paint Straining Bags

If you don’t have a large enough kettle to do the batches you’re interested in, check out the kettles tag.

If you’re looking to replicate this 1-3 gallon procedure.  Consider the 6 Gallon Winware Kettle.

Winware Professional Aluminum Kettle 6 Gallon

These do not sell with lids, so add one on if you’d like.

If you want room to do larger BIAB batches, full boil extract batches and all grain batches.  Consider this 10 gallon kettle and lid.  This doesn’t cost much more.  Or, this 9 Gallon Top Find Kettle from More Beer.

If need a thermometer, I’ll point you to a couple of Top Finds

For the price, this is a great thermometer. Waterproof, instant read, commercial quality.

Taylor 9842 Commercial Waterproof Digital Thermometer

Super Fast read times, Digital Readout, Waterproof (dishwasher safe) and only 1/4″ of the probe needs to be submerged to take a reading. Min/Max feature for testing highs and lows over time. Sturdy and high quality design from ThermoWorks. This is my favorite thermometer.

4 thoughts on “Extract to All Grain for Four Dollars

  1. Brandon

    What I am looking for is a bigger BIAB bag.
    I am currently using the Cotton Laundry bags from Bed Bath & Beyond.
    Their Nylon bags are too tight a weave and the water doesnt drain.
    They used to have a less tightly woven bag that was perfect and cost less.

    warning – cotton shrinks, my bag shrunk 10% from washing it, no heat. Maybe it was the hot water

  2. BagBrewerGuy

    BIAB is the only way I brew….simple and effective.

    I bought a single panel of voile curtain at Walmart for $5 and it is enough to make several bags. Just sew it up like a pillow case.

    I bought a 10Gallon Aluminum pot that I found here on Homebrew Finds, and brewed up a Spotted Cow clone last Saturday. Works great. I had been using a converted 15Gallon keg before, but got tired of lugging such a heavy pot around.

    More details here on my blog:


  3. Jason

    Thanks for the write up. I just did my first biab, also my first AG (a 5 gal batch) this weekend. It went pretty well…

    I picked up ThermoWorks thermometer a couple of weeks ago and I want to echo your praises of it. It is awesome. So fast and it does double duty for grilling.


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