In all-grain brewing, or mash brewing, you do exactly what commercial breweries do to make beer, just on a smaller scale. You mash malted grain to extract the sugars, bring the liquid to the boil, add hops for bitterness, flavour and aroma, cool the wort then pitch yeast to ferment the liquid to make beer.
But don't be daunted by all-grain brewing. While it may sound complicated, if you're already adding some grain or hops to kit or extract brews, or doing partial mashes it's only a bit more work, although takes more time. But the process itself is quite straightforward. If you take the plunge into all-grain brewing you will be rewarded with beers that are as good, if not better, than most you can buy, and most likely better than any kit or extract beers you have made.
All-grain brewing gives complete control over every part of the brewing process, which is not possible with any other method of brewing. This means you can make almost any beer and tweak the recipe in ways that you can't with kit or malt-extract beers.
If you want to try your hand at all-grain brewing you will probably have to buy some extra equipment, depending on what you already have, what method you choose and the level of equipment you buy. If you're brewing with kits already, you should be able to start all-grain brewing for a few hundred dollars. The biggest cost is likely to be a large pot or urn to boil your wort in.
The two most popular methods of all-grain brewing are brew in a bag (commonly abbreviated to BIAB) and three-vessel (3V).
Three-vessel brewing is the traditional way of doing all-grain brewing at home. A 3V brewery is a mini brewery. A hot liquor tun is used to heat the water that is transferred along with the malted grains to the mashing vessel, where the grain is mashed to convert its starch to sugar. The liquid from the mash is drained into the boiler and more water from the hot liquor tun (or HLT) is used to sparge (rinse) the grain to extract the last of the sugars. The liquid is boiled and hops added.
Brew in a bag is a relatively recent method of all-grain brewing, reportedly developed in Australia. It's quickly finding favour because it is quicker than 3V brewing and requires far less equipment. In BIAB everything is done in one vessel. The water to be used for the mash is heated in a large pot or electric catering urn, the grains are added in a bag made of fine mesh and left to mash. At the end of the mash the bag is lifted from the vessel and drained, the liquid is brough to the boil and hops are added.
Another way of brewing all-grain beers is using a piece of equipment called a Braumeister. This bit of German ingenuity is about the size of a 40-litre electric catering urn, and the mash and boil is done in the same vessel, and incorporates a pump. Unfortunately, like most German ingenuity it comes with a German price tag.
Other methods of all-grain brewing include HERMS (heat exchange mash system) and RIMS (recirculating infusion mash system). These are both advanced systems and require a greater outlay than BIAB or 3V because they are more complicated and include electric pumps. However, arguably they make brewing simpler and provide more consistency. The details of those methods are not covered on this site, but like every method of all-grain brewing the principle is the same: mashing malted grain to convert starch to sugars.
The pluses and minuses of each method are long-debated and each has its devotees. Read our guides to 3V, BIAB and Braumeister brewing over the next pages.
If you're a RIMS or HERMS brewer and would like to write a guide to be added to this site, please let us know.