All-grain homebrewing for the first time

Why go all grain

In 1 year of homebrewing I never considered doing an all-grain recipe. It really made no difference to me how I got the wort. Using malt extract was easy, familiar and I was always pleased with the final product.

One day I walked into Point Brew Supply in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, just to look around and maybe formulate a new brew. What came to mind was a Belgian strong ale. I skimmed a few recipes on my phone, found one I liked and started talking to a shop employee.

The recipe was all grain—eight of them—and the shop had them all. But I knew nothing about all-grain brewing, so I asked the shop guy for malt extract. But before he could find something suitable, I asked him how all-grain brewing works. He said it was fairly simple and cheaper than using malt extract. I was intrigued. What I gathered from his explanation was that all the grain is steeped in hot water all at once in a large picnic cooler to make the wort. After that, I felt confident enough to give it a try and figured my brewing buddies and I could work out the finer points of the process.

­Constructing a system

My standard 48-quart Rubbermaid picnic cooler seemed to work quite well as a mash tun­—for mashing process to convert the starches in crushed grains into sugars for fermentation­—and lauter tun—used for the lautering process of separating the mash into the clear liquid wort and the residual grain. Coolers are a great option because they are insulated, unlike buckets, tubs or other low-cost vessels that have the capacity for mashing but require extra insulation with blankets and the like. It was a pleasure to feel the warmth of the cooler lid during the mashing process.

To get the wort from the cooler into the boiling kettle, we had to rig up a tube and valve system. This proved to be tricky, especially because we foolishly assumed our local hardware store would have everything we needed. We were modeling our system after one presented in this series of videos from the Homebrewers Association. We were unable to find all of the components, but actually ended up with a simpler design that worked very well.

We needed only one of the three hose clamps and did not need a keg bung, which we could not find locally. That left us with a 16-inch stainless steel supply line, 3 feet of ¼ inch rubber tubing and a two-way neutral ¼ inch nylon valve. Unable to find the 7/16 inch valve recommended by the Homebrew Assn., we downsized to the ¼ inch one I found at O’Reilly Auto Parts. It was meant for a small engine fuel line, but it worked great for our purposes.

Even after an intense tug-o-war battle, we could not fully remove the inner tube from the steel exterior of the supply line. But it served as an excellent filter, separating the grain from the wort we drained from the cooler. We left the cooler’s built-in drainage valve. We were unable to shove tubing all the way through, so we stuck three inches into the nozzle on either side. There were no leaks. The tube on the inside of the cooler was connected to the supply line filter with a ¼ inch hose clamp. The exterior tube was connected to the valve and the remaining two feet or so of rubber tube ran off the other end of the valve. Because the valve ends were barbed, we did not need the extra hose clamps.


We did a protein rest, saccrification and mash out at different temperatures. A single infusion at about 154 degrees probably would have produced similar results, but we wanted to experiment wholly in the all-grain process. Fifteen pounds of grain and nine gallons of water barely fit in the cooler. When the mash was ready, we released the valve and the liquid moved easily into our boiling kettle. A larger hose would have filled it faster, but I see no downside to the ¼ inch tube other than taking more time and losing a little heat. We proceeded with the rest of the brewing process as normal. The ale is in the secondary fermenter now, and seems to be coming along nicely. I will post an update on the finished product. I cannot wait to do another all-grain recipe and work on perfecting our system. I’m hooked.

What we used

Here’s a list of equipment we used for our all-grain system.

  • 48-quart picnic cooler (bigger would be better)
  • 16-inch stainless steel supply line
  • 3 feet of ¼-inch rubber tubing
  • Two-way neutral ¼ inch nylon valve
  • 1/4-inch metal hose clamp
  • Wooden spoon (mash paddle for stirring)