Brew in a Bag – A Step By Step Beginner’s Guide to Brewing All Grain Beer At Home
If you can make soup, you can brew fantastic craft beer at home.
I use a method called ‘Brew in a Bag’ that was developed and became popular in Australia. It is a process of brewing full all-grain beer without the need for the expensive and complex equipment most serious homebrewers use. It’s simple, cheap and easy to do. My last 20L batch of beer cost me around £8.50. That’s works out around 21p per 500ml bottle. I don’t just brew beer to save money though, I brew it because I really enjoy the process and I REALLY love the resulting beers!!
When I started brewing, my first few batches were made in a 13L stock pot that I had to hand in the kitchen. The only extra kit I needed to buy to brew beer was a mesh straining bag and a large plastic bucket to ferment in. I’ve since upgraded and have a dedicated 33L pot just for brewing beer but the smaller pan produced equally good beer!
I’ve added a kit list to the bottom of the page. This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list it’s just the bare minimum I recommend you need to get brewing at home.
If you like cooking and you like beer, I really encourage you to give this method a go. It’s a million miles off the ‘homebrew kits’ from years ago that generally produced foul smelling, cloudy, yeasty brews. With BIAB you’ll be drinking your own beautifully crafted, fresh, hoppy aromatic beers in just a month or so. It’s easy.
I have not intended this to explain any of the terminology or technicalities of brewing, nor is it intended as a guide to developing or following homebrew recipes. Hopefully it’s clear enough to give you the confidence to try it yourself.
The basic steps to brewing beer are:
- steep malted grains in hot water so they release their sugars
- drain and then boil the resulting sugary water
- add hops at various stages for flavour
- cool the liquid down, pour into a large bucket and add yeast to begin fermentation
Measure out your grain according to your chosen recipe.
Fill your pan about 2/3rds full with water and bring to around 67° C. Then stretch the neck of your mesh bag around the top of the pan.
Ideally your mesh bag will have a drawstring that you can secure tightly.
Add the grain to the pan in a thin stream – stirring constantly to avoid producing doughballs. Once all the grain has been added, continue to stir until all lumbs have been broken up.
Check the temperature of the resulting mixture. Your recipe will tell you what you shoudl be aiming for. If you are too high. leave the lid off and stir for a few minutes. If you have come in too low, then fire up the burners under the pan and keep stirring. Once you hit your target temperature, close the lid. Stir well and check the temperature every 15 mins – if it has dropped off then fire up the burners for a minute or two.
Next grab a spare bucket and place a colander at the bottom.
Carefully lift out your bag of grain, allow as much as possible to drain off before dumping the bag in your colander.
Pour hot water over the grains in the colander to rinse off as much sugary water as you can, pouring the resulting liquid back into your big pan. Repeat this several times – this is the good stuff! From experience I know how much of this liquid (called wort) I need in my pan at this point so continue rinsing my grains until I hit the correct level.
Fire up the burners under your big pan to start bringing your wort up to boiling point. This gives you a chance to measure out the hops you’ll be using. I measure into separate bowl, each to be added at a different time during the boil
Whilst the wort is heating up it is crucial you stay close it has a habit of suddenly boiling up and covering your kitchen in a hot sticky mess. If it looks like your pan is about to boil over, turn off the heat, stir rapidly and blow on the surface.
Once your wort reaches the boiling point and has calmed down a little bit, you can add your first hops and start your countdown timer. Continue to add the rest of the hops throughout the boil according to the timings given in your chosen recipe. Earlier hops give beer the bitter flavour whereas hops added later will give the aroma.
Once you have reached the end of your boil time, you need to cool your beer as quickly as you can. The longer it sits around stays hot and unprotected, the more likely that nasties will take hold and ruin your beer. Also – the quicker you can cool, the more of the delicate hop aromas will be preserved.
My chosen method is to fill my sink with cold water and ice blocks. Once the surrounding water starts to heat up I pull the plug from the sink and carefully add more cold. I aim to get my beer down to approx 28°C before it’s ready to move.
Remember that anything that comes into contact with your beer from the moment you turn the burners off must be sanitised. You can also help eliminate the chance of nasties by giving you sink and surrounding area a good clean with anti-bacterial spray.
Next secure a clean and santisied mesh bag around the collar of a clean and sanitised fermenting vessel. I brew 20L batches so can lift and pour my pan of water but you may beed to use a syphon if brewing bigger batches. At this point it is benefocial to get oxgen into your beer so I pour from a heaight of around 3 feet. The mesh bag collects all the hops and other debris.
Lift out the mesh bag and let the liquid drain off. The resulting beer is now ready to have the yeast added before the lid is sealed down and an airlock fitted.
If you have one, now is the time to grab a sample of wort to check the gravity so you can calculate the beer’s strength once it has brewed.
Last job (apart from the clean up) is to kick back, relax and pour yourself a homebrew.
Recommended Kit List
If you are lucky, you’ll have a friendly local homebrew shop that can sort out all this kit for you. Otherwise head for google and shop online.
- beer ingredients – grains, hops, yeast
- large pan
- drawstring mesh bag
- large spoon
- large plastic fermenter with lid and airlock
- sanitiser – this is CRUCIAL!
Some Excellent Brewing Resources
Basic Brewing Radio – I’ve listened to James Spencer’s podcasts for several years. They’ve taught me everything I know about brewing as well as inspired me to brew more!
The Homebrew Forum – Very friendly and helpful UK based forum that welcomes absolute beginners through to advanced brewers
Beersmith – excellent homebrewing software to design beer
Brewing Classic Styles – Jamil Zainasheff & John Palmer run through 80 classic styles of beer and give an example recipes how to brew each one
Brew Your Own British Real Ale – A solid, practical guide by Graham Wheeler covering methods, equipment and giving around 100 recipes
How To Brew – John Palmer’s guide to everything you need to know to brew beer.
Brew Your Own Magazine – US based and a little pricey to import but well worth it. Wish they’d hurry up and bring out the iPad version!