Yikes and Away! Diving into All-Grain Brewing (with Fake Tire Amber Ale 3.0)

With a whole bunch more brew space, and over five years of solo brewing under my belt(!), I’ve been rapidly diversifying from the tried-and-true partial volume, extract with steeping grains, brews. The quality (in my humble opinion) on many of these beers has been pretty good (the Rainy Day IPA, Vanilla Voay Porter, and Fake Tire Amber Ale being particularly successful), but I do feel like I’ve gotten the handle of many aspects of extract brewing. I’m looking for a bit of a challenge and to expand my brewing skill set. The first step was full-volume boils, and the logical next step was to try all-grain. But, I had been a little intimidated by the complexity of the all-grain setups I had seen. Three-part towers, hoses everywhere, sparge arms, and the like seemed like a lot of equipment investment just to try a new technique. But then I learned about batch-sparging. Basically, all I would need was a converted cooler. Done and done!

With a converted 10 gallon cooler (ball valve and screen installed at the bottom), I was ready to go. I thought a good first beer would be to try a new iteration of my amber ale.
Fake Tire Amber Ale 3.0
  • 7.5 lbs pale malt (2 row)
  • 0.5 lbs. Victory malt
  • 0.5 lbs. Munich malt
  • 0.5 lbs. 40° crystal malt
  • 0.5 lbs. 20° crystal malt
  • 0.5 lbs. Cara-Pils malt
  • 0.25 lbs. chocolate malt
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (60 minute boil)
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (5 minute boil)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 pkg. Safale American ale yeast US-05
  • Mash in ~13 qts. of water at 165° with malt for 1 hour. This resulted in a temperature of 154 degrees within 5 minutes, but it ended up at 145° by the end of the hour.
  • Decanted liquid, added 1 gallon of water, brought temperature up to 146°.
  • Decanted liquid, added 3 gallons water, brought temperature to 148°.
  • Decanted liquid, which had a specific gravity of 1.034 at 60 degrees. The volume in the kettle was around 5 gallons.
  • Heated to boil, added first addition of Cascade hops, boiled for 45 minutes, added Irish moss, boiled for another 10 minutes, added second addition of Cascade hops.
  • After the 60 minute boil, I turned off the flame and chilled the wort to around 70 degrees.
  • I transferred the wort to the fermenter, and pitched the yeast (which had been rehydrated in 1 cup of water). The wort fermented at ~68°.
  • The starting gravity was 1.045 at 60°, with a starting volume of 4 gallons.
This was definitely a learning experience! I had done a fair bit of reading on all of this, but even so there were a few bumps along the way. For starters, I learned that my “trusty” digital thermometer reads about 20° too low! This happened hard way when I mashed the grains to discover a ridiculously low-gravity wort–perhaps 1.020. A little investigation with other thermometers revealed that my main digital thermometer had a bad sensor (maybe from moisture?). In any case, I tossed that wort and started over. It sucks to have wasted the time and materials, but it was a useful lesson.
Even after all of that, my efficiency in sugar extraction was still not great (~50%, where I should be hitting ~70% at least). I attribute this in part to the fairly low temperatures that the mash ended at (145°, on the very lowest end of where I should be). Next time, I am going to preheat my cooler/mash tun to mitigate some cooling. I also pulled off all of the “liquor” after each water addition, which I later realized I shouldn’t have…so, I will aim for pulling off equal amounts of liquor next time, rather than draining the whole thing.
Despite all of that, I am eager to improve my technique and make the next batch. The amber ale really took off in the fermenter, and should be ready to go to the secondary very soon.