There are two primary schools of homebrewing techniques. On one side are those who brew their own beer using grains that have been distilled into liquid or malt extracts. Other homebrewers use more traditional all grain methods, similar to the processes used by commercial breweries.
Using malt extracts is ideal for new brewers who don’t have the equipment or space to crush and mash their own grains and perform the lautering process, but still want to experiment with the basic principles behind creating their own beer. The downsides with extract brewing are the limitations in the available flavor profiles and refined technical processes that can take a beer from being merely good to outstanding.
The Brew in a Bag system is a way to bridge the gap between extract brewing and all grain brewing for those with limited room, resources or time.
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While still using all grain ingredients, the entire brewing process occurs within a single pot. Experienced extract brewers will already have the base equipment including a kettle, thermometer, long-handled stirring spoon and paddle. The only other requirements are a filter bag and fine mesh strainer. With those tools and the grains, hops and yeast specified by your recipe, you’re ready to brew all grain beer with just one burner on your stovetop.
Northern Brewer provides a series of three gallon Brew in a Bag kits for those looking to get up to speed fast with this method. The styles available from Northern Brewer range from a robust bourbon barrel porter to a clean, traditional German Kölsch. Each kit includes blended grain malts, hops, yeast and detailed instructions. Once you have a few batches under your belt, you’ll be able to go off-book and craft your own recipes.
The Homebrewers Association compares the Brew-in-a-Bag method with “making a huge volume of tea with the largest tea bag you have probably ever handled.” That’s an apt description as the process of extracting the sugar from the grains is very similar to steeping tea leaves. Once that step is completed, the remainder of the brew day will be very familiar to extract brewers. The wort, or “pre-beer,” is brought to a boil and hop additions are performed according to a set schedule. Finally, the wort is cooled, aerated and provided with yeast for fermentation.
Brew in a Bag is an easy way for apartment dwellers or relatively new homebrewers to advance into the more traditional world of all grain brewing without making a large investment in equipment. The smaller batch sizes and limited gear make for a short, enjoyable brew day with the same great-tasting home made beer as a reward.