It’s in the Bag

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It was a cold start in the LittleBoy Brewery this morning.  The second full day of winter brought cold dry air after a little dusting of pre-Christmas teaser snow.  There will be no White Christmas.  But there will be a batch of black stout in the fermenter.

The recipe today is a simple dry stout – mostly Maris Otter malt with a good portion of flaked and roast barley. However the brewing method is a little different: Brew in a Bag.  It is a process I have experimented with before, but I am revisiting it.  This procedure requires the services of a mesh bag large enough to fit into the brew pot.  I found mine at the local mega hardware store, in the paint department.  Five gallon size bags are sold for the purpose of straining paint, I assume before it is used in an airless sprayer.  No matter, because it is just the perfect size to fit in my five gallon brew pot: OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Making a BIAB beer is pretty simple.  My version works like this.  Add your strike water to the boil bot and heat to the appropriate temperature. Crush the grain and add it to the boil pot.  Mash for however long you prefer, then top up the boil pot and remove the bag, allowing all of the sugary goodness to drain into the boil pot.  If needed, add a bit more water to achieve the correct pre-boil volume, then boil away. Here is my BIAB mash, in progress:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now I make this even more complicated than it needs to be.  Many BIAB brewers just add all of the required water to the mash.  I have not done this, but all accounts I have heard suggest the mash converts just fine.  (And you thought there was something magical about 1.25 quarts of water per pound of grain.)  Once the mash is done they just lift, drain, and boil.  Nice and easy.

So if you haven’t thought much about this, here are the down sides to the process.  You may need a larger brew pot.  The grain and water obviously take up much more room that just the water.  Finding a larger mesh bag can be a problem.  My wife, who is handy with the sewing machine, made me a bag that fits my 10 gallon brew pot. Which brings us to the second challenge: the wet grain bag for a large brew can be a little heavy, and it needs to be left hanging over the brew pot until it drains.  This can require a little McGyver action in the brew house.  The last issue is a little more subtle: a bit more grain mass gets through the mesh bag than typically gets through the grain bed in a traditional mash.  So there is a little more solid matter in the brew pot at the end of the boil.  Maybe a little more wort loss.

But the process has a lot of up side potential.  It saves cleaning out a second vessel.  And it is quicker:  the “sparge” consists of   simply lifting the grain bag and letting it drain for a few minutes.  And it seems like it should be a very predictable way to brew.  In future posts I will delve a bit further into the process and explain how I calculate my BIAB batch parameters.  Because you might find this process works well for you.

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