Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brew-In-A-Bag Brewing: Something Worth Trying

Why is it that there never seems to be enough time in a given day/week to get done what we really want to accomplish. The overburdened days have an effect on all aspects of life, including our hobby of home brewing. Whether its family obligations, work-related commitments, or name one of the thousands of conflicts that elbow their way onto our schedules, it’s generally the ‘fun’ stuff that gets axed first.

Specific to homebrewing, to minimize the required time footprint for brewing a batch, many folks here in the US are starting to adopt a brewing technique from the Australian homebrewers: the Brew-In-A-Bag (BIAB) technique. Not only is it a shorter brew day, but the equipment costs and clean up time are considerably less than traditional all-grain set-ups. So in addition to the time savings, BIAB also makes for an attractive gateway for extract brewers to brew all-grain brews.

Disclaimer: its by no means the intention of this post to be a definitive guide for BIAB. There is a growing collection of more qualified sources out there that describe the step-by-step best practices and methodology (see below for a few such references). This rambling is merely a suggestion to nudge the concept into the reader’s mind – to encourage homebrewers to give it a try as an alterative method.

In a nutshell, BIAB uses a brew kettle as a mash tun, a hot liquor tank, and a kettle all in one. The milled grain is contained within a very large mesh bag steeped within the water-filled kettle in order to accomplish the mash. Think of it as when using steeping grains as part of an extract brew – except with BIAB, there is no malt extract, as all fermentables are derived from the ~10 lbs of steeping grains. Combine this with appropriate temperature control of the water to accomplish the right mashing/saccharification.

A friend and club member of my local homebrew club (RIFT) has been delving into BIAB over the past 6 months, whereby now, he is preaching the BIAB gospel and looking for converts. Jeff H. (yes, another Jeff – there is a lot of name duplicity in our club) happily agreed when I recruited him to photo-document a BIAB brew sessions and write up his notes on the process. Presented below is the photo record of Jeff H.’s recent BIAB brew day when brewing his Amarillo Pale Ale.

Heating Strike Water. This was a 5.25 gallon batch with 11.25 lbs of grain. Accounting for grain absorption and boil off required 7.75 gal of water. This resulted in a liquor/grist ratio of ~ 2.75. Note the colander in the bottom, which is to keep the bag off the bottom of the kettle in case heat is needed during the mash.

Once the strike water is at the appropriate tempruature (157.7° F), the mesh bag is laid in the kettle in preparation for the milled grains being added.

The 11.25 lbs of milled grains are added to the strike water and stirred into a thin mash, resulting in the mash temperature of 152° F.

Insulation is optional. In this case, some old towels are wrapped around the kettle as a means to maintain the target mash temperature.

Eventually, the mash temperature dropped enough that the insulation was removed, heat was added by the burner, and the mash was stirred to bring the temperature back up.

At the end of the saccharification rest, a mash out is performed.

After the mash out, the mesh bag with the grains are slowly pulled out of the kettle. This strains the grain from the wort and takes the place of lautering. For a 5 gallon batch, the pulley system is convenient, but unnecessary – the bag can be pulled out by hand and held to drain.

After the mesh bag has been removed, the wort is boiled and hopped as normal. In this case, a hop sack is being used to minimize the hop matter in the wort.

The wort is chilled and transferred to a fermenter as normal, leaving behind the hot and cold break – just as would be done in a traditional all-grain brew.

And that’s about it for the process – it’s simple and quick (about 4 hours start to finish). Everything is accomplished in the one vessel, making clean up simpler and faster.

As mentioned above, there are much more in depth guides and how-to’s on there on the web. If reading through this has given you even a shred of curiosity, take a moment and check out one or two of the following BIAB resources:

Lastly, if you are interested, below is the All-Grain recipe for Jeff H.’s Amarillo Pale Ale being brewed in the above photos.
Amarillo Pale Ale, APA

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.25
OG: 1.056
FG: 1.016
SRM: 7.2
IBU: 35
ABV: 5.2%
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

9.75 lbs. Pale Malt (2 Row) US
0.6 lbs. Munich Malt
0.45 lbs. Crystal 15L
0.45 lbs. Crystal 45L

1.00 oz Amarillo Pellets (8.0% AA) at 60 minutes
0.50 oz Amarillo Pellets (8.0% AA) at 15 minutes
0.50 oz Amarillo Pellets (8.0% AA) at 1 minute
1.00 oz Amarillo Pellets (8.0% AA) as a Dry Hop (for 5 days)

1.0 Tab Whirlfloc at 15 Min

1x 11.5 g package – Safale US-05, Dry Yeast

Mash Schedule
60 min at 152°F

After digesting all the material above, please leave us a comment on your thoughts about BIAB – have you ever given it a try? How was the resulting beer?
And last, but not least, a big thank you to Jeff H. for taking the time to photo-document his process and for sharing his notes on the process.
“We brewers don’t make beer, we just get all the ingredients together and the beer makes itself.”
-Fritz Maytag


  1. Looks great!

    I would be remiss in not also thanking the guys on The Brewing Network forum. Everything I know about BIAB came from guidance and links I got off of that forum.

    Also, Pistol Patch from TBN and Aussie Home Brewer needs mention as he has been very kind in providing info on bag design.

    Jeff H.

  2. What size kettle are you using?

    I have a 40qt pot, and was curious if that is large enough for water and grains.


  3. Chris,
    The (very) general guidelines is for a kettle twice the size of your batch.

    The kettle in these pictures is a 36qt kettle. With it maxed out for a normal beer (1.060 or so) I can get brew about 4.5 gallons. With a 40 qt you should be all set for most beers.

    Jeff H.

  4. Excellent thanks.


  5. Thanks so much for the info. I just bottled this last night and can't wait to try it out. It's my first venture into all-grain and the instructs made it incredibly simple to understand.

  6. Bedouga,

    Thanks for the feedback and refering to our site. Let us know how the beer comes out!



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