First Steps in All-Grain Brewing: The Mini Mash

Are you an extract or canned-kit brewer? Maybe you’d like to make the jump to all-grain, but don’t feel you can because you haven’t got all of the equipment?

Well you couldn’t be more wrong…

Why not try mini-mashing? It’s basically all-grain brewing on a small-scale, but using equipment that you’ve probably already got.

(Alright, you might have to buy some stuff…but I bet you’ve got a lot of it already…)

In fact, equipment-wise, you shouldn’t need anything more than the following:

1x Glass Brewing Thermometer
1x Gallon Glass Demijohn
1x Bung and Airlock for the Demijohn
1x Winemakers Simple Siphon and hose clamp
No-rinse Sterilizing Solution (StarSan or similar)
1x 10L Pan with lid (Pan A)
1x 5L Pan with lid (Pan B)
1x Fine Mesh Straining Bag or clean muslin to fit inside…
1x big colander
1x 3L Mixing bowl or similar heat proof container that the Colander will fit over
1x good-size funnel
8x 500ml fizzy pop or beer bottles (with caps!)

The recipe I’m working with here is a scaled down and modified recipe for a one gallon (4.5L) batch of standard bitter from the example recipes included with Beer Engine (

I chose it because it’s nice and easy and doesn’t require a ton of different malts and hops.


(in terms of yeast, you can use half of a 11.5 gram pack of something like Safale S04 Dry Ale Yeast or similar)

Now before you start:

IMPORTANT: Read through the instructions and ensure that you have got everything before you need it. Try and visualize exactly what you’ll be doing at each step. Don’t be stood there with a pan full of hot something, wondering what to do next. Plan!

IMPORTANT: You will probably need to set aside an absolute maximum of 3 hours to get through steps 1 to 4 without rushing. Really. This isn’t something that you can do in a snatched five minutes. Set some quality time aside to enjoy the process.

Step 1: The Mash

Ensure that you have labelled your pans “A” and “B”; A will be the “mash” pan (and should have a lid) and B will be the “sparge” pan.

On a stove, heat 3 litres of water in pan A to 75C and then turn off the heat.

Add all of the grains (as per the the recipe) to the water in pan A and stir gently to ensure that all the grain is wet and there are no lumps.

This is the mash – and “mashing” is a process where starches in the grain are converted to sugars that the yeast will then ferment to make alcohol and flavour in the finished beer.

Check the temperature of the stirred mash, it should be 65C. If it’s too cold, add some heat on the stove; if too hot, add cold water little-by-little until the stirred mash temperature is exactly 65C.

Turn off the heat under the pan.

Cover pan A with its lid and either leave it on the stove, or take it off of the stove and carefully wrap it in a blanket or old coats.

The mash needs to be left alone now for 60 minutes at 65C, so set a timer.

While the mash is going on, put 4 litres of water into the other pan (pan B) and onto the stove and heat up to 75C.

From time-to-time, during the hour-long mash, (e.g. every 20 minutes) check the temperature of the mash in pan A; if the temperature has dropped below 65C, carefully add gentle heat from the stove until, when stirred, the mash is 65C. Be careful, it’s very easy to scorch the mash, or push the mash temperature too high by overheating.

Step 2: The Mash-out and Sparge

After an hour it’s time for “The Sparge”.

Sparging is simply the rinsing of the grains in the mash with hot water to get at all of the sugars that have been extracted during the mashing process.

If you’ve wrapped your mash in a blanket, now is the time to unwrap it.

Before sparging you need to “mash out”: this is where you apply heat to the mash to stop the enzymatic activity which converts the malt to fermentable sugars.

Do this by placing pan A on the heat again and gently raising the heat while stirring. You need to slowly and carefully raise the temperature of the mash to 77C. Try not to overshoot the 77C target by heating too rapidly.

When you reach 77C in Pan A take it off of the heat.

Now put the colander (with the fine mesh bag inside of it) over the mixing bowl.

Pour the mash (grains and liquid) from pan A into the colander and leave to drain into the container.

When the grain has drained (DO NOT SQUEEZE OR MIX THE GRAIN AT ALL), move the colander (still containing the grains) over the (now empty) pan A and gently pour the mash liquid from the bowl back through the grains again through into pan A.

Now, using a jug, gently pour the 4 litres of 75C water from the other pan (pan B) over the grains in the sieve and leave to drain into pan A, this is the Sparge.

Don’t rush, let it all work through the grains – you’re trying to rinse the sugars from all of them, again: DO NOT SQUEEZE STIR OR AGITATE THE GRAINS – they are acting as a filter to trap all sorts of particles that you don’t want in the finished beer.

When all of the liquid has run through, you should have collected around 6 Litres of liquid (which is now known as “wort“) in Pan A, if it’s a little under this volume don’t worry too much.

Step 3: The Boil

Now put pan A back onto the stove and start to heat the liquid wort to a boil.

You can throw away the grains in the colander by composting, feeding to chickens or the local wildlife. You can even make bread with it…see “” for more details.

Keep a careful eye on the pan throughout the boil, as liquid wort can sometimes boil over without warning. You will be boiling the wort for 60 minutes.

Once a gentle rolling boil has been achieved (check with the thermometer if you’re unsure), add the 60 minute hop addition (as detailed in the recipe) to the boiling wort and set a timer for 60 minutes.

Keep an eye in the boil and stir from time to time.

When the 60 minutes have elapsed, remove the pan from the heat.

Step 4: The Cool-down

Now take the pan off of the stove and place it into a sink of water or an ice bath to cool it down, being careful to keep cooling water or ice out of the pan.

IMPORTANT: Anything that touches the liquid wort from now on MUST be sterilized with the sterilizing solution

Monitor the temperature with the sterilized thermometer, you need the wort to be cooled to below 20C

When the wort has cooled to 20C, it can be poured into the sterilized demijohn using the sterilized funnel

If needed, top up the volume of the shoulder of the demijohn, using cooled boiled water.

Step 5: Prepare to Ferment

Sterilize a small sheet of tin foil and hold tightly over the demijohn opening with the palm of your hand and vigorously – but carefully, – shake the demijohn to get air into the wort. Wet demijohns can be very slippery. Be careful.

Temporarily put the sterilized airlock and sterilized bung into the demijohn opening.

Take half a pack of the yeast and add to 50ml of boiled water (cooled to at least 30c) in a clean and sterilized drinking glass.

Leave the yeast to hydrate for 15 minutes and it’ll become a thick creamy liquid. Stir with a sterilized teaspoon if necessary.

When it has hydrated, take the yeast mixture and carefully add to the demijohn full of wort.

Replace the sterilized airlock and sterilized bung into the neck of the demijohn and pour enough sterilizing solution into the trap of the airlock to fill just one “bubble”.

Step 6: The Ferment

Place the demijohn out of direct sunlight (preferably in the dark) and somewhere with a temperature between 17C and 20C.

Bubbles should start coming through the airlock within 24 hours.

Leave the wort to ferment for 2 weeks and don’t be tempted to fiddle. Leave it alone to do its thing. Every time you open the airlock to look, sniff or whatever you run the risk of introducing infection.

Step 7: Bottling and Conditioning

After 2 weeks the beer should have finished fermenting and should be starting to look clear.

Start by cleaning and sterilizing 8x 500ml (or 12x 330ml) bottles and caps. You should use bottles that have previously contained fizzy drinks and are able to contain pressure – beer bottles are obviously ideal, as are Polyethylene (PET) “pop” bottles.

Dissolve 20g of white sugar in 100ml of boiling water and allow to cool, then distribute that evenly between the bottles. This is the priming sugar that will feed the yeast and put the right amount of fizz into the finished beer.

Using the sterilizing solution to sterilize the Simple Siphon: tubing and all, inside and out.

Ensure that the hose clamp is also attached to the siphon tubing – about 2/3 of the way along.

Remove the airlock and bung from the demijohn and put the simple siphon into the demijohn containing the fermented beer.

Put the other end into one of the sterilized beer bottles (ensuring the beer bottle is at a lower level than the demijohn) and pump the siphon.

Let the beer flow into the bottle until it’s about 1 inch from the top, then close the hose clamp and move on to the next bottle and open the clamp again.

When all the bottle are filled and capped, move them to somewhere that’s around 20C for 4 days to carbonate up, before moving them to somewhere cooler – preferably on a stone or tiled cold floor – for a further 10 days.

This period of “cold conditioning” will aid the clearing of the finished beer

Step 8: Serve and Enjoy

After cold conditioning, open up a bottle and pour carefully to keep any yeast sediment in the bottle.

Share and enjoy!

Plan your next batch, you don’t want to be left without…


You can use the Beer Engine software to scale down any beer recipe, Just ensure that the Original Gravity Fixed and Bitterness EBU Fixed tick boxes are ticked before you change the Volume amount to 4.5 Litres.

Greg at BrewUK, or Rob The Malt Miller will be very happy to supply you with grains and hops at very good prices.  Google them, place your order and say that Jon from sent you.

Dealing with The Gush

gushIf there’s one thing that almost makes me want to cry, it’s The Gush.

(Not the JAM/Chris Morris “The Gush”.  Search for that on Youtube and watch it if you dare.  Just don’t come running to me after you’ve spent four hours swilling your eyes under the tap in a vain effort to un-see it.  It’s VERY graphic, you have been warned…)

…which is the same as maybe two or three squirrels…

I’m talking about The Gush of beer you very occasionally get when you take the cap off of a bottle of home-brew:  One minute it’s all “Ooh lovely, beer for me” and the next it’s *POP*, pretty fountain, beer all over the floor, significant thrashings from the significant other.

But what causes all this unpleasantness?  Search the web and you’ll find a wealth of scholarly articles, pontification and half-baked theories.

In reality – and as far as I can work out – there’s only really a couple of plausible reasons:

  • Uncleanliness
  • Carbonation
  • Fungal infection

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn:


You must, must, must clean your bottles out.  A quick jig about with the bottle under the tap and a squirt of StarSan just won’t cut it I’m afraid.

You need to get a bottle brush into them and scrub about with warm water; or, alternatively get a good soak going with something like VWP ( I’ve used it for years on glass and it’s marvellous.  You don’t have to scrub, just soak for as long as you can bear and then rinse well.

Dirty bottles (even minute specks of accumulated crap) will harbour all manner of amusing wild yeasts and bacteria – all of which are capable of dealing with any residual sugars that brewers yeast can’t…making for dangerous levels of carbonation.  Anyone for bottle bombs?


Too much priming sugar can also dangerously over-pressurize your bottles.  There’s two astonishingly easy ways to make your very own beer fountain in a bottle:

Double-dosing loose-priming sugar is my favourite way of doing it: that’s where I get interrupted when I’m adding my 1/3rd of a teaspoon of table sugar to each sanitized bottle and end up sticking multiple loads into some.

Get into the habit of priming a bottle and then loosely placing a sanitized cap on top – to show that you’ve primed it; then when you’ve got all the bottles loose-capped you can start racking into them.

The over way of doing it is when you add priming sugar to the bottling bucket.  It’s just so easy to dump the priming solution in and then forget to stir it…

If you don’t stir, that sugary mixture will delight in making its way to the bottom of the bucket where it’ll squat about until it jumps into the last few bottles being filled – all of which will then have waaay more priming solution in them than they should.

Fusarium Fungus

With the quality of the malts that we get from people like Rob and Greg ( and respectively) you’re unlikely to have grains that have been infected with Fusarium Head Blight.

Fusarium is a fungus that attacks the growing barley or wheat grains and lays dormant when it’s harvested only to get going again during the steeping phase of malting.

When the malt is kilned the Fusarium fungus itself is destroyed, but it does leave some of its unpleasant byproducts behind, the most important to us is deoxynivalenol – a mycotoxin that is tough enough to easily survive the boiling of the wort – and persists in the finished beer as lots of tiny bits and pieces of protein.

These millions of bits and pieces of protein provide millions of nucleation sites for the CO2 in the beer.

Nucleation sites are where CO2 is able to come out of solution rapidly and cause bubbles – lots of nucleation sites means lots bubbles and lots of bubbles means lots of foaming.

As mentioned, Fusarium is rare but could provide a handy and knowledgeable-sounding excuse for that bottle of beer you gave to someone that’s now all over their ceiling and floor!

You may be wondering what prompted all of this musing on The Gush…well, back at the end of Summer this year I had a batch of porter and a small run of Golden Ale that went off like rockets when opened.

I put both of those down to bad hygiene as I was in a rush when I bottled.

I now take much more care when bottling…after all, it’s the end product that people see – and you want that to be perfect.

Sources: My brain and 

On Test: FastFerment Conical Fermenter – an affordable conical?

20150928_114139Do you dream of conical fermenters?  I didn’t ever really – thinking that they were going to be large, stainless steel monstrosities that probably cost multiple thousands.

But then Greg from BrewUK asked me if I’d like to test a more economical plastic conical fermenter from the guys at FastBrewing.

Now, normally getting a new fermenter is a fairly hum-drum affair: It’s usually a great big bottle or a bucket with a lid…oh and maybe a tap too, if you’re lucky.

But the FastFerment is a bit more than that: it starts off as a giddily exciting box full of mysterious things, threaded whatsits and lengths of tube…

All these bits and pieces seem very well made, feel solid in the hand and the whole thing gives the impression of getting quite a lot for your money.


Upon unpacking the FastFerment and loose-fitting it together, I was struck by it’s size and presence.  it’s a good deal taller than a glass carboy or PVC bucket; even though it does still fit in the same footprint.

(note that I was given the stand with the test unit.  The stand is an optional extra at thirty or so quid, normally you’d mount the fermenter onto a wall with the included brackets)

The following evening I assembled the whole thing properly.

The instructions say to wind the included (PTFE?) plumbing tape onto some of the threads – being careful to go in the direction of the threads so as to prevent leaks.  The instructions don’t say how much to wind on.  I went with a couple of turns – which as it turned out, was nowhere near enough…

In terms of putting the unit together, it’s a fairly straightforward operation.  As long as you take note of and carefully follow the instructions as you go.

Some of the fittings (the thermowell especially) need the assistance of a spanner to get them locked up and tight, and in doing so you really do have to be careful not to cross-thread by mistake.  I ended up moistening some of the threads with a little  StarSan and that seemed to help a bit.

One criticism: the lid for the FastFerment is too big; I have fairly big hands but still found it difficult to screw the lid down, one-handed.

I’d like to see some rubber on there or even a slightly smaller sized lid.  In its current massive shiny white plastic form, it’s too difficult to get to grips with – and things get even worse when your hands are wet.


Before use, try to get at least 23L of water into the fermenter before you use it for the first time.  I’m willing to bet that you’ll almost certainly find you have leaks.

I had leaks from the thermowell, the bottom joint, where the tap joins the conical part, and also where the sediment bottle trap joins the tap unit.  I had to tighten, check and re-tighten EVERYTHING.

One glaring problem is, again, to do with the lid: every time you struggle with and eventually unscrew the lid, the rubber seal falls away from inside it and drops into the fermenter.  This happened every time – without fail – and that’s totally unacceptable.

Obviously, I appreciate that with a conical fermenter you might not need to open the top that often – but the seal falling off and dropping into the wort/beer?  That’s not on.  FastBrewing guys, you really need to re-design that lid.


Make it more substantial, rubberized and with a retained seal…please.

The tap unit screws directly onto the the bottom of the conical itself – and then under that tap unit, the threads take the retaining lock-ring of either the hose barb or the sediment bottle trap.

All of these pieces are well-made and solid, but the the retaining lock-ring on both the hose barb unit and bottle trap unit is just too big and far too slippery when wet; both of really need either a hexagonal nut and accompanying spanner, or some form of rubber grip on the lock-ring.

The locking rings really have to be belted up tight to prevent leaks and in doing so become almost impossible to loosen again – especially if they’d had some sticky wort come into contact and with them…

Once I was happy that I’d got everything tight and holding water I washed and drained  the whole thing out and then carefully sanitized with StarSan.

In doing so, I found the FastFerment to be an absolute gift in terms of weight –  it’s just so easy to pick up and shake  and as we all know that’s the only way to make sure that sanitizer gets into all the crevices.

After a nice and easy brewing session, I filled the FastFerment up with 23L of cooled Belgian Christmas beer – noting all the while that the markings on the side of the conical unit were nice and clear, legible and easy to see.

The thermometer also seemed to be measuring the temperature correctly (just remember that the thermometer is an optional extra, so don’t expect it to be in the box.)

Once filled; it was a simple matter of hefting the whole thing, stand and all, upstairs to the fermentation chamber*

(*oh, alright, it’s actually the shower room in our bedroom.  Eve is very understanding…)

A few hours later and the ferment was in full swing, we were at high krausen and things were swinging; but as this was a darker beer I easily noticed minor leaks coming from the thermowell and also the joint where the tap unit met the conical bottom.

20151002_192923I just tightened both up and they seemed to be holding well when I left them.  The airlock was bubbling nicely, so I could only assume the whole unit was gas-tight.

After four days things had died down a bit and I thought it time to take the sediment bottle trap off, in order to remove the primary sediment.

But it wouldn’t budge – the locking-ring was seriously locked tight.   I’m no seven stone weakling but it seemed the previously leaked wort had gummed up the lot, making it impossible to undo.

20151012_112226In the end I undid the sediment bottle from it’s own locking-ring unit and took that away to dump the sediment (being careful to turn the tap to the “off” position, first!)

I replaced the emptied and newly sanitized sediment trap and then I went away on a work trip to Las Vegas for a week; pausing only mid-flight to remember that, even though I’d replaced the bottle trap correctly, I hadn’t turned the tap back on to allow the sediment through.  Blast.

Upon returning a week later I noticed a good build up of fresh sediment in the bottom of the cone.  I turned the tap to “on” and hoped that the sediment would just run through into the bottle trap naturally.

20151012_112656As soon as the tap moved, huge bubbles of air from the empty sediment trap bubbled up through the wort – which was not what I really wanted or expected.  Lets hope that there’s no off-taste in the finished beer from oxidation.

Happily though, within a couple of hours, the sediment previously in the cone had effortlessly slid through into the bottle trap – leaving a nice clean looking cone and a very happy me.

20151014_091831A couple of days later still,  I hefted the whole lot back downstairs to the worktop in the kitchen where I planned to bottle.

Even though there was a lot of sloshing about on the way down the stairs there was no danger of raising the sediment as it was safely stowed in the sediment trap with tap above turned to “off”.

Now, with the Fast Ferment on the worktop and at a good working height, I managed to wrestle the sediment trap locking-ring undone, and was treated to half-a-cup full of beer all over my shoes and the floor – there’s obviously room for extra fluid to gather between the tap unit and the bottle locking-ring, so that’s something to watch out for.

Having attached the hose barb and locking ring, I noticed the paltry length of hose supplied with the Fast Ferment…it’s seriously and pointlessly short for any type of sensible wort transfer.  I also had no other hose of that bore that would attach to the hose barb, so just had to go with what I’d got out of the box.

Any chance of at least a metre or two of this hose in future, FastBrewing?  It’d make all the difference…

Undeterred, I pushed on with bottling; and found out that as well as being short, the hose was almost too wide to fit into the neck of a standard bottle; plus, due to the sheer pressure of the beer coming down this huge bore hose, the supplied plastic clamp was incapable of effectively holding the torrent of beer back – so I had to rely on the tap, instead.

In the end I elected to run the lot through the supplied hose and into a glass carboy in order to bottle from there.

Obviously the measly hose length couldn’t possibly reach to the bottom of the carboy, which lead to a little splashing of the beer during the transfer – which, again, I hope won’t lead to any significant oxidation damage.

But, once I had finally finished bottling from the carboy, I went about cleaning the whole Fast Ferment unit…which was an unbridled joy:  I mean; end-to-end it took less than 5 minutes!

That’s great and takes so much of the heartache away from a bottling evening.  This product scored a hell of a lot of points in my eyes from that one fact alone…

So, in summary:

I didn’t like:

  • Chasing down leaks: Before next use, I’ll be doubling up on the PTFE tape on some threads
  • The massive lid: I’ll be putting rubber bands around it to help with grip
  • The seal on the lid: I may tack it in place with Superglue or rubber cement or something
  • The locking rings and their lock-ups: I may put some food-safe lubrication on those threads
  • The piddly length of hose for racking/beer transfer

But, I did like:

  • The solidity of the whole thing.  It’s well made and should last a while
  • The fact that it’s a conical fermenter – which I didn’t think I’d ever own
  • The clarity of the beer that comes out of it, and the lack of yeast sediment mess
  • A thermometer in a thermowell – even if it is an optional extra
  • It’s lack of weight: way safer and easier to move than a glass carboy
  • It’s ease of cleaning: way easier to clean that a narrow-necked glass carboy
  • You can wall-mount it if you’re so inclined, or you can fork out for the stand if you’re not

I genuinely like this product a lot – but it’s clear that you’re going to have to do a little work yourself in order to get it performing properly.

Is it worth the price tag of eighty-five or so quid with the stand being an extra thirty?

Well yes it is, as long as you are prepared to put in the work to make it sealed and solid – and also understand that it’s nowhere near as straightforward as the old “brew in a bucket routine”

PS: I don’t know whether FastFerment is just a name; as, incredibly, my Belgian Dubbel Christmas beer had done with its primary fermentation in under three days!

Orders yours from Greg at BrewUK:

More Please! Allgauer Brauhaus – Altenmunster HefeWeizen

20150929_191109Along with Adnams, Aldi are another bunch of characters that get far more exposure on than a lot of their peers…and that’s because they keep surprising me with unusual and surprising beers whenever I go there.  Oh, and they stock Bratwurst…

God, you haven’t lived if you haven’t had Bratwurst with a big old glass of wheat beer. (my mouth is now awash…)

This time around at Aldi I found some of this Altenmunster Wheat Beer…and it’s in a swing-top bottle WITH A LABEL THAT COMES OFF EASILY: you brewers just don’t realise how much that means to us home-brewers.

Some brewers think that home-brewers are spoiling their sales.  Complete bunkum – where else would we get our inspiration and a vast supply of bottles for us to put our beer into?

The Altenmunster bottles are so good that I’d happily a couple of cases…and it’s also a happy coincidence that it’s a very tasty beer too!

Altenmunster Wheat looks the part, it’s a nice example of the style with a lovely thick, unctuous and foamy head.

The aroma is lovely fresh and bready, with the balance slightly tipped towards the clove than the banana; and it’s quite delightful.

Taste-wise, it’s beautifully refreshing with a very slightly tart edge.  The mouthfeel is solid and creamy with good light wheaty maltiness.  It’s a very fine example of the style.

As mentioned above, I’d buy this regularly…but alas and alack, Aldi only carried Altenmunster briefly for a few weeks before it abruptly stopped.

Gah!  Please Aldi, start stocking this beer again.  I love it and it’s lovely bottles.  I even like the cheerful monk on the label…