Use your Mr.Beer® Fermentor for All-Grain Brewing
You got a Mr.Beer® beer making kit, and have brewed a batch of beer or two, and the beer is turning out OK, but where to go next? You want to make the beer "your own" instead of just mixing a can together with warm water and adding yeast. How do the breweries do it? There is a natural "next step" in the hobby of home brewing, and if you have been enjoying it so far, it's time to start brewing like the breweries, but on a much smaller scale.
What is the difference between Extract brewing (Mr.Beer®) and All-Grain brewing?
Beer is made from grain (specifically the sugar from grain), hops, water, and yeast. The grain (barley, wheat, or rye) is malted by large malting companies like Briess and sold to breweries and homebrewers. Malting companies will also Extract the grain sugars from the Malt kernels and create a syrup, or spray dry the syrup into a powder. These products are called Liquid Malt Extract (LME) and Dry Malt Extract (DME) respectively. LME, and DME are commonly referred to as just "extract" and are used by homebrewers only since they are an easy source of fermentalbles for beer. Some malting companies will go one step further and infuse LME with hop oils to impart the bittering and some flavor from the hops. With hop infused LME all the homebrewer needs to do is add water to dilute the LME and then add yeast and ferment. This is called extract brewing, and it makes beer, but limits the control the brewer has over the beer. In fact, one might call this "beer fermenting" rather than "beer brewing".
Steeping some specialty grain like a tea, and then adding it to LME or DME and boiling it all together with hops is called grain/extract brewing and while this is still not the same process that breweries use to make beer, it is closer than a pure extract fermentation. The brewer is picking from hundreds of kinds of grains, and hundreds of kinds of hops added at different times during the boil to create almost limitless variations of beer. These kinds of recipe kits are the standard for most "stove top brewers". They are easy and create awesome beer.
All Grain brewing is the process that breweries use to create beer. Instead of paying a malting company to extract the malt sugar into a concentrate, they do it themselves in a process called "mashing", which is just a fancy term for steeping or soaking. When malted grain is held at a certain temperature in water, the natural enzymes in the grain start to convert the starches to fermentable sugar. This is easy to do at home with small batches. You just need a kettle to hold the hot water and a straining bag to hold the grain. For example, a 2 gallon batch will require about 4lbs of grain steeping in at least 1.5 gallons of 150 degree water for 60 minutes. This will create the sugars you need. You can then pull out the bag of grain let it drain and rinse it with more hot water. All that sugary water you collect is the same now as when you add the LME or DME to water to dilute it. Now you just need to boil it with hops to create your "wort". Cool the wort, add it to your 2 gallon fermentor and add yeast. This is the exact same process that breweries use to make beer. You are just using equipment that is cheap and easy to use in your kitchen.
What is needed to start making All Grain beers with the equipment I already have?
Luckily if you have a Mr.Beer® kit, you already have a fermentor, and once your beer is fermenting, the process is no different than you are used to. However, you will need to hold a bunch of water and grain, then do a boil, so a kettle (a large stock pot) is a must. A 5 gallon kettle works great. It will give you some room to spare, and is about the biggest you can go for stove top brewing. You will also want a couple of straining bags. One for the grain and one for the hops. That is it. It isn't a complicated process. it is just a couple more steps in the process than you are used to, but you will have the same control over your beer as a professional brewer, and can make any kind of beer you have ever heard of... in your own home. You can put together your own recipe, find a recipe on the internet and scale it to 2 gallons, or get one that is scaled already at Salt City Brew Supply.