How to brew 'boil in a bag' beer

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

"Boil in a bag" brewing is a method of homebrewing beer that involves using a large nylon or muslin bag to contain the grains and hops during the brewing process. 

The bag is immersed in the boiling wort, allowing the flavors and sugars to be extracted while minimizing contact with the equipment and preventing the grains from clogging the system. 

The bag is then removed and the beer is fermented in a separate container.

It is considered an easier means to make beer than going all in with grain and making a mash. 

Boil in a bag brewing is believed to have originated in Australia in the 1990s, where it became popular among homebrewers as a simple and affordable method of brewing beer with minimal equipment. Plenty of Kiwi get in on the action too!

There are several pros and cons to boil in a bag brewing. Some of the advantages include:

  1. Simplicity: Boil in a bag brewing requires minimal equipment and can be done with a basic setup, making it a good option for beginner homebrewers or those with limited space or resources.
  2. Flexibility: Boil in a bag brewing allows for greater control over the brewing process and can be used to create a wide range of beer styles.
  3. Easy cleanup: Since the grains and hops are contained in the bag, cleanup is relatively easy compared to other brewing methods.

On the other hand, some of the potential disadvantages of boil-in-a-bag brewing include:

  1. Limited batch size: The size of the bag can limit the size of the batch that can be brewed, making it less suitable for those looking to brew large volumes of beer.
  2. Loss of efficiency: Since the bag can restrict water flow during the brewing process, some brewers may experience a lower efficiency in terms of the amount of sugars extracted from the grains.
  3. Bag quality: The quality of the bag used can affect the flavor of the beer, so it's important to use a high-quality bag that won't leach any unwanted flavors or chemicals into the beer.

Here's a short guide on how do undertake 'boil in a bag' brewing:

  1. Line your kettle with your grain bag, using clips to secure the bag to the rim of the kettle.
  2. Fill your kettle with hot strike water.
  3. Pour in your crushed grist, stirring well to avoid forming so called 'dough-balls' 
  4. Close up and insulate your kettle/bag (now acting as a mash tun). Open and stir occasionally throughout the mash of at least 30 minutes to an hour. You can do a conversion test if you like, but most modern grains should achieve full conversion from starch to fermentable sugars within 30 minutes.
  5. Lift the bag out of the kettle. It will be heavy, so it's recommended to use a winch/pulley system. Many people use an oven tray or similar to rest the bag above the kettle. Let all the wort drip out of the bag. If you like, you can sparge by pouring 75C water through the bag, and squeezing the remaining liquid out of the bag. Wear sturdy gloves while doing this to avoid burns!
  6. Once all your wort is collected in your kettle, it's just like any other brew! You can then add hops as you wish and complete the normal brewing process. 

Here's some tips to help ensure a successful boil in the bag brew day

Choose a quality bag: When selecting a bag for your brew, it's important to choose a high-quality bag that won't break or leach any unwanted flavors or chemicals into your beer. Muslin bags are a popular option, but nylon bags can also work well.

Crush your grains properly:

how to boil in a bag beer

Properly crushing your grains is essential for achieving good flavor and sugar extraction. You can use a grain mill or a rolling pin to crush your grains, but be careful not to crush them too finely, as this can result in a stuck sparge.

Sparge properly: If you decide to sparge your grains, be sure to use hot water (around 75C) and stir gently to avoid disturbing the grain bed. This can help extract additional sugars and increase your efficiency. It's kinda tricky to do and it depends on how much room you have, 

Keep an eye on your boil: Boiling in a bag can cause foaming and boilovers, so it's important to keep an eye on your boil and adjust the heat as needed to prevent a mess.

Sanitize properly: Like any brewing process, it's important to sanitize your equipment properly to avoid contamination and off-flavors. Be sure to sanitize your brewing kettle, and any other equipment that will come in contact with your beer.

Does boil in a bag actually make good beer?

If the test is winning brewing competitions, then yes matey, the boil in a bag method makes good beer. 

Here are a few  examples:

  • The Australian Amateur Brewing Championship: In 2017, a boil in a bag brewer named Tim Johnson won first place in the "Strong Ale" category of the Australian Amateur Brewing Championship. Johnson used a BIAB method to make a Belgian-style dark strong ale with a high ABV (alcohol by volume) of 9.5%.
  • The National Homebrew Competition: In 2016, a boil in a bag brewer named Doug Piper won first place in the "Belgian Strong Ale" category of the National Homebrew Competition. Piper used a BIAB method to make a Belgian-style golden strong ale with a complex flavor profile and high carbonation.
  • The New Zealand Homebrew Competition: In 2018, a boil in a bag brewer named Luke Nicholas won first place in the "Pale Ale" category of the New Zealand Homebrew Competition. Nicholas used a BIAB method to make a hoppy, fruity pale ale with a clean finish.

These examples show that boil in a bag brewing can produce high-quality beers that are competitive in brewing competitions. Of course, winning a brewing competition depends on many factors beyond the brewing method, such as recipe, technique, and ingredient selection.


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