As you may suspect from my comments about steeping grain, the move to all-grain brewing was not the taste revolution I was expecting it might be. More refined tastebuds than mine may be able to tell the difference, and sometimes I suspect I actually can, but the real sea change in the quality of my beer occurred when I started steeping grain with my extract brews.
However, I did notice two major changes using grain for the main supply of malt sugars. First, the feeling of total control over the brew – kind of like the difference between driving an automatic and a manual gearshift car. The choices you make in real time during the mash affect the finished beer in significant ways. Second, the yield from all-grain was amazing. For two-thirds the price of extract I have (roughly) either an extra 8-10 pints or an extra 1.5% added to the ABV. This allowed me, on my first all-grain brew, to make 24 litres of beer at 5.9% from 5kg of Flagon Pale Ale Malt. Luckily it was an APA, and this was about right.
Mash tun. See the links page for details on how to build your own mash tun. If you’ve been brewing for a while, you may actually want to take the plunge and buy a mash tun; there are all kinds out there.
A 40 litre saucepan. Or a couple of kettle elements fitted inside the mash tun.
Cooling. The faster you can cool your wort, the better; it keeps producing DMS until it cools down, protein and gunk settles out better if you cool faster, and once again, you minimise the chances of infecting the wort. A long run of 10mm copper pipe in a spiral (at least 5m) can be used to carry cold water from your tap (or a bucket) through the wort. The small diameter increases the surface area in contact with the hot wort and maximises heat transference. You can save hours of waiting by pumping cold water through the wort to cool it.
Planning. It takes as long as a day to do a full all-grain brew, so get everything in order. Getting a couple of mates to help could be useful given all the large volumes, heavy lifting, fiddling with equipment, and mess involved. Become head brewer for the day and direct your crew. Planning is especially important for the first time, as you don’t want to start after lunch and find yourself waiting for the wort to cool, on your own, sweaty and miserable, at 10pm. Once you get good and hone your technique you will be able to brew a batch on your own, start to finish, in six hours. Talking of which…
Technique. All-grain brewing requires awareness of how the various sugars are being formed, and knowledge of how best to extract them from the giant container of hot sticky sludge you now find yourself tending. Once again I refer you to John Palmer and his excellent brewing resource; he explains this so well that I’m not going to bother to do it again. Just click on ‘How to Brew’ on the links page and read the section on ‘brewing all-grain beer’. Make notes. Plan your brew. And make some great beer!