To novices or people who have never brewed before and read my first two posts, and/or watched the AHA videos I linked to; those both detailed extract brewing. Essentially a malt house converts malted grain (mashes) into fermentable sugars (wort), and either reduces the wort to a syrup (liquid malt extract) or dehydrates it to powdered form (dry malt extract).
With homebrewing you can be as involved in it as you like. For many brewers having the mash done at a factory shortens the brew day, and reduces the amount of equipment you need to buy. The trade off with using extracts is a loss of control, reduced options, and increased ingredient costs.
Most of the grain bill in a beer is base malt. Imagine if you were making tomato sauce at home, your base malt would be the tomatoes. As the hobby grows more and more base malts are available in extract form, but there are even more malts out there that aren’t there yet. Also the exact temperature grain is mashed at has a huge impact on the body and fermentability of the wort. Mashing at higher temperatures gives you a more full bodied beer, but at a small expense of less fermentable sugars. Mashing at lower temperatures gives you a lighter-bodied, drier finishing beer because you have more fermentable sugars. With all-grain that’s something you the brewer can control.
The easiest way to mash your base malts without investing in lots of extra equipment is brew-in-a-bag (BIAB). What you do is heat up water; I do it right on my stove top. Then you put your grains in a fine mesh bag, put the bag in your heated water, secure the bag to the kettle (binder clips work great), put in a thermometer to make sure the temperature is holding. Once the mash is done you pull the bag out, let it drain into the kettle, I use a metal strainer with a big handle, and then you boil as you would with any batch.
On my stovetop I usually only do 1-2 gallon all-grain batches with this method. For 5 gallon batches I’ll typically do a BIAB mash, and add a little extract during boil which is called a partial-mash. I use the BeerSmith app on my iPad to calculate how much water to use, what to heat it up to, what temperature I need to mash at, and use the built-in timer.
For my first brew day post I will be doing a 2 gallon, all-grain BIAB batch this weekend!