Brew in a Bag

IMG_3284As I sit in the driveway, reading a book, listening to the migrating geese in the pond, and occasionally glancing at the brew kettle, I took a deep swig of my coffee. It was a great day for brewing, with the sun shining and only a bit of breeze. Even though most of my equipment is electric, I still enjoy taking a day to brew outside with my old homebrew set up. Even when you have all the brewing gadgets and “toys”, it’s just nice to take a step back and get back to brewing basics. For me, one of the best ways to scale back my brewing procedure is to do a brew in a bag session. Many brewers only do brew in a bag and it’s very easy to see why. Brew in a bag offers many distinct advantages including minimal equipment, less mess at the end of the brew day, and reasonably good brew house efficiency. The only two disadvantages with brew in a bag are temperature stability and mash control.

Below, I’ve outlined my Brew in a Bag Process. This is just one way which you can conduct a brew in a bag session and it far from the most efficient. I take a very low tech approach to brew in a bag which can be adapted to whatever equipment you have. If you don’t have any some of the tools Ive used, feel free to experiment (this can be your time to MacGyver some Homebrew)


IMG_3280Step 1 – Heating the Mash Water: As a general rule of thumb, put 1.5 quarts of water into your brew pot for every pound of grain your have (Example: For 10 pounds of Grain you would use 15 quarts of Water). Bring the water to approximately 160° F and remove the brew pot from the heat. If you want a more precise tool for estimating the amount of water you should use for the mash, go to Brew 365 and plug in your brew day numbers into the calculator.

IMG_3284Step 2 – Adding the Grains & Mashing: This is where you start to have a bit of choice. Personally, I add the bag to the water first (lining the brew kettle with the bag and allowing a pocket in the middle) and then add my grains while stirring. Alternatively, you can add your grains to the bag and then add the bag to the water. I prefer the former method because it allows you to stir the mash and get a homogeneous mixture, where as adding everything at once can give you the dreaded dough balls and decrease your efficiency. In either case add the grain bag and grains to the mash water and stir. Then put the lid on the pot and store it somewhere warm. If you are very concerned about loosing heat during your mash you can wrap your brew kettle in blankets. Let the mash rest for approximately an hour while you heat up your sparge water to approximately 170° F.

IMG_3307Step 3 – Lautering: Once again, you have some choice in how you want to lauter. I take the edges of the brew bag and form a very loose knot in the bag, so no grains can slip out. I then take a colander (or on this day a pizza cooling rack) and place the brew bag on top, over the brew kettle. At this point I use a measuring cup to slowly poor the sparge water over top of the grain bag, making sure to hit all areas of the bag. I continue this until I have reached my desired pre-boil gravity (again calculated through Brew 365). I have heard of other people putting their grain bag directly into the sparge water and simply mixing, but I think that this creates more mess and possibly less efficiency. Additionally, Ive heard of people adding all of their water at once and not doing any sparge. I would not recommend this last method since it could dilute the mash so much that the enzymes could not effectively reach the sugars, but the choice is yours.

Step 4 – Boil: At this point you will be conducting the boil as you would normally for any all grain brew day. Once the wort is collected, you can add heat and begin your boil. Once a boil is achieved, add hops as directed by your recipe.


IMG_3318Step 5 – Chill: Once the wort is finished its boil you begin your cooling process. Your goal it to get the wort down to approximately 70 degrees. Once it is cool, you will rack (transfer) your wort into your fermenter. The only special consideration you may need to make is how carefully you siphon off the wort. Brew in a bag can create more trub than when using a mash tun (partly due to the lack of a vorlauf step) and so more care is needed to avoid this greater amount of debris.

The remaining fermentation is exactly the same as with any other wort production method. Once again, my process of brew in a bag is certainly not the only way, but hopefully I have given you some tips on brewing with this awesome method.

Feeling Fruity: A Guide to Fruit Wine

Why Make Fruit Wine?

First and foremost fruit wine is a fun extension to your fermentation profile. A huge advantage of fruit wines is their ability to be produced through the year. While fresh wine grapes only have 2 main harvests (One in Fall for Italy and California, and another in Spring for South America), fruits ripen at different times throughout the year, allowing the vintner to ferment many times during the year. Additionally, with all of the varieties of fruit available, you can produce a plethora of different wines; each with unique flavors and characteristics. One of the most common misconceptions that turns people off from making fruit wines is the belief that  fruit wine has to be sweet. While some fruits improve with the addition of a bit of sweetness, others are best as dry wine. For example, dry blueberry wine can present itself  wonderfully, giving off dark fruit flavors which resemble a hearty Burgundy or powerful Cabernet.

What’s in the Fruit?

Almost every fruit can be converted to a wine, but not all fruits are created equal. Some fruit, such as strawberries, have a very delicate profile and make wines that are best when served fresh. These wines often have a very quick turn around and can be fermented and bottled relatively quickly. Others, like black currant, are like a hearty Brunello and only get better with time. These bolder wines will take more time to ferment and bottle, often benefiting from extended aging on their skins. When your planning your fruit wine, take these factors into consideration. For an excellent article on different capacities of fruit can be found HERE.

Getting the Most Out of Your Fruit

Every fruit requires special considerations in order to present themselves with maximum flavor. One of the best examples of this is strawberry wine. Unlike the making of many other wines, strawberry wine requires a very unique process to break down the fruit for the best extraction of flavor and quality. The strawberries must be macerated in a sugar to create a liquor before the fruit can be fermented. Another fruit which can change depending on its preparation is the blueberry. Extended contact with the fruit’s skin can lead to a much darker wine. If you take it off of the skins almost immediately, you will get a blush wine, but longer time on the skins will create a darker and more tannic wine.

Boosting Your Booze

While most wine grapes can be fermented without any sugar additions, most fruit wines require an additional boost of sugar in order to get them to an ideal percent alcohol. The general rule of thumb that I use is 1 lb of of corn sugar will raise 1 gallon of wine by 5% abv. I use this basic ratio whenever I’m making a fruit wine since I can scale it to whatever size batch I’m fermenting. While corn sugar is a staple used by wine makers due to its high fermentability and almost undetectable taste, it is not the only sugar that you could use. Its possible to use any sugar to boost your alcohol potential but each one comes with distinctive flavor contributions and different levels of fermentability. Possible sugars include brown sugar, table sugar, honey, and agave nectar.

Picking Your Yeast

Fruit Wine Yeast GuideWhen deciding which yeast to use, you need to decide what you want your wine to become. The first decision you need to make is the hue of wine you are planning on making: white, blush, or red wine. As a general rule of thumb, I prefer to use red wine yeast for darker fruits (blackberries, blueberries, black currants, and cherries) and white wine yeast for lighter fruits (strawberry, peaches, and apples). Additionally, red wine yeast work well with fruits which are fermented on their skins (such as the blueberry wine). Next, decide if you want your wine to be sweet or dry. You can either use a yeast with a low alcohol tolerance and boost your sugar content of the must, or you can ferment to complete dryness and then back-sweeten. Finally determine what yeast will work best for the temperatures you will ferment at. If its the middle of the summer and you have trouble controlling temperature, pick a yeast with a high heat tolerance. Alternatively if its winter and you can’t easily heat up your carboy, pick a yeast with a good threshold for cold. I’ve outlined a few yeasts and my suggestions about which fruits they would work well with. Much of this information is from second hand sources so please use it with a grain of salt and use your own intuition.

Recipe: Blueberry Wine

  • 15 Lb Blueberries
  • 10 Lb Corn Sugar
  • Approximately 4.25 Gallons Water
  • 5 Campden Tablets
  • 2 Tablespoons Acid Blend (Or Amount Determined by Titration)
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Pectic Enzyme
  • Yeast: Montrachet
  • Potassium Metabisulfite
  • Potassium Sorbate


1. Crush your Blueberries: To do this you are going to place your washed blueberries into a large brewing bag. Place the bag in a large bucket (Not your fermenter) and crush. You can crush with either your hands, a mallet, or whatever instrument you concoct. Don’t be tempted to use a blender or food processor since this can break the seeds and pulverize the skins, which can lead to unwanted off flavors.

Crush Blueberries     Total Pulp Collected

2. Extract the Juice: When you have thuroughley pulverized your blueberries, its time to extract the juice. While you could just add the pulverized blueberries to water in the fermentation bucket at this point, we decided to try and extract as much juice as possible before combining. The reason for this is two fold. First, we wanted to get a even better crush on the berries. Doing the squeeze first allow for further destruciton of the berries. Secondly, we wanted to determine the correct amount of water to add in order to get a full 5 gallons. By squeezign the juice before hand we were able to get a good idea of the “dry volume” of our skins and pulp. Once you have extracted a good amount of juice and thoroughly crushed the berries, you will pour your juice into the fermenting bucket, leaving the pulp behind in the crush bucket.

Squeezing The Pulp Bag     Extracted Juice One     Extracted Juice Two

3. Add Water and Sugar: You will add both clean water and sugar into the fermentation bucket, bringing the level up to 5 gallons. We found it helpful to heat up 1.5 gallons of water and add the sugar to this mix, allowing us to be sure our sugar was fully disolved. We then poured the sugar water into the fermenting bucket. Once you must has been thoroughly mixed, you will add your pulp in a bag back to the fermentation bucket and give it a good mix.

Add water to must     Must and Skins

4. Adding Nutrients, Additives, and Metabisulfite: Add 5 crushed campden tablets and mix. Next add acid blend, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient, stirring everything to mix well.

Additives to Fruit Wine

5. Take a Hydrometer Reading: Obtain a Sample of your fruit wine must and take a hydrometer reading. Your goal is between 1.08 and 1.095, giving you an ABV of between 11% and 13%. If necessary, add sugar to bring you up to your desired level (1 lb corn sugar brings up 5 gallons by 1% ABV)

Blueberry Wine Juice for Testing

6. Off Gassing: Cover and let sit for one to two days. It is important to let the must release the sulfite gas produced by the metabisulfite. Use a very thin towel or cloth to cover the container, don’t be tempted to use a lid with air lock. this could trap the sulfite gas leading to poor yeast health

Allow the Wine to Degas

5. Pitch Yeast: Add ample yeast to make sure your fermentation kicks off to a good start. Your goal is to maintain a temperature of 70–75 °F. Too high of temperatures will lead to off flavors in your wine.

Pitch Yeast

7. Punching the Cap: During fermentation, you will need to punch down your cap (pulp) around twice a day, this ensures that your cap will not dry out (leading to mold) and will thoroughly mix the wine. Remember to sanitize all equipment before touching the wine.

8. Fermentation and Additions: Fermentation will finish in about 1 to 2 weeks. During this time you will also be doing several nutrient additions. On fermentation days 2, 4, and 6 you will be adding 4.5 g of Fermaid K and 2 g of DAP.

9: Final Gravity Reading: To determine if fermentation is complete, take a hydrometer reading 2 days in a row. If the gravity remains stable, your wine has finished fermenting and is ready to be racked.

10. Racking to Secondary: first remove the bag of pulp and allow to drain. Put on a pair of gloves, sanitize your hands (with gloves on) and squeeze the bag, trying to extract as much juice as possible. Once the bag has been drained trash the pulp and skins, then rack your wine to a 5 gallon glass carboy.

Blueberry Bag Squeeze                   Blueberry Wine 1st Rack (2)

11. Stabilizing and Degassing: Once the wine has had time to settle, you can degas and stabilize. Add metabisulfite and sorbate. Optionally you can add a clarifying agent such as Super-Kleer, Gelatin, or sparkoloid powder. Degas as you would for any wine. For instructions on how to degas click here: Degassing and Stabilizing Wine.

Wine Clarifying Agents

12. Racking to Tertiary: Rack the wine to the tertiary container, adding a campden tablet to ensure stability. Allow the wine to age an additional month. Longer aging will not hurt your wine as long as the air lock is maintained.

13. Bottling: After a month has passed, feel free to bottle your wine.

Bottle & Glass of Blueberry WineBlueberry wine is best served fresh. Crack a bottle every few weeks to see when it hits a sweet spot, then enjoy our share.


This Post was sponsored by Keg and Barrel Home Brew Supplies