Why Go All Grain?
Brewing your first batch was a confusing whirl of instructions, equipment, and process, and yet you were successful. Waiting in your fridge is a pint of fresh ale. So why would you want to go and muck it up? Many veteran extract brewers continue making fantastic beers.
Beyond the initial gear investment, all grain is significantly cheaper than extract brewing. Bulk-buying brewers brag about brewing for pennies on the pint. They look for savings everywhere — bulk grain, bulk hops, repitched yeast, and so on.
But the cost savings is ultimately the weakest factor. Instead, focus on control. With all grain, you can brew any strength or color without jumping through hoops or being subject to an extract manufacturer's whims.
Extract brews suffer body issues. On the one hand, extracts finish high, yet they lack satisfying middle-palate richness. With the same malt, you can make full-bodied beers (mashing at 155°F to 160°F) or drier-bodied beers (148°F to 152°F). Even utilizing late addition, extract beers will be darker. The palest pilsner is a sack of pils malt away.
The Simplified View of All-Grain Brewing
In your earlier brews, you steeped a little grain, filtered it, rinsed with hot water, and boiled hops. All grain differs in scale and equipment only.
You start with crushed grain, now with six pounds or more instead of one or two with extract. You “mash” with a few gallons of hot water, the malt enzymes convert starch into sugar, and then you filter the sweet liquid. You rinse with a few more gallons of water and combine all seven gallons of wort in the boil pot waiting for the hops. After the requisite hour boil, you cool things down with a wort chiller and away to the fermenter.
The steps are similar to the earlier partial-mash techniques, just different in scale.