This post is way overdue (as are many others). The silence on the blog is in no way an indication that the brewing has halted. In fact, we recently brewed just a day off from our one year brewing anniversary. There have been almost a dozen good batches since then, with only a couple missteps.
Andrew and I have been brewing from the start with malt extract. This makes for a much simpler brewing process, but also does give some limitations to the beers--there are only a few varieties of extract. The recipes work around that, providing extra flavor and character by the grain you steep in the water, but there's only so much you can do.
We had the opportunity a while back to visit with a friend Andy to see how the other side of the brewing world works--all-grain. For us, this is a word that has conjured up fear and trepidation, images of extra work and exotic words like sparging. In all grain brewing, you start off with a huge pile of grain (something like 25 lbs. isn't odd), grind it, then run hot water through it to make your wort.
The day was a blast, with three different batches running out on the driveway at Andy's house, ample food and company besides. And we definitely learned a number of things about the all-grain. It's not as intimidating as we thought.
The basic principle is that you hold water at a certain temperature (~145-150 degrees if I remember right) in the grain for a while. This gets out the sugars that our brewing gets from the extract, but you can vary the mix of your grain to get different results. It was also enlightening how much they relied on the hydrometers in this process to tell them when they're hit the right mix they wanted in their boil.
Other interesting differences included making 10 gallon batches at a time with old converted kegs as the boiling vessels. While I've enjoyed making the 5 gallon batches, now that we've got a few recipes that bear repeating, scaling up seems like a good idea.
The last bit that was different was the final stage--Andy has a couple of taps in a fridge down in his basement, and so the beer just goes into 5 gallon kegs at the end. Although it's a pipe-dream, I can imagine how nice it would be to not have to deal with 50 12 oz. bottles every time we come to bottle a batch of beer.
It's still a ways out, but I see all-grain brewing in Andrew and my future.