Just Mash It!

By George De Piro


All-Grain Brewing Cheap and Easy (relatively)

"I'm not ready for all grain brewing." Maybe it's because I once said it myself, and now know how much fun all-grain brewing is, that I'm so amazed by that statement. Converting your extract brewery to all-grain is NOT expensive or difficult. In this article I will discuss what extra equipment an extract brewer needs to make the switch to all-grain. When you see how little you need, you may be inspired to give it a try! Although all-grain brewing does take more time than brewing from extract, the actual brewing process is really not hard and that extra time is FUN time!!! Heck, what better excuse is there to pop open a beer at 9:00 a.m. than ,"I'm trying to brew this style today, so this is necessary research." I started all-grain about 16 months ago, and haven't looked back since. I was tired of extract brewing because I wasn't totally satisfied with the product. Although my friends enjoyed it, I really wanted to brew beer that you would pay money for. The other reason I switched to all-grain is the tremendous increase in control you have over the final product. It would be nice if the malt extract makers put their mash schedule on the label, but they don't, so the only way to know how fermentable your wort will be is to make it yourself. There is one other benefit to all-grain brewing: it's a heck of a lot cheaper than extract brewing. Enough introductory babble, now down to business. My advice is to not bother with "partial mashes" because they take almost as long as a full mash, and the jury-rigged equipment used by most people (including myself) for partial mashing produces low extract yields. You're better off putting together the proper equipment and going all the way. The equipment discussed in this article is suitable for brewing 5 gallons (final volume) of beer. As an extract brewer, you already have some of the stuff you need. What you don't have is easily and cheaply obtained. First, you need a mash tun. A cheap, ready to use mash tun is an 8 gallon enamel-coated pot, available at most department stores for about $40. That's the most expensive piece of equipment you'll need, and it has the added bonus of also serving as your boiler. You'll also need a lauter tun. It's just a bucket, with hundreds of 3/16" holes drilled in the bottom, sitting in a bucket with a spigot on the side. Your current bottling bucket is perfect for the outside bucket, so all you need is another bucket (less than $6). If you don't already own one, you'll need a wort chiller. An immersion chiller is nothing more than 25' of 3/8" copper coil with hoses clamped to each end. In use, just connect one hose to your faucet and put the other near a drain. Put the copper coils in your boiling wort for the last few minutes of the boil to sterilize it and your ready to chill. Just make sure the drain hose isn't on the floor when you start running water through it. While it might be amusing if you saw somebody else do it, it's not nearly as funny when it happens to you! That's all the extra stuff you need! Sure, eventually you'll want a mill to crush your own malt, and you'll want a counter-flow chiller, and a hop-back, and a recirculation pump...but for now, that's it! Your doing grain and it cost under $75 (less if you already have some of the components). There are plenty of books that explain mashing procedures and the related chemistry, I'm just trying to show how little extra equipment is necessary to try mashing. Hopefully, this will inspire some extract brewers to take the grain plunge. Heck, if you find that you prefer extract brewing after trying this, all the extra equipment you got can be used for extract brewing, too (yes, even the lauter tun: it makes a good hop back).

Just Mash It!

A few issues ago we discussed the equipment that is necessary for doing an all grain batch of beer. Now, because of popular demand (well, one person asked...) we'll discuss the mashing process. I know, some of you still think that mashing is too difficult. It is my hope that this article might change your mind.

I'll be describing the easiest mash schedule there is: the single step infusion. Just because it's easy doesn't mean it will produce mediocre beer; many great beers are produced this way. In this article I will discuss only what to do, not why. The why will come next month! I am assuming you are using the equipment described in last month's article. If not, adjust the procedure to meet your needs. I'm keeping this simple to try and encourage people to mash, so if any veterans think I've omitted something, it was for simplicity's sake (or I just forgot).

We'll be making a typical American pale ale wort. We'll be shooting for an original gravity of 1.056 and an amber color similar to that of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. For this recipe you'll need 8 pounds of pale malt, 1 pound of 40 L crystal malt, and 1 pound of dextrin (or cara-pils) malt (all available at Hop, Skip, and a Brew...).

Dechlorinate your brewing water using your favorite procedure. You should have ~10 gallons on hand for brew-day. Heat about 3.25 gallons of brewing water to 170 F. Slowly add the crushed grain, stirring constantly to avoid balling. Check the temperature when you are done; it should be about 152 F. If it is within a couple of degrees of this, you're fine. If it is less than 149 F, add heat to bring the temperature to 152 F. If it is over 156 F, add cold brewing water until the temperature is about 152 F.

If you have pH papers, now is the time to use them. If you don't have pH papers, don't worry. This grain bill will land at the correct pH with most of the area's water. Use a spoon to sample the liquid part of the mash. Let it cool to room temperature, then dip the pH paper in it and wait 30 seconds or so. Discard the sample, don't return it to the mash! Match the paper's color to the closest color on the side of the box and note the pH. If it is between 5.0 and 5.6, you're OK. If it is too high, add some gypsum (calcium sulfate) to lower it. If it is too low, add some calcium carbonate or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to the mash. Only add these tsp. at a time, they have a substantial effect.

Simply maintain the temperature at 152 F for 60-90 minutes. This allows enzymes to convert starch to sugar. Stir the mash and check the temperature every 15 minutes and turn the heat on under the mash tun and stir as necessary. If you insulate the mash tun by wrapping a blanket around it (or in some other way) it will hold the temperature pretty steady.

While you're waiting for the starch to be converted to sugar heat 5 gallons of water to about 168 F. This is called "sparge water" and will be used to rinse the sugar off the grains and into your brew kettle during "lautering."

After about 60 minutes you will notice that the liquid part of the mash is clear and sweet. That is an indication that starch conversion is complete. You can also check for complete conversion by putting a small sample of the liquid on a white plate and putting a few drops of iodine on it (iodine is available at most pharmacies). If it turns black or dark blue, conversion is not done. If it stays red or yellow, you're ready to mash out and lauter! (Editor's note: Be sure not to put the iodine back in the mash!)

Heat the mash to 168 F and hold it there for 5 minutes. Then dump the entire contents of the mash tun into the lauter tun. I hope the spigot was closed! Let the grain bed settle for 10 minutes and then start recirculating the wort. Open the spigot (not too fast) and collect the cloudy wort in a suitable container (measuring cups work well). Collect one or two quarts at a time and GENTLY pour them back into the lauter tun. Continue this procedure until the wort is reasonably clear. It will not be as clear as finished beer, so don't recirculate forever!

After the wort clears you can start collecting it in your boiling kettle. Attach a length of tubing to the spigot of the lauter tun and place the other end in the boiler in a way that minimizes slashing. You don't want to aerate the hot wort!

As the liquid in the lauter tun falls to the level of the top of the grain bed, gently add some 170 F sparge water. Don't let the grain bed go dry or the wort may get cloudy again. If that happens, just recirculate the runoff until it's clear.

It should take you about 45 minutes to run 5 gallons of sparge water through the grain bed. If you rush, you'll get lower extraction efficiency (lower than expected starting gravity).

At this point, it's the same as brewing from extract! Boil, chill, pitch, aerate, etc. That wasn't so hard, now, was it? Sure, it took a bit longer, but it was MUCH more FUN! The control you have over your ingredients is much higher, and by varying the mash temperature you can control the fermentability of the wort.

Next time I'll talk about the reasons for the different temperature rests, because it's always nice to know why you're doing something! If you can't wait that long, check out Dave Miller's latest book. He discusses mashing coherently and in detail, a rare gift.

Part 3: Kind of Scientific

Yes, it's time for more of that boring series on mashing. This article promises to be the dullest of them all, because it's kind of scientific. I will be discussing what mashing is and how it works. Hopefully, by the time you've completed reading this series, you'll feel knowledgeable enough to try mashing. It seems intimidating, but it isn't. The chemistry at work in the mash tun is very forgiving. People were successfully mashing for millennia before they even had thermometers!

The second largest ingredient in beer is cereal malt (barley, wheat, etc.). Most malts contains a small amount of sugar and a lot of starch. The goal of mashing is to convert the starch to sugar. This is accomplished through the action of certain proteins in the malt (called enzymes). Enzymes are biochemical catalysts (substances that enhance chemical reaction rates). Different enzymes work best under different conditions.

The enzymes that are most important to beer making (and what else matters?) can be split into two groups: those that break up proteins (proteases and peptidases) and those that convert starch to sugar (amylases). Fortunately for the masher, these enzymes all work well at about the same pH (~5.3). Even more fortunate for the brewer is that they all work best at different temperatures, so by simply changing the temperature of the mash one can completely control the characteristics of the wort.

The enzymes that break up proteins work best in the range of 113 F (45 C) to 130 F (54 C). At the lower end of this range the peptidases work their best, breaking small and medium sized proteins into free amino acids and very small proteins. At the high end of this range the proteases best do their work of cleaving large proteins into medium sized ones.

Too high a concentration of large proteins will cause haze in the final beer and make the wort too viscous to lauter easily. Too little medium sized protein will lead to a watery body and poor head retention. The yeast need free amino acids to do their magic, though. What is a brewer to do?

Most modern malts, and all pale ale malts already contain enough free amino acids for adequate yeast nutrition, because they are highly modified. This means that in most cases, you can skip the "protein rest" all together. When using malts that are high in protein, such as wheat malt, a protein rest should be done. A rest at 122 F (50 C) for 30 minutes is usually adequate to break down the excess large proteins, but will leave enough medium sized ones for good head retention and body.

The enzymes that are probably considered the most important (because they make the sugar that will become alcohol) are the amylases. There are two that concern us: alpha and beta. Beta amylase converts starch to simple, fermentable sugars by "chopping off" the simple saccharide units from the ends of starch molecules.

Alpha amylase converts starch into non-fermentable dextrins by breaking the larger starch molecules at their branch points. Nonfermentable sugars give the beer sweetness and some body (although proteins contribute more to the mouth feel of a beer).

The brewer can completely control the fermentability of the wort because beta amylase works well between 135 F (57 C) and 149 F (65 C), while alpha amylase works best at higher temperatures (152 F-160 F; 66 C-72 C). By choosing a saccharification rest within the beta amylase optimum temperature range, a very fermentable wort is produced. The resulting beer will be quite dry. By holding the mash at a higher temperature, the alpha amylase will work best (beta amylase is denatured at temperatures above 149 F (65 C), and the wort will contain a lot of unfermentable sugars, resulting in a sweet beer.

Multiple rests can be taken to produce a wort somewhere between these extremes. For example, a mash schedule can include a rest at 145 F (63 C) and another at 158 F (70 C). The wort's fermentability can be increased by lengthening the amount of time spent at the lower temperature.

So you can see that the main advantage the masher has over the extract brewer is that of control. The brewer can custom make the wort in any way that is desired, and the final gravity of the beer can be accurately predicted. Until extract producers include the ingredients and mash schedule on the label, an extract brewer will have no way of predicting a beer's final properties.

Reprinted from Malted Barley Appreciation Society Newsletter

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