Mashing Made Easy
The easy mashing system makes light work of all-grain brewing.
by Jack Schmidling
Mashing and sparging in picnic coolers and plastic buckets of one form or another have become so universal that the method discussed in this article might seem like something new. However, it is more or less the way beer has been made since time immemorial. Easy mashing has both advantages and disadvantages over the now traditional plastic bucket method. This article examines the basic principle of easy mashing and describes its applications.
Easy mashing is simply using a kettle with an appropriate screening device and spigot for mashing in and, once the mashing is complete, using the same kettle for lautering eliminates the need to transfer the grain to a separate tun. After lautering, the same kettle is used for boiling and, if it has a close fitting cover, can be used as the primary fermentor.
The most fundamental advantage to this approach is the ease with which brewers can make the transition from extract to all-grain brewing. The only new requirement is a straining device in the kettle. The investment required to give it a try is minimal, and if you decide you don’t like the program you end up with a great brew kettle sporting a spigot that won’t get clogged up with hops and specialty grains.
The key to the system is the screening device and the spigot. The first one I made was to be used in conjunction with an overlaying false bottom. The false bottom was a stainless steel plate the size of the kettle bottom into which I had laboriously punched a zillion holes. It created no end of problems on the very first batch; mash got under it, and scorching was just about impossible to control. In disgust I pulled it out, continued the mash, and assumed a disaster was at hand.
Much to my surprise and delight, when I opened the spigot the wort ran clear after less than a cup of turbid runoff. I have since made more than 50 batches using only the screen device and get very consistent and respectable extract yields.
The screening device and spigot: I made the first easy mashing system from galvanized pipe fittings and window screen installed in a 32-qt enameled canning kettle. The current version is all brass, copper, and stainless steel installed on two stainless steel kettles: a 10-gal kettle for mashing and fermenting, and a 16-gal kettle for boiling. Having two kettles allows one to be prepared for the next operation while the other does its thing.
Figure 1 shows the assembly of the spigot and strainer in the kettle. The strainer is simply a 2 X 6 in. piece of stainless steel screen rolled into a 6-in. tube and clamped to the copper tube. The last ½ in. is bent over itself to seal it off. The copper tube has a double bend in it to allow it to be rotated so that the end is right on the bottom, leaving almost no wort behind. It is easily removed for cleaning. The spigot passes through a clearance hole drilled in the kettle and is retained by the female connector and a washer to take up the threads and make a tight fit. All the parts are available at a good hardware store. For those disinclined to hunt down the parts, a complete kit is available from Jack Schmidling Productions (Chicago, Illinois).
Once the spigot–strainer device is installed in the brew kettle, you are ready for the plunge. If you are shopping for a kettle, my only advice is that bigger is better. I consider a 32-qt canner the minimum size vessel for a 5-gal batch.
The procedure described below is intended only as a starting point. It works well enough to ensure a successful first all-grain experience. An infinite number of variations could be fodder for future articles, but the object of this one is to introduce the approach and brew a simple batch of all-grain beer.
EXAMPLE BREWING PROCEDURE
Mashing: The first step is to dump 8 lb of crushed pale malt into the kettle. Don’t forget the strainer! Add 3 gal of warm tap water and mix thoroughly. Apply heat and raise the temperature to 155 °F (68 °C). Stir frequently to avoid caramelizing and to distribute the heat. Hold this temperature for 30 min by heating and stirring as necessary.
After 30 min at 155 °F, crank up the heat and continue stirring until the mash reaches 175 °F (80 °C). This step is known as mash-out and is different or impossible to do with the plastic bucket approach. This step eliminates a set mash — a cessation of flow not caused by a blockage in the spigot, which can be a common problem with first all-grain batches. Set mashes are frequently caused by allowing the mash to get too cool. By raising the entire mash to sparging temperature, you eliminate this potential source of trouble. Hold this temperature for 10 min, then turn off the heater and let it rest while you bring 2 qt of water to a boil in a separate kettle on another burner.
Sparging: Sparging allows you to get 6 gal of wort out of a mash that started with only 3 gal of water. This is done by slowly passing hot water through the grain bed as the sugary liquid drains out of the bottom. After mash-out, the grain will settle to about 1 in. below the liquid level. Lay a small bowl on top of the grain and pour the hot water directly into it. This distributes the sparging water and minimizes the disturbance of the grain.
Open the spigot just a trickle and run the wort into a cup until it runs clear. Pour the turbid runoff back into the kettle; it will run clear after a few ounces. By way of comparison, it sometimes takes gallons with other systems, and all this turbid runoff must be recycled back into the mash until it runs clear.
The object of sparging is to extract as much sugar from the grain as possible. The longer it takes, the more efficient the extraction. Adjust the outflow so that it takes at least 10 min to fill a 1-gal jug. Pour the boiling water into the bowl as available or necessary to keep about 1 in. of water over the grain. The availability of boiling water will probably be the limiting factor on sparging rate. Most brewers will tell you that the sparge water should not exceed 170 °F (77 °C), but if you use boiling water in this system, the average temperature will be far below 170 °F and you will be lucky to keep it above 150 °F (65 °C). You can fiddle on your next batch; trust me on this batch.
The first runoff should have an original gravity of about 1.080, and you should quit when it gets below 1.010. The total blend will produce 6-7 gal at about 1.035, which after boiling will yield 5-6 gal at 1.040. Collect the wort in 1-gal jugs or 5-gal plastic buckets (can’t get away from them).
Boiling the wort: When the wort is collected, dump the spent grain on the compost pile and rinse out the kettle. I always save a few pounds in a freezer container for beer bread. The 7 gal of wort will barely fit into the kettle for the boil so it is best to bring a smaller portion to a boil initially to avoid boilover. After evaporating some and getting the boil under control, the rest can be added. A minimal 1-h boil will evaporate about 1 gal, so you can play with the volumes in various ways. You can increase the gravity by increasing boiling time, or you can boil less and have more beer.
Add half of your hops as soon as boiling begins. Save one-fourth for the end and add the remainder at regular intervals during the boil.
Chilling and fermenting: After the boil, cool the wort. After chilling, you can draw it off 1 gal at a time, shake it vigorously to oxygenate it, and then “glug” it into the primary before pitching yeast.
If you hold the chilled wort in a carboy or in gallon jugs, and if the lid fits well, you can clean out the kettle and use it again as the primary fermentor. Just boil a cup of water in it with the lid on for about 5 min to sterilize it.
Kettles seem to be universally available for about $35, and the rest of the stuff can be had for under $ 20, making this system fairly inexpensive.
So, that’s what easy mashing is all about. Try it; you may like it.
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