Traditional Beer formula involves grain mash. Grains contain starch, a complex polysaccharide, which simple unicelled creatures like yeast cannot digest. The next couple of chapters will talk about two different ways to convert this starch into fermentable sugars. Malted grains are sprouted and roasted. Here is a link to a simple tutorial on how to malt grains at home.
Malting helps naturally create enzymes needed to breakdown starch into fermentable sugars. Grain-based mashing requires some investment (not too much) into equipment. Below are the few additional steps in the wort making process that one needs to perform:
Grain Bill for beer mashing:
Firstly, one needs to make a grain bill. It is a brewer’s term. We use it for the type and quantity of various grains. Unlike extracts, grains will have husk and other unextractable portion, which needs to be accounted for. Hence, we need about 250-300gm of grains per liter of grains to get the same result.
The following steps will help us customize the grain bill:
- Do experiment with a bit of malted wheat, crystal, biscuit, and dark malts to get a better brew. Adding a bit of oat and some local grains will also be a good choice.
- Adding adjuncts or unmalted grains is something that can also be experimented with. Torrified wheat, Oak chips, rice flakes, and peated barley are the most commonly used adjuncts in the industry.
- For light-bodied beers (crisp, low maltiness) or high gravity (higher alcohol content), one can even use some sugar along with the grains.
- Please stay away from legumes (including chickpeas) and grains with high-fat content. Any source of starch is welcome though.
- We use malt extract in syrup or powder form. We can readily pour it from the pouch. However, the grains need to be malted and then milled before they can be used in the mash. A porridge/ dalia like consistency is what is needed where a single grain is broken into two or three pieces. If one powders them into flour, then the gluten will bind them together making extraction, filtering, and lautering (separating the spent grains from the wort after the mashing is complete) impossible. If we don’t break the grains properly, then the enzymes will not reach out to starch efficiently and generate good yields of maltose (wort sg).
- Don’t shy with adding some fruits in your beer. The citrus and fruity aromas are in vogue in India.
- Do compliment your hops with some herbs, roots, and spices. This can convert a bland Western recipe and include your own unique signature taste to it.
- If you have access to good quality honey, then add it towards the last 5 minutes of the boil. Honey beer or braggot when complemented with the right herbs can transform your crisp beers.
Wort is an aqueous solution which is extracted during brewing beer through grain mashing. Wort comprises of malt extract and water. That’s the simplest understanding of wort. The process of obtaining wort involves grain mashing and separating the liquid wort from the sugar extracted grists or solids remaining in the mash. One can skip this whole process of mashing and milling by simply adding malt extract to water. The liquid wort is then collected in the brew kettle and is boiled with hops. Then yeast is added to the cooled wort which results into fermentation transforming the wort into beer.
The boiling of wort correctly is very important as it has a huge effect on both the process of brewing and it’s end result.
There are various objectives of wort boiling –
(a) inactivation of enzymes to fix wort composition
(b) sterilization of wort
(c) coagulation of proteins (hot break formation)
(d) hop extraction (isomerization)
(e) evaporation of water
(f) formation of flavour compounds (Maillard reaction)
(g) evaporation of undesired volatiles
A lot of simple and complex reactions takes place during wort boiling. In this sense the time taken in wort boiling also holds importance. Traditionally, wort was boiled for 45 minutes but it gives better results if we boil it for 60 minutes. There is no hard and fast rule for boiling time and it can range from 30 minutes to even 120 minutes. But as said above, it does effect the end result. Change in boiling time brings changes in aromas and flavors. Longer boiling time turns the aroma more towards the flavor and flavor becomes more bitter. Also the wort gets darker with time. A long boil provides you with a caramelized wort.
Boil Kettle Covered/Uncovered?
It’s always better to boil the wort uncovered. For the first few minutes until the wort comes to boil we can cover the lid. But once it comes to boil you can at most partially cover it. This is because in wort there are sulfur compounds that need to boil off as they form dimethyl sulfide and gives your beer a corn like taste.
Wort reduction can be controlled by managing the boiling time. The reduction in volume of wort is an important factor in determining both the original wort gravity and the final beer gravity.
The wort composition depends on the mashing process, the brewing water, the hops, and also the grain bill. A standard wort contains almost 90 percent carbohydrates (sugars like sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose and maltotriose) and the dextrin material. Besides these, wort also has nitrogen components, salts, minerals, and acids.
The taste of wort gives you an indication of the taste of your resulting beer. Among brewers it’s a belief that if your wort is good your beer will be good too. Wort has a really sweet and bitter taste. The bitterness results due to the hop and so the hops should be strained out properly.
Beer Mashing Kettle
Since grains do not dissolve readily, one would need a mechanism to ensure that the heat from the bottom does not char the grains (kettle caramelization) and one could maintain the uniform temperature across the wort. A muslin bag and a cooking thermometer are ideal, to begin with. However, serious brewers quickly switch to a mashtun. Mashtun is an insulated water container where calculated quantities of boiling water are introduced to achieve finer temperature controls. Industrial brewers prefer a water-bath or indirect heating setup using dry steam.
Ever wondered, why it is called beer brewing? The bulk of the flavors depends on how we apply heat to the wort. The same set of ingredients can yield different flavors. We can do it just by altering the temperature profile. Be careful about the mashing temperature profile. Enzymes need an ideal temperature to act as a catalyst for converting starch to maltose. If the temperature is too low, it will take forever. At too high a temperature, the proteins starts to denature. We recommend keeping the mashing vessel in an insulated container or a water bath to maintain the uniform temperature profile. A lauter tun made from an insulated water cooler is good to maintain the temperatures.
Beer Mashing Temperature Rests
The major types of rests given to allow the naturally present enzymes in the malt to act on the grain are:
- Acid Rest: (35o for 5 minutes). This is the most temperature-sensitive process. It is given to allow the Phytase enzyme to break-down phytin and release phytic acid. It lowers the mash pH.
- Glucan rest: (45oC for 10 minutes) The Beta-Glucaneese enzyme breaks down the glucans and lower the wort viscosity. The resulting beer will have a much lower haze as well. When making wheat or rye beers, holding the wort temperature at 45o for 15 minutes speeds up the lautering process.
- Protein rest: (44o-59oC for 15-30min). This is to break down proteins. Long-chain proteins cause haze instability and need to be modified. The proteinase enzyme makes medium-chain proteins that add to the body of the beer. While, peptidase enzyme reduces the medium-chain proteins into smaller peptic acids, which is not desirable. These enzymes are naturally created during the malting process.
- *Beta Amylase* (60o for 30-45 minutes): In this step, the starch breaks down into maltose (fermentable sugar) This is the most critical step in the entire mashing cycle and determines the brewing efficiency, wort gravity, and most of the beer’s characteristic. A long beta rest will lead to a high gravity dry beer with low maltiness.
- Alpha-amylase (70o for 15-30 minutes): This is the second amylase enzyme. Its primary job is to break a starch molecule into longer chain soluble sugars. The resulting wort is sweet but it is not readily fermentable. As a result, one makes full-bodied sweet beers.
- Mash Out (75oC for 5 minutes): Only the full-bodied beer requires this step. The goal is to denature the amylase enzyme so that the wort fermentability does not increase during the wort separation and lautering (removal of grain process).
Methods for Precision Brewing Temperature
As we can see that over the 90-100 minutes the brewer needs to raise the temperature. The time duration and temperature profile has a huge bearing on the enzyme efficiency and the taste of the final beer. Now there are multiple ways that one can maintain the temperature profile:
1. Gas Stove with Brew Bag
Heating the bhagona/stockpot over flame.
Pros: It is easy and a fast way to heat. No special equipment needed.
Cons: Often we end up overheating or overshooting the target temperature. This can denature the enzymes. Hence difficult the control. Also, the stove has a higher heat density. Hence there is a chance of kettle caramelization.
Most brewers will keep their grains in a brew bag during this method to prevent charring of grains.
2. Adding Boiling Hot water
If you are using mash tun or insulated mashing vessels then heating is often not an option. Brewers often add Boiling water to raise the temperature across steps. Use a good thermometer to precisely regulate how much water to add for a very precise control.
Pros: Easy to follow steps. Hence no overshooting or charring of grains.
Cons: Sometimes the brewer overshoots the target volume of the brew. This is because there is dilution at each step of the process. This can result in not enough space left in the mash tun for adding boiling water. Also, It is difficult to achieve high gravity brew with this process.
3. Decoction Brewing
By decoction mashing is very similar to the coffee decoction that we make at home. Essentially, you drain out the mashing water. Heat it up separately and add it back to your mash.
- Since no new water, the wort does not get diluted.
- It leaves enough space to use a lot of sparging water. Hence brewing efficiency is higher than only boiling water addition.
- Some traditional German brewers believe that this separation of wort in separate vessels and boiling them breaks the cell walls of the grains. It brings out the real malty flavors, more precision control over mashing steps, and increased mash efficiency.
- For an expert brewer with only base malts, this method allows them to bring out some unique flavors in the kettle. By breaking up the malt into batches and selectively treating them under different conditions.
Cons: It takes time to drain out the wort after each mashing step, heating it and pouring it back. Having some boiling hot plain water ready in a separate pot is so much easy and simpler. The length of the brew day is extended because of the additional steps involved.
Decoction brewing was the most popular commercial brewery step till the mid 20th century. Today 90% of the commercial breweries have switched over to the Dry steam method or the electric brewing method.
4. Dry Steam Method
Commercial Breweries have large dry steam generators. These devices can produce 120 Degree Celsius hot dry steam that is pumped/bubbled into the wort.
If you are a home brewer, you can also perform steam infusion at home. A pressure cooker can be easily modified into a steam generator. All one needs to do is replace the whistle (pressure valve) with a copper pipe that is submerged into your mashing vessel.
- The steam has an additional 540 calories per gm as latent heat alone. Hence this method becomes very easy and efficient.
- A small volume/mass amount of steam can heat up the entire wort. Hence the volume addition is very low.
- Since there is an indirect heating, it leads to minimum modifications/ charring/ kettle caramelization of the grains during brewing.
- I am not a big fan of altering pressure cookers at home. A blockage in the steam pipe can lead to excessive pressure build-up.
- If there is a leakage, then dry steam can burn the skin really bad and cause brewing accidents.
- It leads to a two-vessel mashing (mashtun and steam generator). Which means more space and investment in equipment for a home brewer.
5. Electric Brewing
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A simpler way to increase the mash temperature is to use a low heat density heater. Low heat density means that the heating is distributed over a large surface area. This prevents any unintended modification of grains during the mashing process.
- Simple compact all in one brewery system. No need to have an elaborate setup with multiple vessels.
- No steam or high temperature is generated. Hence no chances of accidents.
- It has a programmable interface. This means that one can type in the recipe and the computer will exactly follow it to the letter.
Cons: It costs 40-50K.
Mashing efficiency Calculator
It is not needed to give all the six temperature rests. Based on the grain bill and final recipe characteristics, the mashing profile can be altered. Alpha-amylase enzymes are more active at 70oC and lead to more long-chain complex sugars (more body). While beta/ gluco enzymes are more active at 60o giving rise to more fermentable sugars (lesser body). Altering the ratios between these two stages can lead to changes in the brew profile. Some recipes call for mashing which is faster and simpler to monitor. Essentially, it is a simplification process, where we maintain only one single temperature instead of varied ranges.
Other Beer Grain Mashing Processes
- Heating for the elongated period introduces additional problems of evaporation of water. Homebrewers should typically use about 10% extra water to compensate for evaporation loss and water that gets absorbed by the residual grain. The boiling-off rate is dependent on the equipment used and the size of the batch. Luckily, a lot of online calculators are available to do this job of tweaking the recipe for us.
- At the end of the cycle, the grains would have absorbed a lot of water and sugars. Hence sparging/ washing the grains with some warm water is recommended to improve the extraction efficiency (taking sweet sticky maltose out of grains). Improper sparging is the primary reason for some home-brewers not being able to hit the target specific gravity.
- Wort Oxygenation: During the mash-out (last rest) and boiling, much of the dissolved oxygen in the wort is expelled. To create a healthy yeast culture in the fermentation, we need 4-6ppm of dissolved oxygen.
- Tincture iodine (easily available in chemist shop or first aid kits) turns purple when added to starch. This is the easiest test that most brewers use to check if the mashing process is complete. For this, we need a few teaspoons of wort and a drop of iodine. Residual starch in wort not only causes starch haze but also lower extraction efficiency. Poor quality starch and inadequate amylase rests are the primary reasons.
- Most recipe books will have instructions to introduce hops in the wort with time. Please note that this time is the countdown time (i.e. time to flame off). Typically, aromatic hops are added in the last 10-15 minutes of the boil, while bittering hops in the last 45-60 minutes. Some recipe calls for flavored hops, which are added in the last 15-20 mins from flame off.
- Most wheat-based recipes will also call for an infusion of coriander seeds and orange peels in the boil. Similarly, some Christmas styles will have roasted pumpkin and spices infused. For most practical purposes, treat them as hops. If the aromatic component is high (like cloves) then add them late in the boil. If the resinous component of the spice is high (like cinnamon), then introduce them early.
- Aztec’s name for chocolate was xocoatl (bitter water). It was used to make beers bitter, long before hoppy beers became prevalent. From Choco powder to fruit puree, don’t be shy to dream or experiment with the magical combination of ingredients. Some puritans will quote the German beer laws which permit only Barley, hops, yeast and water to be added. However, craft beers are all about fusion and experiments. Milkshake IPA and milk stouts, which are gaining popularity these days, have added lactose (an un-fermentable sugar) to get a balanced sweet palate.
- Sometimes, I make a single large batch in my mashtun but then I divide it into a dozen fermenters and test various dry-hopping combinations. Commercial breweries also have a similar pilot batch concept where they make about 100Liters batch of different flavors for market research.
- Grains and boiling wort need space. Hence, it is recommended to take a larger brew kettle than the fermenter. Besides, grains tend to clog up the filtration equipment. Test run with a smaller batch for potential problems during lautering before making a full-scale batch.
- If wheat, sorghum, oats, rice flakes, and other husk free grains are used in high concentrations, then adding some rice hulls to the boil is recommended. These hulls will form a natural filtration bed, allowing the separation of wort from the spent grains without choking the exits and pipes.
- Please don’t forget to sanitize the equipment and pasteurize the wort. Carelessness and improper sanitation is the fastest way to ruin a batch.
- Once you start designing your recipes, it might be a good idea to refer to a BIAB calculator (Brew In A Bag) for the SRM (color) and bitterness (IBU). There are tons of brewing resources available online.
- Please record the recipe and observations in a logbook. There is nothing more frustrating than stumbling upon a hit recipe and then failing to recreate it.
Mashing vs Steeping
Brewing is making a beverage through the application of heat. All the topics we discussed today are part of beer brewing. It involves multiple steps and each has its own name. The two most critical steps are Mashing and Steeping. Some readers got confused between Mashing, Steeping, and Brewing. Let’s talk about the three differences between these four steps.
Mashing: Remember potato mashing or Pav Bhaji making. Mashing is reducing food into a pulp. We mill the grains, put them in a malt pip/brew bag, and add water. By regulating temperature & pH we create a conducive environment for the enzymes to hydrolyze/break down the starch into fermentable sugar. The aim of mashing in beer brewing is to get the maximum fermentable sugars out of the grains.
Steeping on the other hand is an art to get the color right. Here we use a variety of specialty malts, adjuncts, fruits, Belgian candi sugar etc. Each of them impart colors on their own. Some basic online calculator even predict the SRM/color of the wort by doing the linear sum of the color imparted by the constituents of the grain bill. This is usually 90% correct. However individual brewing style, mashing also can alter the color of the beer made from adjuncts.
The second difference is the thickness. Mashing tends to be very viscous, like a porridge. We want ~2-4kg of water per kg of base malt. If it is too watery, the enzymes get diluted and don’t hydrolyze grain starch completely. If it is too concentrated, then we are unable to unlock the enzymes from the grains and the mashing efficiency is extremely low. FOr steeping to be successful, we want to extract the maximum color, flavor, and unfermentable sugar from the specialty grains. 10-15Liters of water per kg of specialty grains is ideal for this process.
The third difference is criticality of temperature. Mashing is very sensitive to temperature and time. Maintaining these two parameters is critical to get the consistency in your brew. For steeping, only thing to be worried about is that grain husk temperature should not exceed 75 Degrees to prevent off flavors. (explained in detail in sparging).
Fourth is intent: Mashing is required for all grain beer where starch is to be converted to fermentable maltose. However most home brewers today do an extract-based mashing. Since the mashing is already done there, the key is to extract the maximum flavors and colors from specialty malts and bittering hops. This is the reason why lately a lot of books have to specifically call out the steeping process. Otherwise in normal all-grain brewing (traditional beer brewing method), steeping and mashing happens simultaneously.
Don’t get confused with all the jargon being thrown around. Remember our forefathers could make a successful brew without any tools, instruments, or science. If they were blissfully happy with their results, so can we.
Whirlpool in your Beer Wort
Giving a little stir to your wort can make a hell of a difference:
- Protein haze is one of the biggest problems in all grain mashing. The long-chain proteins can also cause chill haze. Some brewers add Irish Moss and polyvinyl polypyrrolidone (PVPP) to their brews. However commercial breweries prefer to use a whirlpool tank. This is a specialized tank with high-velocity motors to swish and spin the wort for separation. Whirlpool also causes separation of hops residue, grain trub, and fat (from grains) which makes lautering and filtration easier.
- Hops are also added with a whirlpool are isomerized more. Hence it improves the hop extraction efficiency. While most brewers cover their pot during boiling, covering pot during hop whirlpool introduction is a matter of individual preference.
- Recirculation during chilling can reduce the time it takes to chill the wort by 50%. This faster chilling leads to better beer and faster end of the brew day.
- DMS ( dimethyl sulfide): Malted grains contain s-methyl methionine (SMM) which is the precursor to DMS off-flavor. The longer is the mashing and heating cycle, the more DMS off-flavor comes in the resulting beer. Whirlpool during chilling helps bring the boiling wort to below 60 degrees within 10 minutes. This reduces the DMS conversion and makes better tasting beer.
There are two ways to create the whirlpool:
- Using a mash paddle. Take this large stainless steel spoon and give your mashing kettle a swirl. Do ensure that there is enough headroom because wort might splash a bit. Don’t use a plastic spoon in your boiling wort. However wooden spoon can also be used (provided you clean it with dry steam)
- Using a magnetic pump drive. Brewzilla and most All-in-one electric brewing kettle come with a recirculation pump. If you introduce the pump output to the wort at an angle, you can create a whirlpool.
The sweet sticky wort is made by the conversion of starch in your grains to maltose. To achieve the highest brewing efficiency, one wants the maximum of this maltose to be extracted in the liquid and not sticking to the grains. The best way to overcome this problem is by sparging. This essentially means sprinkling hot water over the spent grains so that the malt hiding between the grains and in the hulls/husks is extracted out.
When it comes to sparging there is no hard and fast rule, but most brewers use between 1-4 Liters of sparge water per kg of grains. Another aspect to remember is that sparge water should not be more than 75 degrees Celsius hot. Pouring boiling hot water leads to excessive tannins being leached into the wort and makes the beer astringent or husky tasting.
Types of sparging:
- Batch Sparging: This is the most favored style for the Brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) style of beer mashing. Essentially brewer takes the grain bag and suspend it over the bhagona (stockpot) after the 2-hour mashing cycle is complete. Once the dripping slows down, we squeeze the bag to extract the residual wort out of the grains. We pour some more hot water and repeat the process. This is done till the dripping wort starts tasting watery
- Recirculation Pump or Fly Sparging: This is used in Brewzilla and most advanced electric kettle. Essentially, during the entire mashing cycle the recirculation pump keeps on pumping the wort back on the grain bed. The advantage is that the maltose gets dissolved and extracted immediately from the grains. The enzymes also gets recirculated and there is a uniform temperature throughout the brewing vessel. This improves the brewing extraction efficiency and prevents kettle charring also. We still need to lift the grain (malt pipe) and do a batch sparging but the recirculation pump has already done most of the hard work.
- English Batch Sparging: This is the oldest method of sparging. Essentially it is making two wort rather than one. The spend grains are washed in the brewing water meant for the next batch. Doing so the malt and soluble extracts from the grains are extracted to the maximum. However this can be used only for commercial setups that are brewing every day. Most home brewers brew only once a month on weekends. For them this is not feasible.
Regular all-grain mashing home-brewers should invest in a thermostat or an IoT app powered electric/ flame controller. This will allow us to let electronics manage the brew and even program the recipe to get consistent results.
Apart from the above changes, the two styles of beer (extract and grain mashing) making are essentially the same. All grains beer brewing gives the brewer much more flexibility and freedom to design their craft beers. This book focuses to make you a reasonable hobbyist. On the next page, we will be using some of the above knowledge to make a wheat beer.