PS - the secret technique is toward the bottom, so keep reading.
These concepts are fundamental to all grain brewing, and partial mash brewing. So, I'll try to handle them here without too much complication. As you know I hate complications. We won't be covering multi step or decoction in this post.
Mashing is soaking grains. Grains that have been malted.
Wikipedia - close enough for beginners.
|Some Hipster making floor malted barley|
|Diagram of 2 Row Malted Barley|
There are really only 3 general types of grains. Base grains, adjunct malts, and non malted grains. That is it. Yes there are hundreds of types of grains, but I think even the worst Tommy Knowitall would agree that all grains fit nicely into one of these categories. Base grains have enough enzymatic power to convert their own starches and often additional starches. Adjunct grains do not have enough enzymatic power to convert their own starches. Other grains may or may not contribute sugars to the wort, but always contribute flavors and color. That is the simply explanation. Yes, it can be way more complicated, but doesn't need to be in order to brew great beer.
|Brew in a Bag - Mashing away!|
But one question remains unanswered... how long do I mash. Here is the real secret. Ok, hold on a minute, before I tell you make sure no one is around. This is the super secret I mentioned above. This knowledge will dramatically improve your beer... Brewing is cooking.
The mash has to take what ever time it takes. Generally people mash for 60 minutes. But that is completely unnecessary, the grains and enzymes don't know they are being mashed. They simply react the way nature designed them to react. Most mashes convert in 20 to 30 minutes. If you do an iodine test, you will find that the starches are all sugars. So, why do we mash longer? Well experts at Briess (specifically Aaron Hyde, the product line manager) explains it this way...
What it comes down to - basic starch is converted into sugar. The simple sugars are converted first, these are shorter chain sugars, so the flavor isn't as complex, thus sweet. The complex sugar, which takes longer to create is more flavorful, and thus you get more biscuit and nut flavor. This is also from flavors leaching over time from the grain- the malting process creates melanoidins, the grain contains proteins and other compounds, and they all contribute to this more complex flavor.
So it comes down to simple sugar creation first, and melanoidins and complex sugars coming out later.
So the longer mash isn't necessarily for creation of sugar, although it will keep grabbing more starch and converting it. The longer mash is to get that nutty, bready, melanoidin taste that comes out of the grains. How do you know when that taste is there?
Here is the shocker... taste your
mash. The guys I brew with and I taste the mash every 15 minutes when we stir the mash. Trust me you will know when the melanoidins have leached out. The taste will go from sweet and cloying to nutty delicious bread. So best advice, taste your mash. You'll have one of those "aha" moments somewhere later in the mash.