Thursday, September 17, 2015

Illustrated Guide to my Partial Mash...a practical approach for excellent beer. Give partial mash a try!

What is the point of brewing beer?  The answer is different for different people. Some people love the biology of brewing. They want to understand the metabolic pathways and chemical reactions that creates great beer (their beer tends to be awesome).  Some guys want to make complicated brewing systems and really understand the engineering of brewing.   For me, the point is two fold; having fun, and making excellent beer.   Now, if you read this blog, you know that I have been brewing for a long time.   I have accumulated a lot of equipment over 20+ years of brewing. I have a gravity system, 3 five gallon pots, an electric turkey fryer, and countless fermenters etc... I also have all of the fun gear for brewing... hydrometers, refractometer, pH meter, pH strips,  2 wort chillers,  seemingly endless tubing, valves and bottling equipment. So I can really brew any style of beer in just about any way you want me to brew it.  Save super high tech HERMS or RIMS... systems.  I haven't made that leap yet, and probably wont.  I enjoy doing the process by hand. I don't want push button beer.

So for me brewing the way I do is because it is the most fun way for me to brew excellent beer, not because of any limitations on my equipment or experience.  

I choose to brew partial mash in my kitchen.  It makes excellent beer every time, and because it is a lot of fun for me.   After brewing for many years I can tell you this,  if I tell you that if I've decided 3 vessel is more fun for me... Ill start doing more 3 vessel again.    Remember there is no one right way to brew, have fun, make great beer. 

I use an electric turkey fryer for my partial mash and extract (with grain) batches.  It was $80, on amazon.   I use the brew in a bag method for the mash.  My turkey fryer will hold the mash temp right at 150 F (65.5 C) for however long I want.   I usually mash in low (around 130 F 54.4 C)  I use 3.5 (13.25 L)  gallons of water and 6 lbs. (2.72 kg) of grain.   I have a large enough brew bag to do much larger grain bills in the fryer, but I have my recipes down to a science of 6 lbs (2.72 kg) and 2 - 4 lbs (.90  - 1.8 kg) of DME.

Yes you can use a small cooler, or two for mashing your grains.  Yes you can use Chris Colby's original plan of about 4 lbs of grain.   That all works fine.   Chris is a beer genius and you should all be reading the beer and wine journal.  This is how I do it.  It costs less and makes damn fine beer. I should note, I use 5star pH stabilizer.  I adjust the addition for the smaller volume.

I dissolve my DME (sometimes LME) in a separate pot in 2 gallons (7.75 liters ) water that is around 130 F / 54.4 C.  I remove the pot from the burner and stir in my extract. I take special care with my whisk to make sure that there is no extract on the bottom of the pot.  Then back on to the stove where  I let the temperature of this slowly rise during the mash to about 190 F / 87.7 C.  I find doing this keeps the colors closer to the intended SRM.   Further, it is easier to stir in a pot than in the turkey fryer

In yet another pot, I get my sparge/rinse water ready. 2 gallons (7.75 liters )  I heat it to 170 F / 76.6 C. Yes there are 3 vessels involved.   Again, fun for me, makes great beer. So if you choose to use my method, you can honestly say that you are a partial mash, brew in a bag, 3 vessel brewer.

At the end of the mash / mash out.  I add the DME to the turkey fryer. The turkey fryer has a basket.  The basket gets placed on a stainless steel bbq grate over the kettle.   My combined volume is about 4.9 gallons of wort.  I then sparge to my intended pre boil volume.  Usually 5.5 - 6.5 gallons (20.8 to 24.6 liters).  The boil off rate is not very high because I boil with the lid on but ajar... egads... aren't you terrified of DMS... again... No, No I am not.  I have covered that many times on this blog.  

The lid on but a jar.
From this point on the brew is just like any other brew, add hops, add your extras... yeast nutrient, whirlfloc, etc...I add my hops in a paint strainer bag from home depot ($1.87) This saves on Trub loss.  I will note again, I brew with the lid on but a jar.  This creates such a vigorous boil that I can not walk away for even a moment for fear of a boil over.   I get complete breakdown of the proteins.  Why is this important to mention? because some "Tommy Knowitall" will try to tell you that you have to have a 200,000 btu banjo burner, or you'll never be able to make great beer... and that person is just wrong.  With the lid on but a jar, my boil off rate is only about .5 - .75 gallon per hour.  Don't you miss your target? Almost never. 

25' Stainless is fine for
small batches.
When the boil is over it is time for the chill... there are people who believe that you have to chill rapidly or you won't get clear beer.   Hogwash.   Chilling helps with clarity, but the intensity of the boil is what really helps.  I do not usually chill batches that are not super hoppy.  I just don't like to waste the water.   Recently I have learned of some new techniques that  appear to save a lot of water, so I will probably be testing and implementing these techniques.  If they are successful, I will probably start chilling every batch. I also am inspired by the Wasp chiller by Jaded Brewing.   When a beer is super hoppy, I chill it.   But super hoppy beers tend to be 2.25 gallon batches around here.   So chilling them is a breeze.  Large batches get chilled on the back porch. a garden hose attached to the double coil 50'. I am usually to pitching temperatures in about 25 minutes.   I prefer immersion chillers.  They are easier to keep clean.  And since brewing is about fun... and cleaning a plate chiller / counterflow chiller sucks... I'll stick with them.

I always aerate my beer.  I used to be a shake the carboy guy, then I became a pour it back and forth guy.  Now I have a $9.00 aquarium pump.  My tube has a hepa filter in it.   The filters are cheap and should last about a year.   It does the job so very well.  I aerate my beers for 15 -20 minutes minimum.  Higher gravity beers, and lagers, get aerated for longer.   Fermentations have been fast and very clean ever since I got the aquarium pump.  I also usually cover the top of the fermenter with aluminum foil.  (I took it off for the picture)  You may also notice the aquarium pump is on a brew day rag.  That keeps it from sliding around while I am aerating.

Pitching Yeast.  I am a fan of dry yeast.  Having said that I have no particular preference about what yeast you use.   For most ales I use US 05 or Nottingham.  I rehydrate but, Fermentis says you don't need to any longer.  For almost all lagers I use Wyeast 2112.  The apparent attenuation (aa%) can be lower than some lager yeasts... 68-74%  but I don't really care.  I usually get about 70-71% attenuation and that is just fine.  My premium american lager is awesome.   For Belgian Strong Ales I am currently hooked on WLP500.  Something about the finished taste just agrees with my pallet.  And it is great even before aging.  I am excited to try CryHavoc yeast.  I'll admit I do sometimes get special deals and gifts because I write this blog.  Fermentis is awesome. I will be trying a lot of lagers in the next year using their yeasts.  If you are a new brewer I'd say stick with dry yeast for a while.

Fermentation Control.   I used to own an undercounter 2 door bar refrigerator.  It was awesome.  I had a Johnson controller... I say used to because after a blow off of epic proportions I took it out side to hose it out (it was a bad ass BSDA that went crazy).  I had it leaning against the minivan to drain out.   I live in a pretty nice neighborhood. But scrappers can get you where ever you are, and they got my fermentation chamber. So I am currently fermenting in the master bathtub.  I used my laser thermometer and  this was the best spot. Around 65 F (18.33 C) year round.  My next big project is constructing an ale fermentation chamber and converting a dorm fridge for lagering.  I will be using a more affordable temperature controller. This picture is what I will be building.

I currently bottle my beer.   I had to sell my keezer and keg set up when times got tough.   I actually don't mind bottling.  But I think I will probably start kegging again. I may also be getting the tap a draft keg systems.   I do so much small batch that they really look like they would make some sense for my 2 gallon batches.  I'd end up with 1 tap a draft, and a 1 liter bottle that I could force carbonate.   I also force carbonate in 2 liter bottles.  That is easy and fun, and lets me start trying my beer in a couple of hours. 


  1. I am not ready to take the plunge into mashing quite yet, but, your blog has really been pushing me that direction. When the time comes, I will be going back over some of these posts.

  2. I'm glad to hear that. And rest assured you never really need to mash if you don't want to. But I assure you that mashing is no harder than making oatmeal. you can do it. More important than how you produce wort is how you treat the yeast. Aeration and temperature control are the real keys.

  3. One more thing. You should go back and read the series on partial mash.