Monday, March 28, 2016

10 Gallon No Sparge

Why do you sparge?  Seriously, why?  Of course you sparge to rinse sugars off the grains, and to improve efficiency, and because that is what every book says to do, so that is what you do.  But other than that, why?   And why is improving efficiency a good thing?   Have you ever thought about that? I routinely get into the high 80s and low 90s with brew in a bag step mash with a sparge.  But why is that good?  Other than the fact that is means you did a great job extracting sugars, is there any benefit to supremely high efficiency?  

The answer may surprise you.  The answer is unequivocally, no.  In fact I think you could argue quite compellingly that super high efficiency actually reduces many of the malty flavor compounds (flavinoids, melanoids like dimethyl pyrazines) that give beer balance and it's delicious grainy, bready, taste. That's right sparging may be lessening the overall taste of your beer.  And further, sparging isn't necessary.  

If BIAB has taught us anything, it has taught us that there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.   One of the most common methods of BIAB uses a no sparge.  All of the water, all of the grains. Perhaps a squeeze, but other than that no other method for pulling sugars out of grains.  

Built in bulk head
makes connecting a
valve really easy!
We have been looking for a better faster brewing method for some time.  A method that would allow us to do 10 gallon batches.  But we didn't want to spend a fortune.   Many of the 10 gallon systems are price prohibitive.  So we put on our thinking caps.  Here is what we came up with.

Stirring and Checking Mash
We mash (no sparge) in a 100 quart (25 gallon, 95 liter) Coleman Extreme Cooler.   The cooler has a built in hose bulkhead, and a trap door in the lid.  Both of which come in very handy.

25 Gallons of mash is actually enough for quite a bit more than 10 gallons.  I am confident we could make a 15 gallon high gravity beer, or a 20 gallon medium gravity beer in the cooler with out sparging.   In the photo on the right you can see Jake and Mark have the door open and they are able to stir the mash.  The door is crazy helpful for infusions too, we do lots of step mashing.  And it sure is nice to be able to add the boiling water with out opening the entire cooler.

We still use a bag as our filter medium. The benefits of the bag are well established.  We get about 77% efficiency on these large no sparge batches.  We're good with that.  Although we are going to try an even finer crush and see what that gets us.

But as you can see in the photo at the left, the crush is already pretty good.  By the way, John isn't talking to the mash, he's telling me the temperature.  He's not encouraging them "come on little grains, you can do it"  As you can see, that is a whole lot of grains for a 10 gallon batch. (6.5 Gallon plastic bucket. )  the temperature is important.

All grain brewer's need to take this part of mashing in more seriously.  I can't tell you how many times people send a question about missing strike temps, or post the same on a forum.   I ask them..."what was the temperature of your grains?"  And I get back, "I don't know... room temperature I guess"  "Where were the grains stored?"  "In the basement...    Uh, yeah... no wonder that your temps were low.  Your grains were probably 60 F.  (15.5 C)

We generally do step mashes with infusion.   I have mentioned infusion step mashing before on the blog.  But I've never really gotten into detail.  Basically, you add a certain amount of boiling water to the mash to raise the temperature to the next rest.  It is similar to decoction mashing in that a certain amount of boiling water can be added to the mash to heat it to a certain temperature.   "Won't the boiling water denature the enzymes?"... yes... and no.   A very small amount of the enzymes in the mash will denature when you pour in boiling water. But not enough to cause any problems with conversion.

So we start with a protein rest, we dough in around 140 F (60 C) , the grains drop us to 129-132 F (54.4 C).  We let it sit for 10-15 minutes then up to 146 F (63.3 C) for 35 minutes,  Then up to 156 F (68.8 C) for 30 Minutes, then up to 168 F (75.5 C) for 10 Minutes.   Yes, our mash takes longer.  yes we generally have a little bit of water left over, no problem.  We add it to the keggle  as we start the transfer.    Our mash takes longer, but we didn't sparge.   Even a batch sparge takes 30 minutes by the time you heat the water, carry the kettle, pour the water, stir and transfer.   And fly sparging adds an hour minimum to your brew day.   We skip all of that, and just transfer and boil.  

We use a 7.5 gallon kettle and jet burner to get our infusions ready.  We use the keggle to keep the water damned warm during brew day, and then to boil the wort.

That isn't protein break, it is
bitter orange peel, ginger, and
black pepper.
Although, protein break is crazy
with step mashing and the
jaded hydra.
And boy oh boy can we boil.   We boil 10 gallon batches in a 15.1 gallon keggle.  It was legally sourced from a local distributor.  I don't know why guys steal kegs.  It is a crappy thing to do to a brewery. If you ask they will probably let you have one that can't be repaired.  At a minimum, they will probably sell you one.   So just do the right thing, buy an old keg.  

We use an old Bayou Classic KAB6.  It puts out an insane amount of heat.  Something like 185,000 - 200,000 BTUs.   We can bring 13.5 gallons to a boil in about 13 Minutes.  6.75 gallons comes to a boil in just minutes.   As you can see in the photo above,  it is up on a stand which means it is high enough for transfer into fermenters after chilling.   We chill with the Jaded hydra chiller.  It is plainly put, insane.  It chilled this 10 gallon batch from 210 F (100 C)  to 72 F (22 C) in 13 minutes.  Last week Jake and I chilled a 5 gallon IPA from boiling to 65 F (18.33 C) in 5 minutes.  

We ferment in glass, if we have it available.  But in plastic if we don't have glass available.   To be honest, I don't notice much of a difference.  The plastic v. glass debate is really just another silly home brew debate.   You're not more of a brewer if you ferment in glass.  You're not less if you ferment in plastic.  Enough already.
We both have fermentation chambers.   I also have a hot box for lactic fermentation and for saisons.

The ghetto brew 1280! Our no sparge HERM System
We are going cheap on the pump, our pump is
a food grade pump for a sous vide system.  It was $30.00
We are making some improvements to the no sparge system.   We are going to add a herms coil and a pump.  Herms = Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash System. This will allow us to stabilize water temperatures more, and to do a gradual rise to mash out temperatures.    Or to do much more precise step mashes, with far greater accuracy.   That is where we are heading.

It has taken me a long time to buy into the whole recirculating mash thing.  But the fact of the mater is that it keeps temperatures better and it makes cleaner wort.  So, after considerable deliberation, I'm in.

The brew day you are seeing photo's of is a 10 gallon batch of Saison, loosely inspired by Hennepin by Ommegang.  But we do make a change.  We add crushed black pepper corns to the boil for the last 10 minutes.   How many?  Well... that depends on how it smells.  Believe me when I say, quit trying to get exact recipes.   Learn to brew, learn to taste, learn to evaluate while you are brewing.   It will change everything for you.     We split off 5 gallons of this for sour beer.   The normal saison is fermenting with Belle Saison yeast.  The sour is fermenting with Imperial Chimera yeast blend.  Which is a low attenuating belgian ale, lacto, bret l, and bret c.  If those terms mean nothing to you, that's OK.  Sours are pretty advanced stuff.  We are learning about them in the sour series.

Updates and Evaluation;

C4 Hop Explostion pale ale -  Flavor is fantastic.  Could use a little more bitterness, not much just a tiny bit, and a little more dark crystal grain.   So next time, we'll make those changes.  But it is really excellent.

La Fin du Monde clone -   I would tell you this is the best tripel I have ever tasted.   John would not agree.  He still thinks the original is better.   But we're splitting frogs hairs here people.  It is world class.  

Allegement a la Framboise -  probably the best fruit beer I have ever tried.   A belgian blond and raspberries are a perfect combination.

Tank 7 Clone -  Can't capture tank 7 exactly, Boulevard uses a proprietary yeast.  But it is an excellent saison.   It will be loved all summer long.   The color and aroma are spot on.  

Kolsch - Clean easy drinking German Kolsch.

Cream Ale - Wonderful as always. Still a touch sweet, should clear up in the bottle.


  1. Looks like we do quite a bit of "taste testing" during our brew days.

  2. Question for you - how long is your brew day?

    Mine is at 4 1/2 hours with cleanup, doing fly sparging, recirc (HERMS), and an hour boil. Brewed a standard pale yesterday, started at 1:15 and finished at 5:35 (when I pushed the rig over to it's "home")

    So it would be interesting to see the comparison.

    1. We started at 1100, I was on the road home by 315 so 3:15 to 3:30 plus clean up.

  3. hi, good blog! I have a question, with wich grain/water ratio do you star mashing? and you end in ...? do you add something to keep the ph low or nothing and don´t keep track on it? thanks in advanced, Ramiro