Friday, March 4, 2016

Decoction Made's just cooking

We will return to the dIPA series, and the yeast series next week...thank you for your amazing support of those posts.  I am truly humbled by the thousands of you who have read them.  I pledge to keep posting, and trying to keep things easy to understand.   Now, on to the show!

Decoction mashing isn't mad science, it isn't even hard
science... it is just another tool you can use to make
great malty, bready, and very clear beer! 
Decoction Mashing is that mysterious, antique, and almost mystical process that some of the most advanced brewers of lagers and ales use to coax extra flavors, color, and clarity out of their malt.   Possibly the most romantic, intense connection a brewer can have with the brewing process.  When you meet a serious decoction brewer, pay heed... give respect... this is a serious brewer, right?  Well maybe... or maybe they just know it isn't that big of a deal.

A decoction mash boiling away.
Yes, I know many of you don't think decoction is necessary... blah blah blah... fully modified malt, blah blah blah... time consuming...  pH levels... blah blah blah...  But I suspect many of you who are posting this ridiculousness about decoction mashing,  have never tried a decoction mash. You wouldn't know decoction mash if it was sitting next to you on a bus. You've never stood at your boil kettle and lovingly stirred Vienna or Munich malt for 15 minutes ( the ultimate connection to your brewing). You've never  experienced the melanoidal baked bread flavor and  the crystalline shimmering clarity that only comes from a decoction mash.   You've never served a Vienna Lager that was triple decocted to other brewers and had them gaze back at you with awe and respect.   You've never had them throw a parade in your honor because you completed a decoction mash...(Don't hate... it could happen).

Let's be honest...the reason you haven't done a decoction... is because you don't really get it.  It is intimidating.   The websites that address it make it seem like rocket science.   "Pull a thick 90/10 mash decoction of approximately 1/3 of the total mash volume x the difference in the current temperature and the desired temperature x the factor, rest at 150F for 5 minutes while stirring constantly, then rest at 164 F while stirring constantly, then bring the decoction to a boil while stirring constantly for 15 minutes"   What?  Well that makes no sense...  The only thing I am sure of from those instructions I found online are that I need to stir constantly.

Decoction mashing isn't actually that hard.  And it does lend a certain melanoidal flavor and color to your beer that you just can not get with any other method of mashing.  If you do not agree and you'd rather not learn about decoction mashing... well that's fine.  Here is a link to some pleasant videos you can watch to pass the time while the rest of of learn about decoction mashing.

Thank God for the ingenuity of the old time brewers!
What is decoction mashing?   Well... it is basically removing, resting, and boiling some of the grains in your mash.  Why would you ever do that?   There was a time when grains were not well modified and brewers found that if they followed this procedure they could extract maximum sugars and make clearer beer.   The brewers who followed this practice didn't have computers, refractometers, or pH meters.   The just had common sense.  They developed a method that worked.  They worked and refined it over time.    You can learn as much as you want to know about Decoction Mashing.  There are books that can educate you to the point where commercial brewers are asking you questions. My favorite book on Lagers and Decoction is by Greg Noonan,  New Brewing Lager Beer.  If you want to become a great brewer read this book.  (Truly if you can master advanced German brewing techniques, there is really no beer you can not brew.)  You'll learn that you can weigh your decoction, check the pH constantly, even check the gravity...


You can keep it simple. You can embrace the principles, without embracing the complexity.  It will still work just fine.  RDWHAHB, and remember brewing is just cooking.   If you are a regular, or even an occasional already know what approach we here at counter brew are going to take.

So here are our fundamental easy to follow guidelines for decoction mashing....

  • Decoction mashing is just a form of step mashing where you are using thick mash to change the temperature of your mash.
  • Decoction mashing creates amazing bread like melanoidal flavors you can not get without a decoction mash.
  • Decoction mashing does not create harsh tannins - the sugars and the proteins easily buffer the pH changes in the thick mash.
  • When you need to raise the temperature a lot.  You pull 1 quart of thick mash per pound of grain in the recipe. 12 to 20 degrees F.
    • What the heck is thick mash?  Well basically, it's mostly grains.  I use a 1 quart ladle (when i can find it) and I scoop out the grains, and drain most of the wort from the grains before they go into the other kettle)
  • When you need to raise the temperature a little.  You pull .5 quarts of thick mash per pound of grain in the recipe.  8 to 12  degrees F 
  • Rest Boil - 156 F for 5 minutes, then boil for 15 minutes stirring constantly. 
  • You can decoct 1, 2, 3, or 20 times if you want too.  But the impact diminishes after 3.  
  • A triple decoction is two thick decoctions and 1 thin decoction
    • A thin decoction is just running off some of your wort, bringing it to a boil, and adding it back in to get to mash out temperatures.
  • BIAB, and  no sparge brewing and decoction are great partners. but you can also sparge 
    • Decoction does not have to change your overall mash water calculations (although you should dough in a little thinner with a higher water to grain ratio)
  • The easiest way to do a decoction is to rest at beta saccrification temps for 30-40 minutes then pull a thick mash and decoct it to take you to alpha saccrification rest temperatures for 15 minutes.  No mash out.  
  • You can also just do a decoction for mash out with any recipe,... you just pull off enough thick mash to raise the temperature to 168 - 170 F.
  • Your cold break will be pretty extreme and you may need to siphon your wort into your fermenter.  
So as you can see the possibilities of decoction mashing are endless.  It is just a tool.  A tool you can use to add flavor, color, and clarity to your beer.  For our purposes today, we are just going to do a single decoction mash in the most foolproof way possible.  We are not going to do a protein rest, a beta glucan rest, an acid rest, or a kermit the frog rest.  We are just going to do a beta sacc rest, then an alpha sacc rest, and then a mash out.   We will use decoction to raise the temperature from beta to alpha.  We won't be doing a true no sparge BIAB but we will have a fairly thin mash.

I'll explain the process this week, post the recipe with very specific instructions, and then I'll post brew day photos in the next week or two.  May even put some video in that one.   But remember, if I need to add an additional decoction to change my temperatures, I will.   And that is kind of the point.  Decoction is just a tool. I also reserve the right to brew a Pils Urquell clone, cause I love that beer.  But the technique is the same.

What beers benefit from decoction?  For double and triple decoction,  I tend to stick  with amber and dark German lagers, Scottish ales, and Baltic porter.   A mash out decoction?  Any beer you ever brew can benefit from a mash out decoction.  I have even done a single decoction as a way to raise the temperature of a dIPA that was mashing too cool (wouldn't have had enough body for the hops, so I made a spur of the moment decision, best IPA ever!) Remember, it is just a tool.  A tool you can decide to use on a moments notice if you understand the concept.

Schrodinger's Equation-  Vienna Lager
OG 1.050
FG  1.015
IBU 21
SRM 10 to 12
single decoction with an infusion mash out.
90 minute boil

10 # Vienna
.5 #  Cara Munich
1.6 ounces of Hallertauer Hops.  (6.75 AAU) @ 60 of 90
Fermentis SafLager 34/70
Whirlfloc tablet
Yeast Nutrient
  • Mash in at 156.3 F. Your mash should stabilize at 148 F
  • Rest for 30 Minutes.  
    • A note for you purists who already decoct... yes I know 30 minutes is not truly necessary after the enzymes flood off the grain, remember this blog is for people who have never decocted before. I'm making it foolproof.   
  • Pull a thick decoction from the mash.  1 quart per pound of grain, or 10 quarts 
  • Bring the decoction to 156 F for 5 minutes, then bring it to a boil stirring constantly for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat.
  • Add the decoction back into the mash until the mash is at 154 to 158 F.  (how can you be so loosey goosey with temperatures?... seriously?  
    • because it doesn't really matter as long as you are in alpha saccrifi range,  geesh, how can you people not know that?  all kidding aside, home brewers make way way way to big of a deal about precise mash temperatures.  Be in the range for beta, then be in the range for alpha that is all it really takes. 
  • Rest for 15 to 20 minutes.  
    • If you have left over decoction, don't add it until it is at the same temp as your mash.   Is there a specific formula I can follow to make sure I only pull the correct amount of decoction?   Yes, but I won't tell you in this post.  Part of the purpose of this post is helping you understand that it's not a big deal. My mentor used to say "recipes are for people who can't or won't understand the process".    
  • Heat 7.8 quarts of water to a boil during the alpha rest.  Add to the mash at the end of the alpha saccrification rest. This will raise your temperature to mash out.   Let it sit for 5 minutes then stir.  
  • You're done, vourlauf and drain your mash tun into your boil kettle, or lift your bag.  
  • And proceed forward with the recipe just like any other.
Remember this is a lager beer.  So you'll need to be able to lager.   If you can't lager yet,  I'd suggest you use US05.  It is reliable and fairly clean.   It won't be a true Vienna Lager, but it will be a damned fine amber.  You may even add more hops, or change the hop bill.   

See?  it really isn't that hard.   In the future I will post the specific formulas you can follow, and I will even post a triple decoction mash day for a Marzen I will be brewing at the end of the month.   I hope for now that this made decoction a little easier.   There are lots of videos online about decoction.  But the best and easiest to follow by far is the brewing TV video with Michael Dawson. You can tell when you watch it that MikeD is comfortable with the process, it's no big deal, he's done it a hundred times.   That's where you need to go.  That is where you need to be as a brewer.  A level of understanding, not a set of rules.  

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