Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A beer geek guide to step mashing: Planning the recipe... Belgian Tripel

Once again we are humbled by your response to the "Beer Geek guide to Step Mashing".  We are all truly touched by those of you who went right out and tried step mashing for the first time this weekend.  Thank you for your comments and photos on Google+ and Facebook. John is going to get us more active on Twitter and several other social media sites.   And for those of you who did not rush right out and step mash.  There are two more posts, this one, and an actual brew day.  In about a month we will be doing the ultimate beer geekery Bohemian lager Brew day where we combine both infusion mashing and decoction.

Ok, so you want to try a step mash.  You want to experience all of the benefits of this traditional mashing process.  You want to have more connection to your mash.  You want to have more involvement in your brewing.   You read the previous post, and you know that resting a mash at certain temperatures can have a significant impact on your final product.    So how do you plan the recipe?   If you haven't read the previous post, now is the time to go back and read it.

Well, sports fans, John is our resident recipe planning guru, but I will share my process for planning a step mash with you in hopes that you will follow a similar train of thought when you design your recipe.  I will be sharing a recipe for our Belgian Tripel (Desir et la Nuit)  And I will be sharing the process I followed to create the recipe.  The first thing you should know is that this recipe began life as a La Fin du Monde Clone.   It was the step mashing that took this recipe to the next level.  It was good as an LFDM clone.  But after we added the step mashing, the recipe went to another level.  This is without question the best beer we have ever brewed, and that is saying a lot.   This is among the very best beers that I have ever tasted.  I am obviously proud of it, and I dearly hope you will try it.  I am confident that it will become part of your standard lineup.

So,  we begin with a desire to take our LFDM clone and make it somehow even better.   We loved the malt profile.  We loved the slight expression of honey.  We were not trying to correct problems as much as we were seeing if the recipe could become even better.   And boy oh boy did we succeed.

What we wanted
  • Malty, grainy, bread-like, and sweet, without being cloying.
  • Reasonable clarity - we didn't want it to be perfectly clear, but not chunky either.
  • Full attenuation - a very digest-able wort
  • High alcohol that is completely hidden by the flavor of the beer
  • Rich mouth feel
  • Luxurious
Jerry Vietz,  Unibroue
Master Brewer.
Now this is a big list.  And we were trying to actually improve on a beer that is world class.  A beer that is revered and adored by all but the skinniest jean wearing hipster beer nerds.   A beer made by artisanal brewers in Chambly, Quebec, Canada.  A beer made by a brewery that uses French words, and classic Belgian techniques.  A seemingly insurmountable task.

But we had an advantage or two, or three.  We are home brewers.  We have access to the full range of techniques.  We are unbound from the limitations of a commercial brewing system.  Step  mashing is available to us.  We were able to taste our wort as we mashed.  We are only brewing 10 gallons,  Adjustments are easy.  So we knew what we wanted, how did we make it happen?  Let's break it down.

Acid Rest -  We wanted some clarity and we wanted a good mouth feel,  We also wanted a beer that would have have a great fermentation and attenuation.   Sounds like we need to rest for a while at a temperature that would promote Glucanase activity. Glucanase, as you may recall breaks down Beta Glucans. So 115 F for 15 to 20 minutes.    Remember at 115 F Some Peptidase is also active.  Which is fine, we'll accept whatever ferulic acid is produced by this rest, even though phenolic flavor is not our focus with this beer.

The mash will begin to thin out in
the protein rest.
Protein Rest -  We did not want extra Phenols or Esters in this beer.  We were happy to accept whatever the yeast produced with whatever ferulic acid that was created by the Acid rest.   It is our opinion that true Belgian Tripels are not particularly spicy or phenolic, maybe just a hint.  So we wanted a protein rest that would improve clarity without diminishing mouth fee.  We needed to have a rest that promoted Proteinase.  Proteinase breaks long chain amino acids into medium length amino acids. Sounds like we need to rest at  133 F to 135 F for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Saccharification rests will be at temperatures you are more
familiar with.  Make sure you taste your mash before you
 move on to the mash out. 
Saccharification rest -  When brewing a Belgian Syle beer, we adhere to the concept of digest-ablity.  It is more than just fermentability.  It is the Belgian concept of respecting the grain, producing the ultimate mout (wort) from the grain.  The ultimate, color, mouthfeel, and ferment-ability.  We need this beer to finish completely without losing mouth feel.  Now remember we are going to get some great mouth feel from our protein rest.  So we can afford to have a saccharification rest that would promote maximum extract and create a wort that is highly digest-able.  Our strategy would be to rest at 146 F for 30 minutes, and then rest at 156 F for 20 minutes.  We have found that this strategy creates a wort that will provide fully convertible sugars for the yeast.

A thin mash decoction is just wort that you pull, and bring
to a boil in order to raise your mash to mash out temps.
Mash out-  We believe in mash out, if you don't that is cool.  I'm not your brew mom.  You can skip this if you want.  But for us, this is another chance to further break down the long chain proteins that can impact your beer negatively. We mash out with a thin mash decoction wort.  So we would be doing a thin mash decoction and mashing out.

If you have a recirculating infusion mash system, then just follow the temperature schedule.  That is one of the few justifications for the expense of these systems.  They make step mashing a breeze. Fill with water, set your temps, go through your steps... done!  I still am attracted to the recirculating BIAB systems, like Brausupply, Colorado Brewing Systems, High gravity, and Grainfather.

We do not have a recirculating mash system, yet.  Although we are working on converting the keggle to a gas powered recirculating system.   When we brew 5 gallons we can heat our mash.  We have an electric turkey fryer that can pull double duty as a mash tun.  But when we brew 10-gallon batches, we tend to use a 100-quart rectangular cooler.

So, how would we be able to do a step mash for a 10-gallon batch, in a cooler that has no heating element?   The answer is an old technique that you may or may not be familiar with.  We would be doing an infusion step mash with boiling water.

Infusion mashing is adding boiling water to your mash to increase the temperature of the mash.   It is how we did step mashing in the dark ages.   The concept is simple.  When you add boiling water to the mash, the temperature increases.   So, in theory, you can add enough boiling water to raise the temperature of your mash from step to step.

Wait, won't that kill the enzymes?  Well, yes, a few.  a few of the enzymes will be denatured.  But the overwhelming majority will survive.  The enzymes will not be affected enough by the boiling water to impact the mash or the mash efficiency at all.  It may seem counter intuitive but it works.

But how do you know how much water to add?  For that, we turn to our trusty old friend... the interwebs.  There are so many great brewing calculators out there.  Some of them will even calculate the amount of boiling water you need to add to change the mash from one temperature to the next rest temperature.  I generally use Beersmith or Brewtoad.   But for mash water calculation I turn to "brewers friend"  Mash Infusion and Rest Schedule.   I am a fan of brewersfriend.com.  When they make recipe input easier, I will probably switch over to it.  It is rich with features, and even includes basic water chemistry.

OK, so to calculate the infusions, you have to start with some basic information.  You have to know your batch size, your total lbs. of grain, your water to grain ratio and your boil off rate.   Your boil off rate?  Yes, how else will you know your water to grain ratio?

The acid/beta glucan
 Rest will be very thick.
Relax, you're adding more water.
So our recipe has the following characteristics.
  • 27 lbs. of grain
  • Grain absorption rate .1 gallon per pound of grain.
  • Boil off rate is 2 gallons per hour
  • So we start with  15.7 gallons of water.
    • The math
      • 27 lbs. of grain will absorb 2.7 gallons of water
      • Pre-boil volume is 13 gallons
      • Post boil volume is 11 gallons
You have to know this so you know how many gallons you can not exceed.   When you are infusion mashing you may end up doing no sparge, or very little sparge.  RDWHAHB, it works.    This is true because when you are infusion step mashing you will be adding water throughout the mash to raise temperatures.   Every recipe is different, every mash schedule is different, it will make more sense as you do it more often.   Sometimes it will come out just fine and you'll have extra wather for sparge, sometimes there won't be much left.   Just don't exceed your total water needed.  As you plan your recipe you will know if you have extra for sparge.  Remember you could use your wort for sparge.  You could just vourlauff a lot, or recirculate a lot,  That will have a similar effect.  But it is easier to just plan on a slightly lower efficiency.  We plan on 75% with this method. You do gain back some efficiency from the step mash.

So here is what brewersfriend.com mash infusion and rest calculator comes up with
  • Strike with 8.37 Gallons of water at 123.1 F - Rest at 115 F for 15 to 20 minutes.
    • Wait, wait, wait.  15 to 20 minutes?  why not a specific time? 
      • OK here's why.  Your next addition may or may not be boiling yet.  Relax, times are not as big of a deal as you have been taught.
  • Add 2.5 Gallons of boiling water, stir while you are adding - Rest at 135 F for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Add 1.8 Gallons of boiling water, stir while you are adding - Rest at 145 F for 30 minutes.
  • Add 2.8 Gallons of boiling water, stir while you are adding - Rest at 156 F for 30 minutes.
    • At this point you have used 15.47 gallons of your alloted 15.7 gallons.
    • So just add the other .23 gallons of water to the mash out at 168 F. 
  • Pull a thin mash decoction large enough to bring the mash to 168 F. About 4.75 Gallons.
Whew!  That is a complicated mash schedule.  And Long, Probably almost 2 hours.  Yes, 2 hours.  But it is so worth it.  First of all, it is fun and active.  You will be far more in touch with your brewing.  Second, the flavors and mouth feel can not be recreated any other way.

You may have also noticed that we are using 27 lbs. of grain and 15.7 gallons of water,  You can not pull this off in a 10 gallon round cooler. So if that is your mash tun, be prepared to do a 5-gallon batch instead of a 10 gallon.   The mash at it's largest will be 17.82 gallons.   Our desire to do no sparge, and to do infusion step mashing is part of why we have a 20-gallon rectangular cooler with a door on top.

Next, this coming weekend we will be brewing this recipe with an illustrated guide to step mashing with infusion step mashing.   We will also partigyle the grains.  A 1.074 beer will produce a 2nd runnings wort of about 1.037.  A quick sugar addition will turn that 2nd runnings batch into a 1.050 session saison.   So, talk about efficiency?  We're getting 15 gallons of beer from this one batch of grains, and we could get 20 if we wanted 20.    The saison we will have some fun with.  Think Jake has some ideas for hops and dry hopping.  Should be fun.

Additional content;  While researching this recipe I discovered tastybrew.com mash infusion calculator.  I'm impressed.  We probably won't try it with this recipe, because we know brewersfriend.com works so well.  But I will definitely be giving it a go on my own.  Here is what it came up with for our infusion rest schedule.


  1. One of the critical issues I'm still learning is how to control temperature. I have found that if I'm shooting for, say 152, and I cut the flame at that number, the kettle is still heating and will continue to rise a degree or two. It's like applying the breaks on a train or an aircraft carrier -- it must be done well in advance of the actual objective or it will continue past it.

  2. Sure, that carry over heat can be tough. Best to stabilize your temp before you strike. But you will find that with infusion mashing the temperature change is pretty reliable. You are always adding boiling or near boiling water.

  3. I'm definitely going to try step mashing. As I have started all grain biab - particularly lighter color beers, I am not happy with the clarity / chill haze. I bottle condition and don't yet have a way to cold crash so haven't tried gelatin. So, old school seems like the way to go.

    Thanks for the detailed explanation and suggested schedules.

    Also, heard the shout out on experimental brewing - very cool! I would have been stoked!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I only have about 10 brews under my belt. Eight of which have been extract. We recently upgraded from a five gallon aluminum turkey fryer to a 20 gal spike BK. I was at our local supply store and was told about step mashing, and also recommended to this blog, so I thought for my first all grain brew I would give it a shot. It was quite an undertaking. A 15 gallon brew day with a 20 gal BK BIAB and 4 steps. We got it done, but future brews will likely be 10 gal. I have a pulley system that I can hoist my bag out with when we need to raise temps for each step. I can say that I have been very happy with the two all grain beers I have done. Since this is the only way I have done it, I don't have anything to compare it to. It may remain that way.

    1. If you hit your temperatures, your beer will be fantastic. Desir is probably my favorite beer. Can't keep it around. How did your gravity turn out?

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Looks very good and usefull. Which grains and hops you did used? Or you recomend to use?

    1. The recipe is posted here. http://counterbrew.blogspot.com/2016/06/belgian-tripel-total-brewing-geekery-no.html
      We really like strisselspalt when we can get it fresh. This is really an insanely good beer, balanced but somehow sweet, crisp, but with great mouth feel. A hint of honey, orange, and corriander probably my favorite beer in the world, and I make it.

  9. Looks very good and usefull. Which grains and hops you did used? Or you recomend to use?