Step Mash, Take One… Action!

 

 

On Saturday, I attempted my first step mash with a 2-gallon batch of Arminius Bock. (First attempt at a bock) Normally, when mashing grain, I’ve used what is called “single infusion”. This is where all the grains are mixed together and then water is added and held to a single temperature for an hour. The target is to hit around 148-158F. This breaks down carbohydrates in the grain into 2 major amylase molecules that are fermentable. You can learn more about amylases here.

What’s a step mash?

A step mash is a process where you hold the grain at certain temperatures over short periods of time. You raise the temperature of the mash by either adding hot water, or increasing the temperature of your mash tun. Since I use a cooler for my mash tun, I had to add hot water. The advantage to a step-mash is Read more about the advantage of step-mashing here.

For the most part, a step mash isn’t needed with 95% of malts used today. It is sometimes recommended when using un-malted or irregular malts like high amounts of wheat, flaked corn or flaked rice. I’ve also read in a few books that starting a mash at 122F will give a beer a bit more head retention. Either way, it wasn’t necessary, but I wanted to try it.

I used a 2-step system. I started at 122F and kept it there for 45 minutes. Then, I added boiling water to raise it to 155F. I calculated the amount of water I needed to raise the temperature to 155F by using this great mash and rest schedule calculator. For the most part, it was right on. However, my tun holds heat very well and I overshot the target temperature both times. I had to quickly cool my mash by stirring and adding small amounts of ice. BUT, I hit my target temperature at both rests.

Sparging

Sparging is the act of pouring hot water over the grain to rinse it of all it’s sugars and drain it into the liquid you will then brew. Like making coffee!

I usually vorlauf twice. (That’s recirculating all of the mash liquid through the bed twice, by draining fully and pouring the liquid back over the bed of grain.) This time, I only did it once. I guess I was being lazy. Another reason is that I did a batch sparge instead of a continuous sparge. The continuous sparge or “fly sparge” is where you slowly sprinkle hot water over the mash while slowly draining from the bed at the same time. This usually gives me outstanding results. However, with this smaller batch, I felt it would be okay to do a batch sparge, which is where you add all the hot water at once and drain it fully. This worked fantastic when I did it with Tyrannicide Stout. However, I did that without using the tun. I just put the grain in a bag and strainer and poured hot water directly over the bag into my kettle. That was probably a bit more efficient than adding hot water to my bottling bucket and then slowly draining into the mash tun. I probably lost a lot of temperature in doing that.

Results

The results were a little disappointing. I did not reach the level of gravity I had hoped for. For the amount of malt I was using, I should have hit at least 1.060. However, I only got it up to 1.057. I think there is another reason for that.

Next Time

So, in learning:

  1. I will probably only do a 2-step mash when brewing my Hefeweizen (Bethusela’s Lake Cabin Ale). This is 50% wheat, so it might be a good idea.
  2. I will always vorlauf twice and always fly sparge. I’ll only do a batch sparge with very small amounts of grain like  enough to fit into a seeping bag.

Fermentation

I’m a little torn with how to ferment this batch. Right now, it’s sitting in my garage at about 45-50F. This is a good temperature for a lager. I’m unsure if I should let it sit for 2 weeks, then bottle and lager, or let it sit for 60 days, then add more yeast and bottle.

I decided to let it sit for two weeks, then I’ll take a gravity reading. If it’s less than 1.016, I’ll bottle it and let it sit in the garage for a few more weeks. Then move it to the fridge and let it sit longer. I’ve definitely learned that these lagers get better the longer they sit in the cold.

If it’s over 1.016 gravity after 2 weeks, I’ll let it sit another two weeks. Then, I’ll need to add yeast and corn sugar to bottle it as most of the yeast will be used up after 4 weeks in the fermenter. Then, I’ll let it sit in the garage for a few weeks and then in the fridge for a few more.

Next Brew

I decided my next batch will be Bedfordshire IPA. This beer takes at least 5 weeks to make. So, It should be done when it’s warm enough to enjoy a cold beer outside on the deck!

But: My issue here is that my circular mash tun may not hold the amount of malt I use for Bedfordshire (14 pounds.) I may have to re-assemble my rectangular tun and sparge arm for this one job.

 

 

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